AN ALTERNATIVE READING OF TOM HANKS


This is some of the first content for our new weed rag, ZQ-287 Magazine. Yes, we have a weed magazine now, geared toward the faded but not stupid. Cannabis, sci-fi, politics. Enjoy!


THE FADED CRITIC

Stoned Thoughts About Movie Shit

Currently Watching: Road to Perdition

AN ALTERNATIVE READING OF TOM HANKS

by Steven T. Bramble

 

saint

 

There has been a recent deification of Tom Hanks by the new generation of late night hosts. This has been a subtle but spontaneous phenomenon, driven by the actor’s many roles in beloved 90s-era, High American Empire films such as Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13 and Forrest Gump. Aside from the growing trend of direct paeans by Colbert, Fallon, Oliver, Myers and others, there is a traceably popular sentiment inscribing itself into the minds of movie-goers. The actor is being iconized anew as a “national treasure.”

This is arguably the perfect title to encapsulate the nature of his career, especially if you tilt the emphasis toward the word national.

Whether Tom Hanks is a good actor or not isn’t, I’m going to just state here at the top, the basis for this article-thing. He is unquestionably an accomplished artist. But the legacy he’s leaving behind, along with the images and tropes he has lent his talent toward disseminating into the popular imagination, merits a much stronger cultural critique than it has up to this point received.

Propaganda is an indelible aspect of film. Triumph of the Will, Birth of a Nation and The Fall of Berlin are extremely rank examples, directly manipulating emotions toward specific national projects of political and cultural power. But there are plenty of more nuanced examples of ideology creeping into larger eras of filmmaking, too. Mexico’s Epoca de Oro and its relentless insistence on pride, machismo and the creation of a cohesive national identity after the fractious revolution—American escapism during the Great Depression and its deflection of institutional injustice through glowing silver optimism—Soviet social realism and its obsession with atrocities committed against the proletariat as a justification for Stalin’s totalitarianism.

When it comes to the United States, who can deny that the preferred method of propaganda has always been entertainment? We receive almost the entirety of our information through it, and history lessons, for the average American, come in the form of box-office blockbusters. The types of blockbusters, incidentally, which Tom Hanks has been an establishment staple of.

Nowadays we experience media as a sort of projected hyperversion of what Jung called the transpersonal consciousness, and this now-widespread phenomenon of celebrity commentators coming to a consensus that Tom Hanks represents a national treasure to the American people seems justified, primarily because the movies he is most known for are propagandistic in nature, and the political narratives they’ve helped to prop up are mythological, obscuring difficult and complex realities in favor of simplified, heavily sentimental revisionism.

But the point of all this isn’t to prove that Tom Hanks holds a distinctly nationalist role in American cinema, which I think is obvious enough. The point is that I—(just me personally, so don’t freak out, please)—was getting really fucking sick of Tom Hanks. I had gotten to a point where sitting through his movies had become a chore. As an example, 2017’s The Post basically made me want to puke a little with its predictably ham-handed clarion defense of the role of corporate journalism in a rising corporatocratic America, no matter the film’s various virtues. In addition, I was also getting sick of hearing people endlessly parrot this newfound, Democratic party line about how Tom Hanks is a national treasure, of feeling the need to have to argue that his body of work, no matter how superbly executed, can essentially be boiled down to one big apologia for the cruel values and exploits of late-20th century American hegemony. As you can imagine, I got a lot of annoyed looks that suggested, the fuck is your problem with Tom Hanks?

Recently, though, I watched Road to Perdition stoned because my girlfriend hadn’t seen it yet, and I’m willing to say that I’ll forgive Tom Hanks’s career a little bit for that one. Despite a few major flaws—the corny and manipulative score, some very gaudy action sequences, the painful lengths to which the movie stoops to make sure we understand the protagonist is ethical for all his violence, and finally the fact that Tom Hanks himself just simply isn’t a perfect fit as a cold-blooded hitman—the subtext of the studio-tight plotline at least doesn’t make me feel like my intelligence has been flagrantly insulted.

From a personal perspective, I like Tom Hanks’s acting, and I like some of the movies he’s greenlighted for production, but it’s not unimportant to note that his career ultimately has far more in common with other deeply conservative American male screen icons such as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood than it does with more dissenting figures such as Marlon Brando or Daniel Day-Lewis. Unfortunately, I can think of many left-leaning people I know who have completely failed to make the distinction.

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