George Walford: The Enduring Base (5)

In the sacred cause of research we recently submitted to ordeal by boredom. It consisted of sitting, with our eyes more or less open for most of the time, through a film entitled Rambo.

We have previously noted the immense success of films such as Jaws, The Exorcist and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and pointed out that this was good evidence for continuing mass belief in supernatural powers. The success of Rambo shows there has been no substantial change in the interval. Devoid of the human quality of intelligence, not having enough sense to come in out of the bullets, the eponymous hero is immune to explosives, firearms, exhaustion and the after-effects of torture, victorious single-handed not only over the enemy – whatever their numbers – but also over the highly-placed traitor on his own side. His helicopter does not suffer the limitations of ordinary ones; like himself, it is able to take an almost unlimited amount of punishment and still keep going. Rambo is presented as a superhuman power like the ancient gods and devils; he ranks with Jove, Samson and Hercules, and so do James Bond, Indiana Jones, Batman, Superman and the other heroes of the large and small screens, the comic and the paperback.

The broomstick and the fiery chariot have been replaced by the faster-than-light space ship and the invulnerable helicopter, but these show the same independence of the laws of physics as their predecessors. Beyond all comparison it is the non-rational, the demonic, the display of superhuman power that attracts the great numbers of people. Set against the size of the audience for these tales and films, the readers of the Socialist Standard, The Freethinker, IC, or other journals of rationalist, atheist, humanist, reformist or revolutionary propaganda form a group so small as to be hardly visible.

Knowledge and understanding have increased enormously over the centuries, and are now doing so faster than ever, but the mental attitude of the general body of the people has not significantly altered. It is widely assumed by the intellectuals that human mentality advances in the way a rock moves from one place to another, but the evidence shows this view to be simplistic, mechanistic and inadequate. Human mentality does, undeniably, move forward, but in doing so it follows a pattern closer to that of evolution, each fresh advance remaining stable thereafter, serving as a base for the further progress which develops out of it. As the planet supports life, as the vegetable world supports the animal, the animal the human and the human the social, so.non-rational thinking supports rationality.

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“IF MACHIAVELLI were alive and living in Moscow today, he would be a student, not a professor.” (Arkady N. Shevchenko, Russian defector, quoted in TLS 30 Aug 85)

from Ideological Commentary 21, November 1985.