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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Magnificent Seven movie review: a dusty, dry husk of a movie

The Magnificent Seven red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Humorless, rote, clichéd, and entirely unsurprising. Antoine Fuqua attempts to recapture old Hollywood magic — and fails — rather than create his own.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): really tired of the remake craze
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Here’s an idea: Take the “original” 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, about a buncha white guys coming to the aid of poor Mexican villagers, and remake it exactly the same for 2016, and all of a sudden it has a whole anti-anti-immigrant thing going on, an atmosphere that scoffs at the border-based bigotry that is so popular these days.

Here’s an idea: Take inspiration from the actual original Magnificent Seven — 1954’s Seven Samurai — and do a remake set in the not-so-old West of 1940s Japanese internment camps, in which patriotic Japanese-Americans fight back against being treated like traitors and criminals, and suddenly a shameful era in American history that no one wants to talk about gets epic kickass big-screen exposure.

Find a damn reason to remake a classic film if that’s what you gotta do. Uncover an angle on the story that was not previously explored.
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Here’s an idea: Redo The Magnificent Seven and have a diverse band of justice-minded rogues and scoundrels — led by a black man, to avoid White Savior Syndrome — come to the aid of a free black town in the Old West that is being harassed and terrorized by a rapacious robber-baron mining-company owner who wants to steal their land, and now you’ve got a #BlackLivesMatter vibe that could not be more of the moment. (There really were free black towns in the Old West, so you don’t even have to make that up.)

Here’s an idea: While you’re inventing your new gang of badasses, make two of the seven women — maybe an old hand and a young woman craving freedom and adventure who learns hard lessons from her older mentor — and now you’re beginning to right the wrong of how women get written out of history, and out of movies. (Female gunslingers were a thing! It’s not a feminist fantasy!)

“Is that maybe the point of this whole shindig I’m seeing ridin’ in over the horizon?” *squints* “Nope, just a mirage.”

“Is that maybe the point of this whole shindig I’m seeing ridin’ in over the horizon?” *squints* “Nope, just a mirage.”tweet

But find a damn reason to remake a classic film if that’s what you gotta do. Uncover an angle on the story that was not previously explored. Find a way to make it fresh and different and relevant for today. Make sure no one who has paid good money to see your movie finds themselves wondering why they bothered, why they’re supposed to care about your movie, and why they shouldn’t have just stayed home and watched the 1960 film on demand (it’s available all over the place).

Spoiler: Director Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw, The Equalizer) did not do any of these things. Instead, he just threw every cliché of the Western up on the screen. From the moment Denzel Washington’s lawman steps up the saloon doors and the piano player stops playing to the “surprise” redemptive change of heart of a bad-man-who-ain’t-so-bad-after all, there is not a single, solitary sliver of this same-old Magnificent Seven that is unexpectedtweet. The villain — a robber-baron mining bossman played by Peter Sarsgaard (Black Mass, Experimenter) — is every greedy Western bad guy ever who’s trying to drive off the innocent townfolk who dare to be scratching out a living on land that is rightfully his. (Harvey Korman was much funnier in the same role in Blazing Saddles.) Men will fly through plate-glass windows onto dusty streets. Bored saloon doxies will sashay around in the background (the Old West equivalent of weary strippers swinging around a pole as set dressing). The ending is so absolutely foregone a conclusion that it’s the most criminal thing that happens onscreen.

The characters are as tossed together as the plot, which has no dramatic rise and fall and features no personal journeys or discoveries for anyone.
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There is no irony in any of this, no apparent awareness that the cascade of clichés is a pile of junk with which we are already intimately familiar. There is no humor, no winking, no having any sort of fun with it. There’s no fun at all here, just the rote tedium of going through motions that often don’t even make sense. After Washington’s (2 Guns, Flight) Chisolm is hired by that town under siege to fight off the villain harassing them, he wanders around assembling a band of men to help with the battle, and half of them are entirely random, men he does not know and has no reason to trust. And the script — by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer, The Expendables 2) and Nic Pizzolatto — doesn’t bother trying to build any relationships among them. They are as tossed together as the plot, which fails to create any energy or excitement, which has no dramatic rise and fall and features no personal journeys or discoveries for anyone. It is merely a matter of This Happens, Then That Happens, Then Some of This, Later Some More of That.

It’s true that the band of seven is wonderfully racially diverse, and features not only Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy), Ethan Hawke (Regression, Ten Thousand Saints), and an almost unrecognizable Vincent D’Onofrio (Run All Night, The Judge), but also Korean actor Byung-hun Lee (Terminator Genisys, Red 2), Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Native American actor Martin Sensmeier. This cast looks great onscreen together, and we need to see more casts like this. But that’s not story, and diversity by itself it is not enough to make a movietweet, especially when the nonwhite characters are not defined by their nonwhiteness. That’s a good thing in general: nonwhite actors should be cast in colorblind roles far more often than they are, which they mostly are here apart from a few tossed-off asides about their nonwhiteness that have no impact whatsoever on anything. But in this particular case, if a diverse cast is all a movie has that’s fresh and yet there’s no exploration of their experience as nonwhite people in a genre that desperately needs that, then, well, as I said, that diversity is not enough.

The Female... though she is not part of the Seven, and hence not Magnificent.

The Female… though she is not part of the Seven, and hence not Magnificent.tweet

And that gets diminished — severely — by the utter lack of gender diversity. Sure, Chisolm is hired by the recently widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett: The Equalizer, Marley & Me), but she is all but a nonentity. She exists in the story to motivate Chisolm — she reminds him of his sister, apparently — and so that the gang of badass dudes can laugh at her spunk, and then she is shuffled off and barely appears again unless it’s to get a bit of cleavage onscreen. (Bennett looks so much like Jennifer Lawrence that I like to imagine that the script was offered to Lawrence and she laughed at what an empty shell the “character” is, and was insulted to think that anyone thought she’d be happy with such a role.) At one point, when the gang has been assembled and is en route to the town accompanied by Cullen, Hawke’s former Confederate army sniper finds himself amused by the team, how they’ve got all the players: “the drunk Irishman,” “the Texican”… and “the female.” Maybe this was meant to be a jokey reference to Western clichés? But it sounds more like this is taking place on the Enterprise holodeck and someone let a Ferengi play in the Old West programtweet.

(Sometimes, when I’m struggling to find something nice to say about a movie, I joke to myself that, “Hey, everything was in focus,” that, you know, the film achieves a basic level of competence in craft. But I cannot say the same here. I saw Seven in IMAX, but the film was not shot in IMAX, and the process used to blow up the image results in bits and pieces of it looking fuzzy and blurry too often.)

The racially diverse cast looks great together. But that’s not story, and diversity by itself it is not enough to make a movie.
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I wish I could figure out what anyone involved here thought the point of the whole endeavor was.tweet The most generous explanation I can come up with — and it’s not that kind — is that Fuqua & Co. figured it was easier to try to recapture some old Hollywood magic instead of creating their own. But there’s one tiny tell here that suggests they knew precisely how bad an idea that was. During the big finale battle, suddenly there’s a quick horse stunt outta nowhere. Though there’s been nothing like this before, now Chisolm is doing a fancy riding trick in the saddle. It happens very quickly, it takes place in near darkness, and it’s over and gone before you realize it was happening. There’s a furtiveness and a sense of embarrassment to it, as if as soon as it began, the movie knew it was a mistake, and instantly vowed not to try that again.

If only that impulse had kicked in the moment someone suggested remaking The Magnificent Seven in the first place.


red light 1.5 stars

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The Magnificent Seven (2016) | directed by Antoine Fuqua
US/Can release: Sep 23 2016
UK/Ire release: Sep 23 2016

MPAA: rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence)

viewed in 2D IMAX
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Trying to decide if, as Seven Samurai remakes go, it was better than Battle Beyond the Stars. It certainly didn’t think it would be, given that the score used so many cues from that movie, they ended up giving (the late) James Horner a credit. (And my first thought, when Peter Sarsgaard appeared, was “Needs more John Saxon”.)

  • Matt Clayton

    Actually, James Horner wrote several themes for “Seven”, just going by the script he’d been sent. He had sent those to his arranger, Simon Franglen, before he died in the plane crash. Fuqua loved the demo themes Horner had sent, and had Franglen write the score utilizing those themes.

  • Kellyfergison

    I’m sorry that the movie wasn’t an estrogen-fueled revenge film

  • Your condolences are appreciated, but what does this have to do with anything?

  • amanohyo

    Funny you should mention that. I’ve been working on a screenplay for an urban Seven Samurai remake set in Chicago’s South Side starring six women and one man. It’s not amazing yet, but at least it’s mildly thought-provoking. The original film not only contained groundbreaking action scenes, it also wove in interesting messages about class, morality, duty, defeat, and identity. Every remake seems less and less introspective and socially relevant, and more and more predictable and dull. Mel Brooks was more thoughtful and dare I say it, subtle with his approach to this concept over 40 years ago. I am not a fan of Blazing Saddles, so that is doubly pathetic.

    Why not honor the original by making a film that’s both a great showcase of fresh action scene ideas and also morally and socially nuanced? This is the the fifth(?) remake that stars mostly dudes – one even starred a bunch of mostly dude insects (I guess formic acid-fueled revenge films are fine and dandy as long as no icky estrogen is involved). Anyway, ranting aside, how many estrogen-fueled revenge films starring a team of mostly women have you seen lately? The Violent Years? Yes, Madam? Seriously, please tell me the titles because I will watch the shit out of them all*

    *does not apply to movies with “Sucker,” “Punch” or “Angels” in the title

  • amanohyo

    I just listened to an interview with Fuqua on fresh air, and other than the obligatory vapid “everyone was so wonderful” namedropping, circle-jerk, it’s clear that this was a work of pure nostalgia for him. His goal was to recreate the feeling of the classic westerns he watched with his grandma as a child. Apparently, his primary motivation for placing Denzel in the title role was that he thought he’d look cool dressed in black riding a horse. If Fuqua was telling the truth in the interview, and he seems to be, the bar was set pretty low from the get-go.

    He obviously appreciates the moral depth of Seven Samurai on some level – what a shame he failed to recapture it or better yet, as the review suggests, refocus the script on one or more of the many, many relevant issues facing us today. Seven Samurai was not merely an escapist action film – it had something of real value to say to a Japanese people who were struggling with their identity during the rapid transformation of their society after WWII. Does this movie have anything to say other than “good guys should shoot bad guys?” Maybe in the light of Black Lives Matter he thought that simple message needed reinforcing, but I was hoping for so much more.

    http://www.npr.org/2016/09/21/494872430/magnificent-seven-director-on-staying-true-to-the-original-films-message

  • Kellyfergison

    I heard that Dressmaker qualifies as an estrogen-fueled revenge thriller

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Interesting. The score overall didn’t seem particularly Horner-esque, but the BBtS callbacks are plain as day. (As are the callbacks to Elmer Berstein’s theme from the 1960 film.)

  • Carlotta

    Do not listen to MaryAnn! I have to say, looking at her photo, I would not take advice from her on what is relevant or worthy. Is that the best you could look for a professional photo? Good grief- put on some makeup and do something to that hair! There’s a real critique for you. And why make so many ridiculous demands on how this film should have been made, including how women should have been showcased more as gunslingers, taking their rightful place in history? Get off your politically correct high horse. We are tired of it. Things don’t have to be politically correct. It’s not War and Peace- it’s a new take on an old spaghetti western. It’s not for people who need a safe-space with non-triggering movie lines.

    We saw M7 last night and it was AWESOME. Will not disappoint – pure entertainment.

  • Matt Clayton

    Franglen mentioned the callbacks to Bernstein’s theme were meant to be similar to Michael Giacchino’s callbacks to Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek” theme in the new trilogy.

    And looking at the various story pitches MAJ made during her “Magnificent” review… why aren’t studio brass taking meetings with her? I like the Japanese internment camp angle myself.

  • Apparently, his primary motivation for placing Denzel in the title role was that he thought he’d look cool dressed in black riding a horse.

    He *does* look cool. That’s not a movie, though: it’s a themed fashion shoot.

  • Carlotta

    Newsflash: this is not War and Peace, nor should every movie be politically correct (i.e., women gunslingers, etc.). Please stop the conformist demands on art. Good grief, your attempts at philosophizing a spaghetti western are comical at best. This movie was pure entertainment, the box office is proof.

  • Kathy_A

    I love your alternate remake ideas, MaryAnn! Especially the one that sets The Seven Samurai at Manzanar. That would be an amazing film.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Back for another bite at the apple,eh? Well, you managed to avoid petty personal insults this time, so I’ll just note that you don’t seem to understand the meaning of the terms “spaghetti western”, “conformist”, or “politically correct”.

    Also, it did ok, don’t oversell it. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=4225&p=.htm

  • CB

    “Don’t make conformist demands! Also, people asking for more than traditional representations in movies should get with the program, this is just how it is, so be quiet!”

  • Bluejay

    The only thing the box office proves is how many people saw the movie, not how many people enjoyed it. The ticket I bought for Batman v Superman doesn’t mean I didn’t throw up in my mouth as I was watching it.

  • Carlotta

    You prove my point. Disagree (don’t conform) and you are told to e quiet.

  • Carlotta

    I understand those terms perfectly, you can “note” your own self-importance instead. You guys are cracking me (and a certain well-known director) UP. The review and academic responses are priceless. I hope the tedious philosophizing about this serious film will continue for our enjoyment! 😂

  • amanohyo

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to be your argument:

    1) Everyone watching this should have expected mindless escapism. Your standards should be just as low as mine and you shouldn’t think so much about everything that you consume. (N5, G5, and O5 on the Bingo Board by the way)

    2) A western with a team of female gunslingers would be too politically correct, despite the fact that women have been slinging guns since at least the 50’s in The Furies, Annie Get Your Gun, Gunsmoke, The Cisco Kid, etc. Ah, who could forget that paragon of political correctness, the 1950’s.

    3) Don’t force art to conform by judging it based on your personal standards and then communicating your honest, thoughtful opinions. If art conforms to my standards and is popular, it is objectively entertaining. People who disagree with my subjective opinions about art are objectively wrong.

    Can you see how some might find this line of reasoning unconvincing? The only big-budget, mainstream Hollywood westerns starring a team of mostly women I can think of are Bad Girls (1994) and 7 Women (1966, and barely a western). Gang of Roses (2003) is very low budget and very horrible, and Bandidas (2006) is sort of a foreign film and two barely counts as a team.

    There are a trickle of movies with a single woman gunslinger main character, but a lot of those are foreign (The Belle Starr Story, Hannie Caulder), low budget (The Ballad of Little Jo), comedies (Cat Ballou, Calamity Jane), or co-produced by their stars (The Quick and The Dead, Jane Got a Gun). I don’t see any correlation between political correctness (which I am not a huge fan of either) and the percentage of big-budget westerns that star teams of gunslinging women.

    In fact, the only recent mainstream Hollywood action-ish movies that star a team of more than two women doing anything together are Sucker Punch, the Charlie’s Angels Movies, and the Ghostbusters remake, and of those only Sucker Punch tries (and fails) to take its world and characters somewhat seriously. I suppose a case could be made for Mad Max: Fury Road, but the other women aren’t really costars.

    I understand that it feels to you like the world is becoming super PC and feminized and soon there won’t be any socially irrelevant popcorn flicks left that star manly macho men with guns, but just take a deep breath and skim all the other reviews. Now skim a list of scheduled releases for the next few months. Don’t you feel like you might be overreacting a little? After all, it’s just a movie.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well, no, you don’t. Start with the least controversial: Spaghetti Western. This movie is not a Spaghetti Western -it’s just a Western. The 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven” was not a Spaghetti Western – it was also just a Western. The Spaghetti Westerns were all European productions from the late ’50s to the early ’70s. American westerns didn’t even try to ape the style until after the success of “A Fistful of Dollars”… in 1964.

    Now try “conformist”. This movie is highly conformist. It’s basically a nostalgia trip for Fuqua and Washington. And besides, are you under the impression your desire for low-brow pure entertainments is some sort of transgressive act? Please, there may be children reading.

    Finally, you’re using “politically correct” as shorthand for “anything I don’t like”. Here’s an act of political correctness: standing for the national anthem at a sporting event for no other reason than because that’s just what you do.

    You keep trying to speak for other people, Carlotta, but I’m afraid you speak for yourself only. You’ve got yourself all wrapped up in some sort of victim mentality because someone on the internet has the temerity to have a different take on a movie than you do. If that “well known director” (*eyeroll*) is laughing, they’re doing it all the way to the bank, with your money.

  • Women gunslingers are not “politically correct.” Geez, if you’re gonna throw around buzzwords, at least know what you’re talking about.

    Also: I’m asking for the exact opposite of “conformity.”

  • Glad I could make you laugh. Why not become a subscriber and support my comedy?

  • Carlotta

    Bravo! Again, thank you for the entertainment! Keep it coming! This is better than an SNL skit.

  • Wow. Your reading comprehension truly is terrible. CB is not telling you to shut up. He’s saying you’re telling me to shut up!

    Oh, and disagreement is NOT nonconformity.

  • Carlotta

    Our argument is that, um, maybe you should get a life.

  • I think you should stop commenting here. You are clearly uninterested (or unable) in having a reasonable conversation about film.

  • Carlotta

    Of course they aren’t. But you want more women with prominent roles. My point is that you are tearing apart this director’s version of a classic, giving your personal op on how it should have been done. I am saying that you are trying really hard to appear deeply philosophical with something that just isn’t that relevant, as are those responding here. But, we are enjoying it, and hope you will continue.

  • Carlotta

    I understand- this is your blog, and you need philosophize to appear relevant.

  • Carlotta

    Now that is funny.

  • I don’t think you understand how film criticism works. Why are you even here?

  • Oh dear. If I’m irrelevant, what does that make you, getting so worked up about my irrelevance?

    You know what: I think you know that I’m far from irrelevant. And that scares you or bothers you for some reason.

  • Bluejay

    You sure seem to care a lot about commenting on something that you say you don’t care about.

  • CB

    Exactly — don’t conform to your standards of what movies should be, ask for more, and you tell us to be quiet. The only point being proven is that you are a projecting hypocrite.

  • RogerBW

    “His goal was to recreate the feeling of the classic westerns he watched with his grandma as a child.” I can do that by buying the DVD for £1.57 + £1.26 UK delivery. Can I keep the change from the $90 million?

    Now you can make an argument that a 1960 style of storytelling won’t work for a modern cinema audience – I certainly know people who have no patience with “slow” films – but I don’t think anyone involved was thinking about that; I think they just thought, as always, that this is a marketable name.

    I don’t know who these people are who are seeing it. The most usual reaction I met was a groan just at the title on a par with the groans that greet M. Night Shyamalan’s name in the credits.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Carlotta doesn’t appear to understand much, and when confronted with that lack of understanding, can only lash out and/or giggle nervously. Very adolescent behavior. Perhaps mommy and daddy need to monitor Carlotta’s internet usage more closely?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Y’know, it’s ok to admit you’re wrong. It’s ok to say, “Oh, I thought Spaghetti Western just refered to all westerns”. Or “I suppose I should get a better understanding of what ‘politically correct’ means.” Or “Actually, I would like it if things conformed to a more conservative worldview.” Your ego will survive.

  • X164

    OK, you want to know another reason.

    With the UN Security Council gathering together in emergency setting about Syria, someone said:
    “with all that’s going on, people forget what it was that caused the Syrian War.” I responded, “Don’t even know now who the rebels are. I recall something about the Arab Spring, I don’t know for sure…”
    He said: “Well, farmers’ soil turned to desert and they asked for help from the government, they were starving. Government refused, farmers took up arms…”
    I turned away, feeling sheepish and said to him: “Don’t fool me, we’ve been watching that yesterday in The Magnificent Seven.”
    He: “that pretty much sums it up, yes.”

    Your point about immigrants (“and all of a sudden it has a whole anti-anti-immigrant thing going on, an atmosphere that scoffs at the border-based bigotry that is so popular these days.”) is more to the point than you figured before writing your review.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Again with the “we”. Not only are you trying to make some sort of fallacious and unsupported argument from popularity, but the voices in your head don’t constitute a socio-political movement.

  • bronxbee

    what i want to know is, why isn’t the director making something original, with a vision of his own? which, at the very least would be *original*, even if it’s not a good movie. instead, he has made a mediocre remake of a movie he loved (i assume). he could have made a western that was original that reflected his love of old movie westerns.

  • *The Magnificent Seven,* but set amidst the Arab Spring!

  • Carlotta

    I think you might want to check your own reading comprehension here, because it’s really hard to tell who CB is talking about.

  • Carlotta

    I can’t begin to tell you how funny it is to make a bet that you will respond to anything I say (because you just can’t stand it) with a lengthy, oh-so empirical answer and win. So far I’ve won $40. It’s double or nothing if you answer again.

  • Carlotta

    Wow. I thought that was an $80 comment, but my amigo noticed you posted 3 hours ago. Dang! Please try again and help a brother out.

  • Bluejay

    it’s really hard to tell who CB is talking about.

    No, it’s really not.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Add “empirical” to the list of words you don’t understand. Enjoy the money. My condolences to your friend.

  • Carlotta

    I knew would would have to respond! Thanks!

  • Danielm80

    One of my favorite quotes from the TV show Taxi:

    LOUIE: You know what I hate about you, Rieger?
    ALEX: What’s that?
    LOUIE: You’re always giving me that holier-than-thou attitude.
    ALEX: Well, I’m sorry, Lou. It’s just that thou art so easy to be holier than.

  • Stacy Livitsanis

    I’m going to see this in a few days, not because I want to but because my father wants to, and he won’t go to the cinema unless I take him. He loves Westerns and Denzel Washington and can’t wait. If it gives him some amount of pleasure I’ll suffer through it, even though I’d rather have smallpox than see any more movies like this. If any one of your alternatives were to be made, that would be magnificent, but sadly I’m not holding my breath. I expect that this will be so mediocre and banal that I’ll forget about it while I’m still watching it.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Yes, Carlotta, I do in fact recognize a double-dog-dare when I see one. I’m not sure why you think that it would be a means of controlling the behavior of others. Assuming you’re actually an adult, of course.

    Also, “would would”.

  • You are gone.

  • I’ve banned Carlotta.

  • IntrepidNormal

    I tried explaining to my mom and niece why I wished they had genderswapped two of the seven (my picks would have been the comanche, played by Q’orianka Kilcher, and the overweight bearded fella, played by Kathy Bates). They gave me so much shit, my FEMALE relatives didn’t understand why the smurfette principal is super tired.

  • Danielm80

    That reminds me of a truism: Fish can’t see water.

    Here’s another truism: First they ignore us. Then they laugh at us. Then they fight us. Then we win.

    Congratulations. You made it to step two.

  • Bluejay

    I don’t really care for the second truism, because it’s highly likely that Donald Trump loves quoting it too.

  • You mean the “Then they laugh at us” part? But then you can invoke Carl Sagan’s “But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

  • Bluejay

    Well, yeah, that’s why I don’t care for the truism. If anyone from enlightened revolutionaries to demagogues to clowns can invoke it, then it doesn’t really mean much of anything at all.

  • Danielm80

    “Give peace a chance” doesn’t mean a lot, either, but it’s still a pretty good idea. Short, aspirational quotes are a great way to sum up a movement, or to start a movement. You still have to do the work. For example, before we get to “Then they fight us,” we have to build an us and convince them that feminism is worth fighting for. IntrepidNormal’s relatives show how difficult that is. Doesn’t mean we aren’t going to win.

    Almost any inspirational idea, if you condense it into a catchy slogan, can be repurposed badly. Even Martin Luther King’s “content of their character” quote is used all the time as an argument against diversity in hiring and diversity onscreen.

    “Make America great again” could be used as a rallying cry to return to the progressive values of the 1960s, or to improve the quality of the U.S. educational system. And if we improved our educational system, more people might look past the catchy slogans and think about the values they represent. I think that the fake Gandhi “Then they laugh at us” quotation is a pretty great summary of the challenges faced by people working for social change. To actually create social change, you need much more than a slogan, but sometimes an inspirational quote keeps you inspired while you’re fighting the revolution.

    Barack Obama, paraphrasing Deval Patrick:

    Don’t tell me that words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words. ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words. Just speeches. It’s true that speeches don’t solve all problems, but what is also true is that if we can’t inspire the country to believe again, then it doesn’t matter how many plans and policies we have.

  • Bluejay

    Almost any inspirational idea, if you condense it into a catchy slogan, can be repurposed badly.

    But the vaguest ones can be repurposed more easily than others. MLK’s “content of their character” quote is repurposed INCORRECTLY, because there’s no way a valid reading of it can justify opposing diversity. But “they ignore/laugh at/fight us, then we win” CAN’T be repurposed incorrectly, because there is NO group or cause or idea that it excludes, and nothing for which it couldn’t serve as a rallying cry. It’s contentless, in the way that MLK’s speeches and the Declaration of Independence are not. If it tries to mean everything, then it stands for nothing.

    I agree that “Make America great again” can mean anything depending on whether you’re a racist (i.e. the current sloganeers) or a progressive, which is why I think it’s another terrible slogan.

  • halavana

    sounds like I should just skip it and watch Blazing Saddles again…

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