"Reprehensible" Stories

"Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don't wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment."
Cruz, Gilbert. "10 Questions: Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on the politics of horror movies, living in self-imposed exile and owning a man cave". Time magazine. September 5, 2011. page 80
Well, to quote my platoon 2IC from way back in my army reserves days, "that not the most f---ed up thing I've ever heard". But I still think it's pretty darn foolish (I'm trying my best to be charitable here, Sophia's Favourite would probably not mince words so nicely) and especially coming from a man who's experienced, personally, a taste of what anarchy is like (again, those banditos who kidnapped his father were not exactly docile pro-establishment drones).

It's also rather odd coming from a man who, like myself, is a big fan of science fiction and fantasy (similarities between myself an Mr. del Toro end there) -- which tends to be almost exclusively "reprehensible" in his view because it is "pro-institution". Certainly all the best of these genres is heavily pro-institution and, as I mentioned, the grandfather of them all, The Lord of the Rings series is not only pro-institution through-and-through, but practically a catechism of that institution that Mr. del Toro hates the most, Catholicism.

The theme common to fantasy fiction especially, that makes almost all of it "reprehensible" and "pro-institution", features a sort of "conservative" past social order that has been corrupted and is restored (or sought to be restored) by the heroes. This is certainly true of Lord of the Rings where there is much talk of the glories of the past, the decadence of modern Gondor and Rohan, the emergence of the evil power, and at the end a sort of "Counter Reformation" that restores the old order. Even Star Wars follows this arc, despite superficial appearances to the contrary, with the Rebellion seeking to re-establish the Old Republic and a resurgence of the Jedi Knights who had a long tradition (another "conservative/establishment" thing) of guarding peace and justice. This has lead hacks gentlemen like Michael Moorcock to whine that fantasy is inherently politically conservative.

The inherent "conservativism" (I mislike the word, but continue to use it here for convenience) of fantasy and sci-fi is a reason why children, the most inherently conservative people in the world, tend to enjoy these stories. I say children are inherently conservative because they thrive on order, routine, and stability. It is chaos and anarchy that they find fearful and why the whole "Dr. Spock" liberal methods have been disastrous (but that debate is for another column).

Perhaps Mr. del Toro misinterprets "libertarian" and "back-to-the-land" trends in works like Lord of the Rings (or maybe he despises LOTR and agreed to help write the screenplay for The Hobbit out of a malicious desire to twist it into his own image? I'll give the benefit of a doubt and assume he likes it) as "anti-establishment". Well, it may be anti- the current liberal, French Revolution inspired institutions that people of Mr. del Toro's persuasion centuries ago foisted upon the world through torrents of blood. But that doesn't make it "anti-establishment", it makes it "reactionary" or "counter-revolutionary" which is ultimately the epitome of "pro-institution" since it supports the ancient institutions. I think that this is why I often am able to get along so well with really liberal-types, like a lawyer colleague of mine who has run for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada; we agree that there are problems with the current system but we disagree strongly on the solution usually because such people (though well intentioned) are ignorant of history and what stuff like communism really stands for.

So it's just plain odd to be a big fantasy fan, but claim to hate it's inherent nature. As to why it is so wrong-headed to consider "pro-establishment" fiction "reprehensible" ... that could be the subject of a multipage rant. But let's just look quickly at Mr. del Toro's quote above, wherein he says that a story that teaches children "always obey your parents" is "reprehinsible" is plain lunacy. Certainly, as a parent himself, he does not believe his children should not listen to him. It's just so plainly obvious that parents know more than children and the very purpose of parents is to teach and protect their children. So he's saying a story that reinforces the duty of parents is evil? The great irony is, that it is liberals ( Mr. del Toro acknowledges that he is one) who are the most "pro-establishment" because they tend to be statists who think "the establishment" should control nearly every aspect of our lives and "protect" us from ourselves with myriad regulations and Big Brotherly watchers. The "evil regime" of Generalissimo Francisco Franco that Mr. del Toro hates so much didn't have Child and Family Services who abduct peoples' children for drawing a picture of a gun! To be blunt, it's not just irony, but rather hypocrisy and liberal endeavours are ripe with it.


Sophia's Favorite said...

The French Revolution was just a more intellectually consistent version of England's Glorious Revolution—all of its leading intellects were deeply read in the Whig version of English history. And even then, the French Revolution murdered half as many people as the English murdered five years after the Terror while putting down the 1798 Irish Uprising.

Del Toro's problem is simpler—he's a dupe. He comes from a country where anti-clericalism stopped being enshrined in law in the 1980s; the anti-clericalism often comes bundled with a "decolonization" narrative, despite the Mexican government mostly coming to conflict with the church because the church occasionally stood up for the Indians (also please observe that government's policies in Maya country).

Mexican folk-hero Emiliano Zapata, despite often being claimed by the anti-clerical Left, would probably have more sympathies with a Tory Radical like Tolkien—he was an agrarian whose program was, pretty much, "the scouring of the Shire". He didn't want the state to have control of industry, he wanted the farmers to have control of their own land.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for writing this. I've enjoyed the work that goes into many of Del Toro's films (especially the creature designs and special effects), but his moral vision has always seemed suspicious to me. It's a pity that someone with so much talent would waste it promoting wickedness. He could do better than this.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

@Sophia's Favourite: I agree with you about the so-called "Glorious Revolution" although I would also say that the French Revolution was a more intellectually consistent version of the American Revolution as well.

As for Mr. del Toro, he may well be a dupe, although I also saw that he made some comments about his Catholic upbringing being "morbid". Not sure if he had some bad experiences, or that is the liberal brainwashing talking. Unfortunately, as always, bad Catholic parents tend to be the worst enemies of their childrens' faith than outside influences.

@Jonathan: glad you liked the article, and thanks for reading. I agree with you; it is always sad to see great talent wasted.

Sophia's Favorite said...

America's Revolution liked to bandy around the catchphrases of Enlightenment Classical Liberalism, but the things the Founders were most insistent on were mostly just the rights of freemen under medieval common law. As I like to tell Libertarians, "You don't have the right to abuse yourself, or anything else—this is a common law jurisdiction, jus utendi et abutendi is civil law. Go back to France." Makes their heads explode.

It probably is just more dupe-ness that Del Toro characterized his Catholic upbringing as "morbid"; it's unlikely a guy with his socio-economic background would've experienced the excesses folk Catholicism can get up to down there (like making a pilgrimage to Tepeyac on one's knees...the whole way). Of course those excesses are seldom truly morbid (a Hindu would find them quite staid and unremarkable), and considering the native religions of Mexico involve(d) sticking cactus spines, serrated ropes, or stingray quills through one's tongue or naughty-bits in ritual bloodletting, nobody with any perspective would find Catholic Mexico weird in the slightest.

Then again, maybe he's just being güero (pronounced "wero", light-skinned with dark hair—the Mexican equivalent of a dumb blond).

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