Free Elections for Wakanda

Finally saw Black Panther. My immediate impression: ok that was a nice romp, but is Wakanda ever going to have free elections? Do they have a free press? In fact, have they any social thought or political philosophy beyond autocratic rule justified by ritual bloodsport.

The answer to the latter question is yes. In the comic books we learn that it is a militaristic police state with a powerful secret police called the Hatut Zeraze. This is the advanced society of wonders that we are supposed to be wowed by.

I really could have done without the celebration of race-thinking, which made me cringe. The obsession with blood and ancestry, the mysticizing mumbo-jumbo, and the whole authoritarian wankfest were all like Tolkien at his most irritating.

The feelgood pitch to black American fantasies about Africa, and the dream of the Great Uncolonized was not quite as tiresome as I feared it would be. But tiresome it was. I wonder if Shaft stopped in Wakanda while he was in Africa, or if Wakandans tell horror stories about the vampire named Blacula.

Black Panther is blaxploitation's gritty reboot. And what it says about the present moment is quite chilling. Notwithstanding the little flirtation about how we're all one human tribe and all, it seems like the kind of movie you would make if you wanted to prove a bet that a fascist political aesthetic could be made appealing to any demographic as long as you package it properly.

I did really enjoy the spectacle of it. The jokes were funny. There were a couple turns that I did not expect. There are moments that I think might have moved me more if so much else hadn't put me off. Killmonger's suicide might have been tragic, had he not been such a laughable cartoon to begin with that I felt nothing but relief when he finally put himself out of my misery.

Mostly it was a by-the-numbers film about charismatic supermen, with a bit of moral ambiguity pasted on its ass. And we loves us a charismatic superman, lawdy yes we does. Übermensch, 2020! Make Wakanda Great Again!

The left corner of the internet continues to make Much Ado about the nothing of this live-action cartoon. As if it were some kind of political breakthrough or cultural achievement. It all reminds me of that Adolph Reed Jr. quote:
Insistence on the transhistorical primacy of racism as a source of inequality is a class politics. It’s the politics of a stratum of the professional-managerial class whose material location and interests, and thus whose ideological commitments, are bound up with parsing, interpreting and administering inequality defined in terms of disparities among ascriptively defined populations reified as groups or even cultures. In fact, much of the intellectual life of this stratum is devoted to shoehorning into the rubric of racism all manner of inequalities that may appear statistically as racial disparities. And that project shares capitalism’s ideological tendency to obscure race’s foundations, as well as the foundations of all such ascriptive hierarchies, in historically specific political economy. This felicitous convergence may help explain why proponents of “cultural politics” are so inclined to treat the products and production processes of the mass entertainment industry as a terrain for political struggle and debate. They don’t see the industry’s imperatives as fundamentally incompatible with the notions of a just society they seek to advance. In fact, they share its fetishization of heroes and penchant for inspirational stories of individual Overcoming. This sort of ‘politics of representation’ is no more than an image-management discourse within neoliberalism. That strains of an ersatz left imagine it to be something more marks the extent of our defeat.

No comments:

Post a Comment