Heroes and collectives: a visual essay  
The Social Network neatly finesses its hero’s transformation from creative genius to world’s youngest multibillionaire by providing the Winklevoss Twins as ridiculous self-important Harvard snobs: perfect foils for Mark Zuckerberg’s deceit. While the twins provide comic relief, Zuckerberg’s business partner, Eduardo Saverin, finds his share in Facebook made virtually worthless. He violently confronts Zuckerberg, who seems to have no sympathy for or understanding of Saverin’s rage. Since lack of demonstrated empathy for others is a diagnostic marker for Asperger’s Syndrome, there’s been an active discussion in the Asperger’s community as to whether or not Zuckerberg fits. (In addition to lack of emotional reciprocity, other markers are restricted and repetitive interests, and intense focus.) Some reports claim that actor Jesse Eisenberg studied Asperger’s Syndrome in preparation for the role.
In the film’s conclusion, a young lawyer tries to explain to an uncomprehending Zuckerberg that he needs to think of financial settlements as the cost of doing business. A business hero for our time? High functioning autism as useful in neoliberal capitalism?

Continuing the trend of making Harvard seem like the vortex of clueless elitism, in Inside Job, a documentary on the financial collapse, at this point detailing the close links of government economics policy makers, prestigious academic economists, and the major financial companies:

  • “Interviewer: Does Harvard require disclosures of conflicts of interest in [faculty] publications?
  • John Campbell, Chairman, Harvard Economics Department: Umm…not to my knowledge.
  • Interviewer: Do you require people to report the conpensations they’ve received from outside activities?
  • Campbell: No.
  • Interviewer: Don’t you think that’s a problem?
  • Campbell: I don’t see why.
  • Interviewer: Martin Feldstein being on the board of AIG, Laura Tyson going on Morgan Stanley, Larry Summers making $10 million a year consulting to financial services firms…irrelevant?
  • Campbell: Yeah, basically irrelevant."
In Ironman, the genius weapons engineer and entrepreneur has practical skills to build whatever he can imagine.
Captured in Afganistan, the inventor-hero is forced to build a weapon but turns the tables on his captors by turning himself into a weapon: the beta version of Ironman appears.

Later, given the full resources back home, he produces the fully operational version of the Ironman suit, taking out his, and the United States’ enemies single-handed.

On the other hand, some films provide satisfying fantasies about the power of collective action...

... For example, rather than the individual lone genius, Toy Story 3 presents a narrative of collective action enabling the toys to overcome rejection, exploitation, adversity, and potential destruction by banding together and using their collective wits and skills.
In another genre, Machete concludes with a collective resistance to corrupt politicians, criminal police, and racist Good Ol Boy vigilantes when Mexican Americans and undocumented Mexican workers rise up together to demolish the exploitative power structure. The almost mythological hero Machete leads low riders to the final battle of good and evil. Following the vehicles’ first wave assault on a white supremacist compound, otherwise “invisible” undocumented Mexicans join the fray with the tools of their trade: knives for kitchen workers, rakes and shovels for gardeners, power tools for construction workers, and so forth. Even the ambulatory ice cream cart vendor joins the struggle. La Raza dramatizes its collective power in responding to Machete’s call for action.

These disparate films indicate there’s another set of fantasies too that compete for the space in our heads, and I’d like to point that out as a marker of resistance. That’s the fantasy of collective action by the dispossessed, who, acting together for the survival and common good manage to turn the tables on the powerful, the corrupt: that’s the terrain of Toy Story 3, with the band of misfits and rejects and over-the-hill toys finally triumphing. Or Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, with the undocumented and their partners and supporters overthrowing the racists, the capitalists (both corporate and drug cartel types) and corrupt politicians who are trying to keep them down. We need those myths too, even if we also know that the slogans are not sufficient. Especially after “Obama: Change We Can Believe In” has worn very thin indeed. We need to look behind the screen, behind the visible if intangible form of our creative culture, and bring it back to understanding capitalism itself, and from there, how we might effectively challenge it and change it.

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