I recently saw a wonderfully warped documentary film, Room 237, in which director Rodney Ascher presents, without editorial comment, various theories regarding the ‘real meaning’ of Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining. It proved very entertaining.
One guy was convinced that The Shining is primarily a condemnation of the Native American holocaust–the various ways in which white Americans historically have killed the native peoples of North and South America. That’s the main theme; that’s the point of the film. Another guy was equally convinced that The Shining is about the Holocaust; the Nazi-attempted extermination of the Jews. (Both were convinced that was the meaning of the kid’s vision of all the blood pouring out of the elevator doors). A third commentary thought the film was full of subliminal sexual images–that it was a film about deviant sexuality. But my favorite was the guy who says that The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s confession that he was the filmmaker who faked the footage of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Not just that the US government had faked the lunar landing, but that Kubrick was the filmmaker hired to fake the visuals we all saw on television.
Now, like me, you’re probably thinking that The Shining is actually just a really scary film about Shelley Duvall and a kid (Danny Lloyd), trapped over winter in a resort hotel alone with an increasingly insane Jack Nicholson. You may remember specific frightening images from the film–the kid’s visions of the blood pouring out of the elevators, or Jack Nicholson smashing open a door with an axe, sticking his head in and saying demonically ‘here’s Johnny!’ To me, the most terrifying moment in the film is when Shelley Duvall finally reads the novel Jack Nicholson has been pounding away on, day after day, hundreds of type-written pages. And sees that all he’s done is type the same phrase over and over. “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” Over and over and over. And she realizes just how nuts her husband truly is.
But that’s it. Good scary movie: that’s all. Unlike the people featured in Room 237, I haven’t watched The Shining a couple thousand times, watched it in frame-by-frame slow-mo, taken careful note of every single object in the backgrounds of every scene, scrutinized the production design for clues about What It All Means. I’ve seen it maybe twice, once with my wife and once with my daughter. I think it’s about Jack and Shelley in a really freaky hotel. I think it’s a haunted house movie, and a darn fine one.
But we do that, we human beings. We look for patterns in things. We try to put 2+2 together, to figure out what’s Really Going On. I think it’s evolutionary. I think it comes from early man putting together bent twig+animal tracks+scat+rustling leaves to conclude ‘a predator is stalking me.’ And those early hominids who had that ability survived better than those without it. Of course, sometimes that human ability to form a gestalt from disparate clues results in odd-ball conclusions like ‘this movie, though it seems to be about a crazy guy and his family in a haunted hotel, is actually about the lunar landing and how the US government faked it.’ Or ‘these plays, though professedly by an actor named William Shakespeare, from Stratford, were actually written by the 18th Earl of Oxford.’ Or ‘John F. Kennedy was really shot by Cubans and we covered it up.’ Or ‘George W. Bush was really behind 9/11.’ Or, my personal favorite recent one, ‘NFL commissioner Roger Goodell personally pulled the plug on the lighting system at the last Super Bowl, because he wanted the 49ers, not the Ravens, to win.’
In other words, our human patterning capacity sometimes goes skee-wampus. And wacko conspiracy theories result. And conspirators are COMPLETELY impervious to contrary evidence. It’s simply not possible to provide a sufficient factual basis to disprove their theories. That predator IS in fact stalking us, and nothing, absolutely nothing will convince them otherwise.
I thought about Room 237, and the whole ‘Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing, as can be proved, proved I say! by these four continuity errors in The Shining‘ thing the other day while watching, briefly, part of Ted Cruz’ 21 hour anti-Obamacare filibuster. Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, will all by itself destroy the US economy. It’s the most insidious legislation in the history of the United States Congress. It’s literally the worst piece of legislation ever enacted by a democracy, ever, anywhere on earth, ever. Nazi Germany was, of course, invoked, as was Stalin’s Russia. By passing Obamacare, the Federal Government is enslaving the American people. And it occurred to me that ‘Obamacare is a plot to destroy America’ had become a new conspiracy theory. It’s extreme. It has a very limited factual basis. It’s impervious to evidence. And it’s, let’s face it, nuts. And when I say nuts, let me be clear; it’s nuts the way the ‘Kubrick faked the moon landing’ is nuts. It demonstrates, yes, the human ability to take certain observable phenomena and form a gestalt (a remarkable talent we all have), but it demonstrates how that ability can go off the rails, can mislead us.
It also relates to two other conspiracy theories. The first is that President Obama was actually born in Kenya. The second is that President Obama is a foreign agent, intent on destroying American freedoms, and replacing freedom with some form of socialism. In point of fact, President Obama was actually born in Hawaii, and in fact, his political views are clearly those of a moderate, pro-business Democrat. His birth certificate (with plenty of ancillary evidence) all lead inescapably to Hawaii; his speeches and policies clearly reveal the moderate.
Conspiracy theories come from somewhere. You think The Shining is really about mistreatment of Native Americans because something in your personal history has led you to be inordinately horrified by America’s history of lies and murders and warfare with our indigenous tribes. Similarly, the cognitive dissonance of holding in your head both ‘I’m-uncomfortable-with-black-people and racism-is-culturally-unacceptable’ leads to insisting that our first black President isn’t, you know, really one of Us. He’s . . . different . . . in possibly dangerous and scary ways. The eighty House Republicans whose letter to Speaker Boehner led to the current government shut-down all represent gerrymandered districts that are predominately white, rural, uneducated and elderly–they weren’t acting against the wishes of their constituency.
The politics of this government shut-down thing-a-ma-bob are really interesting. I mean, if Obamacare really is that horrible a bill, the best move for Republicans would be to stand by and let it be implemented. Not the most patriotic move in the world, short-term, but one that would seem to fit Republican political self-interest. You want to keep the House in 2014, win the White House in 2016? Don’t repeal Obamacare. Let it happen, and reap the political benefit when it fails spectacularly (as you’re insisting it will). But that was the odd thing about the Ted Cruz filibuster–he compared Obamacare to something Hitler’s Third Reich would pass. But also seemed concerned that the American people would like it so much they’d never want to get rid of it. Because, let’s face it, if Obamacare works just fine, if costs go down, if more people really do have access to affordable health care, if the whole thing becomes even close to as popular as Medicare has been, the Republican party is going to get clobbered.
Here’s the other irony: conservatives really really really hate the ACA. Democrats don’t correspondingly love it. So when conservatives point to something like the way the bill incentivizes employers to reduce full-time employees to part-time, and what a terrible thing that is, liberals don’t really defend that provision. It’s not the bill any of us liberals ever wanted. It’s a step in the right direction, but we think it’s jury-rigged and inefficient, better than the status quo and worth supporting for that reason. So conservatives say ‘worst bill ever!’ and liberals say ‘yeah, it’s flawed. It’s the best bill we could get passed. But, yeah, it’s got some problems.’ We wanted single-payer. We settled for the ACA, because it’s essentially a conservative bill, conservative enough, we thought, it might in time find some Republican supporters. Boy was that ever a miscalculation!! But we underestimated the power of Obama derangement syndrome.
Republicans are also saying ‘why won’t the President compromise?’ But as Jon Stewart pointed out the other night, this isn’t a game of chicken between Republicans and Democrats. This is more like a thing where one car crosses into your lane, deliberately trying to ram you. I’m more than happy to say ‘a pox on both their houses’ when both houses are wrong. Here’s my analogy though. A gang of thieves robs a bank. Cops show up inopportunely; the thieves take hostages. Stand-off. And then the thieves say ‘can’t we compromise here? You seriously want to arrest us? Instead, just let us go. And surely we should be allowed to keep some of the money, right?’
There’s a bill out there, a Senate-passed Continuing Resolution, identical in every meaningful way to the House CR. The only difference is that the House bill delays Obamacare for a year. That provision is ridiculous, ideological, irrational, and more to the point, politically toxic. No way the Senate agrees to it, and no way the President wouldn’t veto it. So, okay, all that has to happen is for the House to vote on the Senate CR. Straight up and down vote for the Senate bill. And there are enough moderate sensible Republican votes in favor of that bill to join with the Democrats to pass it. if Speaker Boehner calls for an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, it would pass, and the government shut-down ends. That won’t happen. In part, of course, because it seems unlikely John Boehner would still be Speaker afterwards.
So big deal, right? We shut down a few national parks for a few days, so what?
So here’s just one thing that’s at stake. 9 million poor women rely on a program called the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, otherwise known as WIC. We’re talking baby formula, we’re talking Gerbers’. Impoverished women can get, at least, food for their kids. That program runs out of money end of next week, more or less.
I like to think of myself as a reasonable guy. But the Republican irrational conspiracy theory-like hatred of Obamacare, leading to this shut-down, will have the real-life consequence of denying food to infants. So yeah. This is a dispute where one side is wrong and one is right. And The Shining really is just a scary movie.