‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Three

The interminable series of commercials is over, and the news is back, with updates on the progress that the People’s Liberation Army is making all along the West coast of the island, and how feebly the local forces are trying to repel them. I just gulped down the last of my drink, and I’m off to fix myself a second Jim Beam and Coke.

With that done in my kitchen, I’ve returned with my refilled glass to the living room. Having set my glass on the coffee table and sat down, I’ve picked up the joint I rolled and I’m lighting it. I toke on it a few times and hold the smoke in for as long as I can hold my breath. I finally let it out and look down at my ecstasy pills.

I pick one up and break it in half. Before I pop it in my mouth, I look over at my window and listen to the outside gunfire and explosives for a few seconds. A gulp of my drink takes the half-pill down my gullet.

I see President Harris on the TV again. “My fellow Americans, we have a job to do,” she says in that posturing, ‘patriotic’ voice of hers. “My administration will do all it has to do to preserve and protect our fragile democracy from the aggression of autocratic Russia and China. This is our last chance at saving freedom for the world. The enemy is an evil that must be stopped at all costs.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I grunt, then reach for the remote and turn the TV off. “I can’t take any more of that.” Preserve and protect our feeble democracy, I think. What democracy, even if a feeble one, do we have in a world where the richest eight men in the world share the same amount of wealth as do the poorest half of all the world, millions of people in Third World countries? How do we all have freedom, even fragile freedom, when every time we leave our homes and go outside, we have to wear masks because of a disease that, especially now, is largely no worse than a head cold? What freedom exists in a world where we can only vote for politicians whose only concern is protecting the interests of the rich? Is protecting this ‘freedom’ worth risking nuclear annihilation? “I need music.”

I get up and go over to my CD player and CDs. I find a CD of some old South Indian Carnatic music on the Nonesuch label, music played on the flute, violin, and tabla drums. I put that on and go back to sit by the coffee table. I hear the drone of the tanpura beginning the music, and I sit back on my sofa, enjoying the high I’m getting from the joint and waiting for the E to kick in.

Thanks to the joint, everything looks, sounds, and feels slower and more intense. Music always sounds better when you’re stoned. In fact, the tapping of the tablas is, for the most part, drowning out the noise of the gunfire and explosions outside, so I don’t feel so paranoid. I reach over, pick up the joint, and take a few more puffs.

The bird-like tunes of the flute, as well as the violin glissandi, are making me feel as if I’m in the peaceful environs of nature. I sit back on the sofa, close my eyes, and imagine myself in such a serene place.

I try doing something I’ve done many times, with varying degrees of success and failure, to give myself peace of mind. I meditate on the unity of everything in the universe at the subatomic level, on how at that level, nothing really matters, because everything is all one there. If so, there is no death, because there’s no life either, with any of life’s pain and suffering. Think of how Thích Quảng Đức was able to immolate himself back in 1963.

So if I die from gunfire, a conventional bomb, or a nuke, why should I care, right? It’s only a reshuffling, as it were, of all the subatomic particles, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

A few of the explosions outside are getting louder, which is hardly reassuring for me. On the other hand, a half hour has gone by, and I can feel the E starting to kick in. Sparkly sensations of love are tingling all over my body. I just need to feel more of the illusion of protection.

Time to snort a line of K.

Thrones

She
had
the
big
chair, just
as so many
before her

used
that
seat
with
the intent to
take over and
plunder worlds.

One
may
sit
and
rest, while
many more
must fight

to
be
in
an
adequate
state of
existence.

One
can
sit
and
take it easy
on a throne
without gems,

and
the
men
and
women of the
world can be
seated as well.

So
we
in
an
abased state
must rise up
so all may sit.

‘The Targeter,’ a Surreal Novel, Chapter Two

Lemme take another sip of my drink before I continue. Ahh, there.

My joint is rolled and ready to be lit up, my lines of ketamine are ready to be snorted, and several ecstasy pills are lying here on my coffee table, to the immediate left of the ketamine lines.

The machine gun fire and explosions outside have continued, uninterrupted, and slightly louder.

Before I get wasted, I need a moment to think.

As I hear the fighting going on outside, I wonder how many of those weapons were manufactured by Sakia. Even if none of them were (which is unlikely, given that my parents are so preoccupied with maximizing Sakia’s profits that they’re willing to sell to the Chinese on both sides of the current conflict), the principle is still the same. The whole reason for all of these wars is to enrich the coffers of weapons manufacturers like Sakia.

My mom and dad love money so much that they’re willing to sell weapons that could have their own son killed. Even if they aren’t being sold to the East Asian theatre of this new world war, they’re at least being sold to the East European NATO member countries, provoking Russia and bringing us all closer to nuclear annihilation. My parents are doing their part to ensure we’re all killed, including me.

I first started arguing with my father, Sutton Dana Gordimer, and my mother, Maya, about all the evil their profit-making was doing back when I’d learned, from reading a newspaper article, of Iraqi kids in a school bus killed when a drone missile made by Sakia hit it; this was back in the mid-2000s.

Both my parents dismissed the story as “unimportant.”

When I showed how furious I was at their callous attitude to the child victims, my mother tried to guilt-trip me over enjoying the privileged life of a rich kid, rich from Sakia’s success and my parents’ hard work. My father tossed in a little racism, not caring about the fate of “a few smelly, brown-skinned kids.”

As I learned of more and more deaths in Iraq, and later (once I’d moved here to teach English) in Libya and Syria, all the time knowing Sakia had sold billions of dollars in weapons to those who would kill these victims, I felt that I couldn’t accept any of the money Sakia made from these killings. So when my mother, during a long-distance phone call, brought up my future inheritance several years ago (she meant it to guilt-trip me for my having stopped communicating with them several years before that), I told her, in all bluntness, “I don’t want your Sakia money!”

She replied by saying, “That’s not exactly a sage decision to make, Sidney Arthur [the snobbish way she typically addressed me].”

“Oh, it’s very sage!” I retorted. “I’m the sage of Sakia, didn’t you know that? in refusing Sakia money. I won’t benefit materially from your blood money!”

“Oh, you are such an idealistic fool!” she growled, then hung up.

As far as I’m concerned, Maya Gordimer was never a mother to me, in the true sense of the word. I don’t know: maybe when I was a newborn baby, before I can remember, she had some kind of maternal feelings for me. But I’m guessing she, as a real mother, died, say, a week or so after I was born. She’s been a tyrant ever since.

As far back as I can remember, she’s always resented my very existence, and hated me for my sensitivity; I suspect she envies it, since that narcissist has none of her own. She never wanted me to have friends, or normal, healthy relationships of any kind: she always tried to make me feel too different from other people to feel as if I belonged.

She encouraged hostility, however tacitly, in my elder siblings towards me, allowing them to bully me when I was a child. When all three of them died suddenly in a car accident (several years before I moved to East Asia), and I didn’t shed even one tear for any of those who were meant to take over the company when our parents were to retire, Mom just scowled at me as if I was the unfeeling one, rather than her.

I suspect that her making my family enemies with me didn’t end with my late siblings. I suspect that she also sabotaged my friendship with my paternal cousin, David Adam Gordimer. We’d been good friends throughout our childhoods and young adulthoods; then, things turned strange…

I may be getting totally wasted on drugs and alcohol tonight, but I’m normally nowhere near this much of a druggie. David, however, always was, ever since his teens. His regular smoking of marijuana from those days, as well as his experimentation with LSD, opium, and ecstasy over the years, has surely affected his brain functioning.

I don’t know for sure, since I’m not qualified to be giving opinions in the psychiatric field, but I suspect David has developed paranoid schizophrenia. He’s had all kinds of delusional fantasies about me supposedly betraying his trust: gossiping about him with former friends of ours, stealing girlfriends and drugs from him, among other absurdities.

I suspect my mother has whispered all manner of malignant nonsense into his ears, reinforcing his paranoia and prompting him to send me abusive, incoherent word salads of emails loaded with wild, unsubstantiated accusations. It’s an abuse not so far removed from the nastiness I used to hear from my elder brothers and sister back when they were alive, hence my suspicions that the illusions of Maya were behind it all, for I’m sure she’d squirted her poison in their ears, too.

With my three siblings gone, my parents were relying on me, however reluctantly, to take over Sakia; but as I’ve said, I want nothing to do with their murderous business. They’d looked to David as a possible heir, but his increasing mental instability proved how hopeless he would be at running the company. My continuing refusal to take over the company may have been what prompted Mom to turn David against me…to spite me.

David must understand, deep down, that the world he sees and hears around himself is a surreal, hallucinatory one. He medicates himself with his cigarettes and pot to soothe and ease the terror he feels at a world he can no longer understand. He probably also envies me for my more stable mental state, though he’s projected his mental problems onto me, when repeating the nonsense my mom says about how “different” I am from everybody else.

The online abuse David has subjected me to was either through direct emails to me, or in comments on my blog, ironically called The Sage of Sakia, on which I’ve expressed my vehement opposition to my parents’ evil business. David has seen my attacks on Sakia as “treason” against the Gordimer family, rather than the principled antiwar stance that it is.

Again, I believe David envies me for having at least the ability, if not the willingness (which he has), to take over Sakia when my parents want to retire (which is coming soon, if not already upon us). Now, he hasn’t contacted me in years, unless it’s been under a fake name in a more recent abusive comment on my anti-Sakia posts.

Is he in a mental hospital? He should be, though I don’t expect anyone in the family to care enough to get him to see a doctor.

In all of my inter-family fighting over the years, whether between my mom, David, or my elder siblings on one side and me on the other, my father either neglected to say anything or he’s sided with them against me, which has been almost every time.

Some fucking family.

All the more reason for me to loathe life.

All the more reason for me to attempt an escape from it all through drugs and alcohol.

I’m going the David route…to death.

I wonder if I’ll die in a state of lunacy similar to his, only a happy one.

Tightrope

If
I
lean
too much the one way, or too much the other, I will fall.

If
the
rope
went in a straight line, I could keep my balance well enough,

but
the
rope
keeps veering to the right, making me counterbalance left.

How
far
is
too far left, or not left enough? Is moderate “too balanced”?

One
has
to
walk it slowly, yet the human race’s time is running out.

We
can
not
stay on one side; we must go, yet to fall is certain death.

Analysis of ’28 Days Later’

28 Days Later is a 2002 post-apocalyptic horror film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. It stars Cillian Murphy, with Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson, and Megan Burns.

Inspired by such George A. Romero films as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, as well as John Wyndham‘s Day of the Triffids, Garland replaces zombies with the great majority of the UK population being infected with “Rage,” a highly contagious virus that induces aggression and replaces speech with mindless growling; the result is civilizational collapse.

The film was released to both critical acclaim and commercial success, reinvigorating the zombie genre. It has been featured in several “best of” film lists; Time Out magazine ranked it #97 on its list of the 100 Best British Films ever.

A sequel, 28 Weeks Later, came out in 2007, and in the same year, talk of a third film, 28 Months Later, came about with Boyle and Garland being among those interested, with Murphy showing interest in reprising his role in 2021.

28 Days Later has maintained a following, with the COVID-19 pandemic giving the film an especial relevance in recent years.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

The film begins with shots of chimpanzees, all infected with Rage, kept in cages and made to do such things as watch footage of riots and protests on TV screens; this is happening in a laboratory in Cambridge, where a group of overzealous animal rights activists have broken in, with the intent to free the chimps.

The combination of our learning that the virus is called “Rage” by the doctor who tries to stop the activists (in a “Rage” of their own) from so rashly freeing the chimps, that there’s footage of angry rioters and protestors, and that the infecting of everyone in the UK will result in civilizational collapse, all leads us to an understanding of what Rage symbolizes.

28 Days Later isn’t a direct critique of capitalism, but when we see that the prescient film presents the aftermath of civilizational collapse (a collapse we in the 2020s are in danger of experiencing, due to the global financial meltdown exacerbated by–and, as some of us suspect, masked by–COVID-19 and the fall in value of the petrodollar caused by the sanctions on Russia), we can see in the film an indirect critique of a mode of production that Marx predicted, in Capital, vol. 3, would one day collapse from its own contradictions.

Rage, in this context, represents the collective trauma we’ll all feel under such a collapse of society. This trauma has already been felt in all the mass shootings that keep happening in the US. We can only expect more of it in the near future. The plague of wars brought on by US/NATO imperialism, having begun its worst phase–perhaps fittingly–around the year of the release of the film, has manifested “Rage” all the more vividly.

The thing about trauma and extreme stress is that they activate the most primitive and animalistic parts of the human brain (e.g., the amygdala), causing one to lash out in fight-or-flight mode. Seeing a Rage-infected chimp attack and infect one of the animal rights activists when it’s been freed is thus also symbolically fitting. Rage reduces us all to animal instinct.

Related to this idea that Rage reduces humanity from the rational, thinking, cerebral cortex level to the instinctual, animal, amygdala level is the loss among the infected of the ability to use language. Lacan‘s notion of the Symbolic Order is our healthiest mental state, for it brings us, via language and its signifiers, into the world of culture, custom, and society–what we need to live together and function in harmony with each other.

The infected have forever lost the ability to communicate verbally, having replaced it with the pre-verbal form of communication (as WR Bion conceived it) coined by Melanie Klein as projective identification. Instead of saying words, the infected either growl unintelligibly, bite their victims, or spit their infected blood on them, causing the victims to be infected almost immediately afterwards.

By biting or spitting their blood, the infected project their pathology onto their victims (as Romero’s zombies do), who are then forced to contain an intolerable pathology. When Bion wrote of projective identification, he usually referred to a mother receiving her baby’s projections of agitation from irritating outside sensory data; the mother would, through what Bion called ‘maternal reverie,’ contain her baby’s agitations, detoxifying them by soothing it, then return the detoxified feelings to her baby in a form acceptable to it. As a therapist, Bion would play the role of the mother and similarly contain the agitations of his psychotic patients, his ‘babies,’ as it were. (Read here for more on Bion and other psychoanalytic concepts.)

With the infected, however, it is impossible to do such containing and detoxifying of their Rage. So instead, one is forced to confront a negative form of containment (Bion, chapter 28), wherein Rage is never soothed, but rather turned into a nameless dread. To fuse Bion with Lacan, therefore, in this nameless dread, we see a shift away from the healthy, sociable state of the Symbolic, whose signifiers allow for mental clarity and differentiation of all things, to the traumatizing, undifferentiated state of the Real.

For the infected, there is no socializing, planning for the future, intellectualizing, or any of the normal human functioning that is conducive to survival. There is only undifferentiated, traumatic, meaningless Rage–the Real.

Rage, as a contagious virus, is thus a metaphor for the mindless destructiveness of a people overcome with, and overwhelmed by, the alienation that results from the contradictions of capitalism. People in this mental state don’t try to replace their oppression with a building of socialism; they just destroy, destroy, destroy…

After the incident with the chimp in the laboratory, we jump ahead…twenty-eight days later. I can’t help but wonder: why was the chosen number twenty-eight, of all possible numbers? It’s the exact equivalent of four weeks, but what is the significance of that?

Twenty-eight days is also the number of days of the shortest month–February. It’s too warm in the year for the movie to take place anywhere near that month, but could that time period indicate a symbolic February, with the time before it a symbolic January, and the time after a symbolic March? Please indulge me, Dear Reader, as I explore this possibility.

Since January is derived from Janus, the god with two faces, one looking back to the past year and the other looking ahead to the future of the new year, we can see the time preceding the twenty-eight days as the time when people could still envision a past and a future. Since March is derived from Mars, the god of war, we can see the time after the twenty-eight days as a time of war between the infected and the non-infected.

In this symbolic schema, the twenty-eight days–between the laboratory incident and Jim (Murphy) waking up from his coma–are therefore the symbolic month of the Februa, when such festivals of the purification of Rome as Amburbium and Lupercalia were observed. In the case of this film, ‘purification’ can be seen as either dialectical irony, a failed attempt at purification, or…here’s a thought…maybe it’s the infection itself that is purifying the world of the sickness known as the human race.

In any case, Jim wakes up from his coma in a London hospital after he, a bicycle courier, was hit by a car. Like so many of us, he has ‘woken up’ far too late, after all the damage has already been done to society, the damage resulting in the trauma, social alienation, and civilizational collapse that Rage symbolizes. He is shocked to find not only the entire hospital deserted, but also the streets of London.

He goes about the streets shouting “Hello!” over and over again in all futility. He wants to connect with people in a world where human connection is all but completely annihilated.

The link, however indirect, with capitalism is evident when we see all the billboard ads and the uncollected trash on the streets, including unused commodities and money, this latter being picked up by Jim and put in his white plastic bag (in which he has also put such commodities as soda pop cans he’s taken from their vending machine in the hospital), him imagining he’s actually going to have a use for it. He sees “EVACUATION” on a newspaper headline.

He finds a church and enters it, where graffiti on a wall says, “Repent, The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh.” No, not even religion will save us from Rage. He says another of his pointless “Hellos,” only to get the attention of the infected in the church, including a priest.

They chase him out of the church and back onto the streets, where he meets and is saved by Selena (Harris) and Mark (played by Noah Huntley), the first people be’s been able to communicate with in a long time. They hide in a grocery store, where his new comrades explain how the virus spread.

Significantly, Selena begins the explanation by saying, “It started as rioting.” Just as with that TV footage of riots and protesters that a chimp in the laboratory was watching, we can conceive, through Selena’s opening words, that the virus should be understood as a metaphor for an epidemic of civil unrest resulting from capitalism’s growing oppression of the people, causing their despair and wild acting out in a world where no effective organizing is possible. One is reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Mark, when Jim has later found his dead parents, gives his own story about the beginnings of infection in which he and his family are trying to escape. They find themselves on a hill of people lying on the ground, a mix of infected and non-infected. Having climbed up this mound of people and on top of a kiosk, Mark looks down on the people, unable to see the difference between the infected and non-infected. Again, this origin story shows how the virus should be understood as a metaphor for the general breakdown of society.

In such a breakdown, the pain of the loss of family is especially keen, of course, so Jim is anxious to find his parents, though Selena and Mark assure him that they must be either infected or dead by now. When it’s safe to go out, the three find his parents’ house, where the two are found dead in bed, having killed themselves by overdosing on pills. Indeed, when society collapses so extremely, despair can be too overwhelming for one to want to rebuild.

Jim’s mom’s choice of words in her suicide note is apt. She says that she and his father have left him sleeping. Now, his mom and dad are sleeping with him, and he must never wake up.

In such a hopeless situation, the comparison of death to sleep reminds us of the soliloquy of despairing Hamlet: “To die, to sleep,/No more, and by a sleep to say we end/The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wished, to die, to sleep…” (III, I, 60-64)

To prevent this kind of despair is why it’s so important to organize the people and be ready when the inevitable societal collapse comes, a collapse symbolized in the film by the Rage virus, and soon to come in our world as a result of the following problems. First, there was the economic meltdown of the 2020s; next, its exacerbation due to the response to the pandemic; third, inflation brought on by the backfiring sanctions on Russia. Added to these problems are the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and all the billions spent on the military rather than on the struggling American people. Such reckless spending is creating a ticking time bomb of a deficit which, when it finally blows up in our faces, will be made all the more painful by the decline in value of the petrodollar.

To get back to the film: some of the infected attack Jim’s parents’ house, and though Selena, Mark, and Jim manage to kill the infected, Mark is bitten in the arm by one of them. Selena doesn’t hesitate to hack her screaming comrade to bloody pieces with her machete. In a tense situation where solidarity is so crucial, it is especially difficult to have to eliminate a comrade on the mere suspicion that he’ll turn against you, becoming a traitor, a wrecker of the organization, an agent provocateur, or someone bringing in a gang mentality–these being the kind of problems that bitten Mark can be said to represent. Selena’s killing of him seems rash, but it is necessary.

She, Mark, and Jim have had to eat the junk food of places like the grocery store, obviously because it’s the only food to be consumed quickly and the only kind that won’t go bad. Its consumption is also representative of how the survivors are still dependent on the kind of commodities–now merely use-values, rather than exchange-values, because money has become useless–once produced by capitalists. Like capitalism, junk food is bad for you, but it’s all they’ve got. It ironically won’t yield a profit for the companies that made it, but the survivors are limited to eating it. This fact is another indirect link from the movie to a critique of capitalism.

Selena and Jim see, far off in the distance in the cityscape, an apartment building in which one of the higher-up apartments has Christmas lights flashing in its windows. This means of attracting survivors is a double for the one to come later, when the army men try to lure women into a trap of sexual slavery and forced impregnation.

This first lure, however, happens to be a benevolent one. Here, Selena and Jim meet Frank (Gleeson) and his teenage daughter Hannah (Burns). The sight of Christmas lights, contrasted with the army’s later promise of “Salvation,” makes for a chilling juxtaposition.

Frank and Hannah offer protection and hospitality to Jim and Selena, again, in a way that compares ironically with the protection and hospitality of the army men, when one considers the honest motives of the former against the predatory motives of the latter group.

Soon enough, though, all four of them hear the army’s radio broadcast from Manchester, and after a brief argument over whether it’s wise to go and find people who might be dead by now, for all they know, they decide to go. On the way there, we see shots of beautiful green grass, wind turbines, and at one point when the four briefly stop, even a group of horses running about. These are all reminders to the survivors that there’s still some good in the world.

The sound of religious music is heard during this drive to Manchester, too: Ave Maria, and “In Paradisum” (from Fauré‘s Requiem in D Minor). It is during this time that the four see, from a distance, all of Manchester in flames, a chilling omen that they aren’t about to enter paradise, but hell. Just as with Jim’s first encounter of the infected having been in a church, of all places, face to face with an infected priest, the four are about to confront their ‘salvation’ as a kind of damnation.

They arrive at the army men’s blockade, surrounding a mansion, but at first they see no one there. Frank is disappointed and goes off alone for a moment, sitting where a nearby crow is cawing and bothering him. A drop of infected blood from above hits him in the eye. Hannah comes over at that moment.

This is a touching, heartbreaking scene. Frank knows he’s about to change, and he has to repel her…out of love. While he can still speak, he tells her he loves her very much, but then angrily demands that she stay away, even pushing her away. The Rage virus represents our mutual alienation, an alienation so severe that it estranges even loving family members from each other.

Selena and Jim know that Frank must be killed, but do they have the heart to kill him…in front of his daughter? The soldiers can do it, of course, and they shoot him as soon as they finally appear.

At first, the soldiers, especially Major Henry West (Eccleston), are cordial in their welcoming of the surviving three. Pretty soon, though, Jim is made aware of the unsavory things that West is capable of doing. West shows Jim an infected soldier, Mailer, as a chained captive in a small yard outside the blockaded mansion. West wants to use his captive to learn about the infected, concluding that they have no future. Eventually, his captive will starve to death, as will all the other infected.

At dinner, West reveals a bit more of his unsavory character in a philosophical disagreement he has with Sergeant Farrell (played by Stuart McQuarrie). Farrell speaks of the normalcy of the vast majority of world history, before the beginning of humanity, and of how the Rage virus’s wiping out of humanity can be seen as a return to normalcy (recall, in this connection, my interpretation above of the twenty-eight days as a metaphorical February, purifying the world of man).

West contrasts Farrell’s analysis of the situation with one of his own, saying that infection is just “people killing people,” which had already been going on throughout human history, and would doubtless continue after the virus is (presumably) annihilated, making killing perfectly normal.

Now, as ugly as West’s analysis is, it’s correct as far as 28 Days Later is concerned, since as I’ve said above, the Rage virus is a metaphor for how alienated and fragmented we all are, and have increasingly become, in a world that oppresses the great majority of the population for the sake of maximizing profit and exporting capital outside the Western empire and into the Third World.

What eventually becomes clear to a horrified Jim, then to Selena and Hannah after the soldiers have fought off an attack of infected who penetrated the blockade, is that West and his men have offered “salvation” as a ruse to lure in women to be raped and impregnated to repopulate the UK. Their pretense of protection against a threatening outside world, only to be revealed as a repressive and oppressive life inside that sphere of ‘protection,’ is thus symbolic of fascism, which arises whenever the capitalist system is in crisis or under threat, as it is in a time of societal collapse, as we see in this film.

The fascist mentality of far too many soldiers, who dehumanize those they kill, is made clear when Corporal Mitchell (played by Ricci Harnett) laughs and says of one of his kills, “He bounced!” The dehumanizing continues when Mitchell and the other troops return from the shooting of the infected, finding Selena and Hannah. Mitchell takes away Selena’s machete, symbol of the phallic woman, thus taking away her power while chauvinistically promising to give her his protection, as well as childishly playing with it as if it were an extension of his cock.

This juxtaposition of the promise of protection with chauvinistic dehumanizing is inherently fascistic, both in this scene with the girls as with the previous one with the infected kill who “bounced.” Now, seeing this mentality among individual troops is one thing, but seeing it justified by their commanding officer, with his chilling line, “I promised them women,” is something else entirely.

One of the greatest dangers of societal breakdown is the emergence of fascism as an attempt to restore order. Since we are seeing signs of such an imminent breakdown in the US, combined with so many Americans having right-wing views and espousing open carry, the emergence of fascism there when the breakdown comes is not some fanciful, paranoid fear.

West’s rationalization for keeping Selena and Hannah, making them forced mothers, is that “women mean a future.” Recall above when I described pre-infection UK as a symbolic January, with Janus’s faces looking to the past and to the future; while the UK after the twenty-eight days exists in a symbolic March, the month of the war god, in which–because of the endless fighting off of the infected–there is no Janus-face looking into the future. One can understand West’s predicament, not wanting his boys to kill themselves over a future with no meaning in life beyond just fighting off the infected, a future with no wives or future families to raise. But those wives, of course, must be willing wives.

Since neither Jim nor Farrell is willing to cooperate with West and his would-be rapists, the two are to be taken out and shot. Farrell laments over how the island of Great Britain has been quarantined and left in the lurch while the rest of the world carries on normally (Earlier, Selena mentioned reports of cases of infection in Paris and New York, though we don’t know any more of how that has developed.). During societal crises of this magnitude, abandoning a huge section of the world’s population is conveniently easy.

Jim manages to escape being executed by Mitchell and Private Jones (played by Leo Bill), their least effectual soldier and hopelessly incapable cook. Jim returns, though, meaning to rescue Selena and Hannah, whom Selena has made high as a kite on Valium so she “won’t care” when the men rape her. Jim releases Mailer, the chained-up, infected soldier, who goes on a rampage throughout the mansion, infecting a few of the other soldiers. Since the hitherto-non-infected soldiers, as potential rapists, are hardly any more civilized than the infected, then what difference does it make if they, too, become infected?

Mitchell tries to escape, forcing Selena to come with him, so Jim (who by now has already begun a sexual relationship with her) has to kill him. Jim does so in a particularly brutal way: by stuffing his thumbs deep into the eye sockets of screaming Mitchell. Covered in blood, Jim looks to her as if he’s infected–is he? Again, we see that, in terms of being prone to violence, the line separating the infected from the non-infected isn’t so clear or well-defined.

Jim, Selena, and Hannah are about to escape the blockade in a car, but West, the sole survivor of his band of brothers, has been hiding in the back seat of the car, and surprising Jim, shoots him to avenge his troops. Since West has been a father figure to his now-dead troops, saying to Jim, “You killed all my boys” before pulling the trigger, it’s useful to note the reproduction of Laocoön and His Sons in the hallway of the mansion (which our three protagonists have just run by in their escape attempt). Just as Laocoön and his sons are attacked by sea serpents, so have West and his “boys” been attacked by the infected.

Indeed, Hannah saves the day by backing up the car so infected Mailer can grab West from behind, pull him out the back window, and infect him. Since Jim is going to die from his gunshot wound if he isn’t given medical treatment as soon as possible, Hannah has to ram the car through the blockade gate.

Another twenty-eight days go by…another symbolic February, by my interpretation.

[Now, all three alternative endings, as given on the DVD, show Jim having died–one from his gunshot wound, this being the one that was filmed. Another version shows the outbreak to have been a dream (including shots of him as a bicycle courier up to the car hitting him), and another version, given in storyboards, shows Frank being given a blood transfusion, an exchange of his with Jim’s, instead of the soldiers shooting Frank, after he gets infected.]

The more optimistic, official ending, with Jim surviving and recovering in a cottage in Cumbria, shows the infected lying on the roads, emaciated and dying of starvation. Shots of hills of beautiful green grass remind us of the good there still is in the world. This second symbolic February, as it were, is showing a world being purified of infection. It’s as though our symbolic months have gone backwards in time, ending with a second symbolic January, with Janus’s faces looking backwards and forwards again, with a past and a possible future.

There is hope for renewed communication when Selena has knitted up a huge cloth banner saying “HELLO,” to be laid on the grass so jets flying over their location may see it. If the pilot of the Finnish fighter jet has spotted them, the three can be rescued.

The cure to Rage, and to societal collapse, is communication.

Analysis of ‘The Apartment’

The Apartment is a 1960 comedy produced and directed by Billy Wilder, who also wrote the screenplay with IAL Diamond. The film stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray, with Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Willard Waterman, David White, Hope Holiday, and Edie Adams.

The film received widespread acclaim, and was the eighth highest grossing film of 1960. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. Lemmon, MacLaine, and Kruschen were all nominated respectively for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor; Lemmon and MacLaine won Golden Globe Awards in their categories.

The Apartment is considered one of the best movies of all time, ranking at #93 in the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies, which then moved up to #80 for the 10th Anniversary Edition. It ranked at #20 for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs, and at #62 for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions. The quote “Shut up and deal” was nominated for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

The film’s central premise, that of an upwardly-mobile insurance clerk named CC “Bud” Baxter (Lemmon) allowing his senior coworkers to use his apartment to have extramarital affairs, is on many levels symbolic of capitalist exploitation. He often stays in the office late after normal working hours are over, working without overtime, because one of the men above him is fooling around with a woman in Baxter’s home, meaning he has to stay out until they leave.

This sense that his home is not really his home reminds us of another aspect of capitalism: landlords’ ownership of one’s home, putting one in the potential danger of being kicked out and thrown into the street. Indeed, early in the film, Baxter finds himself temporarily homeless one winter night because Mr. Dobisch (Walston) on short notice has picked up a woman in a bar who “looks like Marilyn Monroe,” and so he needs the use of the apartment; Dobisch also gives back the wrong key to the apartment, leaving Baxter out of his home even longer. Having been out in the cold, he ends up getting sick.

Why does he let these men walk all over him? If he doesn’t, his hopes of climbing the corporate ladder are sunk. Again, the cutthroat world of capitalism drives this pressure to compete. At the beginning of the film, Baxter’s is one among a sea of desks in the office, where the lower-ranking employees work; later, when promoted, he has his own, coveted office, but Dobisch, Kirkeby (Lewis), Vanderhoff (Waterman), and Eichelberger (White) all want the continued use of Baxter’s apartment, implying that if he doesn’t let them, they’ll bring him down just as surely as they brought him up.

Fortunately, Baxter will have the protection of his boss, Mr. Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray). Unfortunately, that protection will come at a price–a spare key to Baxter’s apartment, so Sheldrake can bring his mistress there. To make matters worse, this mistress also happens to be Baxter’s crush at work–elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine).

The mistresses personify yet another aspect of capitalism: the exploitation of women. In a society that promotes worker alienation, it follows that women will be used for men’s sexual sport rather than appreciated as human beings. Dobisch et al are not only using Baxter as a kind of pimp; these married men are also using their mistresses as if they were prostitutes.

Their encroaching on Baxter’s apartment and his use of it in his free time is perfectly symbolic of how capitalists exploit the worker by extracting surplus value from him to generate profits. His apartment is symbolically (as well as literally, of course) what the office building is literally: private property, a place the capitalist uses to exploit workers and make profits from. Baxter’s home is thus a double for his place of work.

Even when at home alone, he still has capitalists intruding on his private life. He turns on the TV, hoping to enjoy Grand Hotel, a film starring Greta Garbo in which she says the famous line, “I want to be alone,” a sentiment with which Baxter surely would sympathize. The problem is that before the film even gets a chance to begin, it is interrupted by the program’s two sponsors.

His philandering boss’s and senior coworkers’ use of his apartment, symbolic of the extraction of surplus value, is significant in how this use of it is for sex, which shows how Marx can be fused with Lacan. Plus-de jouir, a term Lacan coined to express an aspect of his notion of jouissance–an excessive and transgressive indulgence in sexual pleasure–is derived from Marx’s notion of surplus value: one gains a sinful excess of sexual pleasure (i.e., cheating on one’s wife), just as a boss cheats the worker of the fruits of his labour (surplus value).

Still, a countercurrent is going on in the story. In spite of all the worker alienation we see going on, Baxter’s crush on Kubelik is the beginning of a bond slowly developing between the two. As coworkers, Baxter and Kubelik will build a mutual fondness that can be seen to symbolize worker solidarity.

This development is far from being a smooth one, though. First, when they have arranged a date to see The Music Man at the local theatre, she stands him up because Sheldrake, of whom she is–unbeknownst to Baxter–the latest in a string of mistresses, is taking her to the apartment.

Baxter forgives her for this because he’s happy to have been promoted and to have gotten his own office. Later, he returns a compact with a broken mirror to Sheldrake, knowing it belongs to his mistress because it was left in the apartment (in an argument with Sheldrake there, she threw it at him and broke it). During a Christmas party, after Kubelik has heard a drunk and chatty Miss Olsen (Adams), Sheldrake’s secretary and original mistress, tell her of all the women their boss has enjoyed, from Olsen to Kubelik, this latest, and heartbroken, mistress reveals herself as such to Baxter by letting him use that broken compact mirror so he can see how he looks in a new bowler hat he’s bought, now that he’s of executive status.

Marx and Lacan are again fused here in the form of alienation. Lacan’s mirror alienates one’s fragmented self (symbolized by the broken mirror) from the ideal-I in the specular image. Baxter would see his ideal-I (the new executive) in that hat in the mirror reflection, but the break in it shows his realization that he isn’t so great, because Kubelik is Sheldrake’s girl, not his.

Alienation from oneself in the mirror reflection can be seen as symbolic of alienation from one’s species-essence, as Marx called it. Kubelik’s heartbreak over falling in love with a married man who dangles promises before her of divorcing his wife so he can marry Kubelik, yet never keeping the promises, is an alienation of herself from herself, because she realizes she’s being used as his whore, when she’d rather see herself as his true love. Small wonder she likes how the broken mirror makes her look how she feels.

Not aware of the depth of her heartbreak and despair, and assuming she’s content to be Sheldrake’s mistress, Baxter leaves the Christmas party and goes to a local pub to drown his sorrows. A married woman there named Margie MacDougall (Holiday) gets his attention, hoping he’ll pick her up since her husband is stuck in Cuba over the holidays.

In a strange irony, Margie complains about Fidel Castro, calling him “a no-good fink,” for not releasing her husband, Mickie, from a Havana prison (a jockey, he was caught doping a horse). I bring this up because Cuba under Castro would provide largely universal housing and free healthcare, two benefits that could have helped Baxter avoid catching that cold, and could have freed his home from being a haven for his coworkers’ infidelities (Castro’s first name thus embodying yet another irony).

Baxter finds himself lowered to the level of lecherous Sheldrake, Dobisch, et al, taking Margie to his apartment for a tumble. He is experiencing a nadir of alienation, making him use a woman for his sexual sport (and helping her cheat on her husband), when deep down he just wants to have a real relationship with Kubelik. Another irony is that his neighbours and landlady assume that he’s an alcoholic ladies’ man, when it’s those other men that are drinking and philandering in his apartment.

Kubelik is in his apartment, too, to his surprise, since she’s had another argument there with Sheldrake earlier over his continued unwillingness to divorce his wife. Heartbroken, Kubelik has overdosed on sleeping pills and is lying on Baxter’s bed, unconsciously awaiting death.

Baxter has to kick Margie out and get his next door neighbour, Dr. Dreyfuss (Kruschen) to help revive Kubelik. It’s interesting how, in the process of helping her to recover, the sense of alienation is fading away, to be replaced with a sense of solidarity.

Dreyfuss assumes, as does her gruff taxi driver brother-in-law (played by Johnny Seven) later on, that Baxter has taken advantage of Kubelik, when actually he has been a perfect gentleman with her. He and the doctor nurse her back to health–with the help of the care and cooking of Mrs. Dreyfuss (played by Naomi Stevens), who also assumes the worst of Baxter–and he even plays the role of housekeeper for her as she recovers, suggesting the feminist ideal of men helping around with the household duties.

In all of these actions, which include the doctor not requiring any payment for helping Kubelik, we see, in contrast to all of the exploitation of the upper-level coworkers of Baxter, Kubelik, and the other women (all symbolic of capitalist exploitation), communal acts of kindness and charity symbolic of socialism (recall what I said above about that “no-good fink,” Castro). This growing relationship between Baxter and Kubelik is the solidarity that will free them of Sheldrake et al by the end of the movie.

A crucial part of this growing relationship, in the symbolic sense, is the gin rummy game Baxter and Kubelik play. What’s ironic about this game is that he is playing with her, but it isn’t ‘playing’ in the sense that the other men are playing with their mistresses. A genuine bond is developing between Baxter and Kubelik as she tells him, during the card game, of her bad luck in love, not just with Sheldrake, but with a number of men before him.

Baxter listens sympathetically, which is just what Kubelik needs. He has also told her about a suicide attempt he once made with a gun over similarly unrequited love for a woman who sends him a fruitcake every Christmas. In this growing mutual empathy, we see also their growing solidarity against Sheldrake and the exploitative capitalist system he represents.

On the other side of this growing solidarity and camaraderie between these two employees, there is also their growing attitude of rebelliousness against the philandering men who still want to use Baxter’s apartment. Kirkeby and his telephone operating mistress are rebuffed at the door to the apartment; Kirkeby and the other men get their revenge on Baxter by helping Kubelik’s brother-in-law find her at the apartment, where he punches Baxter for having apparently soiled his sister-in-law’s honour.

Baxter doesn’t mind the punch, though, since Kubelik’s kiss immediately afterwards tells him that she’s growing feelings for him, too. This encouragement will inspire him, on the doctor’s advice, to “be a mensch,” and give up his pimping use of the apartment…even to his boss.

Sheldrake has learned that it was the loose lips of his tipsy secretary at the Christmas party that pushed Kubelik to the desperate swallowing of those sleeping pills, so he fires Miss Olsen. She gets her revenge on him by telling his wife about his many affairs, so Mrs. Sheldrake kicks him out of the house. As we can see, this conflict between him and Miss Olsen, as with the conflict that’s growing between Baxter and Kubelik on the one side and Sheldrake on the other, is symbolic of the contradictions between the bourgeois boss and the proletariat.

The worker is promoted as a reward for his obedience to the powers-that-be, not so much for his abilities. We see this when Sheldrake promotes Baxter to an even higher position…expecting the key to the apartment in exchange.

Baxter, in love with Kubelik and sick and tired of being used for his apartment, defies Sheldrake by giving him the wrong key…the one to the executive washroom instead of the one to his apartment. This deliberate giving of the wrong key is an ironic repeat of Dobisch’s accidentally giving Baxter the executive washroom key instead of returning the apartment key. The sexual symbolism of a key going into a keyhole is obvious: in the use of Baxter’s apartment key, the adulterous men are screwing their mistresses (and their wives, metaphorically); they’ve also been screwing Baxter out of the use of his own home; now, Baxter is screwing Sheldrake back.

At a New Year’s Eve party in the Chinese restaurant, Kubelik is surprised to hear from Sheldrake that Baxter has quit because he refuses to continue acting as apartment pimp for his now-former boss, especially if such pimping involves her. Now, she could go the traditional route and marry rich Sheldrake (only to be replaced in turn by future mistresses). Instead, realizing that unemployed Baxter truly loves her, she runs out of the restaurant when Sheldrake isn’t looking and goes to Baxter’s apartment.

There, the popping of a cork on a bottle of champagne sounds to her, out in the hall, like a gunshot; she’s relieved when he opens the door with the bottle and with no bullet in his head. Again, we see growing sympathy as indicative of growing solidarity and love.

She learns that he is moving out of the apartment: indeed, the memories of the pimping have made the place unattractive. The two sit down and get out the deck of cards. He professes his love to her, but she’s sick of hearing the mere words of love–hence, her famous ending line.

Playing that game of gin ironically expresses true lovemaking, not the lewd acts of the lecherous playas and their mistresses, but a real making of love, a building of a relationship of mutual support and solidarity, symbolic of a union of workers in defiance of their exploitative bosses.

Wine

In vino veritas,
but wine can
also be
a way
out
of
the
sad truth trapping us.

Dipsomania
craves a
high to
fend
off
the
low of
depression.

There is the high of
drink and drugs,
and there’s the
opium
of
the
toiling masses,

the wine that one imagines
to be transubstantiated
into the blood of Him
who had blue water
turn into a
red
and
tasty wedding beverage.

We cannot change
our blue to red
by wine gods
or
by
the
Word of God’s red blood.

Changing blue to red is not a
matter of Spirit or spirits.
Red bourgeois blood
must be spilled
so
we
can
have a red state for all the people.

Analysis of ‘They Live’

They Live is a 1988 science fiction action film written and directed by John Carpenter, based on the 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson, and the 1986 comic adaptation “Nada” by Nelson and artist Bill Wray. The film stars Roddy Piper, with Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, and Peter Jason.

They Live was a minor success during its release, but received negative reviews from critics for its social commentary, writing, and acting; but like other Carpenter films, it gained a cult following and more positive critical reappraisal. The film has had a huge impact on popular culture, with such iconic scenes as that of the shocked protagonist (Piper) putting on and taking off special sunglasses that reveal subliminal messages enslaving the world to aliens, and of a six-minute alley brawl between him and his eventual sidekick (David).

Here is a link to quotes from the film. Here’s a link to Nelson’s short story, and here’s a link to the comic adaptation.

The short story and comic are a straightforward narrative about a covert alien takeover of the world, with little if any sense of the aliens being among the ranks of the upper classes. Indeed, one of the aliens in Nelson’s story is disguised as “a loveable old drunk,” implying a homeless wino. Other aliens (or “Fascinators,” as they’re called in the story) are the neighbours in the apartment of Lil, the girlfriend of George Nada, the protagonist. The only suggestion that the “Fascinators” could be rich is that Nada finds “no aliens on the subway…Maybe they were too good for such things.” (PDF, page 5)

It was Carpenter (under the pseudonym of “Frank Armitage,” the name of David’s character in the film and also an allusion to Henry Armitage, a Lovecraft character) who turned Nelson’s story into an anti-capitalist allegory critical of the 1980s Reagan revolution and its war on the poor. A key element, however, retained in Nelson’s story, the comic, and the film is how the aliens use the mass media to lull the world into passive compliance with the nefarious, world-destroying agenda of the aliens.

Indeed, They Live is amazingly prescient in how it portrays the insidious effects of Reagan/Thatcher neoliberalism not only widening the gap between the rich and the poor, but also using the media to make us all passively accept our descent into ever-worsening alienation, submission to fascistic police, and mindless consumerism. The film grows more and more relevant with each passing year.

Though the anti-capitalist message should be so obvious that it doesn’t need comment, certain egregiously erroneous right-wing interpretations of who the aliens represent should be dismissed at the outset. No, they don’t represent a conspiracy of world domination by “the Jews” (capitalism, apparently, is only bad when they practice it, but when ‘good, decent Christians’ exploit the global proletariat, that’s perfectly OK [sarcasm]), or the Freemasons, or Big Government per se. Carpenter is very clear in his criticism of free enterprise, the “free market” that these right-wing morons all too often defend in their criticism of what’s wrong with today’s world. No, “small government” won’t fix our ailing society: a government that serves the people, rather than the rich, will fix it.

The film begins with Nada (Piper), a homeless drifter, walking into LA looking for work. His name is an interesting choice, being Spanish for “nothing,” and indeed, in the comic adaptation, when he dies at eight o’clock in the morning as predicted, we see the final panels showing his body decaying, being reduced to nothing, and him saying in the narration that he has become “…once…and…for…all…nada.”

As a personification of nothing, Nada represents the lumpenproletariat, thought by Marx and Engels to have no revolutionary potential, though some leftists today feel that people like Nada do have such potential…provided they are given proper guidance. When led astray, as the other Drifter (Flower) is, they can end up supporting the forces of reaction and even fascism.

Still, being “nothing” can paradoxically be everything from a dialectical perspective. We proletarian “nothings” can be everything if we come together in solidarity. Hegel’s dialectic, as expressed in his Science of Logic, finds the unity between being and nothing in becoming. In the course of this film, we certainly see Nada go on a journey from nothing to becoming something of the greatest importance.

After finding neither work nor food stamps in an employment agency, Nada walks by a park where he hears a blind street preacher (played by Raymond St. Jacques) warning his listeners of the aliens who are secretly controlling the world. He doesn’t mention aliens, so we assume at this point that he is simply talking about Satan and his demons.

The preacher is blind, yet he says the people’s enemies “have blinded us to the truth.” He is like the blind prophet Tiresias, who nonetheless could ‘see’ secret truths most people of his day could not see. This paradox of blindness vs. sight will be further developed when Nada sees through those black sunglasses.

The preacher speaks of our greed and, significantly, of “our owners,” which seems to anticipate what George Carlin would say in a rant, seventeen years after this film was made, about the real owners of the US, “the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.” Police arrive at the park to shut the preacher up.

We hear the preacher’s words in a voiceover as the camera gets a shot of TV screens in a store window that night, showing Mount Rushmore, a bald eagle in flight, a cowboy on a horse, and men who seem to be celebrating winning a basketball game. All-American stuff: a colossal sculpture by a man “deeply involved in Klan politics,” and which was done on a mountain promised to the Lakota Tribe; a bird of prey aptly symbolic of the imperialist country; cowboy stereotypes; and pleasure in competition. It’s all on Cable 54, a station whose significance will be seen later. Nada walks by as a dazed black man is watching the TVs.

Nada finds a job at a construction area. After a day’s work, he meets Frank (David), who offers to show him a place, “Justiceville,” where the city’s homeless can get some food. It’s significant that homeless Nada is rarely welcome in any private property or shelter, which is why some of us wish to abolish private property.

The friendship between Nada and Frank is strained throughout the film, their alley brawl being where that tension comes to a head. This tension reflects how worker alienation is rife in capitalist society.

Frank has a good heart, and he has a sense, as most of us do, that something’s not right in a society that allows the rich to trample on the poor. Nada, who will ultimately lead in the duo’s revolution, is at first still willing to “believe in America,” to follow the rules, to do a good day’s work, and to hope for better luck in the future.

Frank, in contrast, though full of justified anger at the unfair system, is afraid of rocking the boat, since he has a wife and two kids in Detroit to support. Frank is, as The Last Poets once said, scared of revolution. This fear, combined with how the manipulative media hypnotizes us all, is one of the main reasons the masses won’t rise up against the ruling class.

Nada, though pro-American at the beginning, is observant to the point of putting everything together quite soon. He notes the bearded hacker interrupting the mesmerizing TV programs to warn people of the dangers the blind preacher was speaking of in the park. He notes that the church across from Justiceville, where the meals for the homeless are prepared, isn’t what it seems: recordings of church singing drown out the voices of a resistance movement.

This church reflects a paradoxical thing about religion: usually the church is used to prop up the class status quo, which is presumably why it’s a good hiding place for this resistance movement; but every now and then, Christians actually engage in anti-capitalism, like the preacher and the other resisters.

Still, in spite of the resistance’s attempts at being clandestine about their plotting, they’re discovered by the fascistic police, who raid Justiceville one night, trash the place, and beat the preacher and the bearded man who warned about the aliens when the TV programs were hacked. Attacking a homeless community, the kind the Black Panthers would have helped: what could be a more naked manifestation of class war? As we see in this scene, whenever the ruling class is threatened by plots of revolution, they use fascist violence to keep the people in line. Bourgeois ‘democracy’ is a sham.

Ever-observant Nada, however, is putting all the pieces together. After helping a boy get safe in a shelter from the police–a shelter in which one of the homeless says, “Somebody start World War Three?”–Nada goes back to the church to take a box of something he discovered before, something the resistance deems important. Inside the box are pairs of black sunglasses.

The reference to WWIII ought to be linked to something the other drifter (later, a collaborator–played by Flower) has said earlier. He spoke of an “epidemic of violence,” “end of the world kind of stuff,” terrorists “shooting people, robbing banks.” He’s talking about the resistance, of course, but he never develops the class consciousness needed to understand the need for revolution. These references to WWIII, epidemic, and the end of the world, as much as they’re made in passing in the film, are nonetheless another instance of how prophetic They Live really is, when we consider how dire the situation is in our world in the 2020s.

Anyway, Nada hides the box of sunglasses in an alleyway trashcan after taking out a pair for himself. Soon enough, he’ll realize their significance.

A paradox about wearing them is how they make you see the truth, yet in a way, they also ‘blind’ you. Wearing them, he sees only black and white, a seemingly simplified world; and while he sees the revelatory subliminal messages, these messages are as simplistic as their black-and-white presentation.

What’s more, though they’re black sunglasses, they can be associated with the dark glasses a blind man wears. Like the preacher, Nada is ‘blind,’ yet he sees what most seeing people don’t.

The propaganda used to keep the masses in their place is, of course, often far subtler in real life than merely “obey,” “marry and reproduce,” “conform,” “no independent thought,” and “consume,” but much of what is presented in the media, the breads and circuses as well as the divisive propaganda to keep partisan-minded people loyal to this or that political party, is also simplistic, so the simplicity of the film’s black-and-white subliminal messages is fitting.

In today’s intellectually impoverished political discourse, critics of Biden are assumed to be Trump supporters; disliking both the red and blue parties seems to require a capacity for abstract thought far too complex for too many of today’s liberals. The same applies to ultraconservative Trump supporters, who claim that their critics must be DNC “commies,” a ridiculous pairing of labels as any I’ve ever heard. The same black-and-white thinking applies to the conservative vs. liberal (actually bourgeois) parties in all countries around the world.

What is, of course, the most shocking thing that Nada has to deal with is his seeing the aliens, as they actually look, for the first time. He stares in a daze at a middle-aged businessman whose face looks like a skull with his eyeballs popping out.

In Nelson’s short story, the aliens look reptilian, snake-like, with green flesh and “multiple yellow eyes,” speaking with “bird-like croaks” (PDF, page 1). Such a description reminds us of David Icke‘s reptilian overlord conspiracy theory, but Nelson’s story is not so overtly political. The aliens in the comic adaptation are colourful, many-eyed, and grotesque, but not at all reptilian.

Carpenter’s representation of the aliens’ appearance is the most sensible one. Properly understood to be symbolic of the capitalist class, the aliens with their skull faces are agents of death. The lack of lips and eyelids gives their faces a zombie-like lack of human expressiveness that is chillingly fitting for the purposes of this anti-capitalist allegory.

The endless pursuit of profit is a dehumanizing process, causing alienation among people and within them, alienating them from their species-essence. Not only are the people of Earth enslaved by the aliens and their ideology, but the aliens themselves are also thus enslaved, hence their reading of newspapers and magazines with the same subliminal messages. Capitalists don’t pursue profit merely because they like to; they are compelled to maximize profit because of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

The wish for endless growth on a planet with finite resources is why capitalists are agents of death, and therefore why it is apt for the aliens to have skull-faces. Late stage capitalism is destroying the planet through climate change and endless wars; the US military, being the number one polluter in the world, is waging wars to ensure the sustained profits of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, etc.

The capitalists know they’re destroying the Earth, despite their denials and lies that ‘climate change is a myth’; they have underground bunkers to survive in when “the Event” happens, be it climate change, nuclear war, or American civilizational collapse in general. Small wonder the bearded man on the TV says, “Look around at the environment we live in. Carbon dioxide, fluorocarbons, and methane have increased since 1958. Earth is being acclimatized. They are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” Then he says the aliens will “deplete the planet, move on to another.”

Again, so there isn’t any doubt about who the aliens represent, resistance leader Gilbert (Jason) says it most explicitly. He says, “They’re free enterprisers. The Earth is just another developing planet. Their Third World.”

So, the aliens represent not only the ‘free market’ capitalism that right-wing libertarians idealize, they also personify imperialism. As we on the left understand so clearly, and try so hard to get the rest of the world to understand, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, exporting capital to other countries, expanding markets out there and hiring cheap labour from Third World countries to maximize First World profits, and fighting wars in a competition to keep the biggest slice of the pie. The aliens in They Live do this on an interplanetary level.

Nada is amused, but not surprised, to see (through his sunglasses) a politician on a wall-mounted TV who is an alien speaking of how we should “have faith in our leaders,” and be optimistic about the future, in a world as obviously bleak as it is in the film, and by extension as bleak as ours is now. One is reminded of, for example, Trump’s State of the Union address in 2020, when he spoke of America’s great economic recovery…then soon after, the whole economy came crashing down.

Nada’s shock at the sight of all these aliens, and the messages saying “obey,” etc., cause him to react inadvisably, making the aliens realize that he sees them as they really are. After fighting off and killing two alien cops, he takes their guns and tries to take all of them on alone.

He runs into a bank with a number of aliens among the humans, and he introduces himself by saying that iconic line (of Piper’s own invention) about bubble gum and kicking ass. As bad-ass as this scene is, we must understand the error he as a potential revolutionary is making: his spontaneous attack on the aliens is mere recklessness and adventurism. It’s thrilling to watch at first, but it ultimately ends in failure. Revolutions must be planned, organized, and timed well.

To escape his inevitable pursuers, Nada goes into a parking lot and kidnaps a woman, Holly Thompson (Foster), and has her drive him to her home. It’s interesting how when he gets out of her car at her home, two male neighbours (aliens?) of hers seeing them, he in those sunglasses looks rather like a blind man (recall what I said above about seeing and blindness). She is scared, but cooperative with him…and cunning in her private thoughts.

Inside her home, he finally takes off the sunglasses, which have been giving him a headache. Earlier, whenever the bearded man on the TV interrupted the Cable 54 broadcast to warn of the aliens, his viewers would get headaches after a short while of listening to him, too. Indeed, it’s painful and depressing for us to learn the truth about our oppression; TV shows and fashion ads are so much more comforting in the illusions of superficial pleasure they perpetuate for us.

Nada gets excited to learn that Holly works for Cable 54, knowing that that’s where the alien signal is coming from, and therefore he can get a chance to destroy the transmitter. He lets his guard down, and she smashes a wine bottle over his head, making him fall out of her window and down a steep hill. Calling the police with a cold look on her face, Holly reveals herself to be a class collaborator. Nada has lost his sunglasses in this incident: will she put them on, realize the aliens are controlling everything, and later redeem herself to Nada? Or does she already know about them, and is she collaborating to save her own neck?

To get a new pair of those sunglasses, Nada has to go back to that alleyway and find the box he hid there. He’s already seen Frank at the construction area, who is so shocked from having heard of Nada’s violence in the bank that he wants nothing to do with him. Still, Frank has a good heart, and he goes to the alley with a week’s wages to give Nada. Frank wants no part of Nada’s revolution, all the same.

Frank’s unwillingness even to try on a pair of the sunglasses shows just how adamant so many of us are even ‘to wake up’ and see the enormity of our ugly reality. In Nelson’s short story and in the comic adaptation, ‘waking up’ is a straightforward matter of coming out of the state of hypnosis that the ‘Fascinators’ have put the human race under. The story begins with George Nada coming a little too much out of the hypnotic state to be lulled back into it.

He must try to wake up the rest of the world, including his girlfriend, Lil, before eight o’clock in the morning, the time a ‘Fascinator,’ by force of suggestion, has determined for his death by heart attack. Since he does die this way at the end of Nelson’s story, it’s clear that even he isn’t completely ‘awake.’

So as with Frank, there’s plenty of resistance to ‘waking up.’ Lil, represented in the comic as a shapely, buxom babe, comes across as ‘asleep’ in the sense of having internalized a wish to attain all of society’s beauty ideals without question. Her female equivalent in the film, Holly, is similarly all given over to the aliens’ agenda, if at least more aware of their existence.

Being ‘awake’ versus ‘asleep’ in our world is far from being the simple dichotomy that it is in the film. Various factions in the left disagree as to what it means to be ‘awake’ to the reality of capitalism and on what to do about it. What’s the answer? Anarchism, Trotskyism, social democracy, or Marxism-Leninism? Leftist infighting has made it most difficult for us to rise up together and defeat the ruling class.

Though it isn’t really dealt with in the film, Frank as a black man is especially affected by the capitalism that the aliens personify. Still, he’s scared to ‘wake up,’ yet the need to ‘stay woke‘ has been given expression as a major issue for African-Americans ever since the 1930s. Further complicating matters has been the bastardizing of the term “woke” by the right, first in the capitalist exploitation of the term, and also by conservatives’ pejorative use of it, similar to their use of “politically correct.”

So as we can see, waking people up is a hard thing to do for blacks (Frank) and women (Lil), as well as for a number of other complicating reasons. Small wonder Nada has to fight with Frank for about six minutes in that alley, just to get him to put on the sunglasses.

The ruling class loves to have the people fight with each other, rather than join together in solidarity to fight the elite. The Western oligarchs would have us all hating Russia and China to distract us from the glaringly obvious problems in our own societies. So in the story, George Nada has to tie Lil up and take her car; and Nada and Frank beat the crap out of each other.

In the hotel, Frank, finally acknowledging the situation with the aliens, speaks of how they must have always been here, making us all hate each other. The alienation brought on by class conflict has led to the kind of parental abuse Nada suffered as a kid from his dad.

Gilbert finds Frank and Nada in the hotel, and he tells them of a secret meeting of those in the resistance. At the meeting, our two heroes replace their sunglasses with far more effective contact lenses. Here, Gilbert tells the others that they all have to be far more careful. The resistance movement is suffering because of such problems as adventurism. He advises the others to blend into society to avoid getting caught. Indeed, one must wait for a revolutionary situation before rising up. In the meantime, one must be patient and bide one’s time; they can strike when they find out where the hypnotizing alien signal is coming from.

Another big part of what makes revolution so difficult is how so many people sell out, as Gilbert explains to Nada and Frank. So many join the police, who have historically existed to protect the interests of the owners of private property. Many on the “left” sell out, like Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the Squad, politicians who act as mere sheepdogs to lull American voters to elect right-wingers like Joe Biden, politicians that the mainstream media disingenuously claim are on the left.

Opportunism is so easy to give in to. People get promoted this way, get more money, and buy nice houses and cars. The resistance gets labelled as ‘commies’ by the cops in the film (and this is who they truly represent; though Carpenter is a liberal who has admitted to supporting [regulated] capitalism, he represents the left-leaning variety of the pre-Clinton years when ‘left-leaning liberal’ actually meant something). Now communists, by contrast to the opportunists, are those who “stand out in the rain,” as Michael Parenti once described them: risking their careers and even their lives as they combat capitalism.

Nada is pleased to see Holly appear at the meeting. He imagines she is remorseful for hitting him with that wine bottle in her home. It would seem that she has led the police to the resistance’s meeting…though the film so far has left her private intentions ambiguous, so we’ll see her opportunism fully revealed at the end.

Nada and Frank, the only members of the resistance to survive the police attack on the meeting, manage to get to the Cable 54 building, where not only the source of the hypnotic alien signal is being transmitted, but also where the aliens are having a banquet with their human collaborators. Here we see symbolically how the ruling class colludes with the world’s politicians and the mainstream media.

At this banquet, Nada and Frank are reunited with the drifter from Justiceville who was the most resistant to the bearded man’s warnings about the aliens on the interruption of the TV program. This drifter, so totally given in to the mainstream media’s mesmerizing (as are so many of us), has predictably become a collaborator, having traded in his dirty old clothes for a tuxedo. Being as empty-headed as he is, he foolishly gives Nada and Frank a tour of the building, thinking our two heroes are collaborators, too.

They reveal that they aren’t collaborators in a sound-proofed room next to the TV studio where the mesmerizing messages are given by two alien news anchors. (For ‘Cable 54,’ read ‘CNN,’ to give but one example.) The drifter/collaborator rationalizes his treason to humanity by saying, “it’s business…there ain’t no countries anymore…we all sell out every day.” (This last line was inspired by something a Universal Pictures executive said to Carpenter.)

There being ‘no more countries’ shouldn’t be misinterpreted as the NWO ‘one-world-government’ nonsense, except in the sense that the new world order that George HW Bush spoke of referred to the post-Soviet, neoliberal, capitalist-imperialist one, in which it has been the ambition of Washington DC to rule the whole world. It’s business…it’s capitalism.

Nada and Frank manage to fight their way to the roof of the Cable 54 building, assuming they can trust Holly, who has a concealed pistol and puts a bullet in Frank’s head. He was so scared of revolution, and now his wife and kids have no man to put food on the table. This has made revolution all the more urgent, though.

Finally, Nada knows he’s going to be shot either by Holly or by the men hovering by him in a helicopter. Still, he says, “Fuck it” after shooting Holly, then he puts two bullets into the transmitter before being shot himself. Waking people up to the reality of our capitalist masters isn’t a sufficient condition of our liberation, but it’s certainly a necessary one. The mainstream media must be disabled.

Arousing class consciousness, as symbolized by the world finally waking up and seeing all the aliens as they really look, is of course a much more complicated process than what we see at the end of the movie. Yet it’s astonishing to see how many people in the world either deny that capitalism is the problem (preferring instead to focus on identity politics), or believe that only “unfettered capitalism” is the problem (as Carpenter himself believes!), or believe that billionaires can be allowed to exist in socialist states, or believe that, fantastically, “real capitalism” doesn’t exist and has never even been tried (as the market fundamentalists delude themselves)! They live, right-wing libertarians, while you sleep…and don’t even know you do.

Still, just as Nada doesn’t live to see the revolution happen, many of the rest of us who are ‘awake’ are not seeing a revolution happen, either. And as with George Nada of Nelson’s short story and the comic adaptation, there is little time left to wake the world up and start that revolution. George had only until eight o’clock in the morning to set the stage for revolution: how much time do we Nadas have before climate change, nuclear annihilation, or civilizational collapse become our eight o’clock in the morning?

Will we live, or will we forever sleep?

Analysis of ‘Spartacus’

Spartacus is a 1960 epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick (replacing original director Anthony Mann after the first week of shooting; therefore this is the only film over which Kubrick didn’t have complete artistic control) and written by Dalton Trumbo (who also wrote the novel, and the screenplay for, Johnny Got His Gun), based on Howard Fast‘s 1951 historical novel of the same name. The story is inspired by that of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt in ancient, republican Rome, resulting in the Third Servile War.

The film stars Kirk Douglas in the title role, with Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis, and John Gavin. Both Fast and Trumbo, being avowed leftists, were blacklisted, the former having to self-publish his book, and the latter being one of the Hollywood Ten.

Spartacus won four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Ustinov, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. It had been the biggest moneymaker in Universal Studios’ history until Airport surpassed it in 1970.

Here is a link to quotes from the film, and here is a link to a PDF of Fast’s novel.

Spartacus is a hero to communists and leftists in general, for how his slave uprising against the Roman ruling class has inspired the socialists of today to foment revolution against the capitalist class of the modern world. Karl Marx praised him, his namesake was given to the German Spartacus League of 1915-1918, and the failed German communist revolution of January 1919 was called the Spartacist uprising.

Other examples of art and popular culture inspired by Spartacus include a 2004 miniseries starring Goran Višnjić in the title role, and a ballet of the same name, composed by Aram Khachaturian in 1954 and first staged in 1956; some of the music of this ballet was used in the soundtrack to the Penthouse production of Caligula in 1979.

To get back to Fast’s novel and the 1960 film, we immediately notice how differently both treat the subject matter of the story. The characters of Marcus Licinius Crassus (Olivier), Lentulus Batiatus (Ustinov), Varinia (Simmons), and Gracchus (Laughton) are all shared in both the book and the film, and apart from the basic history of the slaves’ failed uprising against Rome, the telling of the story differs wildly between book and movie.

The novel tells the story of Spartacus in a piecemeal fashion, given from the points of view of the various characters after Spartacus’ death, while the film tells his story in a straightforward, chronological way. The gladiatorial fight between Spartacus and Draba (played by Woody Strode) is generally similar, and the scenes of Crassus and Varinia, him frustrated in his efforts to win her love, and of Gracchus’ plan to steal her and her baby from Crassus and to give them their freedom, are essentially the same, though they differ greatly in the details.

A crucial difference between novel and movie is in the presentation of Spartacus’ death: in the book, he dies in battle (as affirmed by Plutarch, Appian, and Florus, though Appian also reports that Spartacus’ body was not found), whereas in the film, Spartacus is crucified.

Indeed, the sight of Spartacus chained to a rock to starve at the beginning of the film, his punishment for having bitten the leg of a Roman soldier, hamstringing him, is a parallel of his crucifixion at the end of the film. This parallel gives the story a sense that it has come full circle: his suffering is at its greatest at the beginning, with him as a slave lugging heavy rocks on his back from the mines in Libya; just as his suffering is at its greatest also at the end, with him hanging in excruciating pain.

In the novel, in chapter three of Part Two, is a vivid description of hell on Earth, a hell for slaves mining for gold in the unbearably hot desert of Nubia. To make matters worse, children are needed when the veins narrow “deep inside the black rock escarpment.” (One is reminded of Congolese children today, mining for the cobalt we use in our cellphones.) Spartacus is among “one hundred and twenty-two Thracians chained neck to neck, carrying their burning hot chains across the desert…” (PDF, page 55)

The film’s beginning is the equivalent to this chapter, the opening scene only briefly depicting the suffering of Spartacus and his fellow slaves in Libya, rather than Nubia. The chapter captures, with great intensity, the misery and despair of the slaves as they work, virtually without rest, from early in the dawn ’til the dusk. “Their skins are patchworks of black dust and brown dirt…” (PDF, page 57). Many slaves die from these back-breaking work conditions.

There’s a brief moment in the early morning, before the sun is fully risen to beat its oppressive heat on the slaves as they go to work. “In this single hour of the day, the desert is a friend.” (PDF, page 61). But only for that cool hour.

In the film, Batiatus arrives, discovers Spartacus, and saves him from his chaining to the rock to have him trained as a gladiator. Batiatus is a lanista, the owner of a school for gladiators. Spartacus is about to be pampered, a whole new experience for him that includes baths and massages, and a girl for a mate (in the novel, he’s mated to Varinia, rather than merely teased with her and denied her, as in the film; PDF, pages 78-81, 83).

Still, there is no happiness in being trained to kill or be killed for the entertainment of the ruling class. The fighting of gladiators to the death is perfectly symbolic of how the ruling class has always divided the people from each other, making them fight each other instead of fighting their oppressors. Their sense of alienation is well displayed in the scene when Spartacus asks Draba his name, the latter telling the former it isn’t wise to know the names of, or to become friends with, those they will have to kill, or be killed by, in the arena.

Though Draba has said this, he still doesn’t want to kill a fellow gladiator for the sport of rich Romans (who in the film are Crassus, Marcus Glabrus [played by John Dall, who incidentally also played chief psychopathic killer Brandon Shaw, in Hitchcock’s Rope], Helena Glabrus [played by Nina Foch], and Claudia Marius [played by Joanna Barnes]; but who in the novel are two men named Caius Crassus and Marius Bracus). So at the end of his fight with Spartacus, having won, Draba refuses to kill him, to the annoyance of their Roman audience, and instead he hurls his trident at them, only to be speared in the back himself. Nonetheless, Draba’s solidarity with Spartacus has inspired the surviving gladiator.

Added to this sense of solidarity, as a cure for alienation, is Spartacus and Varinia falling in love. She gets naked for him when he first meets her. He doesn’t think of her as a mere sex object, though: “Spartacus saw her and loved her, not for her nakedness, but because without clothes she was not naked at all and did not cringe or attempt to cover herself with her arms, but stood simply and proudly, showing no pain nor hurt, not looking at him or at Batiatus, but contained within herself, contained with her eyesight and her soul and her dreams, and containing all those things because she had decided to surrender life which was worth nothing any more. His heart went out to her.” (PDF, page 80)

In the film, Batiatus and Marcellus, the gladiators’ trainer (played by Charles McGraw) lecherously watch the couple, hoping to enjoy seeing them have sex; but Spartacus, furious at their lack of respect for his and her privacy, shouts at the men that he is not an animal. She, still naked, says she isn’t an animal, either. He naturally agrees with her, unlike the two voyeurs.

The love he feels for her, especially when he learns she has been sold to Crassus and therefore he’ll never see her again, is the final straw that drives him, followed by the other gladiators/slaves, to bring about a spontaneous rebellion. (The sight of Draba’s hanging body is also a major provocation for them.)

In the novel, this rebellion isn’t quite so spontaneous. There is discussion among Spartacus, Crixus the Gaul (played by John Ireland in the film), and Gannicus (played by Paul Lambert in the film) about whether they, as gladiators, should consider themselves friends (PDF, page 111). Thus the seeds of solidarity among slaves have been sown. They know that the Thracians call Spartacus “father” for all the love he’s shown his fellow slaves. He hints at a plotting of a rebellion when he says he’ll fight no more gladiators, and that he, Gannicus, and Crixus “will know what to do when the time comes to do it” (PDF, page 115).

In the film, Spartacus just spontaneously kills Marcellus by dunking his head in a pot of soup and drowning him in it. After having had to endure his trainer’s taunts for so long, he surely relishes killing the man. As we know in the modern world, though, revolutions cannot be so spontaneous: meticulous planning, theory, and organization are indispensable, as is the ability to intuit a revolutionary situation.

To get back to the story, though, more and more slaves join the gladiators’ rebellion, and Spartacus’ plan is for them all to go south to Brundusium and pay to have pirates’ ships take them out of Italy and to their home countries. Along the way, he is reunited with Varinia.

The Roman Senate is growing alarmed at the escalation of events, and Glabrus is to lead his cohorts to fight and subdue the slaves. Meanwhile, Crassus has found himself a handsome boy slave named Antoninus (Curtis), who is gifted at singing and reciting poetry.

In a scene originally censored by the prudish Production Code, Crassus is given a bath by Antoninus. The former asks the latter (with the voice of Anthony Hopkins in the restored version) of his sexual preferences, using indirect, symbolic language. Crassus asks the youth if he eats oysters, symbolic of female genitals; then he asks if Antoninus eats snails, symbolic of male genitals. Crassus considers these preferences a matter of taste rather than of morality; he then confesses his own eating of both oysters and snails, indicating his bisexuality.

The point to be made here is that Crassus is obviously trying to seduce the boy; how many slaves, male and female, were forced to perform sexual favours for their masters? In the scene previous to this one, Gracchus and Batiatus have a discussion alluding to the enjoyment of female slaves, in Gracchus’ case, to the point of him not even wanting to get married.

After Crassus’ bath with Antoninus, the former walks out, followed by the latter, to an adjoining room looking out across the river to the city of Rome. There, Crassus tells Antoninus of the greatness of Rome, and of how how one’s attitude towards her should be.

Crassus, in describing Rome’s greatness, is given a line that is an allusion to Julius Caesar, in which Cassius, complaining to Brutus about Caesar, says, “…he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus…” (I, ii, lines 135-136). In Spartacus, however, Crassus says this to Antoninus of Rome: “There is the power that bestrides the known world like a Colossus.”

What’s interesting in these two variations on the quote is that the first refers to Caesar, while the second refers to Rome, personified as a beloved woman, a man’s mistress. Young Julius Caesar, recall, is in Spartacus, played by John Gavin (who incidentally, in the same year, played Marion Crane‘s boyfriend, Sam Loomis, in Psycho). Later in the film, Crassus tells Caesar of his fear of him, an allusion to how Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey would form the First Triumvirate, and Crassus and Pompey would lose to Caesar’s rising power.

Indeed, the fear of republican Rome becoming a dictatorship, something Gracchus will fear of Crassus’ rising power towards the end of Spartacus, is a fear Brutus and Cassius would have of Caesar, which they would use to justify assassinating him. Crassus’ name fortuitously sounds like a pun on Cassius, hence what’s so intriguing about the allusion to Shakespeare’s play as put on Crassus’ lips. He fears Caesar’s rise as Cassius would decades later.

That Crassus’ absolute rule over Rome would come in association with the defeat of Spartacus’ army is also worthy of comment. In the modern world, many right-wing, authoritarian dictatorships came into being after the crushing of proletarian attempts at gaining power: fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, etc. The ruling class makes a masquerade of democracy when times are good; but if threatened, that same ruling class ends the masquerade and rules with an iron fist, as Crassus does.

In his speech on Rome to Antoninus, Crassus speaks as if everyone, including such members of the ruling class as himself, must make himself a slave to his beautiful mistress and goddess, Roma. In implying that he, too, is a slave in this larger sense, Crassus is rationalizing the whole slave system to the youth. He’s also implying that, in serving Rome, Antoninus must serve Crassus all the more faithfully and devotedly.

It is at this point that the boy sneaks away without Crassus knowing. Antoninus, of course, will join Spartacus’ army, eager to learn how to fight. The youth will endure the indignities of slavery no more: Crassus’ designs to enjoy Antoninus for his sexual sport, combined with this mad notion of enslaving oneself to a lofty abstract ideal such as Rome, are too much for him.

In today’s world, the global proletariat has its own political ideals to which it is expected to enslave itself: the “rules based international order,” the “free market,” or simply neoliberalism, are all ideals that we wage slaves are expected to grovel before, never questioning the source of our oppression.

On their way to Brundusium, the slaves enlist the help of a Cilician pirate envoy named Tigranes Levantus (played by Herbert Lom). Gracchus bribes the pirates to get them to take the slaves out of Italy, so that, fearing Crassus’ rise to power, he needn’t fear the slave crisis being exploited by Crassus to justify his making a dictatorship of Rome.

Still, Crassus bribes the pirates better, and they end up betraying Spartacus et al. When Tigranes returns to tell Spartacus the evil tidings, then offers him and the other slave leaders a chance to escape and live like kings in other countries, Spartacus tells him to go away. Opportunism has no place in a sincere struggle to be free.

At an earlier point on the way to Brundusium, Glabrus’ cohorts camp one night and, contemptuously underestimating the slaves, see no need to set up a proper perimeter of fortification around the camp, so the slaves can easily infiltrate it and massacre most of the men in the cohorts. This incident is based on the disastrous military leadership of Gaius Claudius Glaber against Spartacus on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

In Fast’s novel, Varinius Glabrus, as he’s called, is “vain, rather stupid, and politically dependable.” He’s killed with all the other men, all except one frightened, shamefaced soldier, who tells Gracchus and the rest of the Senate about the massacre (PDF, Part Five, chapters iv-vi). In the film, Marcus Glabrus is the one to explain his incompetence to the Senate, and he is sent out, disgraced. Crassus, his friend, leaves with him, pretending to share in his disgrace, but as Gracchus knows, Crassus will return, stronger than ever.

To get back to the part when Spartacus knows that he and his comrades cannot escape by sea, he knows their only way forward is to confront Crassus and his army, and thus to head back to Rome. His army is an impressive one, by the way, including women fighters, as we can see in the movie, extraordinary for one made back in 1960.

Here’s the thing: to be truly free, one cannot just run away from one’s oppressor–one must confront him and fight him. At the end of Fast’s novel, Varinia and her baby escape to live in a village near the Alps; but Roman soldiers go up there to enslave those villagers who can’t pay the high taxes, and her son, after she’s dead, has to fight these Romans just as his father, of the same name, did. (PDF, page 272)

In the film, the final confrontation happens, and it’s a nasty fight, with Spartacus’ army sending out rollers of flames to attack the Roman soldiers with. Much of the violence of this scene, with bloody stabbings and Spartacus’ hacking off of a Roman soldier’s arm, was originally censored out of the film, as with the ‘oysters and snails’ scene, because of the negative reaction of the preview audience.

By the time all of this has happened, Spartacus has already gotten Varinia with child, and when the slaves have been defeated, she has given birth to it. Crassus and Batiatus find her among the bodies of the fallen slaves, and Crassus wants her and the baby to be taken to his home. He especially wants to find Spartacus, to destroy the legend of the slave.

Why is it so important to Crassus to destroy the legend of Spartacus? Because, though the slave leader and his army have been defeated, their brave example will inspire thousands of future slaves to revolt one day. And where Spartacus has failed, any of the subsequent attempts may prove successful. That’s what Crassus is afraid of.

The Romans offer to spare the lives of the defeated slaves if they identify which man among them, living or dead, is Spartacus. They all respond with the famous repeated shout of “I’m Spartacus!” (a quote referenced and parodied in many films, including That Thing You Do!, and even Kubrick’s next film, Lolita), starting with Antoninus, who has prevented the real Spartacus from identifying himself, then dozens of men in his army shout it, in loving solidarity with their leader, who is moved to tears by their love.

This surviving love and solidarity is what is so threatening to Crassus, then the richest man in Rome. The slaves know they have lost…for now, but the hope of future success still burns like a flame in their hearts, and Crassus will have to find a way to extinguish that flame.

In our modern world, the Crassuses of today have been hard at work trying to extinguish the flame of hope that a socialist revolution will replace the capitalist hell we live in now. This story, as written by leftists Fast and Trumbo, was meant as an allegory for our times today; the master vs. slave contradiction of Spartacus is meant to represent the bourgeois vs. proletarian contradiction. And just as Crassus wants to destroy the legend of Spartacus, so do the bourgeoisie want to destroy the legend of Marxism-Leninism.

Imagine if, after the crushing of the Communards and the Paris Commune, that socialists had just given up! Of course they weren’t going to do that: instead, they worked hard to understand and learn from the errors that the Communards made.

Similarly, though a ruthless campaign of anti-communist propaganda (which I refute here, as in other posts) was doused here, there, and everywhere to extinguish the fire of socialism in the twentieth century, and that propaganda was a huge factor in the defeat of the USSR and the Soviet Bloc, we today shouldn’t listen to the capitalist lies that “socialism doesn’t work” and “TINA.” Instead, we must learn from the mistakes of the twentieth century and revive the hope that yes, another world is possible, that there is an alternative to neoliberalism.

To give a sense of how Crassus can be seen as an ancient version of a capitalist, in Fast’s novel, there’s a scene with him giving some women a tour of a perfume factory he owns. The scene at first hardly seems relevant to the life of Spartacus, but at the end of it, we can see Fast’s intentions (PDF, Part Six, chapter x).

Crassus speaks of how he makes much more of a profit with such businesses as his perfume factory than he could ever make in such wars as the Servile War. Furthermore, his workers in the factories aren’t slaves, so he needn’t feed or house them. Since they are free, he imagines he needn’t fear an uprising among them (PDF, page 221).

The bourgeoisie today, right-wing libertarians in particular, are fond of saying that if workers don’t like their jobs, they are free to quit, leaving their ‘poor, suffering’ bosses to have to find replacements. It may be relatively easy to quit when the economy is good, but not so when the economy is bad, as it is now, the worst it’s been since…forever, it seems.

Fast often refers to Romans as being on the dole, but this doesn’t change the fact that Rome was as brutal an empire as any. As an allegory of today’s world, his novel depicts Roman imperialism as paralleled (though assuredly not equal) with British and American imperialism. Romans being on the dole is to be paralleled with the welfare capitalism of the UK and US of the prosperous postwar years when the novel was written and the film was made. Welfare capitalism–at a time when the US and UK overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, to stop him from nationalizing Iranian oil, or when the US overthrew the government of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 for the sake of the United Fruit Company–is still capitalism…it’s still imperialism.

To get back to the story, though, Crassus has Varinia and her baby live with him. He’s captivated by her beauty, as well as puzzled with why such a beauty would remain in love with a lowly slave like Spartacus. None of Crassus’ wealth can lure her heart away from the father of her child and over to the man who has defeated him. But of course, Crassus’ defeat of the man she’s loved will ensure that she’ll never love Crassus…except that narcissistic Crassus will never accept her attitude.

What’s significant about the scene with him and her at dinner at night, in his attempt to woo her (recall that this scene is in Fast’s novel, too–Part Seven, chapter v), is that we see a kind of reversal of the roles of slave and master. He serves her food: squab and honey, a piece of melon, and a cup of wine, He has her wear a heavy necklace, once owned by a Persian queen. He doesn’t command her to eat–he invites her.

This reversal of roles suggests Hegel‘s master-slave dialectic, in which each tries to achieve self-recognition through the other. We’ve already seen the death struggle in the form of the battle in which Crassus’ army has defeated that of Spartacus.

Now, if all of the slaves are killed, then self-recognition through the other cannot be. The “I’m Spartacus!” shout of so many of the slaves, ensuring their collective crucifixion to a man, is nonetheless troubling for Crassus, not only because their defiant spirit will inspire other slaves, but also because their collective death means none will be left to give him and their other Roman masters the recognition they crave.

Crassus tries to get that recognition through Varinia, who coldly refuses to give it to him. Lacan said that man’s desire is the desire of the Other: to have the Other desire him, and to be recognized and acknowledged by the Other. Crassus’ desire is Varinia’s recognition, which she will never give him.

In Hegel’s myth, after the master has achieved dominance over the slave, a contradiction arises in how all of the slave’s work, producing so many things, gives their creator the recognition he craves, meaning he no longer needs it from his master; on the other hand, the master, having grown dependent on all of the slave’s productions, becomes subordinate. In Varinia’s case, her baby can be seen to symbolize the slave’s creations; similarly, her insistence that she nurse her own baby without the need of a slave-nurse to do it for her shows her self-emancipating agency.

Crassus’ frustration grows when he brings up Spartacus, who she insists was just a simple man, not a god. That she can love such a humble man is wounding to Crassus’ pride in the extreme. His implied threats to her baby’s life show, ironically, how defeated he really is. Since he owns her, he could simply rape her; but he wants her to love him, and he can never make her do that.

Another fascinating paradox occurs later, when Spartacus and Antoninus are made to fight each other to the death, the victor to be subsequently crucified. Since crucifixion is one of the worst, most painful ways to die, a death by stabbing is far preferred. So both men would kill each other…out of love…to spare the loser of the fight from suffering the agony of the cross.

Spartacus wins, and though neither history nor Fast’s novel have him die by crucifixion, the film has him die this way. Such an alteration naturally makes him into a Christ-figure, one who dies so future generations may live, that is, his sacrificial death will make of him a martyr who will inspire future slaves–including present-day wage slaves–to continue the struggle and, we hope, liberate us all for good.

Now, Fast’s novel gives extensive discussion of all those slaves crucified along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua, where Batiatus has trained the gladiators. One gladiator/slave rebel whose crucifixion is given especial focus is a Jew named David. As he hangs in agony and despair on his cross, he ruminates over his mostly unfortunate life. (PDF, Part Six)

Fast divides David’s life into four parts: first, “a happy time of not knowing,” then, a time “full of knowledge and sorrow and hatred,” next came a “time of hope…when he fought with Spartacus,” and finally, a “time of despair,” when “their cause was lost” (PDF, page 212).

The difference between the times of not knowing and of knowing weren’t really those of happiness vs. unhappiness, but rather those of naïvely not knowing of the evils already present in the world, back when David was a child, and of when he became a man, had his eyes opened, saw the difference between the rich and the poor, and finally realized the world’s evil (PDF, page 190). Such a realization would have been especially poignant for David when he saw his father crucified for his involvement with the Maccabean rebellion (PDF, page 192).

Though Fast, having published Spartacus in 1951, wouldn’t have known at the time of the growing despair of socialists since the dissolution of the USSR (in fact, sadly, he came to believe the lies Khrushchev spoke about Stalin in his “secret speech,” and broke away from communism), still, David’s despair on the cross, and the length of his unhappy life, can be seen to allegorize the despair of any leftist revolutionary whose cause has failed, including the fall of the Soviet system.

We leftists in today’s world were once wide-eyed and naïve, like David as a boy, blissfully ignorant of the evils of the world. Then we grew up, put away childish things, ate of the Tree of Knowledge, so to speak, and underwent our Fall into a knowledge of those evils; and accordingly, we felt the pain, the sorrow, and the hatred of those evils. Then there were those of us who were old enough to remember the era of the Soviets, and how their influence even softened the blow of capitalism with the welfare state; we experienced a time of revolutionary hope, like David’s hope as he insists on standing beside Spartacus in battle (PDF, page 200). And finally, our time of despair has been from the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, and the ensuing rise of neoliberal capitalism from then to the present day.

The suffering of David on that cross, one of the longest and most painful ways anyone can die, is a perfect metaphor for the long, drawn-out pain we on the left have felt as we watched Clinton gut welfare, Dubya start the “War on Terror,” Obama continue and expand Dubya’s policies, Trump lower the already-low corporate tax rate even further, and appoint conservative Supreme Court justices so Roe vs. Wade could be overturned, and Biden provoke Russia and intensify nuclear brinksmanship.

We’ve watched this slide into imperial tyranny (as did Cicero of republican Rome degenerating into the Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus; Cicero, who appears in Fast’s novel as an ambitious, upwardly-mobile writer of a monograph on the Servile Wars [PDF, Part Four, chapter i], but not as a critic of the power structure that would eventually have him killed), and we see no way out of the present situation. But recall the end of the movie, when liberated Varinia shows crucified Spartacus their now-freed baby. This child personifies our hopes of a revived revolution, which just might happen as the Western empire is crumbling.

We hang on the cross in agony, like Spartacus, but that baby of hope is alive and free. Instead of letting our heads droop down in despair, let’s keep our eyes on that baby.

Kites

The
toy-kite
was named
after all of those
hovering
birds
of
prey
in
the
sky.

The
tyrannical
king, Macbeth–he
who’d killed
the wife
and
babes
of
the
Thane
of
Fife,

all
done in one
fell swoop–he
was likened to
a hell-kite
by
the
Thane
who
would
hack
off
his
head.

A
few fools
are out there,
admiring the wealthy
hell-kites
of
our
time;
they’d
fly
such
toys
in
the
sky.

The
fools will
try to identify
with their flying
toys, for they
imagine,
one
day,
they’ll
be
up
there,
too.

But
all of today’s
flying predators
up in the clouds
are swooping
down
on
the
wives
and
babes
of
our
age.

The
time has
finally come to
stop worshipping
all of those
birds
in
the
sky.
Instead,
let’s
cut
off
their
heads.