There is a humor capable of deactivating the political message, of undressing it, of breaking the intensity and of returning it to the street. There is another humor, however, that reinforces the message, that is an accomplice of power, of the status quo and that, as in The Gatopardo, lets laugh so that nothing changes. Adam McKay’s comedies are clearly in the first group. The scriptwriter, seasoned in the Saturday Night Live and in the hooligan comedy, he entered the election campaign in 2015 with The big scam.
In the United States, there were many people angry that they had to pay the price of the junk mortgage crisis, the Wall Street collapse, unemployment and other systemic violence. The cinema gave great movies about that, as it did about the Great Depression in its day. His comedy hit the mark as a scam and won an Oscar for best screenplay. McKay went to more. He went even further into politics. He decided to make a brutal satire of the Iraq War or, rather, of the corruption and bribery behind the decision to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. Dick Cheney He was the man who was forever ridiculed in the movies.
In Don’t look up, its new premiere, what it does is satirize current politics. His decision making, his relationships with money, with power; but above all the dangerousness of the media turned into production machines fake news and to avoid any ominous theme. They don’t like catastrophic speeches. Nobody wants to be told not to eat a steak. Nobody wants to know what pollution will do to our lungs. We all want to drink beer in freedom. The truth is that Ayuso could be one more character in this satire that shows how politics would act in the face of the end of the world. Two scientists discover that a meteorite will destroy the planet unless action is taken soon, but the policy deadlines do not serve scientific reasons, neither in fiction nor in reality.
Parodying the photography and aesthetics of catastrophe films, especially Armageddon, McKay strips his characters of heroism and places them in a hostile world full of nonsense. It is a portrait of the ordinary in politics. What the French George Perec called the “infraordinary.”
Famous singers raising money for a good cause who don’t even know what it is. Dull scientists who are hooked on the power of being on television. Presenters of television magazines who believe themselves to be the queens of the mornings and are a real political and social danger. Chiefs of staff who do not need to keep chess pieces in their pockets, presidents who play show business and sell everything public to their business friends. Self-made entrepreneurs who donate things to the public while earning double by taking advantage of their friends. It is not a portrait of Spain, but it looks like it.
Meryl Streep shows her sense of humor by returning the insults she received at Trump. He imitates a media president, superficial, rich and a danger in case of disaster. We saw it during the pandemic, an allusion that is recurrent throughout the footage. Don’t Look Up is a film against climate change, against deniers, but it also talks about what has happened these years. Of the hoaxes, of the lack of commitment … He does it with humor because it is the best tool to understand things, to break the official discourse and to combat the noise that we have now.
If we look deeper, behind gags and parodies, Adam McKay is designing in his last three films a portrait of the capitalist apocalypse. This is basically a portrait of what money and the obsession with wealth cause the great evils of American society, and therefore the world world, in recent decades. Greed was the key to the economic crisis that led to The Big Scam. Greed moved Dick Cheney to turn world geopolitics upside down. Greed moves the character of Meryl Streep -the president-, Jonah Hill -the chief of staff- and Mark Rylance -the cool businessman- to do nothing against the meteorite because its impact could make them even richer.
Humor makes what we seem to know to take on a different dimension. Those everyday situations are actually great lessons about the human condition. Mckay, producer of one of the series of the year, Succession, use comedy to understand the human, as the critic Jordi Costa says, to dissolve the borders that divide society.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.