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Feb 14, 2014

Rundle: Planet Janet, a Wolf, the Lone Survivor and other illiberalism

Janet Albrechtsen writes on a spurious "cultural divide" in Hollywood and at home. Her fact-free propaganda exemplifies the illiberal spirit of the Right. Our writer-at-large goes to the movies.


God, one swears one won’t train the telescope on Planet Janet Albrechtsen, much less record each elliptical wobble, but this week’s effort is too good.

There are times when your average op-ed columnist has no story, but writes one anyway — and runs a propaganda line to boot. Planet has a good record in that, usually building up a story about “the elitez” from a couple of bits and bobs. The most recent example starts promisingly. “Here’s a story about the cultural divide …” Settle in.

It turns out to be about the movies. The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorsese has been doing brisk business on the “east and west coasts”. Meanwhile, in the “flyover states” — i.e. the interior — they’re all going to see Lone Survivor, the story of a SEAL mission gone wrong in Afghanistan. In San Francisco, trills Janet of Wolf, “I just managed to find an empty seat one night in early January”, whereas when she saw Lone Survivor “in New York there were many empty seats”.

Why would that be? Well, “the elites”, for all their moral condemnation of capitalism, loved the Wolf of Wall Street — “a great — no, a fucking great — movie movie,” said gushed Christopher Orr in The Atlantic — while they were sniffy about Lone Survivor. A “jingoistic snuff film” that preaches “brown people bad, American people good,” said LA Weekly, apparently.

Planet’s basic thesis was that “so-called progressive people” should hate Wolf for the depraved behaviour it displays, yet they love it, while hating the decent martial values on display in Lone Survivor. Borne out by the scathing, lefty reviews, correct?

Yeah, uh, no.

Lone Survivor did get a few negative reviews, but the most prominent was in Murdoch’s right-wing tabloid The New York Post, which gave it the thumbs down, deciding “Lone Survivor Misses The Target”. Meanwhile, that bastion of Left thinking, Forbes magazine, said that it was “a relatively compelling and technically efficient film with a viewpoint that I find morally repellent”.

On the other hand, good reviews came in from Tea Party loyalists The New York Times, The LA Times praised it and National Public Radio said it was “unsparing”, “anti-heroic” and with “courage aplenty”. It got a better review than in the NY Post from The Huffington Post, with a thumbs up, and a headline “superb action sequences anchor war film”.

Wolf of Wall Street, meanwhile, got a somewhat negative review from liberal hang Slate. And the shouty voice of the outraged shires, the UK Daily Mail, gave it a thumbs up: “While there’s little to admire about most of the characters, the same cannot be said of Scorsese’s film … Scorsese is a master of his craft, and can captivate you for three hours.”

OK, so the reviews don’t bear out Planet’s assertions at all, but what about the punters? Lone Survivor dying on the elite, brie-sipping coasts, while it’s going off down home? And vice-versa for Wolf?

Well, if Planet has stats to back up her assertion — none are quoted — I’d be very surprised. But we can get an idea of how the two films are doing overall by a glance at box office site The Numbers. There we find that both films are doing more or less the same — on 50 days release each. Lone Survivor has taken $113 million; WoWS $108 million.

Regionally, MovieClock tells us tells us how they’re rated. Lone Survivor has the No. 1 rating in red-state heartland towns Birmingham Alabama and Bismark North Dakota, while Wolf languishes outside the top 10. Can Planet be right? Well, no. The same rating holds in New York City. Indeed, it even holds the No. 2 slot in Berkeley California — in Berkeley, the single-most left-wing place in the United States, Lone Survivor is the No. 1 rated movie.

Still, what about bums on seats? The most accessible way to tell that is by session listings. When we do that we see that in Kansas City, the very centre of flyover country, both Survivor and Wolf have the same number of sessions. There’s near parity in deep-red Boise, too, 5:4. But those coastal sophisticates won’t be going for it, will they? Well, in hipster Seattle, both films are playing for 12 sessions each, and the same goes for San Francisco. Only in New York is there an imbalance — and who knows why a movie called The Wolf of Wall Street would be doing unusually well there?

So the upshot is, the whole article is bullshit. The whole thing. Everything it asserts as some sort of quantitative social behaviour is the opposite of what is occurring. What the stats show is that there is no split between audiences from different social groups as far as big movies are concerned. It’s another piece of flimflam, cut from whole cloth, so that a lawyer/columnist can present herself as the voice of the people.

The example in question is not without significance. Since Tony Abbott announced that “loyalty” — i.e. not questioning the government — was the new standard, the Right is rushing to get into military formation. But how to show your military commitment when you were too busy being a deracinated lawyer to sign up? Easy, see a movie. There’s nothing that says duty like watching Mark Wahlberg pretend to be a soldier for two hours. Set up an entirely invented scenario in which the war movie has salt-of-the-earth types trooping to it out of patriotic duty, while urban sophisticates something something.

Bizarrely, of the two films, Lone Survivor is the artier flick, with its slow-burn first hour, while Wolf is something of a cartoon. Both are aimed at a niche audience of similar composition: people like Planet who write about seeing a movie in New York, and a movie in San Francisco, and then unironically remark on how urban sophisticates don’t understand “flyover country”. Were Lone Survivor going for a mega-mass audience, it would look like a video game.Both are dwarfed at the box office by Hunger Games II, the next instalment in the fantasy series that gets much of its popularity from being a dystopian take on American inequality. Author Suzanne Collins has said she got the idea for the series when she was channel flipping between a reality TV show and footage of the Iraq War. That view of the US has clearly struck a chord — the movie has taken in half-a-billion dollars after 90 days in cinemas.

Planet’s entire research for this piece on the state of American society? She went to two movies, read LA Weekly, and quoted two articles from The Atlantic. You can’t tell from the website, but they might well have been in the same issue. She read a magazine!

Why fillet this pointless, bogus article at such length? Partly because I suspect it is the ur-Planet article, the distilled essence of right-wing “elites” bullshit. When every piece of evidence — that could be easily gained in 90 minutes — points away from your central argument, then the piece becomes something of a gold anti-standard. But it’s also worth noting what a dim and illiberal idea of art it is — that everything you watch or read has to have some other purpose, be an expression of an attitude, a loyalty, a politics. The essence of the totalitarian mindset as regards culture is that it denies the autonomy of the single artwork, and can see it as nothing other than exemplar, or error. Writes Planet:

“You’d think that arty, so-called progressives would hate The Wolf of Wall Street as a gross glorification of testosterone-fuelled greed and stock market scams … You’d think they might regard as repugnant the film’s failure to address the shocking personal and financial costs paid by the victims swindled by Belfort. Wrong.”

Why? Why would you want a movie depicting excess to contain its own moralisingunless you had no interest in it as art at all? It gets better/worse:

“Luttrell [the film’s real-life central character] now runs the non-profit Lone Survivor Foundation to help combat veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress … This counts for naught in the glittering, artificial world of Academy Awards that invariably lauds yet another Woody Allen film about a middle-aged neurotic woman and Scorsese’s depiction of a young narcissistic New York stockbroker.”

This is fantastic, because not only has Planet crossed all the way over into a sort of right-wing socialist realism, judging worth by content and finding little in tales of “middle-aged neurotic women” — hmmmm — she would also like artistic merit to be judged on what you do with the money, which has a Maoist touch. If the bloke who made Kenny built an orphanage, he may be in for a Nobel Prize.

This is culture for people who don’t like anything, and go to it to have their  prejudices reflected, and agendas confirmed. It will be the mood of the era, a sort of cultural conscription, which is what makes it so dismal and dispiriting. Propaganda, fabrication the collective will — it champions all it purports to oppose, an illiberalism for our times.


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37 thoughts on “Rundle: Planet Janet, a Wolf, the Lone Survivor and other illiberalism

  1. rhwombat

    The fact that Planet Janet survives solely on wingnut welfare is telling, but entirely predictable.

  2. felicity_biggins@hotmail.com

    Thank-you Guy, this is gold.

  3. klewso

    She reminds me of one of those fairy floss machines?
    A spinning-head, hot air, something that rots your teeth, a bit of the Right colouring, heated and extruded through little holes, manifests itself as an aerated mass clotted on a stick, that does nothing for your nutritionally?
    [Pashmak? Pismaniye?]

  4. klewso

    It’s almost funny how it’s so patriotically everyone’s apparent duty and all Right to be sceptical, cynical abusive and openly contemptuous of a government of the Left – but as soon as it’s replaced by the Right’s sort of government sanctioned by Murdoch and then that sort of behaviour is treasonously traitorous unAustralian?

    [“Murdochracy 101”]
    Don’t you love what Murdoch has done to this country aided and abetted by his undies?

  5. zut alors

    You’ve hit the target today, Mr Rundle. Mind you, she’s a remarkably large target so you could’ve taken aim even blindfolded.

  6. klewso

    Any wonder Howard appointed the prejudiced intolerant tart to “The ABC Bored”?

  7. Electric Lardyland

    Thanks, Mr Wombat, I might borrow the term “wingnut welfare” sometime, if it’s okay with you?

  8. Liamj

    Look, the Right only has so many women prepared to parrot its agenda in public, and if they want to skip their homework and buy in cheap content from freelancer.com, well thats what priviledge is for. Its not like News Corp(se) consumers or editors will notice, none of them actually read it.

  9. klewso

    And you can’t wipe your bum with it – someone else beat you to that.

  10. Electric Lardyland

    On a more serious note, this sort of attempt to divide the polity between a virtuous heartland and degenerate urban areas, is not a new idea. And while I know that there is an unwritten law in debating circles, that anyone who mentions the Nazis automatically loses; I do think that it is worth mentioning that this sort of stereotyping was pushed in Nazi Germany. That is, the central, more provincial areas of Germany were seen as the homeland of the noble, hard working, cultured, and typical, Aryan. While the cosmopolitan cities of the north, like Hamburg and Berlin, were portrayed as places that had been decayed by foreign peoples and foreign ideas. And though there is a modern tendency to think of the whole of Germany under the spell of Hitler, some historians have pointed out that the Nazis, even at the height of their powers, did not garner majority support in Berlin; to the extent that they always had to bus people in for the rallies that they held in the capital.
    So the current idiotic version (formulated by people like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, and regurgitated by Ms Albrechtsen) which characterises the western seaboard and the north east states of the USA as being full of effete, atheist, liberal elites, and anywhere else as the domain of the real Americans, does have have a long history.
    Actually, while typing this, I’m wondering if Athens and Sparta was an early example of this phenomenon? Anyone?

  11. DiddyWrote

    All Janet has in her right wing toolbox is a hammer and all she can do, is to just keep banging away at those damned elitist nails, real or imagined.

  12. Merve

    And they expect me to pay to read that drivel from Janet?

  13. rhwombat

    Mr Lardyland (may I call you lec?): since I nicked the term wingnut welfare from US stalwarts such as Tbogg & Charley Pierce, I am sure the term is available to all sane sapients. As for Sparta v. Athens – absolutely, though my son (who knows about these things, being a professional historian) assures me that the Athenians were pretty damned fascist too.

  14. DiddyWrote

    Hi Electric LardyLand,

    The Spartans were highly militaristic and from birth onwards attempted to develop themselves as the most formidable warriors in Greece. Famously they left sickly infants to die on the mountainside and looked down on their neighbouring city states as weak and effeminate. They scandalised others though (especially the Athenians) by the freedom they gave to their women who often were seen in public nude or partially dressed. Spartan women were equally as fanatical as their menfolk, exercising constantly so they could breed stronger warriors.
    I think a better example though would be the Romans. The aristocratic Patrician families of Rome prided themselves on austerity. They considered luxury and comfort, effete and weakening and something, that these highly xenophobic people, associated with foreigners especially those in the East.
    As the empire grew, the vast spoils of war started to undermine these values. Pleasure seeking became common place, foreign cooks were brought in and haute cuisine was to to be found at the finest tables. Luxury fish farms were created but the fish were pampered and bejewelled and were never destined for the plate.
    For stoics like Cato this was a scandal and believed such decadence would eat away at the core of Roman society leaving it weak and unable to defend itself.
    What would he have made of todays inner city leets, with their Lattes, Art House Films and chardonnay.?

  15. Richard

    Next level Planet maneuver, this.

  16. AR

    LeccyLardy – I happen to be reading a Victorian exposition of the difference between Sparta & Athens and, no surprise, it comes down in favour of the former.
    Sparta had an indigenous slave population (helots)and a ruling class whose sole function was to breed sons & fight wars (daughters were allowed to survive if they could breed more.. etc)but the real give away was that there was an open season on helots (after harvest) when they could be slain at will and was necessary for a boy’s graduation to adulthood. Sorta like SerfChoices but with blades rather than legisaltion.
    Somehow I doubt that Planet could be a thigh flashing, bum kicker, the traditional womens’ dance.

  17. DiddyWrote

    Why am I stuck in moderation, it’s ancient history? Is it because I used the word n*de?

  18. Yclept

    Planet Janet typifies the Bozo journalism of News so well. Why does anyone take any notice of such morons???

  19. leon knight

    What really cheeses me off is that proagandists like Albrechtson get gigs on Q&A and Insiders…I imagine it must gall Tony and Barrie too, having to give them a voice in order to appear un-biased…there are so many intelligent and insightful people that could fill the space wasted by her types.

  20. rhwombat

    I suspect that I’m in moderation for using the fac ist word too, even if it was about athenians.

  21. DiddyWrote

    Effeminate, effete, xenophobic, foreigners. Let’s try these out.

  22. DiddyWrote

    Haute cuisine, fish farms, bejewelled. What about these?

  23. DiddyWrote

    What is the problem with bej*weled?

  24. DiddyWrote

    Good grief. Ornamented as or with j*wels that’s what bej*ewled means. Does the moderation software think I’m being anti-Semitic? Unbelievable.

  25. Electric Lardyland

    Yes, AR, I’m sure that SerfChoices would be for their own good. I mean, you wouldn’t them struggling with old age on a serf’s non wages. And maybe they went out happily.
    “What? I get to go to young Hector’s graduation party? Does that mean I’m part of the family now?”
    “Yes, that might be it…err…what’s your name again?”

  26. Dez Paul

    Lenin & Mao’s commie revolutions had much the same agitprop, too – peasants good, city elites decadent. Wonder how Planet would feel knowing she’s picking up cudgels left by pinkos and totalitarians?

    Seems she’s one planet located well outside any Goldilocks zone. Devoid of intelligent life as we know it.

  27. Electric Lardyland

    Yes, Dez, or maybe there’s a new Goldilocks zone; everything right is just right.

  28. klewso

    …. sorry “plutocrat”…… then again ….?

  29. Malcolm Street

    Lardyland – note that in the recent Swiss referendum on immigration restrictions, the major “for” vote was in rural areas, while the major “against” vote was in the cities, ***which had the most immigrants!***

  30. bjb

    I wonder if Albrechtsen by writing that she saw a movie on the East and West coasts of the USA, was sending a subtle “FU” to all those people who don’t matter (car workers, SPC workers, the Forge workers etc) and cannot afford, like her and her well remunerated husband, to take a jaunt OS for the Christmas holidays.

  31. lethell

    For the life of me I can’t see why drinking milky coffee, going to a non-blockbuster movie and drinking white wine (or one variety thereof) is taken to be a sign of decadence or elitism by people who earn vastly more than I do. Let’s find some more realistic tropes to characterise “elites”. How about tax- evading, private-school supporting, old-boy networks? I don’t know enough about their food and drink intakes to formulate an equivalent to the cliche the right trots out at any opportunity but maybe someone who does can enlighten me.

  32. klewso

    This Murdochtrinated hi-jacking of the use of “elite” for slagging?
    [When it comes to “elitism”, in the “War on Democracy” (where, ignorance might not be king while the Sun King lives, but it is “air apparent”) – who else gets to censor what the voting plebs get to read, more than Murdoch’s Con-troll freaks in their paid, opinionated, prejudiced, partisan dominance of the medium – parroted by the likes of “Singo’s Cock-or-Two Circus” as “evidence based proof”?
    Where influencing the perception of “5(?)”% (the majority of swinging) voters divides Government from Opposition?]

  33. @chrispydog

    Ironic that in the post-fact world of our Murdochcracy, Planet is a high priestess whose oracles are the elite utterances of her class, while she bangs on about a purely mythical ‘elite’. Because, hey, she is so much ‘of the people’ herself, right?

    Planet’s contortions to affect this utter contradiction has her disappearing up her own black hole, from where she sends us the product of her own entrails.

    A very fine dissection of the oracle, Grundle. Mirth much.

  34. Buddy

    THIS is how you write about something someone else wrote without being dragged into the already heaping pile of shit that feeds the internet. bravo.

  35. MaryAnne Reid

    A great piece about the affect of walking around the world with a deeply ingrained bias – whether left or right or whatever. Fundamentalism must make the world such a narrow, monochromatic place for its adherents, whatever colour their beliefs.

  36. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Janet seems to be the Miley Cyrus of journalism – she’ll spout any c%@p to get attention and at the same time think she’s being radical and different.
    This piece personifies her for me: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/lets-not-be-tethered-by-simple-sexual-stereotypes/story-e6frg6zo-1226125879323.

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