Fighting Words won’t eschew from addressing actual points.
We expected a defense of Joe Allen’s review of Inglourious Basterds from Socialist Worker. Elizabeth Schulte valiantly took up this mantle with an article that exceeded twice the length of our own. However, we still await the response she said we deserved.
If Tarantino lacks anything “new or useful’ to offer to the “tedious” genre, Schulte adds even less to Joe Allen’s initial review. We called Joe out for his strange insistence that terrorizing Nazis could be equated with Nazis murdering everyone else. And in her article, she promises to reveal how socialists really view “torture, war crimes, and the Second World War.” But she does none of it. Other than offering up articles to reference, we’ll do the reader one better and quote a well-known socialist, Leon Trotsky, on the same issue, “nothing increases the insolence of the fascists more than ‘flabby pacifism.’ “
Okay so Trotsky was talking about forming workers militias, and not so much about a band of Jewish Americans and German defectors dispatched by the United States. But this gets to the other troubling aspect about Schulte’s response. She insists, "there are a number of war films that depict violence with the horror that it deserves.”
Demanding that art “should have done this” or “should have been about that” misses the point. The basis of legitimate art criticism starts by taking it at its own merit and revealing its place in the particular moment. Sure, the film could’ve been about a Red partisan or the “Red Orchestra,” but it wasn’t. Art, especially pop art, owes nothing to Marxism. Quoting Trotsky again, “Art must find its own road. The methods of Marxism are not its methods.” What we provide is an appraisal of what’s unconscious in the work and give interpretations a historical footing.
But Schulte is more concerned with the film’s violence. She particularly recoils at the sight of swastikas carved into the foreheads of Nazis. But imagine if Col. Hans Landa (the Jew Hunter) was able to make his deal with the United States and live a life of anonymity. In reality, many Nazis did and all they had to do was take off their uniforms.
Films can be celebrated in particular historical moments. What we’ve seen are far-right political parties and right-wing militia activists seeking to legitimize themselves and their history. Just as “Red Dawn” gave ammunition to anticommunism in the 1980s, the success of this film can intimidate fascist sympathies. When a white supremacist shoots up a Holocaust Museum, or militiamen march on Washington, taunting Obama with, “We come unarmed…this time,” a film like “Inglourious Basterds,” a film that revels in fascist intolerance, should only be embraced.