The Far Side of Irony

Having seen Team America: World Police last Friday on its
opening night, I’m amused by the mainstream-media spin that this movie
is an anti-right-wing satire too subtle for the yokels to get. In
fact, I think it’s it’s something much more peculiar and interesting
— a movie that hides a strong fundamental patriotism and appeal
to traditional values under a veneer of scatology and sexual crudity.

The MSM can’t see this, because in the MSM’s universe the kind of
patriotism for which the movie ultimately plumps is at best a joke to
be sneered at and at worst actually toxic. But the South Park guys
tip their hand early, during a sequence in which the the protagonist
Gary visits the Lincoln Memorial and other national monuments while
wrestling with a question of duty. The soundtrack is country music
of the most teeth-gritting, lachrymose awfulness — but the steel
guitars and schmaltzy vocals fail to obscure the fact that the song is
asking a serious moral question, and that the right answer (for Gary
and for the rest of us) is that he must accept his duty to defend
freedom. The entire rest of the plot follows from that decision.

This scene is a microcosm of the movie. In this satire, it’s the
satire you’re supposed to see through. Irony is enlisted to
anti-ironic purposes. In another early scene, Gary is cosmetically
morphed for infiltration purposes into a caricature of the generic
Islamo-terrorist so extreme that pained laughter is the only possible
response — and his teammates think it’s a perfect disguise. But
never once is this pointed jab at American parochialism allowed to
obscure the genuine evil of the type he is disguised as.

Throughout the film, Team America is clumsy, parochial,
hamfisted and inadvertently destructive. But this is emphasised mainly
in order to point up a continuing underlying message that it’s better
to be a dolt with traditional American intentions than a sophisticate
in the service of evil.

In this and other ways, this movie seems profoundly conservative to
me. I don’t often use the label ‘conservative’ as a compliment, but
such use is merited here. Team America knows it’s their job to defend
civilization, to conserve it. Part of the humor in this movie comes
from the contrast between that fundamental conservatism and the
profane, obscene, and jejunely disgusting moments that occupy much of
the film. These are not your father’s conservatives, a point the
South Park auteurs make early by showing two of the characters
sprinting a lust-a-thon through a marrionette kama sutra of sexual
positions.

And maybe that’s the most interesting message of this movie. We
watch it blowing up scenery in a parody of the Bruckheimerian action
flick, but what’s really being exploded is the fixed categories of the
post-1960s culture wars. The South Park guys are trying to divorce
the muscular self-confidence of a healthy civilization from the
cultural-conservative and religious fixations that confidence has
usually been married to. There is not one single reference to
Christianity in the entire movie. The good guys drink, swear, and
screw like frenzied minks, but they’re good guys just the same.

Ultimately, what matters about them most is that they never give
up and never compromise with evil. That’s what makes this vulgar
comedy ultimately a serious parable for our time.

11 thoughts on “The Far Side of Irony

  1. And you’re still voting for Bush? ;)
    hahahaha (just joking, I might vote for a hasten to the apocolypse myself; just to get it over with*)

    Love ya Man!

    JW

    *regarding the Christian/Religious Bullshit.

  2. I noticed the whole “Visit the monuments and think deep thoughts” thing. I think your analysis is correct. Better to be a dick than an asshole or a pussy.

  3. Disclaimer. I have not seen the flick. I am going on the description here and on other review pages, wherein it is described as containing lots of gratuitously offensive muppetry, Team America blows things up, the left and right are both mocked, etc.

    Eric, are you nuts?

    Did you consider that the only reason “Team America” seemed to promote a deeply serious message to you was that you desperately wanted it to agree with your own politics?

    The central tenet of your belief, that the world is divided into Players (us) and Playa Haters (them), who want to travel a long distance and then *die* for no other reason than that they Hate Freedom… is being mocked. Take the hint.

  4. “The good guys drink, swear, and screw like frenzied minks, but they’re good guys just the same.”

    So did Bond and he did it in the 1960s (although less graphically). Most conservatives don’t have problems with this sort of thing as long as you don’t make them pay for the consequences of your actions, act like its right, or do it around their kids.

  5. “but what’s really being exploded is the fixed categories of the post-1960s culture wars.”

    OTOH Maybe these categories were never so fixed and simplistic as right-wing critics like to paint them.

  6. I saw the movie, and I couldn’t agree with your analysis more.

    South Park is notorious for it’s potty humor, but it contains a lot of similiar messages too. I think these guys have mastered the art of hiding good old-fashioned American values behind talking turds and nympho marionettes…

  7. There was actually a reference to Christianity. When they were talking about 91,100, there was a quick line about it being like all the bad stuff in the bible. Normaly I wouldn’t nit-pick, but “not one single reference” calls out for it.

  8. I think you’ve got a good point, but I question just how patriotic the looking-at-monuments scene was. After all, the lyrics of the song included such phrases as “Freedom costs a buck-oh-five.” Oh the whole, the film definitely parodied and supported the idea of America as the world’s police—but what other choice did the creators have? They’re too bright to succumb to the “solidarity with the resistance” garbage the American Lefts are peddling these days, and a full analysis of American terrorism would probably be a bit beyond its scope.

  9. Pingback: archenemy blog » Better to be a dolt

  10. i agree with your analysis but think it’s important to suggest that the values being defended aren’t exclusively american. voices for a pragmatic humanism, individual independance, and sexual and religous freedom occur in every culture. it is fundamentalists who formulate their own version of the good life into a package of rules for the rest of us who are dangerous. Bush’s rhetoric has shifted since 9/11 toward a millenarian hysteria that often sounds as though he believes he personally will bring about the apocalypse and then kick its ass. i think Team America did a good job of mocking the violating ignorance that misses the ancient and contemporary subtleties of other cultures (however many thousands of miles they are from the real america) and of mocking (sweetly, ruefully) naive citizens (on both sides) who will suck their boss’s cock, or detonate their suicide bombs, for an ideology.
    I completely agree that the essential difference between dicks and assholes was made quite clear in the film. Bombing the innocent is assholey. i guess, pussy that i am, i think bombing in general pretty much just makes a mess and reproduces the cycle of violence, but whatever.

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