‘South Park’ changed overnight. Comedy Central capture

Why We Write About Video Games, Movies and T.V.

It’s all propaganda


Defiant is an angry, progressive, partisan site for the Trump era. We cover politics, climate change and LGBT issues. We also write about video games, books, movies and T.V.

Because they’re important. No, really.

To paraphrase Stephen King, art is a support system for life. If you want to know what’s going on under the surface in a country, dig into its pop and pulp art.

Pay special attention to the junk — the superhero power fantasies, the bloody horror flicks, the silly romances. Look at escapism to get a good idea of what people want to escape from.

When George and Kathy Lutz moved into the haunted house on 112 Ocean Ave in The Amityville Horror, their terror was about more than ghosts. It was about owning a home they couldn’t bear to stay in … and couldn’t afford to leave.

At the time of the film’s release in 1979, America was suffering a great economic and moral malaise. The movie was a hit not just because it was good. It also struck a chord with audiences who felt trapped in their own circumstances.

In 1979, Americans struggled to gas up their cars. In part because the Iranian Revolution sent oil prices soaring, and in part because some politicians rationed gas in their states. In Texas, a motorist’s license plate number determined if they could fill up on a given day.

That’s why one of the most horrifying tricks the Amityville ghosts pull is to steal $1,500 in cash George needs to cover a hot check he’s written. The apparitions tap into what was, at the time of the film’s release, a sense of economic anxiety movie-viewers all understood.

Financial family dramas are more horrifying than ghosts.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on during the Bush and Obama administrations and the world seemed to become more complicated, audiences retreated into the simple wonderlands of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean.

We found comfort in those fantasies even as J.K Rowling slipped references to fascism into her young wizard tales, writers reminded us that Tolkien’s world was a direct reaction to the World Wars and our superheroes became grimmer and darker.

These stories mattered because, ultimately, they were what we wanted — needed — to tell ourselves.

According to the most recent Nielsen report, the average American watches at least five hours of T.V. everyday. Gamers spend dozens of hours every week on their own favorite distractions. When we’re not consuming media, we’re gathering at countless websites to discuss, dissect and debate media.

Our stories are about to dramatically change — and, yes, that’s because of Donald Trump. Political shifts, especially ones as strange and momentous as the 2016 presidential election, reshape popular culture.

Such a thing has happened before. “Almost every European between 1890 and 1930 lived in the tacit belief that civilization would last forever,” George Orwell wrote in his essay The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda.

“You might be individually fortunate or unfortunate, but you had inside you the feeling that nothing would ever fundamentally change. And in that kind of atmosphere intellectual detachment, and also dilettantism, are possible.”

When fascism came to Hogwarts. Warner Bros. capture

Many of us went to sleep during Barack Obama’s presidency. After eight years of George W. Bush, we elected a man we thought would fix everything. Obama promised to shut down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, end Bush’s wars and advance a truly progressive agenda.

The truth of his legacy is more complicated. He failed to shut down Gitmo— although that’s not entirely his own fault. Obama also oversaw a massive expansion of executive power and helped to establish a surveillance state that he would later hand over to illiberal Trump.

Many of us on the left ignored the worst aspects of Obama’s administration — because we were comfortable. We’d elected a good president, we told ourselves. We believed we’d defeated our ideological opponents on the right. Our stories, and our attitudes toward them, had an air of detachment.

Then we elected Trump. Now white nationalists are on T.V. every night. Richard Spencer, one of the movement’s founders, has established a think-tank in Washington, D.C. Every week brings some new horror as the president-elect feuds with journalists on Twitter while his unscrupulous business practices, self-dealing and frightening threats to basic human rights, decency and the U.S. constitution go under-reported.

Trump shattered our sense of security. Our art will begin to reflect that.

The same happened during Orwell’s time. As fascism gathered power, the world lost interest in art for art’s sake. Art regained a clear sense of purpose. “The writers who have come up since 1930 have been living in a world in which not only one’s life but one’s whole scheme of values is constantly menaced,” Orwell wrote. “In such circumstances, detachment is not possible.”

“You cannot take a purely aesthetic interest in a disease you are dying from,” Orwell continued. “You cannot feel dispassionately about a man who is about to cut your throat. In a world in which fascism and socialism were fighting one another, any thinking person had to take sides, and his feelings had to find their way not only into his writing but into his judgments on literature.”

“Literature had to become political, because anything else would have entailed mental dishonesty.”

Orwell’s words ring true in 2016. Trump and his brand of weird, flashy fascism is a unique threat to American democracy and American art. For many of us, it’s not just that Trump’s politics are wrong — it’s that he threatens our very way of life.

Art will tell the truth about Trump. Art will fight back. And as it does, Defiant will be here to tell the story of the stories we tell. To help explain what our books, movies, T.V. shows and games say about us as we suffer under, and resist, President Trump.

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