NOTE: I found five more old posts that caught my fancy, and so I am reproducing them here.
I know that there is a mountain of evidence to support the thesis that Oliver Stone is insane, from his bizarre JFK Conspiracy theories to his insistence in Salvador that the communists were nothing but an indigenous uprising without outside support. However, let us leave politics aside for a moment and look at what I think is the most convincing evidence that not only does Stone allow politics to color his thoughts far too much, but he allows his ideology to so dominate his thought processes that he ignores the evidence of his own senses. That is the film Natural Born Killers.
One of the many themes with which the movie beats viewers about the head and shoulders is the way we glorify killers. The Mickey and Mallory characters are lionized, they are followed by adoring fans, they are turned into the sort of characters Hollywood insists Bonnie and Clyde were (not being alive in the 30's I can't tell if that particular trope is true or not, but Hollywood insists America just LOVED Bonnie and Clyde; I have my doubts, but they tell me it is true).
The problem with this is that this "scathing indictment" of our "hypocritical culture" is just not supported by a whit of evidence. Yes, Stone's fictional public engages in fictional adoration of his fictional killers, just as he tells them to, but has anyone seen this in real life? Were there "Green River Killer Fan Clubs"? Were there people adoring Richard Ramirez (outside of a handful of equally disturbed teens)?
I was in Maryland during the period when the snipers were active, and I can affirm that, rather than becoming "folk heroes" through random violence, they were objects of fear and anger. People did not rise up to support our "beloved serial killers", instead they longed for their eventual arrest.
And that is the problem with Stone's whole delusional thesis. He bases it on two phenomena, both of which he misinterprets quite badly. First, he takes a very real fascination with serial killers on the part of some and misreads it to mean people idolize serial killers. Second, he takes a handful of real serial killer fans, and thinks they represent the bulk of mainstream America.
Now, the first is easy to explain. People do not have an interest in serial killers because they think them praiseworthy, but because they are so far out of the norm. It is not a fascination born of affection but of disgust and incomprehension. Coupled with the excessive attention given to them by the media in recent years, the incomprehensible behavior of serial killers causes many people to become curious about what would make someone act in such a way. And so they read about serial killers, or watch films. But it is not because they think, in any way, that there is something admirable about them. Nor do they imagine for a moment "there but for the grace of G-d go I."
On the other hand, there are a handful of real serial killer fans, people who have a fascination with them. Unfortunately for Stone, however, they do not fit his theory. The idolizers of serial killers are not the unwashed masses, brainwashed by Fox news and media deluge. No, they are those on the fringe of the art scene, largely politically either on the left or the anarchist fringe, those who find "outlaws" and "outsiders" "authentic" and "exciting". In short, the same sort of people to whom Stone's film appeal., definitely not the rednecks and couch potatoes he imagines.
The fact is that, had Stone bothered to look around him without his particular prejudices in place, he would have seen that murderers, be they serial killers or murders of the more mundane sort, elicit nothing but anger on the part of ordinary citizens. And Stone should know that. In other contexts he would be deploring the "bloodlust" that causes mainstream America to insist on killing "poor deprived children" who become killers, but, because he wants to imagine a different sort of "American corruption" he suddenly decides the mainstream doesn't want to kill murderers, but wants to glorify them.
Oh, there are even more insanities in the film. From his absurdly over the top talk show host (how on earth can someone take aim at a target as big as daytime talk hosts and still miss?) to the hypocritical blindness of a film maker and Hollywood insider denouncing "the media" for its promotion of violence, Stone manages to mishandle everything. But I think it is his bizarre idea that we somehow lionize serial killers that is most bizarre. I know it is an idea many have put forward, but, looking at the real world, outside of a handful of hipster teens and idiotic artists and neo-punks, I have never seen anything of the kind.
For those who wonder why I bothered to write this, there is a point. This idea that America idolizes serial killers is one fot hose myths used to paint America as some sort of innately violent society. And there are many such myths, all used to portray America as a savage, brutal, hateful culture, completely at odds with the rest of the civilized world.
The problem with such portrayals is that the people making such arguments almost never have first hand experience of anything like what they claim. Of course, many live in safe, left wing enclaves such as New York, the Bay area or the academic world, but you would think they would be a little skeptical of claiming the nation as a whole is completely different from anything they see around them.
But as they fail to show even a hint of healthy skepticism, I guess it is time for me to provide it for them and point out that, while there are deviants here as in every country on earth, for the most part mainstream America is a largely decent group of people, law abiding, good natured, willing to help their friends and neighbors, who work for a living, want to earn their own way, raise their children well, and generally do the right thing. No, they probably do not hold the same ethical views as the editorial board of the NYT, but they are not the knuckle dragging neanderthals the left paints either.
And so, I offer up this short piece in hopes of dismissing at least one support propping up the rather bizarre image of the average American some people have.
What makes Stone's whole thesis so bizarre is that "serial killers" are themselves a media phenomenon. Even back to Jack the Ripper, without press coverage or other attention form the popular media, serial killers would be largely ignored. Think about all the people who killed multiple victims but received neither a catchy nickname nor a movie of the week. Can't name one? That is not because they don't exist, even number in the hundreds and thousands, but because the serial killer is only a serial killer, in the public mind, anyway, because of media attention. Were the media to ignore these killers, we would think about them only while they were actively killing, and then largely forget them. The media itself insists we must be interested in serial killers, and then, like Stone, hypocritically denounce us for our "savagery" in expressing interest in the stories they present to us. It makes for pseudo-profound "insights" and provides a great pretext to denounce the American public, but it is dishonest in the extreme.
Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/08/13.