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?