The Martian: America’s Self-Delusion at its Silliest
The United States, capable of such a delusional self-image, deserves Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
November 7, 2015
An authoritative Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll recently found that 34% of Republican voters would trust their country’s nuclear arsenal to the care of Donald Trump and 39% would feel comfortable entrusting the Armageddon button to Ben Carson.
Amazed? Angered? Confused? You shouldn’t be. To understand where it comes from, all you need to do is to go see film director Ridley Scott’s The Martian, the wildly popular sci-fi movie.
Set a few decades from now, it tells us little about the future and a lot about the present. Notably, its Exhibit One shows why America won’t have a manned mission to Mars any time soon and is more likely to have a President Trump or a President Carson.
A nation capable of embracing so delusional a self-image – even if it is an inconsequential sci-fi flick – richly deserves both.
Socialist realism, the official artistic style of the Soviet Union, used to be sarcastically defined as pitting the good against the even better.
A typical socialist realist novel portrayed a dedicated collective farm chief who fails to understand a brilliant innovation proposed by his young and even more dedicated tractor driver, determined to increase the bumper crop.
They argue and in the end, the chief comes round to the tractor driver’s point of view. They reconcile and travel to Moscow to be given a medal by Stalin.
The Martian is a socialist realist version of Robinson Crusoe – set in 21st century America. In Daniel Defoe’s famous novel, Crusoe ends up on an island after a shipwreck in which all his companions perish.
It is not so in The Martian. In fact, no one is ever allowed to die in that movie, even if they yearn to give their lives for a worthy cause.
Nor are there any bad guys that are a sine qua non of every action-adventure movie. No, everyone appearing on the screen, even for a couple of seconds, is good. Nice. Great.
Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA makes a half-hearted stab at being just a tiny bit bad.
He suggests that crass considerations like budgets, bad publicity, lives of other astronauts, cost of very expensive equipment or the future of the U.S. space exploration program should take precedence over saving a stranded American half the Solar System away.
But he, too, quickly sees the evils of his way and gets with the program, sharing everyone’s can-do enthusiasm.
One suspects that British actor Sean Bean, who for some reason portrays the mission director at NASA, greatly misses GoldenEye, a 1995 James Bond movie in which he played a bad guy who actually kills good guys.
In The Martian, he looks mildly embarrassed to be surrounded by so many nice Americans.
The “perfect” scenario
Nice people make nice places to live. All these nice caring dedicated people inhabit an American society in which harmony reigns supreme and conflict is unknown.
America in the near future will be a postracial melting pot where all races work together but family values – of an exclusively traditional, heterosexual, child-loving kind – dominate. Gays and gay families will evidently disappear and everyone will be “normal.”
Take heart, though. There will still be Mexican Americans. In the future, they might give up raping and murdering non-Mexican Americans, but they will still speak with a Spanish accent, marry other Mexicans and remain attached to Roman Catholic symbols such as wooden crucifixes.
Cool, quirky African-American kids will no longer be hunted down by Florida vigilantes or shot by white cops elsewhere in the country. Instead they’ll be computing spacecraft trajectories.
Elon Musk’s dream of privately funded and independently launched space flights will apparently remain a pipe dream.
Future space missions will be run by NASA, a huge government behemoth with a seemingly unlimited budget, that in the future will be spared the new House Speaker Paul Ryan’s attention.
In fact, Congress is conspicuous by its absence in this brave new world. It is not cutting budgets, raving against science or calling government bureaucrats to testify so as to embarrass the executive branch. It seems to have become such a do-nothing operation as not to be in the picture at all.
The President of the United States makes a cameo appearance in a phone conversation with Jeff Daniels. His only concern? The use of the F word over public airwaves.
The film’s director Ridley Scott is British. Naturally, he reserves his greatest ridicule for America’s vision of the world beyond its borders. It’s a brilliant caricature.
Utopia is real
There are no bad foreigners – the Russians, ISIS, al-Qaeda and the like are not allowed to cast their shadow over the bright American future. The remaining foreigners are all nice and they love Americans.
The chemist on the mission to Mars is a German, but his family values are even more traditional than the natives’.
The Chinese are developing advanced missile technologies in a top-secret program. This should strike the fear of God into the bosom of any normal US government official, because it seems pretty obvious what those secret missiles are going to be aimed at.
But not in this movie. In this movie, the Chinese love Americans and are only too happy to cooperate.
As Big Brother NASA rescues a 21st century Robinson Crusoe, other good foreigners, represented by the Brits, gather in their city squares to cheer in real time what they see on giant Orwellian television screens.
There used to be another definition of socialist realism; it used to tell Soviet leaders what they wanted to hear in a manner they found easiest to understand. The Martian likewise provides the image of America Americans want to see.
It is a simplistic world of no consequences and no problems. It is a vision of the world and the United States created for people who know themselves so little and misunderstand the rest of the world so completely that they can easily elect Carson or Trump as their president.
A nation capable of embracing such a delusional self-image richly deserves Trump and Carson.
“The Martian,” similar to the present situation, shows an image of America that Americans want to see.
The Russians, ISIS and al-Qaeda are not allowed to cast their shadow over the bright American future.