Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, March 28, 2009

They're Coming To Get You

Let's talk about victimization.

Why would the right, even when they controlled every venue of power in the land, consider themselves victims? Why do Christians think they are persecuted and hunted, when they are the biggest religious group in the country? Why do white male Republicans complain about being left out of the power structure and claim to be under attack?

It makes no logical sense whatsoever. We know many of them are sincere in their feelings of oppression and victimization. They genuinely feel they are being suppressed, ignored and persecuted despite all evidence to the contrary. Why?

Maybe because they were oppressed and victimized. Authoritarian parents (you knew that was coming, right?) do demand that their children sacrifice and suppress themselves, accepting their parents' definition of them, their parents' values, goals, and beliefs. This is not something most children can accept. They love their parents and want to believe their parents love them back. They would do anything to please them. But deep inside they are resentful of what they were forced to give up, and hurt and angry at the abusive insistence on repression and control. We must have someone to love. It's almost more important that being loved by someone. We may have been rejected, abused, manipulated and controlled, but we cannot stop loving our mother and father. We need that love, and rarely can admit that it was never there. We will not, except under the most extreme of circumstances, admit that our parents didn't love us for what we were, preferring to become a pale copy of them instead of finding out our true nature.

It's a silly thing, but look at this review of Twilight at the Corner. I assume that a Corner reviewer will push conservative "morals" and cliches, but this person takes resentment and victimization to heights seldom seen outside of a junior high school.

We have fully reversed the symbolism of [Bram] Stoker’s vampire, who represented a demonic assault on a virtuous community. Today’s vampire is the hip Other, and the community around him is either bungling, intolerant, or simply a source of comedic relief (as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lost Boys, and Fright Night, for example). The modern vampire is in touch with his sexuality, but the community suppresses it. The modern vampire is coming to take away your girlfriend, and she kind of likes it. The modern vampire is the guy you wish you had been in high school, or the guy you wish you’d dated in high school, and Meyer has turned that into gold.

The trouble with this evolution is that fictional monsters serve a valuable cultural purpose. They remind us that we live in communities, and that our communities must be defended from those who would rend them asunder. Though he is no conservative ideologue, Stephen King always seemed to fathom this intuitively. His stories and books featuring vampires made them evil through and through. The difference between his Salem’s Lot and Stoker’s Dracula is that King is also a bit of a dystopian, so while the community in Stoker’s novel worked together in the end to stop the menace, King lets the community fall. Still, he’s wise enough to know that creatures lacking in fundamental attributes of humanity don’t make for good neighbors.

By inverting the traditional vampire tale, so that the community is predatory and the monster an object of empathy if not admiration, we have found one more avenue along which to push the tired idea that community is, rather than a source of life and happiness, a locus of oppression. The Twilight series simply carries our modern love affair with the undead to its natural conclusion; the lovelorn vampire and the object of his infatuation get married and make a baby.

I’m all for multiculturalism, but this is too much. As Freud is supposed to have said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Likewise, sometimes the Other isn’t a cool countercultural rebel who puts a thrill up your leg, he is a monster who wants to suck your blood or, if he is technologically savvy and has a religious ax to grind, blow up your kids’ school bus. I’m not worried that the modern vampire movie will lead filmgoers to agitate for reconciliation with Osama bin Laden just because the terror master of 9/11 is also pale, has a funny accent, lives in a cave, and is a bloodthirsty egomaniac. But I do think there is value in entertainment that draws a clear line between good and evil.

While many parents are fine with having their youngsters read the Twilight series and watch the accompanying movies, I think there might be some merit in recent fare like the horrifically bloody (and financially less successful) Thirty Days of Night, in which vampires descend on a remote town in Alaska once they know daylight won’t return for a month. These creatures devour throats with viciousness, and the few townspeople who survive are saved only by the voluntary self-sacrifice of their leader. On the surface, Twilight might be more suitable for preteens, but maybe they could use reminding that creatures that prey on communities don’t often make cool boyfriends. Because there are monsters, Virginia, and sometimes they just need killing.
It's cute the way he insinuates vampires are liberals and also terrorists. The man has a sledgehammer touch with words. The author, Tony Woodlief, knows his audience and what they want, and gives it to them. A liberal, I mean a vampire, is a sexual being with unusual tastes. He'll take your girlfriend because he's cool and you're not. The community suppresses its members' sexuality but the liberal rejects the community and does what he or she wants. They don't listen to others tell them what is good or bad; they decide for themselves. That is especially frightening to the authoritarian. If nobody tells you what is right or wrong, how will you know? You can't depend on your own knowledge of right and wrong because that was taken from you. You parents told you what was right and what was wrong and if you ignored them or even disagreed with them you were punished. You know that sometimes they were wrong but you refuse to let yourself break away from your parents. You need their love and you need them to love you. [Correction: You need their love and you need to love them.] So now you are never quite sure what is wrong and what is right. You can't trust your own opinion because your parents said you were wrong to question religious teachings or your country's actions, or your parents' demands. You don't trust yourself to make a right decision. Without laws and God, people would be evil and do bad things, just like your parents said.

Poor guy. He can't watch Twilight without feeling angry at beautiful, popular Edward who wins the girl's absolute acceptance and besotted love. He can't watch True Blood without thinking that the vampires deserve to be hated and hunted for wanting to live out in the open and stop hiding in the shadows. And when he sees the townspeople ripped to pieces by the mostly unseen but constantly terrifying vampires in Thirty Days of Night, he gets grim satisfaction in seeing his nightmares come to life, proof at last that he is, indeed, the victim in this world, and never the monster.


Mr. Wonderful said...

Well said (as usual). I do think he has a point with his analysis of the vampire-as-cool. The problem is, instead of leaving it as a film- or lit-crit trope of some interest, he has to a) deplore it and b) drag art (and, worse, pop entertainment) into the realm of moral instruction. Which, to him and his readers, is also political instruction.

I would just add one more point to yours about their feeling victimized and persecuted when they're in positions of majority or power: remember that Jebus himself was the ultimate innocent victim. This means they're just like Him, and destined for an eternity in Paradise if they can just get through this world of liberals, science, and fictional vampires.

Susan of Texas said...

Oh, yes. That's a major reinforcer for their viewpoint, and used extensively by the various churches to glorify suffering in the name of obedience. It's something the right has been dancing around, writing that the economic crises will make us more moral and closer to each other and God. No doubt when things get worse we'll hear more about suffering to be like Christ.

atheist said...

Very interesting Susan. You identified something in that passage that it took me a couple of close reads to grasp. You saw he was using 'vampires' as a stand-in for his political opponents. Maybe it was hard for me to see this, at first, because his premise just makes me want to roll my eyes.

I hope you don't mind this question. When you first read Woodlief's post, did you percieve his sense of victimization as a kind of feeling that was just evident to you as you read his article, like a tone you hear in the voice of a speaker? Or did you more read his various statements, consider in your mind what he was referring to, and note that this was an image of 'liberals'? Or what? How does it work for you?

Susan of Texas said...

I started with the review. The author had a lot of---I guess you'd call them tells, like with poker. Cool, hip, popular rebel--he's talking like a resentful teen who can't get a cheerleader to date him. He talked about following community standards and not deviating from them, emphasizing the deviation aspect. He chooses community over self, and sees following one's own proclivities as a sin, which is very authoritarian. He speaks of good versus evil, a Christian-oriented view of behavior with no allowance for personal choice. He compares liberals to terrorists and vampires, faceless, unknowable, irredeemable monsters, which means he lives in a conservative vacuum, probably since birth. He wants preteens to watch a gory, horrifying movie instead of a fairly gently love story so they will learn to hate their enemies. He's very resentful and angry, without knowing anything about the object of his anger.

Using my readings of Alice Miller and Altemeyer's work on authoritarianism, I can see the author's feelings of and towards self-sacrifice and aggression towards his unknown enemies fit the description of a person who was controlled by his parents, taught to hate and fear others, yet resents how this cuts him off from the rest of society. A victim.

I can't help but feel sorry for people who are victims of something they can't even see, and would swear to their death does not exist. They can't stand to even see liberals because it reminds them that there's another way to live, one in which you think for yourself and follow your own heart instead of someone else's commands.

atheist said...

Susan, thanks. I can see you bring a lot of knowledge to this, probably on all kinds of different levels. (The tonal, the abstract, the matter-of-fact.) It is interesting to me how you connect Woodlief's statements to his probable inner psychological state. I have made it a habit to be skeptical of psychological explanations of one's opponents words but this one sounds plausible, convincing to me.

I feel like one thing I've seen a lot of in this era, politically, is projection. Or maybe that's not quite the right word, but a special kind of misunderstanding of "other" points of view. I mean looking at your opponent and instead of seeing them, seeing yourself in a kind of crazy fun-house mirror reflection.

I think I've done it too. It is hard to look at another without filling in the details from your own psyche- and these details can be wrong.

Somehow, though, your take on Woodlief seems convincing to me. Maybe it's because I can be pretty paranoid too. Maybe its your discussion of the authoritarian parenting style, how this could make one aggressive & scared & resentful.

Susan of Texas said...

It's a very good habit to be skeptical of psychological explanations. And I welcome questioning and criticism--I don't want to say anything that can't be supported with evidence.

I used to analyze literature of course (English major) and did the same regarding tv shows for fun. I began to realize that I was seeing the same things across very different areas--in politics,religion, literature, in people's personal life. People's analysis was always filtered through their personality and personal experiences. And they reacted very strongly to events in the books and tv shows that struck a chord in them. I tried to figure that out--the people who felt mistreated and neglected always supported the underdog. People tended to believe what the characters said, even when the characters were obviously unreliable narrators. I began to realize that there was a reason behind every strong emotional reaction, and it always went back to the person's life experiences.

A little later I read Alice Miller's books (a Swiss psychoanalyst). She had wanted to try to understand why the German people so easily obeyed Hitler despite the horrific circumstances. She stated exactly what I had already seen--people who were mistreated in childhood had certain, predictable reactions to certain stimulus. Miller's explanations made perfect sense to me. The most important thing she stated was that people's parents influenced the development of their personality. People acted to protect themselves emotionally. People often acted unconsciously. All of this seemed incontrovertible to me, but I plainly saw people deny it.

I remembered Stanley Milgrim's experiments on authority and read his book. I read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's book on death and dying, which examined attitudes on faith. I read Bob Altemeyer's web booklet on authoritarianism. Their observations all reinforced each other.

I try to be very careful to think through every statement I make. After I wrote about the review, I went to the guy's web site. Abuse, clinging to God, trying to be a good person yet saying all these hateful, damaging things--it fits, although I wouldn't say I was 100% right. But I was close, because I knew what to look for.

atheist said...

I agree. It does all totally fit. If you're not 100% on target you're like 90% on.

Most people are like 10% on target.

I know you can take criticism and I guess that's why I mentioned the thing about the difficulty. I've seen projection from people, even very intelligent people.