DON’T LOOK UP: Violent Patriarchy Goes Down

I’m not focused on feminism most of the time but it was impossible for me to view the holiday season blockbuster DON’T LOOK UP without a keen awareness of what it had to say about gendered politics. My last blog post considered the intersectional wisdom of Black feminist thinker bell hooks. This one will consider the folly of proceeding without that wisdom.

Meryl Streep’s performance channeling the goofy worst of the female former governor of Alaska and some current members of Congress was a perfect way to show rather than tell: electing women solves nothing. Or, put another way, a woman who claws her way to the top of violent patriarchy will not embody the feminist values of concern for the common good, the imperative to cooperate, or reverence for life on our planet. Played for laughs with a perfect surprise at the tail end of the credits.

More central to the film’s narrative, though, is the juxtaposition of an idealistic scientific heroine played by Jennifer Lawrence with a weak-willed scientist antihero played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Lawrence rocketed to stardom as the protagonist of THE HUNGER GAMES, and the association with dystopian competitiveness is likely not lost on the audience.

At first her male mentor/boss creates space for her amazing discovery and gives credit where credit is due. But then he treats his wife like crap and falls into the morass of structural sexism enshrined in modern government and mass media. Lawrence is sidelined like legions of female discoverers before her; its been over 100 years since Einstein used his wife’s mathematical calculations without attribution, and little has changed. Then, Lawrence’s instant memehood is emblematic of the way social media tears women to shreds as misogyny cowers and snipes from behind screens.

The way in which the solutions to a natural disaster are conceived of as military first and capitalistic second further illustrate the problem with patriarchal thinking. The filmmakers clearly had a great time creating the characters who drive the rockets to doom, lampooning both generals with muscle for brains and brainy tech entrepeneurs with their minds on their money and their money on their minds.

Ariana Grande as the voice of wisdom was a nice twist since she’s first presented as a vapid foil to Lawrence’s nerdy Cassandra. Once the two are working together, Lawrence’s communication powers increase considerably.

Cate Blanchett takes a star turn as a dumb blonde journalist successfully riding the shallow wave that passes for culture on broadcast television. A recurring theme of the film is journalists as corporate stenographers for the status quo being mercilessly lampooned. 

The data mongers who know everything about us predict the deaths of two characters, but only one of these predictions proves true. An extended family dinner of the sort convened by nurturers since the dawn of humankind may not be able to save the world, but it does save a soul or two. A final prayer to the big daddy in the sky reminds us that things might have ended differently had the spiritual wisdom of matriarchies not been replaced by the degraded values of violent patriarchies. 

Hierarchies have served us poorly as elites who have clambered over bodies to reach the top of the heap hog both resources and the power to conceive and implement solutions.

In the end, we are reminded that whatever Nature has in store for us can only be faced together. The I’ve-got-mine-and-you’re-out-of-luck mentality is the antithesis of feminist values, and likely spells our collective doom.

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