Sunday 23 July 2017

Dark Mirrors: Get Out and Race in America

This essay originally appeared in Critics at Large and is reproduced on this site because the racial transgressions that occur in both the film under review and in American society are consistent with the Gothic's examination of the darker side in both the past and the present.

Daniel Kaluuya in Jordan Peele's Get Out (2017).

“The truth is, they don’t surround us. We surround them. This is our country."
– Glenn Beck, Fox News Channel, March 13, 2009.
Jordan Peele’s gripping film, Get Out, which explores on a micro-level contemporary race relations through the prism of comedy horror, has received considerable attention from critics, including this site’s Justin Cummings and Kevin Courrier. Among other films, they have rightly pointed out its cultural markers from The Invasion of the Body SnatchersGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner to The Stepford Wives. In both versions of the latter, wives are reprogrammed into robotic doppelgangers while Get Out can be viewed as a sinister version of Dinner. But Sydney Poitier’s other 1967 film, In the Heat of the Night, also comes to mind. His role as the urbane cop who encounters southern redneck racists finds its mirror image fifty years later in Get Out, in the photographer Chris’ unease with the seemingly polite, cringe-inducing patronization of white liberals, a veneer that covers their malevolent and dangerous presence. I would add two fictional progenitors to Get Out: H. G. Wells’ early science fiction novella, The Island of Doctor Moreau, about a physician who experiments on animals to turn them into human-like hybrids, and Stephen King’s End of Watch that posits the idea that the consciousness of a comatose psychopath can be transferred to the minds of others who become the agents of his nefarious plans.

Sunday 9 July 2017

Changing the Narrative in Canadian History: Three Recent Canadian Studies

The following review that originally appeared in Critics at Large is reproduced here because the Canadian treatment of Indigenous people, a prominent theme of this piece, has until recently characterized by the authorities crossing a line into darkness.

The Scream by Kent Monkman. (2017, Acrylic on Canvas)

If you are a Canadian, you will undoubtedly know that Aboriginals have not joined in the joyful acknowledgement of Canada’s sesquicentennial. Several native men and women have articulated that this occasion that celebrates Confederation, itself a product of a colonial mentality, is shameful because the framers regarded Aboriginals with contempt. One commentator argued that the Canadian historical narrative had to change. On the evidence of two of the books under review – Canada’s Odyssey: A Country Based on Incomplete Conquests (University of Toronto Press, 2017) by Peter H. Russell and The Promise of Canada: 150 Years – People and Ideas That Have Shaped Our Country (Simon & Schuster Canada, 2016) by Charlotte Gray – the narrative about the relationship between the British and later Canadian governments and the Aboriginal peoples is changing. Russell (full disclosure: I personally know this distinguished political scientist) fully understands Aboriginal disenchantment with the 1867 Constitution Act – it offered them nothing – and based on the evidence in The Promise I suspect that Gray would also appreciate their refusal to participate in this event. Although Tim Cook’s Vimy: The Battle and the Legend (Allen Lane, 2017) does not address the Aboriginal issue, he does challenge a dominant narrative about Canadian identity that has emerged since the celebration of the country’s centennial in 1967.