In the Fetal Position: Thanks a Lot, “God Bless America” Trailer
by: Meghan Malloy
The link above is a trailer for the upcoming movie “God Bless America.” Being a movie nerd, I’m always watching trailers, getting excited for movies I can’t wait to see, writing off movies I’ll never see, or making fun of movies no one should ever see. But no trailer has EVER made me feel as terrible as I felt after watching the “God Bless America” trailer. Normally, I love dark, social satire, which is what I think “God Bless America” was going for, but in today’s society, one where gun-violence has become almost commonplace, doesn’t making a movie glamorizing flippant shootings seems downright negligent? Or, am I losing my edge?
A current trend in pop-culture is the anti-hero; just look at the top-rated cable shows like “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad” or 2011 Sundance flick “Hobo With a Shotgun.” All champion the archetype of the unlikely hero who breaks all the rules. However, creating these antiheroes is a delicate process that must be executed carefully, so that whatever gentle monster is conceived is an enlightening example instead of a legitimizing stereotype. There are three simple rules that must be followed to achieve this result:
Rule #1: anti-heroes must be ostracized from society in some way: Dexter has a psychological default which makes him a serial killer, Walter White is a wimpy genius, and the Hobo is homeless. These exclusions from the ranks of “regular” people is what gives anti-heroes the freedom to go as far as they do and keep us “regular” people rooting for them without threatening our “normal” section of society’s ethics/morals.
Rule #2: anti-heroes must have a redemptive quality that keeps them from being straight-up crazy: Dexter has a strict code that prevents him from killing innocent civilians; Walter’s foray into cooking meth is the manifestation of a desperate need to provide for his family after he’s succumbed to cancer; the Hobo is trying to stop organized crime from destroying a corrupt city. Such morality cushions the emotional impact of the blood about to be shed or laws about to be broken; the end justifies the means.
Rule #3: if Rule #1 or Rule #2 is broken, then it damn well better be animated: “South Park” and “Family Guy” get away with whatever they want for the simple reason that animation is so far outside the realm of reality, it cannot be mistaken for reality. When Cartman kills Justin Bieber by using a giant alien, the sentiment is essentially the same as Frank’s in “God Bless America,” - i.e. cleansing pop culture/society - but the means are so fantastical, they are clearly a metaphor and the threat is benign.
Looking back at the trailer for “God Bless America,” it appears that rules 1-3 have been totally disregarded. Frank, the middle-aged anti-hero, seems like a normal man filled with an abnormal amount of anger and a cancer diagnosis becomes his motivation to act on that anger. Even if Frank is genuinely trying to make the world a better place before he dies, without a moral code keeping his evil impulses in-check, Frank is a simplified disciple of Hitler, cleansing society according to his own arbitrary requirements as to what makes someone worthy to live or deserving to die.
But the most unsettling part of this trailer, to me, is that Frank’s anger isn’t just any kind of anger – it’s anger that people can relate to. I think we’ve all felt Frank’s disgust at those effing Kardashians, or at skewed “news” reports, hateful religious fanatics, or at those crazy b*tches fighting over Flava Flav. This relatable rage makes for a dangerous anti-hero template, because Frank IS one of us, as a result, he COULD BE any one of us. In dealing with his looming mortality by nonchalantly shooting dozens of public figures and civilians, he’s normalizing for a giant population what should be considered extreme, revolting, unacceptable behavior. Making it look so damn cool to shoot-up “American Idol” isn’t OK when the headline “Idol Hopeful Opens Fire on Judges After Not Being Sent to Hollywood” is a real possibility. Channeling anger at “the way things are” into shootings is happening yesterday, today, and tomorrow - all over the world. In a pre-Columbine, pre-Gabrielle Gifford world, this movie might have been a fantastic Tarantino-esque escape into entertaining, gratuitous violence, but today, it’s too similar to a news clip or too likely the subject of a future Michael Moore documentary, and that’s where I worry this movie is as irresponsible as it is sensational.
I guess I’ll have to wait until “God Bless America” is released to find out whether it’s brilliant or tasteless, but my gut feeling on this one is that no matter how much you hate America, it won’t get any better with protagonists like Frank misguidedly trying to leave the world a better place. There will always be ditzy celebrities, the 1%, attention whores and fanatics; the challenge might have been portraying such a population uniting. Now that would be a satire I’d like to watch.