* SPOILERS *
Inspired by a class assignment from Creativity and American Culture, here is a compilation of cultural themes I was able to pinpoint in a recent American cultural artifact, Get Out.
Jordan Peele makes his directing debut with Get Out, a film that is tailored for America's current political and social climate. It is a calculated riff on dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a social drama. Above all, it makes known the horror beneath the smile of 21st century liberalism.
Through its morbid, satirical lens, Get Out is a commentary on a nuanced species of societal racism. The premise centers around the main character, Chris, and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage; the couple's relationship has prospered to the point where Rose deems it appropriate to invite Chris to a weekend getaway with her parents at their estate. Initially, her family's hyper-politeness and over-accommodating behavior strikes Chris as strange attempts to cope with their daughter's interracial relationship. However, as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to face unfathomable, dangerous truths.
Micro-aggressions experienced by people of the “wrong color” are amplified throughout the film, especially when the Armitage family hosts an annual gathering of what seems to mostly consist of aging white guests (one Asian guest is present - perhaps this is a nod to the notion that anti-blackness sentiments stem from other minority groups as well).
Due to the white community's unanimous acceptance and manipulation of blackness in their social culture, the off-kilter essence of the gathering can be traced back to Orientalist themes. Traditionally, forms of Orientalism have been driven by a Western desire to culturally colonize and celebrate aspects of Eastern societies to reinforce the West's own moral conception of itself; in the world Chris is exposed to at the Armitage estate, the same pattern of cultural colonization is true between the white community and “black” culture.
At the heart of the Armitage family and the white guests, there is an underlying appropriation of black culture, benign racism, and double-edged sets of ideas, standards, and expectations. One of the first signs in the film that sets the estate’s insidious tone is the fact that Rose's wealthy family has "help" - two African American individuals who seem like the modern equivalent of slaves; however, their mannerisms are socially bizarre and indicative of psychological or mental dissonance.
Moreover, when Chris spots Logan at the gathering, the only other African American guest present besides himself, he approaches Logan out of relief, expecting to connect with him on a level of cultural familiarity. However, he immediately notices that Logan is totally neutered of his blackness. From his dress, to his idiosyncrasies and speech mannerisms, Logan, for lack of a better phrase, seems like an old, white man in a young, black man's body.
The growing confusion that Chris experiences while observing Logan's inherent "whiteness," and the fact that he is shown to be together with an older, white woman, plays on internalized fears that African Americans experience when trying to assimilate into a society of white supremacy. With any minority group that tries to assimilate into an ecosystem of cultural norms that are foreign to them, there is a ubiquitous fear of having to abandon pieces of their identity to fit in with other cultures, such as predominantly white communities. The realization that the Logan lacks the familial energy that is seemingly intrinsic to the African American experience furthers Chris’ paranoia about the intentions of Rose's family and the African American individuals living at the estate.
Chris' paranoia state reaches its summit when he tries to take a discrete picture of Logan to send to his friend, but accidentally causes the camera flash to go off; this flash of light triggers a mysterious, psychological breakdown in Logan, who seems to recover his consciousness and lunges at Chris, screaming the film's title, "Get out!" Thus, whereas the cliché feelings in stereotypical horror movies deal with physical isolation - whether it concerns screaming for help in an abandoned setting and not being able to be heard, or being trapped in a hotel barricaded with snow – instead, Get Out satirically plays on the fear of social isolation.
Physiological Perfectionism & Co-option
The enigmatic behavior that occurs at the Armitage family gathering is also rooted in the concepts of physiological perfectionism and co-option. The white individuals at the Armitage estate are essentially co-opting genetic advantages or elements of black culture that are housed by African Americans to use for their own benefit and longevity. Throughout the gathering, guests are interrogating and inspecting Chris (i.e. making strange comments on his musculature, or blatantly asking for his opinion on the African American experience, as if to find out if "becoming" black would be worth it from an economic vantage point).
A scene where all the event goers are gathered for a Bingo game is haunting, as the procession of the game begins to expose sinister elements of the plot. Rose's father can be seen facilitating the process of guests placing “bids” on an individual, who we later find out is none other than Chris himself; thus, it is no surprise that this Bingo-like game resembles a 19th century slave auction. It becomes evident that the white guests are bidding on characteristics from African American culture to engineer into their own physicalities to extend and enhance their life span. Thus, their preoccupation with their physical wellbeing and bodily perfection drives them to co-opt advantageous elements of African American genetic assets.
Ultimately, the crux of the film revolves around embedding transhumanism into the incentives of the Armitage family's actions; therefore, the family shares the goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and producing technological devices that greatly enhance intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities amongst the white community. Chris eventually learns that the Armitage family is a cult-like group called, The Order of The Coagula, who is seeking the secret to expanding the capacity of human life through brain-transplantation, a process that involves hypnotism and surgical processes.
This transplantation only adheres if the original consciousness of the host, or “patient,” remains intact. This means that the consciousness of a white individual takes over that of a black individual, leaving the black individual to only exist inside his body as a regressive version of being alive (the film labels this as a hypnosis-induced state called, the Sunken Place); the African American “help” and Logan are examples of individuals who have fallen victim to this process.
Essentially, the Armitage family, along with the rest of the white community, thrives off transhumanistic motives; they gather to reap (co-opt) benefits from African American culture for their own enhanced, elongation of life (physiological well-being and bodily perfection). Although the specific type of racism that simmers amongst the white community at the estate seems to be disguised as functional admiration or envy, Chris is continually treated like an outsider and must navigate the complexity of nuanced racism without succumbing to the Sunken Place.