If you find no meaning in Tarantino movies you need not read on, though I hasten to remind such a reader that a movie, much like travel to foreign lands, conversation, or smoking ganja, is only as interesting as you are. I recently watched Django Unchained and greatly enjoyed Christoph Waltz’s acting and his character, King Schultz, without which I would have enjoyed little else. What struck me first was the fact that Waltz’ character demonstrated exactly the opposite point offered by his brilliantly played character in Inglorious Basterds. In the latter film, Waltz drags the viewer into the murkiest caverns of moral ambiguity, forcing him to ask how it could possibly be that the most intellectually sophisticated culture in the world could also launch the Holocaust. I left the theater shaken to the core by Waltz’ performance. In Django, however, Waltz’ character, who provides the great majority of the humor in the film by way of his having mastered English better than any of the Americans, again gives us the ultra-sophisticated German, only this time he is the only humane white person in a film which completely abandons moral ambiguity in favor of easy pandering to black indignation and white guilt. Schultz’ appreciation of high culture will not even allow him to listen to Beethoven during the sale of a slave, while this high culture does nothing to curb the barbarism of the Americans. All of the moral ambiguity involved in American history is jettisoned for an easy “white Americans are greedy and evil” formula, summed up nicely in the film when Calvin Candy asks Django if he, unlike Shultz, is used to seeing black men torn apart by dogs and Django replies that he is simply more accustomed to Americans than Shultz.
Yeah, sure…forget about the North, which was about to fight, in part, to free the Southern slaves and forget about all of those economically prudent slavers of the South who handled their merchandise with care or even humanity, and simply write off the entirety of white America as no better than the films villain, Candy. How clever and deep, Quinton. What he implies about Americans is laughable, not simply because there were plenty of honorable white people around at the time–only 5% of Southern whites owned slaves!–but also because there was no other place on Earth much better! What, were all the blacks in Africa singing Kumbayah and holding hands at the time? Please. These African countries owned black slaves themselves. The world–though I’m sure full of wonderful individuals like yourselves–has been largely cruel and wretched to everyone. But why not: since there is no true Devil to find in this world wrought with suffering, lets just find an adequate scapegoat and thrash him for easy kicks. Did nobody notice that Django is no different than the Nazi propaganda film, Nation’s Pride, that is mocked as a shallow, masturbatory killing-fest in IB?
What is so tragically ironic about this is that the very moral simplicity and scapegoating that form the core of Django hold the answer to the deep moral question posed by Inglorious Basterds! That is, the same undiscerning and cowardly instinct to find an external Devil to blame for one’s misfortunes created both the Holocaust and the basis of Django’s heroism, though this was thinly veiled behind the “rescue the damsel” pretense. Any decent portrayal of American slavery must grapple with the true terror, the honest problem, the unspeakable dilemma: how could great people like Jefferson have owned slaves? People have been butchering and enslaving each other for all of recorded history just as all great civilizations have been built on forced labor–not to mention the fact that feudalism and other caste systems ain’t that far from slavery–so the really unsettling question is the same posed by Inglorious Basterds: how could such sophisticated and enlightened people do such evil? I could answer with that Solzhenitsyn quote about the line between good and evil running through each of our hearts, but the answer I’d prefer here is this: the Constitution was a document more humane than the humans who drafted it just as the German culture produced towering figures of genius whose masterpieces transcended that very culture’s ability to assimilate such wisdom. In short, it takes a while for a culture to catch up with the moral genius of its great individuals, just as it does for these individuals to live up to their own pronouncements, if they ever manage to. We are actively writing the essence of humanity, but while Genius reaches beyond itself, Tarantino settles for the most inglorious aspects of human nature for some cheap thrills and box-office loot. The moral core of Django is the very essence of what is wrong with man, so I therefore propose the term “Djangoism” for this sort of pandering to black jingoism. You see, there is no such thing as “Racism;” only various forms of tribalism turned into a religion. While purporting to hold the moral high ground of racial equality Djangoism promotes exactly the same tribalism and scapegoating that justified slavery and genocide.
Christoph Waltz is now one of my favorite actors, but as a German, I wonder how he could countenance this great disparity in the portrayal of his culture. Both movies display German sophistication, but the first implies that the more intellectual the culture the easier it can justify moral corruption while the second shows the opposite, as simple hillbillies and Southern gentlemen alike are low as they come. The only “good” white person in Django makes his living killing people and selling their corpses for cash, enlightened as he is. The truth is that the source of evil and barbarism exists in all of us, slaves and slavers alike, only the slavers are in a better position to exercise these passions and so play the villain. Put the slaves in power and see how they treat the other races; see what kind of Constitution they pen! Lincoln brilliantly said that the true test of character is not adversity but obtaining power. The way that Jefferson used his power betrays just as much about his character as the way Django exercised his freedom, but whom I ask you was more enlightened? So, as African Americans have gained political and cultural power in this country, how are they comporting themselves and how should we encourage them to comport themselves? Tarantino wants to turn a profit inflaming racial prejudice against contemporary whites who have nothing to do with racism and slavery while deifying the violent and aggressive redress of grievances from decades or centuries past as if these were some kind of historical aberration!
My great grandparents immigrated to Canada fleeing poverty in Russia and Germany (*the reader yawns). Nobody in my lineage, to my knowledge, owned slaves, and if they did, it is just as likely that they were white slaves and more likely still that my ancestors themselves were the slaves of others. History has only ever been boatloads of fun for the .01%. Thus, it has always chapped my hide while living in America to be subjected to white guilt that simply doesn’t make any sense. Furthermore, this tribal-blood-feud mentality encourages African Americans to continue to segregate themselves instead of assimilate into American multiculturalism; to form exclusive groups dubiously predicated on equality. How many people have you met who don’t just play the “black card,” but routinely slap down the “straight black flush;” who don’t bother to develop any authentic identity of their own save their emulation of Malcolm X, as if they have a right to pretend to be as oppressed as he; who turn race into a dogmatic religion for their benefit? How many people have you met who can talk of nothing but race and racism, all-the-while extorting a hushed approval from everyone, terrified as they now are of offending someone’s deep sense of cultural identity? After all, you would call me a savage if I punched a man simply for calling me “a worthless piece of shit,” but you would all likely call Django a hero for knocking out the guy who said the N-word. How wretchedly ironic that nobody sees the hypocrisy in the latter case: someone calls you a word that means something like “subhuman savage quick to animal passions and without intellect or virtue,” and you respond by breaking his jaw in a fit of rage? Am I the only one who sees the cultural power grab that all of the above involves? Its like a beautiful feminist walking around naked and then blasting the first guy who checks her out as a misogynistic pig who is objectifying her, while she betrays the fact that her only real identity rests on just this objectification and the leverage it grants her. Does nobody else long for a black comedian who decides not to discuss race; who has something else to say? How is it that a black guy can talk about his “ancestry” at a party all night, but nobody would put up with my white ass doing the same? Everyone probably stopped reading at the beginning of this paragraph because its not very interesting subject matter to anyone but the person talking (unless black)! Oh…I see I have your attention again. It must be this girl’s biting political point, which I’m sure is the only satisfaction she is deriving from this little display:
A woman may look as if she is surrendering, but in truth she is indulging her relational aggression. -Harvey Mansfield
Does nobody else see this for the naked power grab that it is? Though I somewhat worry about getting lynched for writing this, I suppose it would only prove my point, so go ahead: crucify me. I will remind this lynch mob, however, that I don’t even believe in human “races” or “racism” and am simply a cultural bigot: I prefer great cultures and great ideas just as much as I despise shallow ones full of Ressentiment. I love much of African American culture, especially as it flourished in the 20’s through 50’s, but for this very reason I resent most of modern rap and black entertainment for failing to live up to their cultural progenitors. I see regression, not progression, and Tarantino is just capitalizing on this fad ruthlessly.