JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Torrez points to the knife wound in his stomach and says “this ain’t shit.” One IMDB-er was unhappy that Seagal was out of shape.

One of the cruder scenes in the film shows Machete grabbing the intestine of a man right out of his stomach and using it to swing out the window from one floor to the next.

McLaughlin holds a press conference condemning Machete’s alleged violence in the city and is ambushed by footage of Booth admitting to admitting to the shooting of the Senator being a set-up and the links with Torrez. Senator McLaughlin and Booth look on.

One small vignette in the film is Booth showing this cheesy commercial so as to prove to Torrez how Booth is going to ensure Machete’s death. It is parts of the film like this that are made for the type of viewers who read Aint It Cool News.

Machete leads the Network army to what Alex Jones considers a “race war” that could evoke something similar in real life.

Rodriguez claims the film isn’t political, but as illustrated in the above scene, he is pointing to certain solvable social problems.

Luz/Shé and her Network.

Alex Jones fails to notice that the main villain of the film is Mexican.

Von’s henchman shows his humanity by vomiting after Von shoots Luz in the eye.

In this scene the white senator is going to be shot by the white vigilantes. Unlike Alex Jones’s accusation, the film does not simply pit white against brown as exemplified here. Senator McLaughlin is being punished for the “treason” of paying Machete to shoot him.

Alex Jones and Ain’t it Cool News

The next sites I am discussing seemed to have a direct conversation with each other over Machete. Alex Jones, is a loud mouth white Libertarian with a number of websites, the main ones being Infowars[44] [open endnotes in new window] and Prison Planet[45] and a six-day-a-week Austin, TX-based independent radio show with an estimated million listeners a day.[46] Jones’s conspiracy theories about such things as 9/11 being an inside job, FEMA running concentration camps, and the government poisoning the water to dumb down the population are what Nightline has dubbed “paranoia porn.” In this light, many news outlets have linked violent incidents including an assassination attempt on the President to Jones’ fans.[47] On the Infowars site Jones’ bio includes the fact that he defends “our nation’s borders,” which, paired with his Austin location, makes the film Machete a high interest case for this “conspiracy king.”[48] Jones found the film Machete threatening enough to devote articles, interviews, and Youtube videos warning of its anti-white racism. A reader of “pro-white” news site White News Now said in relation to Jones and Machete, “I'm normally not a big fan of Alex Jones, but it seems like this movie has maybe stirred a spark of white identity in him...”[49] pointing to the fact that whiteness is not a primary theme of Jones’s media.

The second site, Ain’t it Cool News, is a movie gossip and fanboy website run by now notorious Harry Knowles. Knowles says he started the site in 1996 to leak information from insider sources about movies that were in production or in pre-screening, much to the public ire of filmmakers.[50] Since its inception Knowles has been embraced by studios and provided information and invited to pre-screenings, but Knowles insists that he still remains unbiased in his reviews of the films. The website is one of the most infamous sites for film reviews, spoilers and gossip and has even been parodied in the film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Smith, 2001). Knowles, once just seen as a white, nerdy red headed college dropout on a computer, has since become known as a movie critic whose reviews can make or break a film. Though his site is not overtly political about anything but the freedom to provide the public with information, his name is published online as being a contributor to the 2008 Barack Obama campaign.[51]

The back and forth over Machete began when Ain’t it Cool News published what director Robert Rodriguez called the “illegal” trailer for Machete on May 5, 2010. According to Harry Knowles, Rodriguez and actor Danny Trejo dropped the trailer off at his house after talking Fox into allowing them to put together a “Cinco de Mayo message for ARIZONA” (sic).[52] Knowles’ small write-up that accompanies the trailer calls the forthcoming film a “silly fun project” that is “real exploitation at its height,” noting, “that shit was pulled straight out of the headlines, even sometimes slightly before they were the headlines.” The trailer begins with Trejo saying, “This is Machete with a special Cinco de Mayo message...to Arizona!” and then cuts to scenes of a violent border battle. The trailer ends with Machete soaring through the air on a motorcycle that shoots bullets with an explosion behind him. The narrator says in reference to the politicians and vigilantes who were trying to kill Machete, “They soon realized- they just fucked with the wrong Mexican.” The post had 275 pages of comments (and counting) of back-and-forth polarized insults against Rodriguez, Arizona, immigrants and other commenters.

Some themes that emerged were the wishing harm upon Harry Knowles, best exemplified by jeditemple’s comment “fuck your politics harry. I hope you get raped by mexicans.” Other themes were angry and often violent exchanges between commenters who identified each other as “liberal” or “rednecks.” For example, ron2112 mentioned in a comment, “The left is really making asses of themselves,” and mattheius2783 commented that people who didn’t agree with SB1070 were “liberal idiots.” Meanwhile ptsdpete commented, “STFU and die, Redneck Teabagger Scum,” and quantize commented,“stupid redneck cunts who DO NOT GET IT.” Another theme asked if Ain’t it Cool News (AICN) was meant for liberal readers. One comment asked, “there are still conservatives who read this site?” and another said, “I didn’t realize so there were so many white trash, rednecks on this site.” One comment said, “as much as it pains you libs, conservative do read AICN.” Though there were many different responses to the trailer/blogpost, many of which were just jokes and insults, one last theme I want to mention questions if AICN is a place for a political debate. Boogieboy said, “fucking idiots discussing politics on a film site,” and turd_has_risen_from_the_grave asked,

“Who'd have thought that a silly exploitation movie could inspire such fervent political debate?”

Rhetorically, commenters exchanged words in a clearly uncensored, over-the-top, extreme way. Hurled insults and threats seemed casual. However, what one can glean from the comments is that AICN and Knowles himself are left-leaning, that anti-immigrant “conservatives” get labeled as white rednecks, and that commenters do not find film review sites appropriate places for political debates. Additionally, as many comments which simply posted apolitical positive responses to the trailer/blog such as “Rodriguez for God,” this overtly political film is easily seen by some, as Knowles puts it, as just a “silly fun project.” Interestingly, the strongest language used in the comment forum was directed against white people, against Knowles for his liberal politics and “rednecks” for their conservative politics. The language used did not insult or threaten anyone because of their race or color, but it did assume that “rednecks” are ignorant. Here the slur points to class rather than any essential white characteristic.

In an impressively rapid response, Alex Jones coauthored a three-page article on his Infowars site four days later, on May 9, 2010, arguing that the film “evokes race war” and could hinder the “long history of co-mingling and harmony among white and hispanic populations” in Mexico and Texas. Jones’ grossly inaccurate account of harmonious white/Hispanic “co-mingling” and Texas-U.S. history provides him with the basis of his argument: that the film has the power to ruin racial harmony and incite racial violence. Considering that several of Jones’s articles on his sites defend his own documentaries from being censored for inciting violence, he ironically then accuses the film Machete of doing exactly that. The article also sys the film glorifies violence against white Americans and quotes two crew members of the film “who happened to be hispanic” who feared the film “could cause a cultural backlash and do harm to the otherwise positive image of the hispanic community.” In fact, as Charles Ramirez Berg, Rosa Linda Fregoso, and Chon Noriega painstakingly outline, Chican@ and Latin@ representation is so regularly underrepresented and stereotyped negatively most of the time, that simply saying that there is a “positive image” does not make it so.

When I first visited Jones’ article, it had pages upon pages of comments; the site now says “comments are closed” and there are none. However, the comments are not dissimilar to those on the following articles, comments which I did manage to save before they were taken down.

Ten days later, on May 19, 2010, AICN released a new blogpost with an exclusive interview with Robert Rodriguez stating, “the truth about Machete” is that the trailer was a fake and was “cut...to make it look like the entire film was about Machete leading a revolt against anti-immigrant politicians and border vigilantes” when that is not what the film is really about.[53] “What can I say,” he says, “it was Cinco de Mayo and I had too much tequila.” In the interview Rodriguez self-identifies as being fourth-generation Mexican American, asserting it as a sort of street cred for understanding “both sides,” explaining that there is corruption on either side of the border in the film and that the villain is Mexican. He downplays the “fake” trailer, saying it is satire. “It’s just a damn fun movie,” Rodriguez says, going on to compare the film’s sense of reality with Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009).[54] When prompted about his thoughts on Arizona, he responds, “zzzzzzz,” expressing boredom at the question, then says he doesn’t believe in marches, protests or rallies, stating that “the real power is in voting” for “comprehensive immigration reform.” Such advice is peculiar, considering that the people most affected by immigration reform cannot vote in the United States.

Some of my own thoughts on this interview are reflected in the comments. For example, ebonic_plague said, “RR’s vague answer [was] probably due to studio pressure,” and neo zeed said, “Sounds like Rodriguez is feeling the backlash.” Indeed, Alex Jones stirred up quite a storm and Rodriguez most likely was tired of the bad press. There were posts on the Internet of various cities planning protests of the film, one group even claiming that they were “bringing their own machetes.”[55] Additionally dozens of websites and news sites picked up on Jones’s articles and videos about the trailer, many of them angrily agreeing with Jones’s idea about the film’s inciting a race war. The rest of the comments to the interview were again full of insults, this time mostly directed at Rodriguez; commenters were either disappointed there was no race war or were Jones fans saying things such as, “9/11 was an inside job.”

Five days later Alex Jones’s Info Wars site had a response. “Robert Rodriguez Backpedals on His ‘Message to Arizona’[56] read the title of Amy di Miceli’s article, though the first sentence added that he was also “pathetic” and “arrogant.” She argues that “it matters not” if the trailer becomes something other than it appears because his “racist propaganda piece cannot be undone.” This article did not have much else to say and seemed unsure of about how to react: first seeing the trailer as evoking a race war only to find out it was a joke. I find it telling that Alex Jones himself failed to comment on the fact. Once again, this article closed its comments. Come September 5, 2010, when the film came out, it seemed to vindicate Jones in his original position. He once again coauthored an article, this time on Prison Planet, entitled “‘Machete’ Producers Lied About Racist Bloodbath.”[57] The article states that the film portrays Southerners as racist stereotypes and Minute Men as “sub-human animals who hunt and murder illegals.” He says there has not been “such an openly racist film in America since...the pro KKK ‘Birth of a Nation.’[58] He also focuses on tax incentives that the film “had practically already been assured,”[59] and questions if the film might glorify a “‘Reconquista‘ view” of the United States.[60]

Jones accuses the film of pitting whites and Latin@s against each other and states that it was “dripping with hate.” However, the protagonists and antagonists in the film are more complicated than simply white and Latin@. Class plays the largest part in the groupings of characters: the white minute-men types are seemingly of the same class status as much of the “network” of multiethnic dishwashers, gardeners and jornaleros. The other groups are also made up of both Brown and white people such as the drug boss, Torrez, who is Mexican but working with the white Senator’s men; and the hero, Machete, who is also Mexican but working with the Mexican Americans Luz and Sartana alongside the multiethnic “network.” The network, though implicitly endless, consists of a few main characters, the dishwashers, the homeboys, the hospital staff, seemingly all gardeners shown, and the scores of brown faces who come out from the woodwork for the final battle. Thus, there is not a clear white=bad, brown=good set up as Jones suggests. Even the “bad guy” vigilante group is portrayed as having human feelings as one of the characters vomits each time someone is shot.

Unlike the comments on AICN, the comments on the September 5 Prison Planet article were all in support of the article save for one. The discussion took for granted that the film was “anti-white hate propaganda” and a large portion of the comments discussed which weapons they either already had or were going to get in order to be ready for the Latin@ uprising. Several commenters feared that the target audience of the film, “Hispanic” and “illiterate mestizo Latins,” are “very impressionable and will believe just about anything they see on screen” so there would be no avoiding the race war that Jones was predicting. Other commenters agreed a race war was impending but were pleased that the film would bring it at a quicker rate and would garner more support for the white “empire.” And though the basic themes of the comments had to do with Latin@/white relations, a few said anti-Black phrases. One comment by ranger labeled Obama, “the community organizer,” and said that Obama and all blacks want a “black controlled USA.”

This is an example of Black being a pseudo-synonym for race. It is very rare that people talk about “race” without at least mentioning Blackness, at least as a historical reference. Even Alex Jones alluded to Birth of a Nation when discussing Machete as an example of a movie that incited racialized violence. One last comment that caught my eye was,

“We can expect more and more of these sort of movies because whites will never complain for fear of being labeled racist.”

However, considering the loud opposition engendered by the film, this is clearly untrue. 

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