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Don't Look Up: The end of capitalism is near

Class alienation: Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Timothée Chalamet in Don't Look Up.

"Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism," states Fredric Jameson in his essay Future City (2003). (1)

The endless repetition of apocalyptic plots reveals a particular symptom of the Amercian society. This symptom is the inability to create stories that face the key contradiction of our historical moment: capitalism is a meteor that the United States will die hugged to, taking the rest of the world with it.

This is the conclusion we have come to the end of the latest Hollywood-produced disaster film: Don't Look Up, directed by Adam McKay, the same as The Big Short, 2015, an attempt to explain the financial crisis of 2008.

In both films, he uses the same recipe. It is the immorality of rogue individuals that leads to avoidable catastrophes. In this way, it follows that if the scoundrels cease to exist, we can all save ourselves and return to our happy lives.

A mistake. It is not individual stupidity that causes social problems in an economic system as contradictory as capitalism. It is the opposite: a capitalist society needs imbecile individuals to exist and to maintain itself.

The asshole subjectivity of the bourgeoisie and of those who serve it with canine fidelity is the only one possible under capitalism. Catastrophe is just the plausible end.

That is why Don't Look Up, despite good intentions, can't go further than its predecessors. It seems more of the same. The ironic approach on the materials and the explicit citations, along the lines of postmodern pastiche, to other films with similar themes, explain its similarities.

Of the various quotes, two stand out. In Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1998), Bruce Willis is the hero who saves the planet from a meteor, with the help of NASA and the Pentagon, in an alignment with the government unthinkable at present. In Don't Look Up, this hero is the fascist Benedict Drask (Ron Perlan).

In Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014), the weather is the deadly enemy. As a result, we have one of the most fascist works ever produced by the American film industry. The film even suggests genocide to save the human species and transforms one of Saturn's moons in Kansas. McKay ridicules it in the final scene of his film.

One of the differences between Don't Look Up and its predecessors is that a catastrophe is indeed happening and it is close to the rich people of Hollywood. It is no longer necessary to imagine what the reaction of society and governments would be to the imponderable.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic and the global warming are not the results of creative imagination, McKay can focus on representing the social reaction he is experiencing in practice.

In this sense, for many who identify with his premise, since we live a daily reality of absurdities, the film ends up helping to depilate the liver. “It washes the soul,” as some say. However, things are not that simple.

The director is part of a circle of individuals that in Brazil we would characterize as the light left. They are “liberals”, as they say in English. In this group are some actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep. Also includes Brad Pitt from The Big Short. All-powerful, very rich, and philanthropic.

DiCaprio is a political activist, environmental advocate, and he even had run-ins with Bolsonaro some time ago. However, the problem with these people and their political pretensions is that they are for the most part aligned with Democratic Party politicians. There is nothing more wrong.

By focusing his film on anti-Trumpism, McKay spares the Democrats as the holders of a common sense they are far from having. The party serves capitalist dirt as much as Trump's Republican Party, but it does so from a hypocritical discourse that uses and abuses the terms linked to democracy and human rights to pose as civilized.

The American Democratic Party is made up of murderous, genocidal, and war-making capitalists. The Democratic Party currently controls and is responsible for the current moralistic identity discourse, which a good part of the Brazilian left has appropriated with relish. The Democratic Party carried out a coup d'état in Brazil in 2016 as an imperialist strategy against the BRICs and to foster the submission of the country to the interests of American corporations.

In the case of moralistic identity, the casting of Meryl Streep to play the opportunist President Orlean, portrayed as Trump in skirts, is a pastiche, but of her performance as Margareth Thatcher in The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011). The Englishwoman was the mother of the neoliberal perversion of capitalism, but Meryl portrays her as a woman of fiber.

“Every day, it rains stones on the workers' heads,” says a character in Raining Stones (Ken Loach, 1993), a film that portrays the plight of the English working-class after the Thatcher years like no one else (click here to read our analysis). A simple comparison between these two showers of stones – Mckay's farce and Loach's consciousness – shows how adherent to the system is the former.

It never existed, does not exist, and never will exist ethical, democratic, human capitalism or any nonsense used as a palliative for an economic system that appeals to horror and the grotesque daily. Hundreds of millions of people feel it on their skin every day, with or without pandemics or global warming.

This is why, in the social universe of a filmmaker like Mckay, the solution to the dilemma in his film cannot be imagined. It is a political choice. This interdict is called socialism. Something that the co-opted light left doesn't even think about considering. Therefore, in his fantasy, there is no alternative and his characters can only die. "We've tried everything," says Jennifer Lawrence's character in the resigned ending.

It is a historical fact that it would be much easier to destroy the meteor than to let it destroy us. For a start, it would be important to stop looking at the future as dystopia and start thinking about utopia, that is, imagining that we can overcome the limits of the current economic system and replace it with a more rational one. We need to wish a happy ending. It's so obvious.

Why do we see harm in a world where a worker is the real owner of the fruits of his labor? Where seniors and children are cared for and treated well? Where there is no hunger? Where health systems are accessible and free to all? Where there is no division of classes? Where the wealth produced by all of us is not concentrated in the hands of a few?

Or what do we really want is the reactionary ending of Don't Look Up? To sit down and pray, head bowed, waiting for a miracle that certainly won't come?


Don't Look Up is on Netflix

(1) Observations on the origins and uses of this phrase:

"It has recently become something of a cliché, at least on the Left, to cite the claim, first made by Fredric Jameson in Seeds of Time (1994), that in the current conjuncture it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. “Someone once said,” Jameson writes in “Future City” (2003), where he recapitulates and revises the point, and where it becomes apparent that he is probably misremembering some comments made by H. Bruce Franklin about J. G. Ballard, “that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. Slavoj Žižek has frequently repeated this provocative claim, in articles, books, and interviews."

(BEAUMONT, Matthew. (2014) Imagining the End Times: Ideology, the Contemporary Disaster Movie, Contagion. In: Flisfeder M., Willis LP. (eds) Žižek and Media Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, p. 6.

"It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations."

(JAMESON, Fredric. Seeds of Time. Columbia University Press, 1994. p. xii)

"Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world."

(JAMESON, Fredric. Future City. IN: New Left Review 21, May/June 2003, p. 76)

“Watching Children of Men, we are inevitably reminded of the phrase attributed to Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.”

(FISHER, Mark, Capitalist Realism: is there no alternative? Winchester: Zero Books, 2009, p. 2)


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