Hello, readers. Today, I’m writing an unusual post, one that has nothing to do with movies, but with a larger problem that affects this site and others like it on the internet.
As of April 2023, I decided to block countries from accessing this blog. To explain why I had to do this, I have to build up to the reasons first, because if I state them point blank, they will make me sound xenophobic and paranoid. So, let me try–as best as I can–what happened and why–if things get any worse–I might have to resort to more drastic measures.
I’ve been writing on the web for a very long time. When I say writing, don’t think that I’m trying to toot my own horn as a distinguished writer. It’s just to create some perspective. Films Deconstructed isn’t my first or only blog, and I used to do some light freelancing here and there.
When the internet first exploded, the prevailing attitude of the day was that the world wide web was an information superhighway, and so if you were a writer, you should do your part to write in the spirit of spreading information and knowledge.
Another attitude was that since the internet was supposed to be a democratizing medium, you should share knowledge in a way to make things as accessible as possible. So, for example, say you wanted to share knowledge about the negative turn that urban planning has taken within the past 30 years. You were supposed to express yourself this way:
American cities used to look and feel like wonderful places to live in, because there was a movement called the City Beautiful that realized the impact that buildings had on people. That all changed, when architects, developers and politicians saw development as just cash cows to be milked for all that they were worth.
You were not supposed to write this way:
Like the Visigoths in 419 AD blindly ransacking the mighty granite pillars of Ancient Rome, The City Beautiful Movement–a high watermark of 19th century American urban planning–saw itself sacked by 20th century Modernism and an urbanism marked more by financial opportunism than humanistic principles.
Another thing you were supposed to do as an internet writer is to cast a wide a net. In other words, you should reach as many people as humanly possible, because the greater the audience, the better for the human race.
As you can imagine, many those of us who came of age during the Information Superhighway took to the web with these very romantic ideas of how information should be written and disseminated. It was all well and good in the beginning; the problem is that over time, none of the romantic idealism about what the web was supposed to do and be came to pass. If anything, the opposite happened, to where I can no longer justify writing to a broader audience anymore, and for the following reasons:
1. Media Criticism and Analysis Has Become Weaponized Against Americans
For decades, film critics and analysts would write in a very overwrought, overstuffed style that the average person would never touch with a 10 foot pole. As a self-ascribed nerd, I can hardly blame anyone. Only a complete and utter geek and sadomasochist could sit through 200-paged dry reads using terms like mise-en-scene, denouement and auteur theory, or would give a flying hoot about German Expressionism and surrealism.
In light of this issue, a few people like myself started up blogs and websites to make film criticism and analysis accessible to the general public. When I started this blog in 2017, there weren’t many blogs in the vein of this website because the vast number of writers were reserving their best works for print. It makes sense because at the time, if you had wasted so much time, energy and money getting a first class education in film criticism and theory, it would’ve been slumming it to write on the web. So, very few people did.
Things were humming along when an event happened that seemed like it was going to be a gamechanger for Films, Deconstructed. My entry on Gone with the Wind, entitled, Yes, that Staircase Scene in Gone with the Wind (1939) was Marital Rape, blew up and attracted many mainstream outlets, including Salon. I couldn’t have been more excited, and I expected the blog to inspire more like it.
Instead, the opposite happened–I saw a large number of articles that seemed to be in the spirit of film criticism and analysis but were written in service of disinformation, propaganda and divisiveness. Before I knew it, there was an explosion of bad faith movie analysis and criticism articles on the internet, to where there is now a cottage industry of content farms based around the weaponization of American culture. (See my article about content farms in In Bad Faith: Variety’s Garbage 100 Best Movies List, and why this Marks the End of the Magazine’s Credibility).
What made this phenomenon incredibly frustrating to me is that it was obvious that these bad faith content farms had been studying “accessible” blogs like Films, Deconstructed to base a template on and in so doing, were able to fake an insight that the authors couldn’t have possibly had, as well as a scholarship they didn’t possess.
A perfect example of this is How Hollywood’s ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ movies reinforce anti-Black racism. The article, written by a Canadian, is a textbook example of someone faking insight and scholarship about two American IPs the author clearly had never seen or knew nothing about, in order to capitalize on racial tensions in the United States, as well as fuel the feelings of demoralization, paranoia and fear that many American blacks already experience.
So many articles like this have emerged within the past several years–and with such a level of craft–that they not only outnumber blogs like Films, Deconstructed 10:1, but have become de rigueur in film criticism and analysis in the eyes of the very audience that people like myself were initially trying to reach.
In other words, these bad faith articles beat sites like Films, Deconstructed to the punch, so that now the average person thinks that film criticism and analysis is about taking any beloved or well-regarded American IP and using it to spin narratives that are often divisive, demoralizing and in some cases revisionist.
Because such a large number of these bad faith articles have been coming down the pike, I cannot in good conscience keep writing to an international audience, who I thought had been reading sites like mine in all earnestness but in reality were studying it to go, “Hmm, what American movie or TV show near and dear to Americans’ hearts can I weaponize or capitalize on?”
2. Americans are Losing their Voice and Ability for Self-Reflection
One of the reasons why I started this blog was that I wanted to help Americans understand the historical and cultural context behind well-known movies, as well as teach them how to take a more skeptical attitude towards certain films that have started to be regarded as truthful or eye-opening.
But, more importantly, I wanted Americans to become aware of how certain “popular” movies have had a damaging impact on the country’s psyche, national character and identity, to where they’ve had negative cultural, social and political consequences lasting decades. For instance, in Fatal Attraction (1987) is a Vile Movie. Let’s Pretend it Never Happened, I talked about how this movie perpetrated a stereotype about the mentally ill having “retard strength.” In Triumph of the Gump: Another Reason Why I Hate Forrest Gump (1994), I talked about how the movie inspired a generation of women to help cheat their mediocre children into elite schools, as well as establish a mediocracy.
In writing for Films Deconstructed, I did that thing every American writer had been romanticized into doing–I not only made the articles accessible but available to a global audience. Anyone from anywhere in the world could’ve read this blog and contributed their thoughts.
As it turned out, this accessibility wound up being a huge mistake. In making Films Deconstructed accessible, I became an unwitting party to Hollywood’s commodification of American filmmaking, history and culture to global markets. This in turn resulted in the absurdity of foreigners not only appropriating American culture, to where they’re now supplanting American voices on the internet and in some cases, even acting as the ultimate authority on all things American.
In terms of appropriation, I have heard foreign podcasters, in referencing this blog, call themselves GenXers. I have seen foreign national YouTubers give history lessons about American pop culture as if they had been part and parcel of it. At the BBC, there is a resident “GenX” expert who is not only not American, but wasn’t even of the generation she is writing about. On Bing–which posts mini-bios of famous people in search results–foreign nationals are now considered Baby Boomers.
In terms of everything else, I have had many foreign nationals–given away by their IP addresses and British spellings and expressions–trying to argue me out of my own firsthand experiences and cultural insight into American movies. On this blog, I have had to remove and block several posters who wanted to “match wits” with me about specific movies that only an American could have insight to.
This issue is not just happening on my blog but across the internet. The absurdity has gotten so out of hand that in talking about American culture, politics and history online and in mainstream media, Americans must “clear” their opinions with people from countries who don’t know anything about our culture outside of media. In some cases, they must sit back quietly and be condescended to by foreign nationals about their own culture and history.
If you want to see on a more famous scale how detrimental making American culture accessible has been, you can only look to Jane Campion, who decided to educate two sets of American icons–Sam Elliott and the Williams sisters–about the very things that they as Americans had intimate familiarity with. Elliott was condescended to about what makes a western, even though he is an iconic actor of the genre. The Williams sisters, who had to face obstacles of their own as tennis stars, were condescended to a New Zealander about never having had to face any.
This arrogance and condescension could never have happened if Americans like myself hadn’t made our culture and history so accessible. Realization of this very problem is another reason why I have decided to close off access.
3. Foreign Nationals are Muddying the Waters of American Discourse–Both Inadvertently and Deliberately
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not everyone is entitled to a position, especially if they don’t have–using an American expression–a “dog in this fight.”
For instance, I have an opinion about Brexit. Yet as much as I am entitled to it, I wouldn’t have the right–as an American–to get in the middle of a raging debate between Brits, take a side as if I were British myself or have my opinions carry as much weight, if not more weight, than a Brit. The reason why is that, when you get down to it, I could never have more insight into the Brexit situation than an actual UK resident, nor does it impact me as an American. So, while I may have my opinion, in the end, the Brits have a dog in this fight–not me.
I also wouldn’t have the right to infiltrate discussions about Brexit by trying to pose as or pretend to be a British person. In other words, if I–as an American–inserted myself into any British debate about Brexit, that would be bad in and of itself. But imagine if I copped a British accent and then talked about British politicians as though I were an insider, even going so far as to use expressions like “Remoaner” or “Wrexit”. Imagine if, on the web, I gave myself British usernames like “britishbulldog24” or “AbFab3214” or “SillyWalks01.” I would muddy the waters of debate by injecting an outsider perspective into a debate that should only be taking place between Brits.
On the internet, something like this has been happening to the United States all day, every day for years, thanks–once again–to the accessibility of American culture. In online discussions about American culture, politics and history, foreign nationals will surreptitiously slip themselves into them, using usernames and talking in ways that will often confuse and in many cases mislead Americans into not knowing who is really arguing with them. They might call themselves “LucyRicardo24” or use a screenshot from an iconic 1980s movie or talk about 1950s American culture as if they had lived it. As part of their eagerness to “blend in,” they will inject uniquely-American partisan rhetoric and language, further muddying the waters of discussion.
Usually, the subterfuge works for awhile until they give themselves away, angered that a “dumb Yank” has called them out on their ignorance. This is when they finally say who they are. I have been called a “socialist” by self-professed Japanese, a “MAGA” or “hysterical liberal” by self-professed Canadians, and “woke” and “libtard” by everyone in between in commenting on US stories that could only be of interest to locals but has everyone from Eastern Europeans and Australians to West Indians and East Asians weighing in.
Some Americans reading this will shake their heads and go, “Why are you calling these regions of the world out? Clearly, these were Iranian, Chinese and Russian trolls that you were dealing with.” However, I assure you that many countries outside of the usual suspects have been guilty of trying to infiltrate American discussions, and if my run-ins with so many of them as early as the 2000s is any indication, they’ve been doing this for a very long time, maybe even longer than enemies of state.
A Final Decision, and a Warning to American Bloggers, Writers and Readers
I am all for making American culture accessible to foreigners if it means helping clear the air about who Americans really are in the eyes of an international community that insists on demonizing or blaming them for everything that goes wrong in the world.
However, if accessibility also means that foreign nationals get to arrogantly contradict, talk down to and even claim some kind of superior insight into American culture, history and politics, I don’t see the wisdom in continuing to write for an international audience anymore.
If it also means that foreign nationals learn how to weaponize American culture, whether for fun, disinformation or profit, the last thing I want to do is give them the tools to do so–or give them any ideas.
Lastly, if it means teaching foreign nationals how to pass as American–in other words, use blogs like Films Deconstructed as a way to put a finger on the pulse of American culture to learn how to talk and pass as us, then I no longer, once again, see any reason to make my content accessible to them.
So, like I said in my opening remarks, I’m closing off access. If foreign nationals want to weaponize or capitalize off of American culture, they will have one less website to help them.
Before I close this article, I would also like to issue a warning to other American writers and bloggers:
You were probably told for years that the best thing you could ever do was publish openly on the web and make your content available to everyone. But understand that it serves no purpose to post about American culture, politics, and history to a global audience.
For one, they will never understand the nuance of what you’re saying and often, in, “I’m-a-smarty-pants-foreigner-you’re-a-dumb-Yank-mode,” will second guess what you said to make a mockery of the larger point that you were making. The reason why is that in the eyes of an international audience, if someone doesn’t understand what an American is saying, it’s because the American is stupid and must be second-guessed then corrected with the foreign national’s “superior” knowledge, however incorrect or lacking insight.
For instance, one of the things I complained about in Forrest Gump was how the movie was a cynical attempt at humanizing the disabled. A podcast discussed my blog with the snarky tone of, “How can you humanize the disabled if they’re human beings?”
Well, the term, “humanization,” refers to the act of giving a more human picture of something that was dehumanized, or seen as less than human. Apparently, the smarty pants foreign nationals thought that the word, humanization, was synonymous with “anthropomorphizing”, which is to attribute human traits to a human object. After making this snarky comment, the foreign nationals then proceeded to dismiss my entire point based on the logic that since you can’t humanize humans, the entire idea that Forrest Gump was a cynical enterprise could be dismissed.
The point is that, as an American, when you’re using the words in the way they were meant to be used, you can always be sure that in writing or speaking to a foreign national audience, you will always have this problem. Instead of the foreign national conceding that maybe they didn’t catch the nuance of what you were saying, you will get snark and condescension, and then you’ll be put in your place. You will not reach them or anyone else.
Another reason why you should rethink posting for a global audience is that all you’re doing is giving foreign nationals more avenues of division and sowing to go down. You could see this in full display when Generation X started to get a little noisy about being continuously left out of media narratives. All of a sudden, there was a flurry of anti-GenX comments by foreign nationals across the web and a “GenX Expert” installed at the BBC. GenX quickly clammed up and now the disinformation has died down, since we didn’t give the trolls enough to go on.
Many Americans will balk at this idea of keeping their writing localized, because the internet economy has become so globalized that it actually pays more to write for an international audience than a domestic one. But as the country becomes increasingly polarized at the hands of disinformation and tumbles even further down the rabbit hole of disinformation, conspiracy theory and revisionist history, Americans have to eventually decide whether it’s worth eking out a few extra dollars sharing their insights in global markets, if it also means spending their newly acquired wealth in a country that is becoming more brainwashed and confused each passing year. I don’t think it’s worth it, and neither should anyone else.
Agree 100%. I’ve also noticed the cultural conversations on the internet to skew overly negative toward the United States, as if that’s the correct position of the ‘right thinking’ class. Academic activism is partly to blame for this in my opinion.
It’s tiresome and frankly I pay less and less attention to the news (nothing is really new) and more attention to books, where I could really re-discover the and pragmatic practical style of American voices. It’s been a positive for me.
It’s not that academic activism is partly to blame, but a symptom of a larger problem that has been happening for decades now–the fact that in post World War 2, Americans may have defeated the Axis Powers but the same time invited the cultural baggage of both the Allied and Axis powers onto American soil. On top of everything else, WW2 ironically created the type of inferiority complex in which we decided that we were worse than everyone else in terms of politics and culture, and therefore needed to follow everyone else’s way of life.
This inferiority complex is something that has always affected Americans throughout history because of how young we are as a nation. However, in previous bouts of inferiority, we always rose to the occasion without sacrificing America itself. For instance, after World War 1, we decided to take the best of American ideas–and self-identity–to become the innovators, pioneers and pragmatics of the 20th century instead of just trying to imitate everyone else.
Then World War 2 ended and we just chucked American identity, politics and culture out the window. We allowed Ayn Rand to reinvent the American idea of individualism to mean selfishness and egotism. We let Nabakov corrupt our notions of childhood innocence. We let George Orwell suddenly become the most important writer that every American should know about, as well as let both Nazism and the Holocaust become the frame of reference for any political debate about freedom of speech.
We tore down all of our beautiful landmarks and charming vernacular architecture, scarred the American landscape with highways, ditched our rail, then warehoused minorities into dehumanizing housing projects, because of Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe.
The list goes on and on, and you can really see how early this problem started in one of the Kennedy vs Nixon debates. On one hand, you had Kennedy lamenting about how bad Americans were lagging the entire world in terms of education and achievements. On the other hand, you had Nixon playing the patriot about how awesome the United States was, then becoming so in love with China and the rest of the world that he openly invited it to take over US manufacturing and real estate.
In the 1980s and beyond, this selling out of American ideas, business and principles and attitude only accelerated when Rupert Murdoch was basically given a green light to buy out American media; Hollywood started bending over in favor of Cannes, The Golden Globes and foreign markets; and Silicon Valley made the voice of the foreign national on an equal footing with Americans about American history, culture and politics.
To go back to your statement about “academic activism” again, this is true, yes, but it’s a symptom of a larger problem. There’s a notion that academia stands on its own two feet. What happened in American academia is the same thing that happened everywhere else in American culture and politics after World War 2. Academia just decided that non-American voices were more intelligent and conceded to their point of view, as opposed to studying the views of the likes of John Dewey or Henry David Thoreau.
Ironically, in conceding to the “superior wisdom” of foreign academics and writers, it also invited the superiority complex of those academics and writers and in some cases, even their hatred for the United States. For example, Americans–who were taught to worship Brave New World–don’t seem to realize that it’s a virulently anti-American screed by a British writer, and that this same writer also helped introduce “drug culture” into the United States with Doors of Perception.
The reason why American academics are completely blind to this issue is that they continue to believe in this naive notion that academics are both apolitical and unbiased, so they refuse to believe that some of the foreign writers and philosophers that they came to worship and admire also looked down on the United States at best and had a hatred of it, at worst. So while they’re busy eating up the words of foreign academics, they’re also internalizing their prejudices and hatreds, including this idea that the US is wrong in everything it says and does.
This is the most elegant explanation I’ve seen for the powers behind the culture war in this country. I’ve got nothing to add other than a big THANK YOU for sharing your knowledge with me and your readers.