It claims to be a black comedy but Big Fan is a horror movie. There are no supernatural creatures or masked serial killers, though there is violence and torture. The violence comes from the savage beating of the white protagonist by a black athlete. The torture is the characters enduring a vision of American life infinitely darker than American Beauty. There is no redemption, no one learns anything from the experience, and worst (or best) of all, you can’t help but laugh.
Comedian Patton Oswalt brilliantly portrays New York Giants superfan Paul Aufiero, an archetypical American in that he is a character without an arc. The baby faced Oswalt suitably captures Aufiero’s child-like existence, an experience common to millions of Americans. Paul lives with his mother in Staten Island and works a dead-end job as a parking attendant. However, he is content because the job allows him to listen to the “Sports Dog” and prepare his nightly monologue in defense of his beloved team. Insofar as he has an enemy, it is “Philadelphia Phil,” his Eagles fan doppelganger.
He also has one friend, Sal (Kevin Corrigan), another failure-to-launch. Sal listens to Paul’s radio speeches while wearing an “Osama Bin Laden dead or alive” t-shirt, accompanies him to Giants Stadium to view the games on a portable TV in the parking lot, and enthusiastically agrees with his football insights.
Paul is harmless, well-meaning, and if not happy, then content, despite the efforts of family members to get him to change his actions. Like Ignatius J. Reilly, Paul is leading a rich inner life, at least within his own mind. Also like Reilly, the only sexual life Paul seems to have is masturbation, though he also faces the indignity of his mother scolding him for leaving the tissues all over the floor.
As you probably predicted, Paul’s life collapses when he takes action, however hesitantly, in the real world. By chance, Sal and Paul encounter star Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop and decide to follow him, hoping to speak to him. They see him buying drugs (but don’t realize what he’s doing), follow him into a fashionable (and typical) nightclub blaring hip hop, and stare fascinated at their hero holding court with his posse, surrounded by (white) girls. When Sal and Paul awkwardly approach Bishop and let slip they followed him to the club in the hopes of meeting him, a drunken and enraged Bishop savagely beats Paul, almost killing him. Worse, from Paul’s point of view, the action causes Bishop to be suspended and the Giants to lose a game to the Chiefs.
It is important to note that Paul’s faith is never shaken, or even questioned, not even for a moment. Even after his hero has been revealed as a thug, Paul’s only concern is the well being of the team. He never presses charges against Bishop or even asks for an apology, going to far as to plead “amnesia” to the authorities. He calls in to defend Bishop on the radio, claiming “none of us were there.” Paul is determined to return to his life but the world will not leave him in peace. His brother files a $77 million lawsuit on his behalf, which Paul does not know how to stop because there are no instructions for stopping a lawsuit on Wikipedia (which Paul looks up on Sal’s computer).
The more internet savvy “Philadelphia Phil” is able use the media coverage and links on Sports Dog’s website to “out” Paul. Exposing the fiery Giants champion “Paul from Staten Island” as the pathetic loser supposedly suing his hero, strips Paul of the one thing he had — his status as a loyal fan of Big Blue. Paul breaks down.
Paul heads south to confront Phil and the Eagle Nation when the Giants play Philadelphia. Disguised in an Eagles jersey and colors and packing a gun, he successfully identifies Philadelphia Phil at a bar and earns his trust. In a terrifying scene, the camera zooms in on Paul’s painted green and white face as he grins and laughs disturbingly while Phil rants about how he wants to “annihilate” the Giants. Paul seemingly disappears into himself as the entire bar chants “Giants Suck!” and everyone around him rejoices in the defeat of his heroes broadcast on the screen.
After the game, Paul follows Phil into the men’s room and draws his weapon. As Phil throws up his hands in terror, Paul moans, “You didn’t have to be so mean . . . everybody is so mean.” He fires.
Phil clutches his chest and pulls it away covered in red – but his face shows confusion rather than pain. Reloading, Paul blasts away again and it is revealed that he has used a paintball gun to cover Phil in Giants Red and Blue. “Eagles suck,” he gloats. He runs, but his stumpy body doesn’t get far before Philadelphia’s Finest tackle him as he screams apologies in a weak voice.
The film ends with Sal visiting Paul in jail, bearing a precious gift – the Giants schedule for next year. With Paul released before the last game of the year and cheering them from the parking lot, both Paul and Sal conclude the Giants should easily go 13-1. Having learned nothing and gained nothing from the experience, Paul grins from behind bars – “It’s going to be a great year.”
The film leaves you hollow, frustrated, and entertained in a way that makes you hate yourself. The comedy of the film comes from how pathetic Paul is. There are no moments of humor that aren’t motivated by scorn or contempt. We mock this impotent fool who has to borrow his friend’s internet connection, who can’t afford football tickets, and who has a nonexistent sex life. It’s the kind of humor that makes you laugh when you see a stranger trip and fall, even if you feel guilty afterward. At the same time, Oswalt’s performance humanizes this character and makes us feel for him. The sick thing is that Paul may be the most admirable character in the film. Despite a light tone, the film is deeply ugly and grows more disturbing when analyzed.
There are two undercurrents throughout the whole film – rage and race. Paul’s family mocks him for his devotion to the Giants but they do not seem to be much of an alternative. His mother seems to sincerely despise him. Strikingly, there is not a single compassionate exchange between Paul and his mother over the course of the entire film. Their interactions are angry and genuinely hateful.
A bitter, resentful woman obligated to provide for her lazy son, she saves up innumerable packages of sauce from Chinese food deliveries on the grounds that “wasting food is a sin.” Paul’s brother Jeff, a reasonably prosperous lawyer (with embarrassing local television ads) is married to an outrageously cleavaged trophy wife named Gina that resembles one of the Kardashians – the ugly one. She is his secretary, his partner in an affair that lasted several years and resulted in the breakup of his prior marriage. Nonetheless, he has a large house and his mother speaks highly of him, more outraged at Paul for talking about the affair than at his brother for actually doing it.
Though her house is festooned with rosaries and Virgin Marys, faith for Paul’s mother seems more to do with middle-class respectability than moral standards. As for Paul, God has no relevance whatsoever. The result is an empty and meaningless home life with even family affection dependent on income. When his mother screams at him to get a life, which she defines as “family, children” Paul screams, “I don’t want what they’ve got! I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it!” Looking at his mother, who has a family and children and seems miserable, can he really be blamed?
Of course, it’s almost impossible for a real family to form in the midst of such a sick culture. One would have to be openly adversarial to the messages pushed by the mass media and that effort alone imposes huge costs. The Aufieros are not willing to make such a sacrifice.
When Jeff and his former comare of a wife prepare to celebrate their son’s birthday, she says proudly, “The cake, he’s gonna love it” and Jeff replies, “Are you kidding me? He’s going to fucking freak.” The camera pans back to reveal the glowering face of rapper 50 cent on the birthday cake for a child. “I’m so proud of him,” Gina beams.
The child-like Paul is no improvement. A poster of Quantrell Bishop in a similarly thuggish pose hangs over this adult male’s bed as he sleeps. Wearing a Quantrell Bishop jersey to his parking lot pilgrimages at Giants stadium, literally worshipping the man who beat him up, Paul and his nephew are both comically obvious symbols of white dispossession, both carefully taught to worship heavily muscled blacks by television and media.
When Jeff screams at Paul that Bishop is nothing but a “big, black, moulinyan jack-off asshole,” it’s hard not to think back to the birthday cake Jeff proudly presented his son and wonder why he is angry. Millions of white men tromping off to worship black athletes that can’t keep from shooting themselves, let alone each other, are simply following in the footsteps of the Aufieros.
Big Fan was marketed to show football as equivalent to a faith. It would be too easy to connect the message to Patton Oswalt’s oft-expressed by the numbers celebrity atheism, but it goes deeper than that. Absent real ethnic communities that can sustain faith and heritage, family and religion are simply one more option amongst many open to the American consumer. Looking at how his own family has turned out, it’s no wonder that Paul finds such a choice unappealing.
With the New York Giants, Paul is identifying with something that however arbitrary, actually involves concepts like victory and defeat, struggle and sacrifice, and a community dedicated to an ideal. As the global post-American anti-culture sweeps around the world, sports loyalties are one of the only things left that even help you tell one part of the country (or the world) from another, as any quick visit to a bar in Boston or the Bronx will confirm. It’s easy to point to the growth of sports as a symptom of modern decline, but irrational fandom has been with us at least since chariot racing fans almost overthrew Justinian.
Sports are the one place where an average person can experience of feeling of unmitigated triumph over a clearly identified foe. In the modern world, where God is dead, ethnic pride is forbidden, worthless celebrities are role models, and even soldiers are told to avoid being militaristic, sports are practically the last place left where talk of something like “victory” is even allowed.
“Philadelphia Phil’s” crazed ranting about annihilating the Giants illustrates that sports is a way of sublimating the primal desires of men into something nonviolent (soccer hooligans notwithstanding). In a normal society, these kinds of impulses can be utilized to accomplish more meaningful things in times of national crisis, such as war. The quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton may be historically inaccurate, but captures the truth that sports marries supreme effort, male bonding, and community spirit in a way that only war can surpass.
The problem is that most of the benefits from sports come from actually playing, not just watching. When mingling with other Giants fans in the parking lot, Paul comically bungles a reception attempt. When he playfully cries, “Bishop with the sack” and tries to tackle Sal, the result is so awkward and weak that it’s hard to imagine him actually playing football.
Fandom alone, to be sure, creates a sense of community that’s at least based on locality and common experience, but once subverted, sports are more destructive than any other cultural field. In the South, college football is part of what it means to be a Southerner, which has had predictably catastrophic effects on Southern colleges and Southern identity.
In the Northeast, where professional football holds sway, there is an even greater disconnect. The players often have no connection to the communities they supposedly represent and switch teams frequently, searching for more money. Owners will occasionally move an entire team if there is profit in it. By worshipping millionaire black athletes who don’t care about him or even the franchise, Paul succeeds in subordinating his entire identity to people who hate him.
The genius of the film is that Paul at some level recognizes this but does not care. In the face of Bishop’s beating, his family’s scorn, and pressure from the police, Paul remains true to his faith. To borrow the religious metaphor, his faith is so pure and so unshaken by events that he is some kind of a saint or martyr for an absurd creed.
This has obvious political ramifications for white advocates. We would like to believe that the facts will become so overwhelming when “the crisis” hits that our people will rise en masse in moral indignation and slaughter their oppressors. The truth is that most people will fight, even violently, to maintain their illusions, no matter how idiotic. If you don’t believe me, keep in mind that the Amy Biehl foundation trust (founded by her mother after blacks crushed her daughter’s skull with a brick and stabbed her in the heart) is still ready to accept your tax-deductible contributions.
The more hopeful reading is that Paul’s devotion to the Giants allows him to transcend the horrifying picture of American society painted by Big Fan. Devotion to the minutiae of statistics and strategy of American football is pathetic to an outsider, but mastery of such esoterica seems brilliant when contrasted to the life Paul is offered as an alternative.
The modern white American is a bystander to his own destiny, his economic well being governed by sociopathic financiers, his political leaders actively seeking his dispossession and destruction, and even what should be the comfort of his loving family secondary to the demands of a mass popular culture controlled and directed by hostile alien elites.
Given this reality, serving as a priest of the New York Giants is Paul’s way of Riding the Tiger and scorning what the world holds to be important. This gives him a strange kind of dignity. In the Wasteland, men need something to believe in. If it’s not God, the gods, or The White Republic, it might as well be Quantrell Bishop.
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