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"Get Out" encourages a step back


"Get Out" inflicts upon the viewer a vicariously experienced form of shame. The main character, Chris Washington, is dragged along, deep into a weekend, where he has to constantly try and mentally encircle an enclosure around a constant barrage of overt breaches of respectful conduct, so to claim his weekend experience as something he lasted through and bested. He wants his rich girlfriend's relatives to be nutty, is intent on transmogrifying experiences to process them as idiosyncratic, oddball, rather than as they are -- which is off-puttingly presumptive and assaulting -- because he wants to force the experience into one of "just meeting the strange but very rich, old wealth relatives of my-perhaps wife-to-be," rather than their ostensible old-fashioned preference of it as "just meeting another of our daughter's off-putting boyfriends we'll pretend to be all for but really just ably manipulate, use, and discard." If he's successful in making them feel like they've more played into the narrative he wants to process the weekend part of than they are in making him feel part of theirs, it will force his possible new relatives into fulfilling their role in finishing the victorious narrative by granting gentry status to the outsider who marries their daughter. This is his game. Even if we are directed not to see it this way, we process it this way; and if he wins then we get to vicariously feel for a moment what it might be like to beat an initiation test to gain entrance into the land of opulent wealth ourselves.

The shame comes from undertaking way more on than he can handle, thinking he's got something bullet-proof to any projectile they could put at him. He's caught out being casually arrogant, ignorant... unawares. He's black, and no family of old-wealth that doesn't dwell so deep in the Mississippi it's basically unacknowledged, can afford to be known as aggressively anti-people of color. Even if they are such, if they have the "misfortune" of finding their daughter intent to marry a black man, the only way they can use the situation to enfranchise their prejudice is to aggressively co-opt him, use him as advertisement of their ostensible clear lack of prejudice, should anything they do in their business enterprises bring about this suspicion. We can pretend if we wish that our society isn't one which has legitimized a divide between the one percent and the rest of the country principally by directing us to see how those in the professional class have become so open to women and people of color while the poor remain just as fixed as ever in their racist and sexist prejudices, but at some level we know this is the world we live in. If you're black and seem to present upon the white and well-placed the right to partake in their glory as much as Tiger Woods would any golf club's, you're beyond indisputably in... and we know it. Unacknowledged, but this guy Chris Washington knows he's bee-line for anointment into the upper crust. All he's got to do is play out the "uncomfortable weekend with future inlaws” part, and he's in. He's not truly trepidatious about anything, but it's part of the role to look that way lest you be mis-seen as not genuine about love and mostly interested in status.        

The reason the movie can yet persuade us in making him seem immediately misplaced in this confidence, is that it makes us sense that there is another narrative, a more powerful and relevant one, that has just emerged but has grown quickly large in our society, and it is -- surprise! -- actually drawing mostly on it. Not of person of color vs. network of old wealth, which Chris Washington would be right to think he could engage with as if pit against a lame-duck; but of the presumptuous young thinking they can kick the constituents, the sinews, of their country, yet again, and continue to get away with it. When a country is turning nationalist, as ours is, what becomes enlivened is a sense of the old as something that has been kicked at for too long, but, finally stirred, is now prepared to do something about it. It displaces the cosmopolitan sense of old hierarchies as having nothing for them but to rent themselves out as antique pieces of ancestry for display -- else go the way of the dodo forever -- for something fearsome and vital. So here when we see gaggles of elderly members of old wealth coming together, absurd, completely comprised trees of family linkages, it feels a bit, not of feeble twigs assembled for further mishandling but of a tangled, mean, vital and dangerous old forest, that's kept intact old ties to old colonies that we all have forgotten completely about. It's got something newly firmed up and great to harness while everything we've attached ourselves to is becoming tangential. It's a visit of something from the long-forgotten past that'll hold this day as well as the next... looking in fact, with cause, to own our futures.

The impetus for racial inclusion, to decry the legitimacy of the category, "race," altogether, which is where the film begins, in showing no meaningful distinction between protagonists built on color of skin, is at the end replaced by a plea to stick with those you know... because if you're actually not different, it's too venturesome to pretend to partake of this "truth." The white woman is just using you if you're black. If you're black, your best friend had best be black as well, for no one else will truly have your back. Stick with your "bros," even if not a specifically racial congregation you're thinking of but just the familiar. What feels like it's being kicked at in this film is the aspiration towards higher reach... of stretching yourselves outside of previous limitations to experience self-growth and know people better than you once had. At the finish you feel as if at any time you'd want to show up fossils with your agility and reach in the future, you're no longer in the world where you're just being the progressive faced with a racist police officer... that beloved scenario, where you can't lose, even if you get arrested, can’t cow your opponent down, because no "virtue" on his side has any socially accepted legitimacy. What you are instead is someone merely alone, because that type -- the progressive; that ideal aspiration of spirit -- no longer exists, and has been replaced by someone overtly cynical in their intent. And because a world like that where new fashion is shown up as false in intention, is much less optimistic and presumptuous in outlook, it's a safer one to count yourself part of in an age where the old is empowered and on the lookout for those hoping to further displace its legitimacy.

The film takes you back a few steps, more than a few steps, and it feels strangely comfortable. You step back from the "whitey" -- or whom the "whitey" represents in your imagination... someone you're not supposed to presume to count yourself amongst but whom for your own self-growth you'd actually be wise to come to learn to -- and re-enforce old stereotypical thinking, old neighborhood thinking, old-wives’-tale thinking, because it takes you back in outlook at least fifty years, and hence makes you feel nowhere near the kind of head-stuck-out flowering poppy our time would want to inflict a lesson on.


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