The Revelation of Black Panther

The Revelation of Black Panther

‘Black Panther’ and the strange reason why young people are literally burning western civilization down.

The Revelation of Black Panther

Have you heard of the film ‘Black Panther’?

It recently became the most successful movie ever in the US domestic market. Apparently it’s not bad – probably much better than other serious money-spinners like ‘Avatar’ and any Star Wars film.

I haven’t seen it. I haven’t watched a single Marvel superhero film. Not my thing. But what has fascinated me, is the political outpouring of love for the film. The fact that the film celebrates a black hero (with a militant, more real-life Black Panther-esque villain to oppose him) has made it what young people call ‘woke’ – which is just a trendy way of saying ‘politically correct’. Finally, black kids can have a real hero on the silver screen.

But what struck me in the midst of all the hype is the fact that by no stretch of the imagination is this the first major film with a black lead. And it is thus a real mystery why everybody is pretending that it is.

Let me give a few examples.

I remember watching Will Smith play a black superhero in ‘Hancock’ – with a white Afrikaans star from Benoni as his love interest. I also recall him saving the world in ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’. He even played the ultimate ladies’ man in ‘Hitch’, helping uncool white guys find love.

Then there was Wesley Snipes playing the eponymous superhero in the hit trilogy ‘Blade’ – which critics all agree was ruined by the introduction of a white co-lead played by Ryan Reynolds.

Let’s not forget Denzel Washington, saving the US military in ‘Crimson Tide’, owning it in the truly great ‘Man on Fire’, or putting in one of the best Shakespearean performances I’ve ever seen in Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, or even rescuing the HIV positive Tom Hanks in ‘Philadelphia’.

Millions of non-woke white people watched these films happily and loved them and celebrated them and awarded them with important artistic awards. These are serious stars in serious, global films, thriving in an industry that, yes, is dominated by white people – probably purely because of the demographics of the US.

In the midst of all this, Americans, with a black population of around 12 percent of the total, elected a black man twice as president.

Yet – ‘Black Panther’ comes out and the world is pretending they have never watched a film with black people in them. What gives?

Clearly race relations around the world are moving backwards – despite so much of the progress happening in society at the same time.

Let’s just run through a few intriguing things happening around the world apart from ‘Black Panther’.

In South Africa, if you even question the concept of ‘white privilege’ – as a label with which you can define every single person with white skin in the country as being complicit in colonialism – as I recently did, you get slammed, by both young white and black people.

Let’s factor in more recent phenomena too – the call to de-colonise universities, the burning down of libraries and paintings, the call to cut the throat of whiteness, to seize land, to declare all white societies racist and oppressive, the looting and burning of towns like Coligny – none of which can be shown to provide any kind of improvement to anybody’s life.

We’ve seen people sentenced to prison time for placing an intruder in a coffin or saying the ‘k-word’ (both of which are really deplorable things to do), while millions still support a politician who has literally stolen billions of rand from the poor, one Jacob Zuma (whose odds of facing prison time still remain miniscule).

Winnie Mandela has also recently been canonized by the press around the world – despite the fact that her bizarre gang literally kidnapped and killed people for a number of years. Yes, I know, she suffered horribly too – but a lot of people suffer and don’t commit murder.

In the US, race riots have returned. The Black Lives Matter movement is now part of mainstream academic thought – despite the fact that studies – like this one from black Harvard professor, Roland Fryer – show that there is no racial bias in police shootings.

There are plenty of stories which seem to undermine all the recent anger in ‘woke’ circles, particularly in South Africa:

1. Whites are now only less than eight percent of the South African population. At what point will such a minority, with little political power, cease to be considered dominant?

2. The black middle class has trebled over the past twelve years while the white middle class has shrunk.

3. During apartheid black life expectancy rose fairly dramatically and since the end of apartheid, it has dropped. Can it be that the majority-elected ANC needs to take more responsibility for our problems? Not for all of them, granted, but they have been in power for decades now.

4. It is worth noting that it is quite possible that all this vitriol is simply a fixation on the part of the media and the universities. Recently, the Institute of Race Relations in South Africa released a study which showed that racism is not a major concern for the vast majority of South Africans. Most black South African don’t even care about quotas or affirmative action – they just want government that works and a shot at a decent job. See here for the full report. In which case, media and intellectuals have some explaining to do as to why they are not listening to the man on the street.

The dissonance between the real world and the angry spirit of the age is noted in various other things happening around the world:

1. You hear stories like this one in the US, in which the founder of Black Entertainment Television, Robert Johnson, credits Donald Trump with helping to bring down black unemployment levels to their lowest ever in history – which they currently are. Think about that for a moment.

2. At the same time, white life-spans in the US are falling – in an epidemic of suicide and addiction that sees more Americans die each year than in the combined conflicts of Iraq and Vietnam. See here and here.

3. Theresa May, the British Prime Minister (the second female Conservative PM, governing during the reign of the longest-serving monarch, the female Queen Elizabeth II), recently pointed out that white working class boys have the smallest chance of any demographic in the UK of making it to university.

4. Add in the fact that life is materially better for people worldwide than at any time in human history, and it becomes really quite strange that young people are suddenly so angry and willing to burn things down and accuse white people, and white men in particular, of having destroyed the world?

This anger towards white people, and western culture, is having a reaction though. The US, Italy, Hungary, Austria, and Poland have all elected right-wing, anti-immigration governments recently. Britain is leaving the EU and France and Germany’s most dynamic political parties are the nationalist ones. At the dark edges of these movements, there are real, alt-right racists, consisting of people like Richard Spencer.

The danger we therefore face is of a spiralling conflict between a new left and right wing as they mirror each other into becoming the monsters they fear each other to be – eventually it doesn’t matter whether Hitler or Stalin rules your country, your life is a misery either way.

What can be done to solve this angry spirit of grievance, made visible in the phenomenon of ‘Black Panther’?

I don’t have any simple answers. The fractures in our body politic run deep, and seem almost spiritual in nature.

But I know for sure there are some things we need to stop doing.

We simply have to stop playing the identity politics game.

The postmodern idea that politics is all about who holds power needs to be transcended with a return to the classical tradition of Aristotle and Plato, in which politics does include power, but mostly it is about society reaching towards the common good, not constantly searching for victims and oppressors.

This is why the traditional Aristotelian, and Christian, division of society into person, family, village, and state have been eroded and transmogrified into a liquid global citizenship with no loyalty or kinship other than that between victimhood groups and wealth status. You can’t have functioning states and families in an age in which all hierarchy is seen as oppressive, and in which gender is some unstable construct.

Yes – there have been victims in our history and society – and yes, we need to alleviate each other’s suffering. But victimhood and oppressor status cannot simply be worn as a badge. If you are doing something unjust, society needs to do something about it. The fabric of reality cannot be changed for you. Your ‘lived experience’ isn’t the only reality. That is why when democracy was born in Athens, so too was tragedy. Without a tragic view that humanity can never be perfected, a society becomes susceptible to dictatorships promising utopia in exchange for power.

The trouble is that somewhere along the line we started believing that concepts like goodness and justice are all simply relative, that you have no binding loyalty toward your family or country, and the results have been horrific.

Without technology like vaccines and high-tech agriculture ameliorating all our bad political decisions of the last hundred years, we would have all felt the full extent of the misery resulting from democratizing all virtue and honour – to the point that we worry more about what white people say in this country than the fact that infant rape is pretty common, and that most kids don’t know or respect their father.

It is time to stop talking about revolution, and movements, and privilege, and colonialism. Even if for no other reason that they distract us from the urgent business of living together in a way that allows us not to hate each other. Focus on goodness, truth, and beauty instead.

Don’t burn down the past – rather improve it, saving the good, ameliorating the bad, in a pragmatic and hopeful manner. It is important that it is the villain in ‘Black Panther’ who wants to start the world again – ‘The world’s going to start over – I’m going to burn it all!’ He’s right – that is the only way to start the world again. See the French and Russian Revolutions.

Perhaps ‘Black Panther’ has something to teach us after all.