Kingsman: Golden Circular Reasoning

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Shlock attempts to take on the War on Drugs

A rt has many purposes. The motion picture art form is primarily meant to entertain, but seeing it as a vehicle solely for amusement is a sadly limited way to relate to said art form. Long story short – movies often deliver political commentary, however, a film that does so is a film not generally intended to entertain as a priority. When, say, you enter An Inconvenient Truth, you’re not looking to be entertained and you approach said film with a different filter. When political commentary comes from a bubble gum sequel, however, I take notice. Is this how OpEd messages permeate brains? Honestly, I think so.

Hence, when light action sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle suddenly decided it had some points to make about illicit drug trade in our society, well, hey, what’s up with that, cheesy James Bond wannabe film?

[spoilers ahead]

In Golden Circle, drug kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore) runs an entire drug empire from a retro 50s diner carved into a Cambodian jungle. –This film had a thing about sets; don’t get me started– Sick of having to live in Cambodia, Poppy think it’s high time we legalized the trade of drugs like heroin and cocaine in the United States so she can return home, isn’t that sweet?

Now, personally, I think she has a point. The “War on Drugs” began under President Nixon more than forty years ago. I will not bore you with my research; suffice to say I found no significant evidence to suggest (with regards to illegal drug use): 1) demand is waning 2) supply is waning 3) the number of addicts is waning or 4) cartels are disappearing and/or losing power. Now, I understand the moral battle; half the country adopts the knee-jerk Mr. Mackey-ism “drugs are bad” when the subject comes up; heck, Nancy Reagan sucked all the fun out of drugs for my generation … but did “just say no” have any significant effect on drug trade or drug abuse?

There is an excellent case to be made that the War on Drugs has been a complete failure. Think of all the lives that have been lost to drugs, from law enforcement to mules to cartel violence to abusers. How could a different path possibly have been worse?

The problem with the War on Drugs is simple – it is an ideological battle couched as a moral battle. History barely needs to check to know that whenever ideology couches itself as morality, morality gets tossed aside without a second glance. The examples of W’s Iraq War, Abstinence Only education, and Trump’s election are painfully easy examples. I won’t even bother with those (although in Trump’s case, do note how easily even Pro Life folks dismissed or re-imagined their tunnel-vision morality to justify a red vote). The example I choose for this is the ACA or “Obamacare.” Republican congressmen have been so anti-Obamacare for years and years, yet fewer than 10% have actually asked the question, “But is it really a bad thing?” This is what happens when ideology triumphs.

I know there are a few of you who truly believe in the War on Drugs and, I gotta ask — and please consider an honest response– is there anything you point to as a victory? Portugal legalized drugs; the country seems to be doing much better as a result. For tax revenue and cartel-related deaths alone, I think legalization is a perfectly reasonable suggestion.

Ah, but here’s the thing: the character in the film who delivers it is a mass-murdering megalomaniac. When a movie makes a political position come from evil, it can fairly inferred the movie doesn’t support such a position. OK. Golden Circle not a fan of legalizing illicit drugs. Fine. I think you’re wrong, but gotcha.

So to make her point, Poppy lines all her drugs with a slow-acting lethal toxin for which she alone has the antidote and then holds the world for ransom. Yeah, standard movie stuff. I think I saw that plot in the Jack Nicholson Batman.

Now, eventually the demands get to President Bruce Greenwood. And here the film has another opportunity to makes a statement about the War on Drugs. This is, after all, the ultimate political figure – whatever your script has the United States President do is a direct reflection on your politics. And what does the President do upon realizing all drug users in the country have just been handed a death sentence? He says, “fuck ‘em!” He even, what’s the term? “doubles down,” stating callously, “I just won the War on Drugs without lifting a finger.” The President thus implies that if every drug user in the country suddenly died, the problem would end then and there. This is exacerbated by the President literally caging all Poppy’s victims as if nationally enforced quarantine and caged death is a reasonable solution to any problem.

BTW, the “fuck ’em” comment — That’s quite the Donald Trump thing to say, huh? (It’s not much different, IMHO, than “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”) Over-the-top, ill-considered, discriminatory … even has that hint of a self-righteous: “fuck you for not being born me.” Now, at this point in the Trump Presidency, no sane person in this country truly believes that Trump represents morality or even sanity. So having your fictional Trump act callously infers that the exclusive holier-than-thou-all-else-be-damned route is also not the movie’s stance with regards to the War on Drugs.  On top of that, the movie itself clearly feels for the casual victims of Poppy’s madness, giving us sympathetic shots of the victims and showing the concern of loved ones. There are indeed drug users in this country who do not deserve jail time. So first Golden Circle claims drug use is bad and should be illegal, but now the movie here is also saying there are many extenuating circumstances; Golden Circle is saying in the very least that our War on Drugs has misplaced energies, at the most, the film is now contradicting its message from before.

Ok, film, which is it?

One curious note here is that all “News” items in the film are delivered through the format of hideously biased Fox News, a venue infamous for promoting ideology ahead of substance or even, quite frankly, fact. And yet, the moment of President Greenwood calling for no action and snickering about it eventually lands him with handcuffs and impeachment all under the Fox News banner.

That’s weird, right? Fictional or no, this is a significant departure from Fox politics. Fox News, as much or more than any other single entity on this planet, gave rise to the politics of Donald Trump. Fox had to sign off on this Kingsman script. I can’t make a movie and have “Fox News” play a role without permission; it doesn’t work that way. So this moment of the movie’s President Trump being taken in handcuffs may well be fictional, but it makes a significant statement – one being that President Trump should be called out for his discriminatory behavior. It’s possible I’m reading too much into this to which I ask, “how do you interpret it?” President says, “fuck you” to an entire group of people and Fox News concludes, correctly, that President has earned impeachment and jail time. Odd, no?

Of course, my general conclusion with this Fox News enlightenment is the same as my assessment of James Comey: a singular moment of public integrity doesn’t make you not a piece of shit.

As for the film and its political point-of-view? Well, I can’t decide exactly what Golden Circle is trying to say to me. It’s sort of a callous Mackey “drugs are bad” combined with a targeted plea for sympathy, rehab, and treatment — let’s get those folks clean! The drug war is not a simple one. Neither are drug problems. Hence, a film that truly examines the subject, like, say, Traffic, is allowed to come up with several points and no conclusion. Here, however, Kingsman, no one asked your opinion on drugs; we’re here for stunts. Take a solid position or get off my screen.

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