I watched Kingsman: The Secret Service tonight. Highly recommend it. But one scene had me profoundly uncomfortable. Spoilers ahead (I think? I don’t really know how to plot so I’m not sure how important this point is.)
The scene takes place in a church that’s been labeled as a hate group. And as it began, I recognized it immediately. From the wooden pews to the shitty interior to the screaming Southern pastor and callbacks from the congregation. I’d been in that church. One of my step sister’s high school boyfriends went there, and we went with him one Sunday night.
Not it, exactly. The pastor in Kingsman was using the n-word and going on about “faggots.” The pastor at the church I attended didn’t use that kind of language. In fact, I couldn’t really tell what he was on about, with all the shouting, in an almost lilting way, starting low and getting louder, reaching a crescendo, callbacks, then it would start again.
In Kingsman, the congregation started getting killed. And as all the horrible bigots died, the people in the theater laughed. But I couldn’t.
Earlier today the DOJ’s Ferguson report came out. And in the face of evidence that not only did Ferguson officers enjoy passing along explicitly racist jokes, but that the data reveal that this racism was enacted through their policing practices, some people decided to publicly gloat that Officer Wilson won’t be charged.
I felt such overwhelming anger and confusion that after reading about dogs’ teeth ripping into black, and only black, flesh, anyone would choose to respond this way.
I was angry at them. Angry at people who could read about systematic, violent racism and get excited that one more officer evaded indictment after killing one more black man.
But then I watched those bigots get killed on screen. And I remembered sitting in that church. And I remembered praying my sister would stop being gay. And remembered blaming “black culture” for what decades of racism wrought. I remembered being that bigot I was angry at this afternoon. I remembered I’m still a bigot. Despite being angry about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, there are shitty knee-jerks in me I’ve yet to examine. The culture I live in clings to me like a stench I shudder to acknowledge, let alone address.
In Kingsman, class is an issue. And Hemingway is quoted: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Liberalism really ruins movies. Especially fun, popcorn superhero movies, where there are good guys and bad guys and the bad guys get their due and the good guys prevail. It ruins it by preventing the total suspension of disbelief in good guys and bad guys.
Transgender teen Leelah Alcorn took her life by throwing herself in front of a truck last year. In her suicide note, she described the anguish of not being accepted or supported by her parents. You can gather everything you need to know about their reaction to her desire to transition by the fact that even after her death they refer to her as “our son.” People were so furious.
But I wasn’t furious at them.
There’s a trick to life, and it’s exhausting and confusing and impossible, like life itself. It’s this. We have to believe that Hemingway is right. Not that being superior to your former self is noble. That’s fucking obvious. That being superior to your former self is possible. And it’s possible for other people too.
I can’t consistently remember this. I keep getting angry at people. But the truth is that bigots aren’t our enemies. And besides, there’s no bright line separating “us” from “them.” We all believe stupid, regressive things and act in ways which aren’t conducive to the world we want to live in. We are all drowning in the stew of our own privileges, unable to see oppression beyond what we experience.
Bigotry is our enemy. The belief in us-versus-them is our enemy. Our greatest enemy is the belief that we’re enlightened. Because enlightened people don’t have former selves.
Anyway, go see Kingsman. It’s a great time.