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Artefacts of popular culture are fabricated and developed through popular cultures tacit connection to the political world; a concept surmised by the Contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei who states, “Everything is art. Everything is politics. ” As such, it could be suggested that this tacit construct between society and popular culture produces artefacts that thematically construct contextual political, cultural and social ideas within a fictive representation; ultimately this extra-textual depiction of societal values allows for popular culture to generate political implications.
A product of popular culture, the original Planet of the Apes quintet grounds itself in the values of the 1960s and 1970s, echoing the racial tension, moral turbulence and nuclear anxiety that defined the time. The series utilizes the moral complexities of its context, as such this essay will focus on the political implications produced through the portrayal of racial tensions in Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and the themes of nuclear war that are elucidated in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strange-love. Ultimately, the use of extra-textual themes within artefacts of popular culture can influence social discourse that produces political implications. Composed of five films – Planet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) – the Ape’s franchise was released during the 1960s and 1970s, decades that were marked by titanic conflict and terror – The Cold War, Vietnam War, Civil rights, – as such, it was a period of public conflict concerning the character and ideology of the United States; with these events producing a rhetoric of despair and helplessness that pervades the Apes series. Not only were the chaotic years characterized by conflict and terror, they were also embodied by political and cultural crisis due to events such as Kent State and Watergate which challenged the perceptions of integrity and morality within the United States. This morally turbulent period and the perpetual moral transference of American citizens is reflected throughout the Apes series through the continual transformation of the audience’s point of identification; with viewer’s sympathies transferred between chimpanzees, apes and humans. Consequently, it could be suggested that the Apes series employed and extrapolated the moral crises of the United States to imagine a radical reorganization of power dynamics, incorporating conventions and norms of science-fiction to extend contextual racial tensions to a dystopian, apocalyptic and fearsome conclusion.
To further elucidate how the Planet of the Apes series has generated significant political implications throughout its tenure; it is essential to explore how the conventions of science-fiction propagate and influence political and social issues within the real world. Although popular culture and contemporary politics are inherently linked, science fiction as a genre utilises conventions that allow for the construction of a world that directly critiques or comments upon tangible political issues; consequently, it is the utilisation of this constructed environment that allows for contemporary political implications. Science-fiction’s success in constituting political implications is entrenched in its construction of “syntagmatically developed possible worlds, as models. ” As such, science-fiction grounds itself in the discourse of possibility, allowing for individuals to realise real-world matters through “metaphoric strategies and metonymic tactics”. Therefore, the genre of science-fiction allows for the Apes franchise to utilize real-world fears and concerns that generates discourse around societal issues that consequently leads to political implications.
At the core of the Ape’s franchise is the continual power struggle that exists between humans and apes, with the series exploring the potential ramifications that would be manufactured as a result of the inversion of the racial supremacy ; and it is this extra-textual futuristic representation that opens up discourse surrounding racial issues as it presents contextual concerns from a novel perspective. Consequently, the quintet exposes how physical differences between a racially dominant oppressive group and a racially subordinate oppressed group generates monumental conflict. Planet of the Apes utilizes its contextual history and the racial fears prevalent within society to explore how the reversal in racial relations – a pervasive fear within the US since the colonial period – would propagate an apocalyptic end for society as we knew it. Evidence of the real fears that gripped the Western world is evident through British politician Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Bloods speech in which he stated “In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man. ”
It is evident that the themes of Planet of the Apes are undoubtedly dictated by the morals and values that defined its context, and through a reframing of these values, Schaffner is able to positively impact genuine black and white relations; a postulation supported by the African-American entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. who described the film as the best allegory for racial relations he had seen. Although Planet undoubtedly has political implications as a result of its portrayal of contextual issues it could be suggested that the first two films – Planet and Beneath – are merely responding to their context, whilst the final three films – Conquest, Escape and Battle – more directly reflect the conditions of contemporary America and project an increased sense of danger and terror. Conquest, the third film in the quintet directly resembles the audience’s context, with Director J. Lee Thompson conveying an enhanced sense of pertinence and danger through his decision to ground the thematic concepts of the film in extra-textual societal pressures. Thompson grounds Conquest in the Watts Riots – occurring in 1965 – however reimagined within a simian perspective that conveys the racial tensions through the film’s portrayal of the vivid imagery of dark coloured ape rioters fighting light human Policemen and the destruction of stores and fires filling the frame.
The second film of the Apes series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes recontextualises the anti-war sentiment that pervaded the 1960s and 1970s in America. At the crux of Beneath is Director Ted Post’s depiction of a society, composed of mutants and apes, that is thrust into a war against an unseen enemy in alien territory, a conflict endorsed by the hegemony but rejected by intellectuals and the youth alike; a war that undoubtedly refers to the American war in Vietnam. Ted Post further parallels the similarities between the two by exposing how the mutants – who allegorically embody the United States – base their war on illusions and distorted facts. Furthermore, both the US and mutants are unable to utilize their ultimate weapon – the nuclear bomb – due to its impracticality and the disastrous connotations. Consequently, Beneath the Planet of the Apes allegorically criticizes the entirety of the Vietnam War through its fictional representation of the mutants and apes. The utilization of the pacifist sentimentality that permeated American culture allows for Beneath the Planet of the Apes to increase the discourse concerning anti-war rhetoric. Through the construction of an alternative world, Post is able to directly criticise and critique the Vietnam War; and it is this reimagining of the war’s impact that allows for the audience to politically and socially evaluate the impact of the Vietnam War. As such, it could be suggested that the allegorical representation of the Vietnam War within Beneath allows for the film to have political implications as it allows for the proliferation of anti-war discourse within America.
Although Beneath the Planet of the Apes undoubtedly propagates political implications through its use of context and its allegorical representations of the Vietnam War, it also utilizes its contextual conditions to fictively explore and broadcast the apprehensions and terror associated with the Cold War and the looming threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Beneath symbolically explores how the policy of MAD – operated by both the US and the Soviet Union – imbues a delusional state within advocates of the policy. Post bilaterally critiques and derides the stratagem of MAD through the mutants worshipping of the nuclear bomb – the very artefact that has left them grossly disfigured – whilst simultaneously exploring how the mutant’s deification of the bomb as the ‘holy weapon of peace’ is ultimately a monumental implication of self-delusion. It is this reimagining of the morals that saturated the 1960s and 1970s within an alien context, that allows for Post’s film to have political consequences due to its fictive interpretation of American values and ideals that allows for an extensive introspection into American values and morals. The conclusion of Beneath portrays the Apes engaging in a race war against the mutants which in Taylor – the symbolic representation of the white Western world – utilizing the last of his dying strength to detonate the nuclear bomb and destroy earth. As such Taylors death presents a bilateral symbolic meaning. Not only does it depict the finality and destruction that is feasible with MAD policy, but it further emphasizes the influence of the racial rhetoric present within the civil rights movement; rather than countenance a change in the racial hegemony, Taylor destroys earth.
Throughout Beneath Taylor symbolically and systemically critiques the foundations of the psyche that pervaded America during the Cold War; ultimately allowing for the Apes series to have a significant political impact due to its reexamining of American values thus allowing for an introspective perspective that permitted significant discourse. Although the Apes series covers a vast number of themes that have been reimagined in an alien context thus allowing for a propounded of political discourse, it is essential to recognize the significant impact of the cold war on all literary forms and its political implications. Stanley Kubrick’s political satire Dr. Strange-love is utilizes in the dangers associated with the cold war – the impeding threat of nuclear war and total human annihilation – to critique and criticize the idea of MAD whilst simultaneously provoking genuine political action and discourse. As such, Kubrick conveys the heinous principles that governed the Cold war through the character of Turgidson – who as a representation of the US Air Force – advocates for a initial nuclear strike on the Soviet Union whilst stating how the retaliation – 10 to 20 million deaths – is a ‘mere hair musing. ’ Kubrick utilizes the conventions of satire to critique his real-world context through a depiction of the realities of the Cold War and MAD policy.
The political implications produced by artefacts of popular culture is evident through Kubrick delaying the release of Dr. Strange-love by three months; fearing the films politically censorious nature would be inordinately exacerbated following the assassination of the US President JFK. Ultimately, Dr Strange-love is a political film that takes aim at mankind, criticizing the potential annihilation of humanity due to meagre political differences; and allows for the audience and individuals to elucidate how the Cold War could potentially lead them to the ending seen in the film. As such parallels can readily be drawn between Dr. Strange-love and Beneath in their critical portrayal of the values of the Cold War. It is this extratextual use of the context’s conditions and their reframing within a satirical context – Dr Strange-love – and the science-fiction genre – Beneath – that allows for the films to have political implications as it permits open discourse and constructs a novel means of approaching real-world conditions.
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