“Captain Fantastic”: prepper comedy that pays homage to Noam Chomsky

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Name: Captain Fantastic
Director, writer:  Matt Ross
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/23, at The Charles Theater, Baltimore, large audience, evening
Length 118
Rating R (some very explicit nudity and biological language, which is quite funny in context)
Companies: Bleecker St
Link: Official site 

Captain Fantastic”, directed and written by Matt Ross, somewhat resembles the “Wilderpeople” comedy (July 10) but is even more focused on fatherhood, in a domestic American (western) setting.

As the film opens, father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) Is leading his six kids in a camouflage deer hunt in Washington state’s Cascade mountains (which are often shown with stunning views). The kids paste their bodies, even more than we did in Army basic.  The movie shows us their campground with its little huts, barracks like sleeping quarters, gardens, and animal husbandry.  Soon the kids are all rappelling, and one of the young kids slips and apparent breaks his wrist.  Daddy and the other kids fix him up.

They go around in a “vancredible” bus.  They’re also home schooled.  Soon we learn that the kids know the great books of literature (George Elliot’s “Middlemarch” and I believe Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” get mentioned or show up in the “library”), can do the science and math, and the oldest boy, Bo(a charismatic and fit George Mackay) has gotten into every Ivy league college. Bo likes to quote political manifestos, and at one point says he is a “Troskyite” but may become a “Maoist”.  That makes sense, because Maoism (in the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s) had involved everyone taking his turn as a peasant or “prole”.

Ben is no right wing doomsday prepper (and the film doesn’t get into the area of guns).  His hero is Noam Chomsky, and on Chomsky’s birthday, he fakes a heart attack in a supermarket so the kids can shoplift groceries. That’s after an emergency room scene where one of the kids notices that most patients are fat (and probably diabetic). You don’t say those things in public.  It’s like saying Amish kids are usually much fitter than modern teens.

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We learn that Ben’s wife – the kids’ mom – has committed suicide in a mental hospital, and the conflict over her father’s (the kids’ maternal grandparents) funeral plans generate the rest of the plot. The patriarch is Jack (Frank Langella), who lives in New Mexico in a huge estate.  Although Jack first threatens Ben with arrest if he comes, Ben takes the family down and they attempt a reconciliation (and now the scenery switches to New Mexico deserts and mountains). The main conflict now comes from mom’s will and her funeral wishes, which had expected modest ceremony, cremation, and disposal of the ashes, in comparison to the lavish funeral desired by Jack.  Ben proves disruptive, which provokes the climax of the film.  Maybe in the end, the kids (most of all Bo) all win out.

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The idea of wanting to downplay a funeral, especially if death occurs in certain shameful or violent circumstances, is an idea that has occurred to me.  The idea was even explored on NBC’s “Days of our Lives” with EJ’s murder.

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Wikipedia attribution link for I90 thru Snoqualimie Pass in Washington, p.d., from Byways.org    I had an “ephiphany” there at lunch in 1978 on vacation, which would turn out to be prophetic in a few years.

Wikipedia attribution link for view from Lama Foundation (north of Taos, NM), which I visited in 1980 and again in 1984 (“Spring Work Camp”).     The facility sustained a

(Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 11:15 AM)

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“Requiem for the American Dream” is Noam Chomsky’s best interview film

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Name: Requiem for the American Dream
Director, writer:  by Peter G. Hutchinson, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott
Released:  2015
Format:  video or film, standard
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play, 2016/5/18
Companies: Gravitas Venturas
Site: Link

Requiem for the American Dream” (2015), directed by Peter G. Hutchinson, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott, is the best Chomsky interview film so far.  The film, stitched together from four recent interviews with Chomsky’s “ten points” (below), has plenty of interesting animation and a lot of interesting archival historical footage that is shown while he talks.  Most of the time, the view has something other than Chomsky to watch.

My own introduction to Chomsky came while I lived in Minneapolis. Late nights, I would pass Shinders book store on Hennepin on the way to the Saloon, in the months after 9/11.  I often saw paperbacks by Chomsky on right wing conspiracies in the stacks.

The title of the film tells us the theme: most average Americans have had most of their opportunity taken away from them by the wealthy and powerful. Chomsky calls our system now a “plutonomy”, extracting from a “precariat”, or “precarious proletariat” (and my first unpublished novel, after all, had been titled “The Proles”).  The plutonomy undermines democracy deliberately because it sees the “precariat” a threat that could rise up and expropriate, pretty much according to Marxist theory.

Let’s run through the ten methods that the ruling class uses.

(1)    “Reduce democracy”, the basic idea.

(2)    “Shape ideology”.  Donald Trump is trying to do that.

(3)    “Redesign economy”, particularly through “fincialization”, as explained in the book “Makers and Takers” by Rana Faroohar May 14 here. Sometimes Chomsky suggests that things are much more unequal know than ever before because of this process, but at other times, he admits that inequality and labor exploitation were pretty awful in past generations (slavery, the sweatshops of the industrial revolution).  Indeed they were. The 50s and 60s are a bit of a “golden age”, but not really, given the need for the Civil Rights movement, and then Vietnam.

(4)    “Shift burden”, particularly to workers, whose jobs become more precarious even if management says the issues are still mostly job performance.

(5)    “Attack solidarity”.  This sounds like something about labor unions, but that comes up later. This is more about social solidarity.  Michael Moore often criticizes the attitude “I got mine”.  There are questions like, why should I pay school taxes if I don’t have kids?  Chomsky talks about the proposals to privatize social security here and sees it as a wealth-sharing, whereas most of us feel we paid for our own benefits with our own FICA taxes, a point he doesn’t mention.

(6)    “Run the regulators”. This would seem to refer to loosening of financial regulations, that allow crashes (we didn’t have any in the 50s or 60s – the crashes really started with the savings and loan in the late 1980s, but the biggest was the 2008 crash, followed by the “too big to fail” idea.

(7)    “Engineer elections”, with more and more money for campaigns.

(8)    “Keep the Rabble in Line”.  Here Chomsky talks about unions, saying people don’t have sufficient right to organize (solidarity again).  He seems to be referring to “right to work” laws.  But there is also a problem in non-union salaried environments, where people with fewer responsibilities (often the childless) can work for less, or work free overtime, and lowball the system.

(9)    “Manufacture consent”, where he talks about public relations companies and consumerism, especially now online.

(10) “Marginalize populations”.  Here he says that free speech is not itself in the Bill of Rights (what about the First Amendment?) and didn’t come into serious consideration until the 1960s.  He says that the plutonomy tries to restrict the number of people who have influence, but totally misses the contributions of the “Fifth Estate”.

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In the end, Chomsky says that the ruling elite doesn’t like to see  ordinary people talking about “class”.  Indeed, “class” has something to do with what people you have some control over, at least indirectly.

Chomsky is indeed talking about how the “overlords” (to use a term of Arthur C. Clarke, as if we approached a “Childhood’s End”) manipulate classes of people, as if this were the main moral concern of the day.  Yet, at the same time, he says, “this is a free country”, as if to say that is pretty unusual in history as a whole.  My own writing inverts all this, and asks how the “man in the middle” (me) is supposed to behave, as if this is the moral question.  Maybe it’s like former Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne’s titling a book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” back in the 90s (1998, Liamworks, which I read after hearing Browne speak at a LPVA convention in 1996).  I indeed grew up with a certain class consciousness, and the idea that if I made good enough grades, I could move into the “good clothes” class and live off the real labor of “The Proles” (link). It sounds like a boorish, snooty, snarky idea. It brings up the idea of personal “rightsizing”, so far an essentially spiritual idea having to do with personal karma.  It would mean learning to walking the shoes of others whom you have depended on without feeling you are brought low yourself.  You have to deal with it.

Some good collateral reading would be Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believers: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” (1951).

(Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 10:30 EDT)