1 Cop, 2 Cops, 3 Cops, 4 Cops ~ by John Marshall
Movies that mock the police range from the Keystone Kops to Beverly Hills Cop, from Police Academy to Police Academies 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and Mission to Moscow.
Films that satirize police states are few and far between (Sleeper, Brazil), usually depicting an exaggerated totalitarian system meant to warn us what could happen, but also to reassure us that we aren’t there yet.
Two current films take a different approach, showing characters living under police states that are exaggerated, but not that far removed from our Patriot Act-ruled present day.
What further distinguishes them is that they are not gritty indie films made for an audience of disaffected adults – they are extravaganzas aimed at children.
Now playing at a free speech zone near you are the 3D environmental manifesto The Lorax and the dystopian teen action film The Hunger Games.
What is truly frightening in both movies is the unspoken acceptance of repression as an everyday fact of life, by characters who look and sound just like we do (if a little stylized).
In The Lorax surveillance cameras are everywhere, making this the first cartoon that is as Orwellian as it is Seussian. Instead of The Cat in the Hat, there’s a robot tabby that keeps tabs on the innocent. (Its motto could be “I Can Spy All By Myself.”)
Bad-guy elected officials have been a cartoon staple forever, but here pint-sized O’Hare is not just mayor, he is also a corporation president, who profits handsomely by preventing citizens from having access to free, clean air (instead he sells it to them in plastic bottles).
O’Hare embodies, in one classic comic character, both a police state and the lack of a boundary between business and government that makes such a thing possible, and does so with buffoonery, slapstick and other low-comedy devices that paint the story’s highest authority figure as so obviously wrong that a child couldn’t miss it.
The authorities in The Hunger Games are also comic figures, but chilling ones. With their gaudy, garish costumes and exaggerated speaking styles, they are like a cross between Batman villains and Lady Gaga, but grotesquely inhuman.
Here humor is used not to relieve tension, but to increase it. When the chaperone Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks) speaks to the potentially doomed Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), it’s in cheerful, proper tones, as if Mary Poppins had become an executioner.
On the other hand, Katniss’s stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), both have a genuine sense of humor, which doesn’t serve them in a society so dead its members can only feel hope by watching child murder.
There are enough references in both The Lorax and The Hunger Games to contemporary culture to make it impossible to think you are watching visions of the future. Instead, you are watching commentaries on the present, both of which wield satire as a weapon.
Satire in The Lorax is no less blunt than in The Hunger Games; both are saying, in their own way, that cooperating with evil isn’t just wrong, it’s ridiculous.
Comedy has made similar warnings before.
The first film to parody Hitler was You Nazty Spy by The Three Stooges, which came out nine months before The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin.
Low comedians are often the first to see people in authority, from the mildly inflexible to the insanely evil, as comic figures.
However, no less a highbrow comedian than Woody Allen has said that only drama can deal with truth directly, that comedy can dance around a problem but can’t solve it.
Nevertheless, two films are dancing as fast as they can, teaching that a police state in any form is so ridiculous, a child couldn’t miss it.
But adults take more convincing, so Steve Guttenberg and Kim Cattrall should reunite for a movie even Effie Trinkett couldn’t deny – Police State Academy: No Shirt, No Shoes, No First Amendment Rights.
Thanks to APV’s friend and activist, John Marshall for today’s post.
John Marshall is a writer/comedian who has written for The Chris Rock Show (Emmy nomination), Politically Incorrect, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn and the current version of The Electric Company. He has also written for Bazooka Joe comics. He contributes a political comedy blog to The Huffington Post.