Print November 20, 2018 10 comments
Guide to Kulchur
Episode 2: The Square
Counter-Currents Book Editor John Morgan joins Fróði Midjord on the new podcast series, Guide to Kulchur, to discuss The Square, a recent Swedish film (available in English) which mocks and critiques the intensely politically-correct culture of modern-day Sweden. The film depicts the director of a modern art museum in Stockholm whose pride in his liberal beliefs is challenged when his wallet and phone are stolen, and he is forced to venture into an immigrant area in order to attempt to retrieve them.
Listen to “Guide to Kulchur (guest: John Morgan) – episode 2, The Square” on Spreaker.
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The premise sounds great. Gonna track this one down before listening to the discussion, in case there’s any spoilers.
Ugh I tried to write an article about this movie being crypto-rightwing as soon as it came out. I would totally have sent it to Counter Currents, if I’d been smart enough to finish it.
I know the feeling, man. The number of film exegeses I start, but don’t finish, is formidable. I’m an INTP, which is a contributing factor.
At the beginning of this film, directed by Ruben Östlund, we see the toppling (officially sanctioned) of a statue of a Swedish King (in a military pose on a horse), with his head symbolically decapitated in the process. Then, the awful sight and sound of beautiful ancient cobblestones in an old public square being sawed away to make room for a modern art exhibit, this one to be called ‘The Square’. The Royal Palace, formerly the residence of the Swedish royal family, has been transformed into a large modern art museum, the type that displays pretentious ‘concept’ pieces, and that seeks to transgress for the sake of transgressing, that staid, predictable, and thoroughly conformist transgression-as-an-end-in-itself that is the lifeblood of today’s elite art world. Within this class of bourgeois art snobs, social norms exist for no other purpose than to be transgressed, an obligated sport of faux-intellectual one-upsmanship. At one point in the film, a moment of satirical commentary on this aspect of the art world, a custodian accidentally sweeps up some of the piles of gravel from “the Gijoni exhibit”, a current exhibit consisting of… piles of gravel. At another, the protagonist courts the surface of philosophical aesthetics (e.g., Danto’s institutional theory of art) when, upon being asked ‘what is art?’ rhetorically asks the interviewer that, were he to place her handbag into the sacred space of the museum, it would become ‘art’.
The chief curator at the large modern art museum, and the protagonist of the film, is named “Christian”, itself an allegory for what has become of Christianity in Scandinavia. The very first words spoken in the film are by an assistant who asks a napping Christian (after an apparent night of decadent partying): “Are you awake? Christian?”
THE PLEA FOR HELP:
Early in the film, as Christian is leaving work and is crossing the square, a young white woman comes running up to him and an another man, frantically screaming while looking in the direction from which she came: “Help me! He’s going to kill me! He’s going to kill you too!” Soon, a muscled, white guy with a New Right-ish haircut runs up to them, stops, then says to Christian and the other Good Samaritan: “I wasn’t going after you guys!” and moves on. The symbolism here seems to be that the woman was irrationally (?) terrified of an Alt-Right type guy, reflecting how for many in Sweden the Right Wing is more of a ‘threat’ than Muslim immigrants.
Immediately after this encounter, Christian feels exhilarated, showing how his stultified intellectual life is rarely punctured by anything somatic. A rare experience of even the potential for violence, of defending a woman, is an outlier experience.
As it turns out, we’re led to believe that the woman Christian ‘defended’ was, in fact, part of a scam that leads to Christian having his phone and wallet stolen. Using GPS software, he is able to track the phone’s location to a public housing project. With the help of his young, reasonably assimilated, Arab employee, Christian embarks on an attempt to get his belongings back. It is the Assistant who recommends writing a threatening letter, and sticking copies of it into every one of the project’s mailboxes. Christian is hesitant, but the Assistant convinces him otherwise:
Christian: Isn’t a threat a bit over the top?
Assistant: “To the person who robbed me, I’ll bash your head in if you don’t return my stuff.”
Christian: No, no. Come on, that’s way too violent.
Assistant: These people are criminals, that’s how they roll.
Christian: It doesn’t justify bad behavior from us.
Assistant: Don’t be so Swedish! Ditch the political correctness crap. They should fucking pay for this.
On their drive to the housing project, the Assistant tries to get them pumped up by turning on some loud House music, a band called Justice. Like his earlier, momentary confrontation with the possibility of violence in the square (with the Alt Right guy), Christian allows the infectious grooves of the music, and the overall mood of this ‘mission’ to wash over him, if only for a few seconds:
Assistant: We’re coming with the cavalry!
Christian: Coming at them with a hammer! A great big hammer!
Outside the public housing complex, the Assistant waits in Christian’s Tesla, while Christian goes to place the flyers in everyone’s mailbox. Some kids (we never see their faces, but presume they are immigrants) come over to check out the Tesla, and ask the Assistant to start it up. The Assistant declines. One of the kids then kicks the car.
Assistant: What are you doing?!
Kid: Whatever I want.
The Square itself represents Sweden, particularly the latent social contract of Swedish society, built over the course of hundreds of years, and now significantly eroded over the course of just a few decades. “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring,” reads the artist’s manifesto. “Within its boundaries, we all share equal rights and obligations.” Expounding on the artist’s intentions, Christian notes: “There is a contract implied by The Square, to look out for each other. We help each other. If you enter this space and ask for help, anyone passing by is obligated to help you.”
The failure of The Square to actualize its intended effect represents the erosion of social capital that multiculturalism has wrought. (Midjord notes that, before making this film, Östlund actually had an art exhibit called “The Square”, very much like the one depicted in the film, and became fascinated with how his art piece became a hangout spot, with people making fun of its intentions.)
We see instances of this erosion of social capital when Christian (even being white and well-dressed) asks passers-by to borrow their cell phone, wherein they ignore him. We also see, in several different scenes, the root causes of this social capital depletion: various gypsy-immigrant-looking beggars, including a quite rude one who, in a 7-Eleven, asks Christian to buy her a sandwich; once he agrees to, she then orders him not to put onions on it. In another beggar instance, the beggar says to passersby: “Please, I have three children and diabetes. One krona?”, a notable aspect of this being that having three children (when one cannot afford them) and diabetes are both largely preventable situations that a responsible individual would have made different decisions about. (In the discussion of the film between John Morgan & Fróði Midjord, Midjord describes how, in contemporary Sweden, Gypsies are shameless in their beggar scams — faking leg disabilities, etc. – essentially exploiting the altruism of native Swedes.)
The complicity of political correctness to justify inconsiderate and bad behavior is also on display in the bit with the Tourette’s guy. The museum is holding a public discussion between an American artist and one of the museum’s female administrators. A man in the audience with Tourette’s begins making everyone uncomfortable with his random shouts and insults, especially the interviewer, who turns to the crowd and pleads: “We have this one opportunity to meet this fantastic artist… We can’t hear a thing. The atmosphere is stressing him [the artist being interviewed] out.” It stand to reason that, out of courtesy to others, a responsible individual with Tourette’s would not put himself in a situation whereby his condition would make a public spectacle or otherwise ruin a public event (e.g. a museum talk.) Nonetheless, a white virtue-signaler lectures the audience about “tolerance” (“Try to be a bit tolerant. The man is suffering from a neuropsychiatric disorder. This isn’t voluntary, so show some tolerance.”), to which others, including the very female interviewer who was most visibly upset by the Tourette’s guy, immediately and sheepishly concur.
Then, late in the film, Christian tells his two young daughters a poignant, apocryphal story:
This reminds me of something your grandpa told me. He was a boy, about 6 years old. And he was about to go out and play… His parents made him a tag and wrote his name and address on it. They hung it around his neck and sent him off to play all by himself in the middle of Copenhagen. Imagine if I had done that to you when you were six. That never would have happened. Attitudes change… Back then, people trusted other grownups, to help their children if they had problems or had lost their way. But nowadays, you tend to regard other adults as potential threats.
THE AD CAMPAIGN:
The Millennial advertising kids (“They were born into this fast-moving arena. It’s their home turf.”) emphasize the very short attention spans of people today, and press the need for a viral ad campaign. “Controversy” is needed. “Can we tie it to trends or current events?” asks one. “The challenge here is to cut through the media clutter. Your competition isn’t other museums, it’s disasters, terrorism, and controversial moves by far-right politicians.” The grouping of far-right politicians in with terrorists signals the implicitly shared leftism of all in the room. Later in the film, the Millennial ad kids present their ad campaign idea:
We conducted market research on what’s shared the most on social media. It’s generally vulnerable groups. People post about women, the disabled, the racialized, LGBTQ people… You can make that list longer, but there is one group that affects people: beggars. So we’d like to use a beggar in this clip, but also turn it up a notch by making the beggar a child. In addition to this, the beggar will have fair hair. Personify the Swedish…
We open on the Palace courtyard. The Square is visible. So, there’s product placement from frame one. Towards this artwork… is daybreak and the Square, is shimmering with its promise of trust, caring, moral courage and all that good stuff… Then we see a little girl approaching the Square. She’s shivering. She’s all alone. She’s crying. She’s wrapped in a dirty blanket. And you sense that she’s homeless. These are powerful images so we’ve hooked the viewer. The girl keeps on walking… She’s crying as she moves along… She enters the Square…
And there, it’s time for the unexpected. The total opposite of everything the Square stands for. The surprise effect will generate the attention we need, creating the perfect platform to express your message. All those values and issues your exhibition would like to raise.
In the ad, which does go viral, the blonde child is then shown being blown to smithereens, while standing in The Square. There is no need to depict who did the bombing, as we all know who would do such a thing. (This affords Östlund with plausible deniability regarding any “anti-Muslim” sentiment.) Again, with The Square representing Sweden itself, particularly its eroded norms of social reciprocity, this image is highly resonant.
After a degree of public outrage ensues over the tastelessness of the video ad campaign, the museum Director registers her discontent, however imperceptibly, with Christian, who, as we saw earlier, was himself sickened by the video. (Midjord notes the strangely passive-aggressive quality that female politicians in Sweden have, and appear to need, in order to climb the political ladder. We see this in the words and demeanor of museum Director who forces Christian’s resignation.)
Realizing his job is at stake, and trying a last ditch effort to save it, Christian pathetically and disingenuously resorts to standard left-libertarian bromides to ‘defend’ the video:
Elna, this is an opportunity to take a stand. We, as a museum, mustn’t be afraid to push boundaries. To transcend all kinds of taboos. Nothing should stand in the way of freedom of expression. That’s my conviction. It’s something to stand up for. Without a doubt.
This theme is taken up further during the press conference in which Christian is announcing his resignation. A member of the press calls out the hypocrisy of the museum not defending ‘freedom of speech’, and also argues that Christian’s resignation is a form of ‘self-censorship’, to which Christian provides another disingenuous reply: “I believe that freedom of speech comes with certain responsibilities.” (Moments earlier, we saw him take the opposite position with his Director. Furthermore, the Director herself cited the risk of a decline in corporate donations as the main driver of his imminent firing.) A disorienting moment occurs when an immigrant-looking woman yells from the crowd a completely unrelated and inappropriate question: “Where is your solidarity with the voiceless and the vulnerable members of society?” The incongruity of this moment emphasizes the surreal qualities of how political correctness (in the form of The Other’s well-being as the paramount concern of everything) permeates all discourse on virtually all topics.
The subplot of Christian’s dalliance with the female reporter (played by Elizabeth Moss) demonstrates the decadence of modernity, and reads like a Heartiste seminar. Feminism has engendered anonymous, transactional-level sex as ‘empowering’, but this clashes with certain biologically innate responses and contextualizing mechanisms that females have before, during, and after sex. The odd scene of a domesticated chimp in her apartment represents this primate-level aspect of their dalliance, the chimp at one point applying lipstick (or red markers to mimic lipstick) to its lips.
When they meet at the decadent party in the former Royal Palace, the girl (Moss) is the initiator of the flirting. As Midjord and Morgan note, when having sex the girl is also the initiator; we see her on top, essentially doing the fucking, while Christian is the one grabbing at the sheets. However, after sex, she displays iconic post-coitus female responses. Despite its transactional nature, which she partook in, she wants the experience to have been ‘special’. Days later, she becomes upset that Christian hasn’t called her, that he doesn’t appear to have translated their sexual encounter as having ‘meant something’, etc. Her tone then moves to the accusatory. “Do you just go have sex with lots of other women?” she says to him, before going on to accuse him of using his ‘position of power to attract women and make conquests’, the erasure of female agency in this accusation clearly implying she views herself as one of Christian’s ‘victims’.
The young immigrant boy, from one of the apartments in the housing complex that Christian left his mailbox threat-letters, endlessly badgers Christian, demanding an apology. “Apologize to me and my family, or I’ll make chaos with you.” (Midjord notes that this use of “chaos” is an oft-used malapropism by immigrants.) The boy is from an alien, honor-based culture that backs up such honor dynamics with violence. What is stRiki-Eiking in the film is how, in several different scenes, the boy displays dominance in social situations against adults.
Towards the end of the film, after his ‘conscience’ has weighed on him for his interactions with the boy, Christian digs through the trash to retrieve the boy’s phone number. He tries calling him but gets a ‘number unavailable’ message, so he creates and send the boy a video message, one chock full of naïve liberal platitudes, rank hypocrisies, and the never failing canard that more welfare redistributionism is all we need to guarantee immigrant assimilation:
Looking back, I should have gone into your building, knocked on the doors and asked a simple question. But that never occurred to me, because… Well, honestly, I was too afraid. Afraid of the people who live… Afraid of the people I picture living in a building like yours. Those negative expectations say something about me. They say something about our society, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s prejudiced… You have preconceptions about us too, probably because our lives are so different.
So suddenly, it comes down to politics and the distribution of assets. Because these problems can’t be solved by individuals alone. Society needs to lend a hand too. It’s not enough that I admit I was wrong and apologize to you in a video. There are bigger, structural problems involved that society needs to deal with. I actually know one of the 291 people who own more than 50% of the world’s wealth. A guy like that could fix all this in an instant.
THE GALA DINNER:
The film’s penultimate sequence, which takes place at a black tie gala dinner at the museum, is the best allegory of the film. During the swanky dinner, there is to be a performance art piece delivered by a man (who is white) who moves and acts, quite convincingly, like a gorilla. Over the loudspeaker, we hear jungle sounds while a narrator’s voice sets the stage:
I am asking for your utmost caution during this performance. Welcome to the jungle. Soon you will be confronted by a wild animal. As you will know, the hunting instinct is triggered by weakness. If you show fear, the animal will sense it. If you try to escape, the animal will hunt you down. But if you remain perfectly still, without moving a muscle, the animal might not notice you, and you can hide in the herd, safe in the knowledge that someone else will be the prey.
The allegory here with contemporary Western society, in the face of mass immigration from third world countries, is obvious.
I agree with commenter Proteus that the anthropomorphic chimp represents an immigrant. More accurately, the man-chimp is an abstract representation of the sort of premodern, evolutionarily-wired expressions of masculine strength, dominance, territoriality, and other alpha-traits, albeit unclouded by PC niceties and un-repressed by ‘civilized’ (cucked) norms. If there is one note of race-realist optimism in the film, it takes place within this sequence. The man-chimp is but one creature in a room of a hundred people, but singlehandedly dominates the room. As the man-chimp moves from table to table, puffing his chest out and doing whatever he pleases, everyone sitting at their table just stares downward, in literal submission. But when the chimp/immigrant attempts to violently drag away the blonde woman (as a future sexual conquest), the measured and studied black tie males, who until then had been sitting silently at their tables, bowing their heads in beta silence, finally pounce. They collectively beat the shit out of, and presumably kill, the chimp/immigrant.
As noted, The Square won the Cannes Palme d’Or, with the jury president saying the film depicts “the dictatorship of being politically correct”. Normally, I could give two shits what French elites think about anything, but the fact that the jury president said this is, itself, sociologically significant.
Good analysis, just one correction: the name Christian is not really a comment on Christianity, although that works too. But it’s primarily a Scandinavian in-joke. It’s a reference to Christian II of Denmark, a Danish king who ruled over Sweden in the 16th century and was responsible for the “Stockholm bloodbath”. The joke is that the museum is located in the Swedish royal palace and the boss is again a Dane named Christian who causes havoc.
The chimp is a remnant of an earlier film idea Östlund had which was luckily scrapped. He talked about this in interviews before he came up with The Square instead. He was going to make a really weird movie about human sexuality, in which human actors behaved and copulated like apes. The sex scene and the gala dinner in The Square are what eventually remained of that idea.
Östlund is a fascinating guy who has addressed multicultural crime in his movie Play (2011) and called out the Jewish rule of Hollywood in an interview. But he’s also flawed in many ways, relies on flimsy modern sociological theories, and his affination for Marxism seems to grow for every year. His parents are massive communists, and people tend to become more like their parents as they grow older. His upcoming movie sounds really stupid when he talks about it, although so did early plans for his previous movies as well, but they ended up good because he changes his plans as he goes along.
Great insight into the ‘Christian’ reference. I had a funny feeling Östlund is, at the end of the day, a man of the Left (or at least the Left-Center). That would also help explain why/how Palme d’Or jury patted him on the back. They would never do so if the very same film was made by someone overtly conservative. With Östlund, it sounds like we have a variation of what we have here in the States: the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web”, which is largely comprised of politically-liberal individuals fed up with PC (e.g., Heterodox Academy, Quillette, Jordan Peterson, etc.)
That’s interesting that, in the past, Östlund has made comments about Jewish control of Hollywood… that he’s tuned into that dynamic. I didn’t catch any Jewish references in this film, but one of the two gentlemen doing this podcast discussion did, with the character of Julian, the American artist played by Dominic West, possibly being Jewish. To me, West looks too Anglo (he was born in Yorkshire), but one could argue statistics alone dictates that a feted American artist from NYC (?) would have a high probability of being Jewish.
The artist played by West is a parody of Julian Schnabel, who is Jewish. But I didn’t catch any direct Jewish references either.
Östlund mentioned Hollywood and the Jews earlier this year, when The Square was nominated for an Oscar. A journalist asked him what he valued highest, the Palme d’Or or an Oscar. He answered that of course the Palme d’Or is more prestigeous – if he wanted to win an Oscar, all he would have to do is make a movie about the Holocaust. The Swedish journalist was perplexed and Östlund had to explained how a “Jewish community” is very prevalent in Hollywood.
It became a mini-scandal but Östlund survived without too much problem. Some journalists came to his defense, and talked about how Ricky Gervais and various Jewish comedians have joked about this. One newspaper interviewed a Jewish-American scholar who explained that of course Hollywood is run by Jews, you’re just expected to be careful when talking about it, and prefarably also portray the Jews as victims, because they came to Hollywood as refugees.
I don’t know how well it works in Google Translate, but it’s a pretty fun read: https://unv.is/dn.se/kultur-noje/ruben-ostlund-turnerar-i-hollywood-for-att-vinna-en-oscar
The film was weak, weak tea. It was painful to watch because it did show the pathetic state of the West so clearly. It was pretty direct at placing a burden of shame on women. But it offered no solutions, and was badly made. Scene went on too long for no reason. Art for art’s sake nonsense.
I agree. It was slow-paced and very, very long-winded.
However, I do enjoy the comments here analyzing the movie.
There is one, if you go to Spreaker.
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