Earlier this week I sat down and watched The Patriot, a movie from 2000 staring Mel Gibson and the late Heath Ledger. Much as I would enjoy ripping the Triumphalist pile of American cock-suckery, I think that reviewing a 9 year old film might be just a little bit too far; even I have standards you know. Anyway, the film got me thinking about several things, one of which was where the nearest bucket was.
If you haven’t watched it, and I expect that you haven’t, I’ll give you a brief summary. If you feel like putting yourself through a couple of hours of futile misery by watching it then be my guest. If that’s the case you may want to skip this next bit for fear of spoilers. The film is set in South Carolina in the American War of Independence, or more accurately a parallel universe in which all Americans are righteous god-loving, high-minded demi-gods and the British are a load of snivelling, oppressive pricks that seriously lack a moral compass. The story revolves around a family, of which Mel Gibson is the father and Heath Ledger is the eldest son. In short Ledger’s character (named Gabriel... I’ll leave you to infer the obvious joke) goes off like all good flag-fucking young men should to fight in the name of freedom and justice. Meanwhile Gibson’s character pretends to be a pacifist in the name of character development. The war eventually comes to the family home and they agree to house some British wounded, in return their house gets burnt down, one of the sons gets killed and Gabriel, who is conveniently at home at the time, gets dragged off for execution. The antagonist in this case is the most stereotypically evil British Commander in the history of Film. Gibson along with his two remaining sons goes off and ambushes a rather incompetent column of troops and free Gabriel. For the next hour or so Ledger and Gibson run rings around the British with guerrilla warfare until the stereotype evil Brit starts killing everyone. With about half an hour to go, with Gabriel and any other family or love interests dead or in hiding Gibson unfurls the flag and embarks on the most sickeningly patriot conclusion to a film I have ever had the misfortune to sit through. I won’t detail it for fear of making you and me queasy.
To be fair to the film, until the last half hour the patriotism simmered gently under the surface of a decent story which focused on one specific family in the context of a larger war; it could have been any war and it wouldn’t have mattered. However once the writers killed off or conveniently removed any family interest and the director really let Mel Gibson off the leash the film took a turn down creation myth alley and it was downhill from there.
I say creation myth because the general perception of the American War of Independence is just that; a creation myth loosely based in reality. While it started as a revolution by the Americans for their own nation free from British rule, it very swiftly escalated into a much larger ‘Proxy’ War between Britain and France. The French funded the Revolution from the very beginning and ended up entering the war as the deciding factor. The war of Independence was as much a war between Britain and France as a Revolutionary War. Essentially the image which is portrayed by the media is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. It is a glorified creation myth designed only a self-gratification for the then emerging United States of America. Now that the USA is the one global superpower, this collective delusion only serves to inflate the already enormous American Ego.
The principles of Life, Liberty and a the Pursuit of Happiness are admirable ones and the American Dream, while mostly propaganda is something that we can and should respect, however the slogans and philosophical self-righteousness are a thin veneer placed upon the blatant and dangerous patriotism which lies at the heart of the American consciousness. It is easy too look at the flagpoles in every garden and chants of “USA, USA” at political rallies in a Romantic light, but in the modern world of fast travel wherever you want, it is ever more dangerous. America is no longer a distant ‘Brave New World’ an ocean away; it is a few clicks of a mouse away.
America can no longer afford to be so self obsessively arrogant. So long as films portray America as a dream world were everyman is born equal under God and Manna falls from heaven on a daily basis, American will be seen by the world not as a place were anyone can go from rags to riches with the right amount of effort and hard nosed determination, but as an outdated, self obsessed lumbering world power which throws it weight around under delusions of righteousness.
America’s collective arrogance is painfully outdated in the postmodern world we live in were people are rushing to distance themselves from their country. While there may be fringe groups and ferocious support for national sports teams, the embarrassing shadow of colonialism looms large over Europe and any national pride is left in Trafalgar Square or the Champs-Élysées. It is time that America leaves its national pride in its own monuments and approaches world affairs seeing itself on a level pegging with the rest of us, rather than trying to assume the position of superiority without consent. Rather than appearing like a teacher schooling children, America looms like a school bully ready to use force to get his way. It is past time that America forget it’s delusion of grandeur and treat the rest of the world as equals not inferiors. While this change may be gradually happening already, you need only look as far back as the Iraq War to see that it isn’t happening fast enough. Mel Gibson strutting around with a flag fluttering in breeze behind him is certainly not helping.