Fiction is confirming that we have moved beyond the thunderdrome that came after the ‘End of History’.
I submit this as cordial evidence: went to see two films last week. The first — Avengers Assemble — is a Marvel comics mega-mash up, brought to us directorially by Buffy-inventor, Joss Whedon (which means more one-line quips than would normally be otherwise). The second was The Dictator, Sacha Baron-Cohen’s latest obscenely, excessive, stereotype cipher. I don’t really want to review either of them here (the former: enjoyable, yawningly patriotic, predictable; the latter, unpredictably hilarious); rather, suggest that both films could never have been released before this year — 2012 — because they’re both ‘Post 9/11 Decade Films’.
That decade began eponymously when the digits say it did; then seemingly ended (farcically) first in 2008 with the global financial crisis, only to truly die again (like Buffy, coincidentally) last year, when the remote-camera-wired Navy Seals crashed into Osama Bin Laden’s lazy TV viewing evening, and finally smoked him out with all the technological panache of the most expensive first-person video game in the world. Bin Laden at this point apparently had been reduced to amassing prodigious amounts of (American!) porn in his basement, perhaps because the Arab Spring (/Uprising/Awakening/Thing) was well underway, yet still way before the so called Islamists and Salafists would step into the void left by the liberal Twitterocracy afterwards. Awkward period. Osama had no bizness left to bother with in 2011. His belated, biological death was — again like Buffy — a second death, coming after the symbolic waning of his symbolic power. That his body was disposed so seamlessly and invisibly at the bottom of the sea perfectly bookends the decade that started with suicidal airplanes, smoke and sky.
Soon after, Hollywood’s habitual fetish of blowing-up Manhattan in the movies became total taboo. Death-drive, wish fulfilment, thank you Herr Freud: now we really get it. ‘Fantasy realised,’ paraphrases Zizek in The Perverts Guide to Cinema, ‘has another name: nightmare.’
Fast-forward to May 2012 — the year anniversary of Osama’s assassination — and Manhattan is painstakingly destroyed in glorious CGI 3D by salamander alien spaceships and Thor’s pissed off step-brother. Avengers: Assemble is no longer in the 2001-2011 prohibition era. Manhattan is fictive fair game again. Watch the Empire State building crash and crumble as the mechanized tail of the serpentine invader lashes liberal death to order and metropolitan civilization. It’s like aliens can’t take over the world until they’ve turned Manhattan into a demeaned dust crater. Until we see our precious symbols subjugated by what we secretly — terrifyingly — desire the most.
The Dictator does Post-9/11 Decade differently. Now that so many of Ameeraka’s flamboyant, mortal enemies are dead-dead-dead (Qaddafi, Kim Jong-il — though Osama seems to be staying in a guest-suite in the state of Wadiya), and Arab Spring sequels into scary sectarianism, all the ludicrous details can be retrospected. Sacha Baron-Cohen’s Dictator is hauled in front of the UN to make a statement about Wadiya’s nuclear proliferation. Wadiya is therefore, in part, Iran: Amerika’s enemy du jour. Now that the ‘difficult’ Sunni’s have been brought into line (or shoved down to Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria), it’s time to deal with the Shi’a mother ship. Because you gots to have a Nemesis, a spectral foe, whether its from outta space or inner Communism or immanent terrorism. Widespread acceptance that Iran is now the primary source of badd future is another symptom of how the decade that was, now no longer is. The Dictator careers through a litany of liberal and illiberal clichés that adorned the various fought wars on beards and burkinis and anti-universalisms. I’d like to list what all of these are but it’s easier to urge you to see the film for yourselves.
I’ve written here about how Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was a sign that Dubai had emerged from its 2001-2008 era where cinematic fiction was unemployable and impotent in the face of nation state fiction-realism.
True Lies. Total Recall. As if our dreams secreted out into the streets via the silver-screen.