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So because I have an 11 year old daughter I went to see the movie Divergent this weekend.  It was the longest 7 hours of my life (ok, only 2 hours and 23 minutes).  There has been some heated pushback against complaints about fatigue over making movies with and appealing to girls on a few feminist blogs I follow.  But I was much, much more distressed by the anti-intellectual message pushed by this film.  

   For those who have not had the pleasure, Divergent is the story of a post-apocalyptic Chicago which has dealt with whatever bad thing happened to them in the past by walling off the remnants of the city and splitting the surviving population into five factions.  Each faction has a defining quality and role to play in this place.  The heroine, Tris, leaves her birth faction of Abnegation, whose members are devoted to selflessness and thus are entrusted with governing, to join the Dauntless faction, which is tasked with defense and policing.   In the course of this film (and book I suppose), we find out that the Erudite faction, the intellectuals and scholars who are supposed to use their brainpower to further knowledge.  But by the time we enter the story, the Erudites have turned their intelligence to evil ends, devising a plot to push out the eminently moral and incorruptible Abnegation out of power.  And in doing so they don't just grab power, they set out to slaughter all of the members of the Abnegation faction.  It doesn't quite work out that way, at least in the first of presumably three films, but the driving narrative is that the smart people are evil, power-grabbing monsters and that those who should be entrusted with political power are the meek, unassuming people devoted to a higher calling of selflessness and service to others.
    This bothered me a lot while I was watching the movie, and continues to perturb me now.  Why?  Well, part of it is personal.  I am a university professor, in the non-STEM "useless" field of French history.  I grow tired of the snarky comments about how little I must work, about why anyone would care about history, about how useless my field of study is.  I used to push back on such comments, detailing the hours of work I do and all of the useful skills I teach my students.  To no avail.  Now I just laugh and walk away.  I have given up the Sisyphean task of trying to fight against the rampant anti-intellectualism of this country.  And this movie reinforces that message, that ignorant message, in a package that will be seen by millions.  But beyond the personal antipathy, I was deeply disturbed by the message that smart people ruin politics.  That anyone with a brain and an idea will threaten society and must only be interested in their own gain and lust for power.  Really?  So what we need are more stupid people in politics who distrust knowledge and learning?  We need more people like Michelle Bachmann and Louis Goehmert, folks who love to smear "eggheads" and extol the virtues of "ordinary folk" like themselves, right?  What kind of message is this send to millions of tweeners and adolescents?  I am deeply dismayed.
    So, has anyone else seen this movie.  I am overreacting or is this really as bad as it seems?

Originally posted to abouja on Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 07:21 AM PDT.

Also republished by What are you watching?.

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Comment Preferences

  •  disclaimer- haven't read or seen it yet, but my (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kurt from CMH, Cali Scribe

    question is, Is it actual "anti-intellectualism" in the movie, or is it just a reflection of the powerful, intelligent, highly educated, but corrupt faction that appears to be controlling our world today? And the idea that "the meek" shall inherit the earth is supposed to be something a great many people accept...

    We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

    by nuclear winter solstice on Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 08:06:21 AM PDT

    •  I would say the former (4+ / 0-)

      Based on the movie, and the book which I started reading at my daughter's behest, I would say it is anti-intellectualism.  It takes aim at being too rational (there is a quote in the book that says something like the search for rational explanations leads people to bad places, or something like that - I can't find the exact page now).  And I would say that the corruption comes from devotion to study and intelligence, not from proximity to power or one's position in an elite.  People in that world choose their place so it is not a hereditary elite at work there.  Their studies and their confidence in their intellects lead them to believe that they know better, which of course we see that they don't/  So that is my interpretation.

  •  I Read The Books And Saw The Movie (4+ / 0-)

    I don't have any daughters, just sons.  I just saw this as a futuristic movie where the thinkers wanted to take over the leadership from the faction that is all about being unselfish.  Also, this was a movie about Four who thinks that all factions should rule together.  We know this by his tattoos.  What I took from this movies is that people don't have to be conformist and can think for themselves, and that is what Tris was doing.  The next two movies will make things clearer.  All the factions and the non faction are going to look really bad.  I don't think any of the factions are going to sell us on any of them

    I got from the last book is that there needs to be a balance in everyone. You can't just be smart, unselfish, courageous, reasonable, or a nonconformist, but a little bit of all.  Factions turn out not to be the answer.

    "Don't Let Them Catch You With Your Eyes Closed"

    by rssrai on Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 08:25:05 AM PDT

  •  Worse than the trailer suggested, no surprise (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Grandchildren would be my motivation, and thanks for the heads up.  As that famous cynic, H. L. Mencken observed, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."  Producers have been taking that to heart (and to the bank) in our entertainment industry for years.  I doubt they will notice my absence this time either.

    As for people with insulting put downs related to your field of study, it's not limited to the humanities.  The behavior is not about the subject, but a sophomoric dominance display.  It's rude; that is the point.  I think there is no non-rude response.  Interestingly, such attacks are always when I and my partner are in a social situation.  It's never a situation when I am alone and unconstrained.  I try to find a way to laugh and gently mock instead of respond with even a hint of seriousness.  I'm supposed to make nice in those situations, and that's the best I can do.  

    •  Thanks for the kind words (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I have grown a thick skin to the slights.  And I love my job so in that respect I really don't care what other people say.  But as far as a response, I think a non-response is best.

  •  In the book... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, Cali Scribe

    (Haven't seen the movie yet, and have only read the first book).


    The impression I took away from the book was that the splitting of society into 'single-minded' factions, and then putting all the government in the hands of one faction (even one supposedly selfless and incorruptible faction), meant that other factions felt cut out of the decisions, particularly those affecting their own lives and priorities. Particularly since the factions were designed to single-track the thinking patterns of their members and suppress the other qualities in their members, it was easy for the other factions to be suspicious of the priorities and decisions made by the one controlling the government -- they felt that all decisions were being made based on the values of only one faction's ideals.  

    To me, that had echoes of certain religious groups imposing their definition of morality on people who don't share their beliefs...  When only one (minority, if you assume the factions were about equal in number, so 20% of the population) point of view dominates government or public discussion, without giving at least some consideration to those who disagree, others are going to come to resent it.

    It isn't entirely clear in the first book (since the main character's family members are as selfless and well-meaning as she believed them to be) how justified the suspicions of the other factions are.  They might have had a point worthy of debate...

    However, because the Erudite faction (or at least the group within the faction who pulls off this attempted coup) chooses to resort to deception and mind-control tactics to force the warrior/military faction to do the dirty work for them, then whatever legitimacy their complaints might have had about being shut out of government decisions that directly affected them and their research, is lost.  They're using even worse tactics; their goal appears not to have A voice in government, but to BE the government, at any cost.  

    I still need to read the other two books, but what I took away from it was that that the 'single-tracking' of human beings to think and react according to a single virtue is just a recipe for trouble -- because whatever faction you belong to, 80% of your fellow citizens become incomprehensible and "other" to you.  Intellectualism, compassion, courage, honesty, and sense of responsibility for others are best in combination, any one isolated from the others can be abused.  

    So to me, it sounded less like anti-intellectualism and more like a call for true democracy, not rule by one faction considered "elite" (regardless of the criteria used to determine what "elite" means.....)

    •  Movie message slightly different (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I've not yet even finished the first book, but I didn't get the "well-rounded" message from the movie.  Perhaps they changed that substantially from the book.  I found the message distinctly sharp toward those who pursue knowledge.

      •  Books always do that... (0+ / 0-)

        Books always have more details, broader scope. Because they can cover so much more in a couple hundred pages than a movie can in a typical 120-140 page script.

        Movies tend to streamline out a lot of subtlety -- saw that in the Harry Potter films, for sure, and even in the really good adaptations such as the Hunger Games, etc.  

        I'll be curious to see where the next two books take the story.

        I'll try to catch the movie later this week.


  •  No clue (0+ / 0-)

    But, there's always an anti-intellectual bent in most movies.  That's because the general audience doesn't trust intellectuals.  Never has.  Because, they feel they will be outsmarted.

    It's not often that outsmarting your foe is the way to win in movies. Usually, it involves aliens or super powers (or both).

    "People should not be afraid of their government; governments should be afraid of their people." --V

    by MikeTheLiberal on Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 10:10:53 AM PDT

  •  i wanted to see it (0+ / 0-)

    but I did not know there were books

    I'll get the first one

    Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
    Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights to talk about grief.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 11:17:47 AM PDT

  •  thx for the info. I think I tried reading v.1 a (0+ / 0-)

    couple of years ago and just couldn't a) get interested, b) stand to wade through the pretty awful writing, c) not be bored to DEATH by yet another YA writer thinking they're discovering the wheel, or fire, or some other classic Science-Fiction trope.

    You know, shiny young Author ABC, having no background in the genre, probably not even realizing there are SF stories or writers earlier than their own (brief) lifetime (let alone what is in them), is just SO pleased with herself, not having any idea that Idea X was first put forth by Classic SF Author Y in his 1935 or 1947 or 1955 Masterpiece, Q....

    This happens over and over and over again, and coupled with the apparently overwhelming appetite of teens for Dystopia, Horror and Monsters (or something), gets pretty boring... REAL fast!!!

    Thus opine-eth the Grumpy-Old-SF-Reader-Fart who started with Heinlein & Norton in the 50's, 4th or 5th grade section of school library!

    "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

    by chimene on Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 06:03:41 PM PDT

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