Chairman Heckler’s Veto
Sonny Bunch wrote about the many ways Hollywood bends to China’s will:
For “Looper” — about a hit man who travels back in time to stop the birth of a crime boss — Fenton and his team persuaded director Johnson to alter his script rather substantially, shifting the action from the United States and France to the United States and Shanghai. A number of scenes were shot specifically for a Chinese cut of the film. But the trickiest thing was working around a ban on time-travel plots in movies, which Chinese authorities say “disrespects history.” In actuality, Chinese authorities fear the use of time travel as a way to comment upon current affairs. How did Fenton and Johnson avoid this pothole?
“They showcased a future China powerfully in the film,” Fenton said he told a film executive when trying to sell him on the idea of working with the Chinese. “It was music to the ears of the Politburo and a delight to the Communist Party municipal officials in Shanghai. … China was powerful and the center of the world in ‘Looper.’ ”
I rewatched “Looper” after reading this passage in Fenton’s book. It remains a solidly entertaining, visually stylish film that cribs some of the best stuff from “The Terminator,” “Back to the Future” and “Akira” while still managing to feel original.
Yet Johnson’s filmmaking talent and Jeff Daniels’s skill as an actor make the insertions even more insidious because they don’t stand out. When Abe, a crime boss from the future played by Daniels tells a young hitman, “I’m from the future: You should go to China,” the average viewer does not realize he’s being propagandized. He does not realize this line is a big win for the Chinese government, an effort to increase an authoritarian regime’s status at home and abroad.
There is a reflex – among many, anyway – to point to this as proof of Chinese ascendancy and to a degree a need to make room for China’s sensibilities. There is some of that. China’s preferences aren’t being ignored here in part because they can’t be. Except at tremendous cost, anyway.
But the other side is that they are bending the will to China because the Chinese government can and will demand it in a way that the US government won’t and can’t.
It is our system working to our disadvantage, but it’s also our system working. There is little doubt that if he had the ability to do so, President Trump would quite attracted to the ability to turn the ability to show a movie into the US as a transactional enterprise. To ask, “What’s in this freedom for us, for various values of “us”. Trump has his issues with China, as do Biden and most conventional politicians. The main difference is that Biden and others have no real ill-will against the Chinese people but dislike their government, whereas Trump seems to disdain the Chinese people but admire their government and envy what their government can do that he thinks we should be able to. In the case of Tiananmen Square, Trump famously rooted for the tanks.
Trump, his supporters, and a lot of people here think the solution to the ongoing Mostly Peaceful Riots in Portland and elsewhere is to crush it. It is, they say, the only way to “end” the protests1. They even imagine Trump may win the election because people are with him on ending the violence. The problem is that Trump is less interesting in ending the violence than winning it, which is not the same thing. I believe this is why he hasn’t been benefitting as much as people have predicted. There’s still time, however, for his opposition to blow it, but so far the smashmouth approach Trump wants to take to the protesters is resisted as a contrary to the concept of “order” he purports to advocate.
Even while all of this is happening, our police and other agents of the state are doing plenty that don’t make us look as different from China as most of us would like.
But our movies often treat our country like crap. Because they can. Whatever else, we’ve got that going for us.
- What’s unstated is exactly how far the government should go with this. I am hoping they just think a sufficient show of force will do it. I think it’ll require shooting protesters for holding bricks. Or just failing to go where ordered. Those that think the riots must be “crushed” either don’t realize this or they do.