The Paranoid Style in American Entertainment
I have a new piece up at The Unpopulist on “The Paranoid Style in American Entertainment.” I’m gonna try dropping the link directly into Substack to see if it makes a nice big button that’s easy to navigate to.
This is part of my ongoing complaint about the trope, in popular culture, of always having the bad guys be us, and in particular having the bad guys be a conspiracy reaching into the highest levels of our government. Here’s how I put it in my new piece.
Recently, I was watching a rather grippingly made TV thriller when it started to become clear that the bad guys were going to be—stop me if you’ve heard this before—a secret conspiracy inside the highest ranks of the US government with a mole inside the White House….
I might watch TV like this and be able to compartmentalize, viewing it as an exciting story but not as a guide to how politics or foreign policy or law enforcement actually works. But what if I didn’t? What if I actually took this seriously, if I accepted that the world really is run by secret cabals buried deep in the fabric of our government?
Well, look around you. A lot of people are convinced that literally everything is a “deep state” plot and that some unnamed “They” are really out to get you.
This is not just on the political right, of course, and I have a passing comment on the Great Egg Greedflation Conspiracy.
If the price of eggs suddenly shoots up, it can’t just be because of a bird flu outbreak. It has to be evidence of corporate greed and a “collusive scheme”—all of which somehow suddenly collapsed when the price of eggs went down. Maybe somebody will make a thriller someday showing the heroic FBI agent on the run who breaks Big Egg wide open.
Yes, I actually wrote “breaks Big Egg wide open,” and I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about it.
Here’s the essential point.
The paranoid style in politics and the paranoid style in entertainment are connected by the need for a simplified narrative that eliminates words and emphasizes action…. In politics, the simplified narrative of a conspiracy is used to escape the messy and inconvenient fact that other people actually disagree with you and that you have to convince them.
In the spirit of my recent comments about how the culture war tends to distract us from more important developments, I wanted to pass along two recent stories about stunning new innovations.