Film & TV

Parasite: Anti-Americanism Returns to the Oscars

So-dam Park and Woo-sik Choi in Parasite (NEON CJ Entertainment)
The PC junk that wins awards thrills the finger-wagging Hollywood elite and their media allies. 

Conservatives should learn that the Academy Awards cannot be taken seriously, despite the nagging desire to participate in the cool-kids’-fun aspect of popular culture even when it goes against good taste and particularly offends everything they claim to believe in. This year’s big winner, Parasite, confirms that the Academy’s basic history of film-industry acclamation has always been a matter of celebrityhood, mitigated by the memory of real glamour, and combined with airhead simple-mindedness.

But Hollywood’s historic liberal tendencies lean even more to the left now. This became especially apparent in the Academy’s recent reorganization of its membership rolls and categories around race and gender equity, a purge that resulted in new political-correctness statutes such as the one that renamed its former Best Foreign Language Film category as Best International Film. That decision obliges Academy voters to march to the faint melody of the Communist Party anthem “The Internationale.” It contradicted itself embarrassingly when Parasite, a South Korean import, took that specialized category as well as the overall Best Picture prize.

I’m reminded of the year the New York Film Critics Circle initiated its Best First Film prize with Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and then went on to the give its Best Film prize to My Left Foot, which was Jim Sheridan’s first film. These inconsistencies are the quirks of democratic participation when it replaces scholarly discrimination. Reason has little to do with the Oscars; they are essentially a popularity contest under the guise of artistic consideration. Anyone who cares about cinematic art knows that Oscar judgments are officially unofficial and to be trusted only as a bellwether of the industry’s liberal sentiment, a confirmation of group consensus — the 99 percent assuming the authority of the 1 percent.

For this reason, Parasite, a sitcom about a family of grifters who invade and destroy an upper-middle-class home, appeals to the festering resentments of today — a time of social flux and political ignorance. It is the first non-English-language film to win the Best Picture Oscar because American liberalism (Hollywood’s conscience) is in such crisis that it has begun to cannibalize its former humanism, violating even its own professed principles. Pop Will Eat Itself.

Some background: When the Oscars used to be part of film culture’s advancement, the Academy initiated a special award for a non-English film — honestly acknowledging U.S. primacy — and then standardized that recognition into the annual Best Foreign Language Film category. This was after World War II, when Italian neorealism and powerful, innovative films such as Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, and Open City shook the world, appealing to the then-burgeoning art-movie market. During the 1960s–70s era known as high modernism, European films such as La Dolce Vita, 8½, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and A Man and a Woman competed in major Oscar categories. (Federico Fellini was a frequent Best Director nominee and Foreign Film winner.)

But after that period of openness, creative fertility, and sophistication, Hollywood’s taste closed in. Its perspective became parochial again and has stayed that way since the early ’80s. (Harvey Weinstein’s successful, high-pressure campaigns for middlebrow foreign films like Life Is Beautiful and The Artist notwithstanding.)

Now, progressivism has had a worse impact on the Oscars than Harvey Weinstein, resulting in award winners that few moviegoers actually care about — only the Fake News elite who have corrupted what’s left of film culture by prioritizing the media’s political bias. That’s how such junk as Moonlight, Argo, Spotlight, The Shape of Water, and Green Book got the Oscar rubber stamp. Parasite is the most odious of all, partly because it is technically more proficient than those films yet without being any more sophisticated. (It builds toward cruel, action-movie sensationalism complete with a maudlin ending.)

Parasite reflects post-Tarantino fanboyism and sadism ironically at the moment when Tarantino made his most mature film with a genuine social context. Director Bong Joon-ho continues the simplistic political allegories of his previous films The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okja, which pushed progressivism’s predictable buttons on ecology, class struggle, and consumerism. What Parasite lacks, and what marks it as of this political moment, is a capacity for empathy and historical perspective — traits distinguished the great Italian neorealist films from Bicycle Thieves to La Strada, even The Battle of Algiers. (The best recent foreign films — The President, Being 17, Vincere, Wild Grass, and Broken Sky — have gone unrecognized.)

The petulance of Parasite caters to the insidious selfishness of Millennial liberals; Bong’s bratty snark credits the Occupy movement and sides with Antifa, cancel culture, and the oxymoronic “Democratic socialists” — perspectives taken on by poorly educated students and mainstream-media dupes. (In fact, the Oscar winner who urged “Workers of the world, unite” was the woman who co-directed American Factory, the Obama-sponsored propaganda film. Perhaps Bong understands South Korea’s secret longing for dictatorship; call it Seoul’s Pyongyang Syndrome.)

Parasite amuses idiots who yearn for revolution regardless of its cost, who consider the Communist slogan “Property is theft” as the basis of a thrill ride. The film’s non-ironic title represents the invasive, Trojan-horse squad favored by media and power-mad politicians who now act out Hollywood’s Vietnam-era curse: American self-hatred. (Hollywood millionaires are always feeling guilty and are always finger-pointing.)

Anti-Americanism has returned to the Oscars fiasco so that its TV spectacle relentlessly promotes a climate-change-health-care-representaton-of-indigenous-peoples-women’s-rights-veganism-black-queer platform — everything except great, challenging film art.

Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

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