atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#973: Thoughts on American History X

I just finished watching that film on FX, and--after a shower and a couple of cheeseburgers--feel ready to comment on the movie.

The basic story is of a white supremecist/skinhead who got out of prison. He'd been jailed for three years for manslaughter; some black men had tried to steal his truck, and he shot both of them. One died from that; he broke the other's neck.

The story revolves around three fateful days in his family's life: the day he gets out of prison, the day he killed the two robbers, and the day his father was shot while trying to do his job as a fireman.

Mostly the action concentrates on the day he, Derek, gets out of prison, and the day after; but in flashback (thoughtfully shot in black-and-white) we get glimpses of the other two days.

Overall it was a pretty well-executed film. I only really take one exception to the writing of the film.

And that is Derek's politics.

About 90% of Derek's politics are mainstream conservative politics; it's only when he starts talking about blacks and jews that his views diverge from mainstream conservatism.

He discusses illegal immigration and the costs it levies on US citizens, and his discussion is (with the exception of the racial lingo) pretty much congruent with mainstream conservatism. His father discusses the failings of affirmative action and--again, with the exception of the racial lingo--matches the mainstream conservative position. Derek's position on the whole Rodney King fiasco is the same way. It's like the writers did their research on skinhead politics by listening to Rush Limbaugh, then adding a leveaning of words like "nigger", "spic", and "kike".

In short, Derek is not really a skinhead or a white supremecist, not really; he's a Hollywood caricature of a conservative.

White supremecists are nuts, and Derek is clearly not nuts. Misguided? Definitely--but by the end of the movie we're shown that he's learned from his time in prison that his "white power" leanings aren't doing him any good whatsoever, and he's decided to walk away from that and start over. They don't devote any time to his politics after he's let out of prison--all his polemics are told in flashbacks--but it would have been beyond cheesy for him to go into prison a skinhead and come out a campus liberal. Cheesy, unrealistic, and stupid.

Look at the materials that white supremecists distribute. Bear in mind that the Republican party and mainstream conservatives regard skinheads as crazy, paranoid, and/or ignorant.

The political mindset of skinheads also falls outside the Republican political spectrum. The Republican party was founded on anti-racist principles including the abolition of slavery, and none of the civil rights advances could have happened without Republican support. Never forget that it was Southern Democrats who gave us "Jim Crow" laws and segregation and all the other bullshit. (Also never forget that early Republicans were among the first targets of the KKK.)

But the writers had a problem: if they showed Derek behaving like a real skinhead, it would have been impossible for the audience to have any sympathy for him. (Not to mention that many Hollywood liberals regard all conservatives as skinheads, anyway, without the shaven heads or tattoos.) So they softened the skinhead ideology.

That's about it for the things I didn't like about the movie. I was annoyed that the writers had him in prison for what was clearly a case of self-defense...until they showed Derek breaking the other robber's neck. That was murder, obviously de-rated to "manslaughter" via some kind of plea agreement or something, though the exact details aren't really important. What is important is that it showed Derek's anger at blacks--the ones who shot his father, specifically, and the race of blacks in general--and provided his route to prison.

My only other real quarrel with the movie, then, is one line at the end. Gangbangers kill Derek's younger brother, Dennis, because Dennis "dissed" one of them in school the day before. Derek cradles his dead brother's head and laments, "What have I done?" Only Derek doesn't seem to realize that he doesn't bear the responsibility for his brother's death; the kid who shot him is 100% at fault for that.

Other than those complaints, I have to say it was a pretty good movie.

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