In 2022’s Triangle of Sadness, the first English language film from Force Majeure director Ruben Östlund, Woody Harrelson plays an addled Marxist captain of the Cristina O — in real life, the former yacht of the Onassis family, in the movie a doomed cruise vessel for the ludicrously rich. Harrelson is a jaded observer and capitalist critic who despises his passengers, choosing to order a cheeseburger and fries when others dine on oysters and caviar. He reads passages from Noam Chomsky into the microphone as the wealthy devolve into a roiling pile of puke and shit: “There are very few that are gonna look in the mirror and say, ‘the person I see is a savage monster.’ Instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do.”
The performance is the best part of the film, but it also hardly seems a stretch for Harrelson’s acting range, given his well known hippie politics which seem to have changed little since the Clinton administration, when he was dodging taxes as an act of protest over hemp policies. Yet this same form of peacenik herb blazing Marxism was also clearly an inspiration for his Saturday Night Live monologue this weekend, which prompted applause from the American right and condemnation from the leftist press.
The topic was Covid, and Harrelson advanced an argument near the end of a winding discourse on getting high in Central Park that went like this:
So the movie goes like this…The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes. And people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs and keep taking them over and over.
I threw the script away. I mean, who was going to believe that crazy idea? Being forced to do drugs? I do that voluntarily all day.
The tacked on self-effacement at the end aside, Harrelson’s commentary is obviously aimed directly at the same pharma companies that sustain the advertising not just of NBC but most media networks, entities transformed during the pandemic from greedy cartel-like actors engaged in near constant anti-competitive practices within the marketplace to heroic saviors of humanity, unimpeachable in their aims.
It takes a hippie like Harrelson to reveal the truth: that this form of authoritarian mandate-based regime, in any context divorced from the existence of Donald Trump’s Republican Party and the corporatist Democratic Party of today, would have been met with far more skepticism by a liberal cohort that still believed in individual rights. But today that cohort is, as the media reaction to Harrelson’s comment implies, a shrunken version of its former self.
Woody Harrelson: “The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media…”
— kanekoa.substack.com (@KanekoaTheGreat) February 26, 2023
In the pandemic-focused game The Last of Us, the basis for HBO’s hit series, an opening montage contains a voice actor who sounds very much like Barack Obama saying: “Now with the bureaucrats out of power we can finally take the necessary steps.” The implication by the game’s creators is that authoritarianism naturally arises from politicians and the military, not the unelected administrative state. But the experience of American citizens in the past three years has proven the opposite. The bureaucrats who were never chosen to lead by any voter are far more willing to cooperate with the interests of corporatists and powerful “stakeholders” against the interests of the people and their schoolchildren — in no small part because most of them will rule without any negative consequences whatsoever.
Harrelson’s monologue won’t change any of this. But it is an indication of a positive development within the citizenry, even extending to pothead liberal actors: they are aware now that not all the people they need to be on guard against are elected, and the way those unfireable corporate-owned individuals use power can sometimes be so over the top that even Hollywood couldn’t dream it up. It would be that absurd.