If tweeting passes for writing these days (it does not) then I submitted my review of Don’t Look Up within ten minutes of the credit roll.
“David Sirota f cking nailed it” I tweeted, inserting a comet emoji into the f-word.
But re-reading my published review I saw that I hadn’t nailed it. I deleted and began again.
“David Sirota nailed it with the comet film,” I re-wrote, reflecting on how successfully the film had validated my own experience. For a few hours I had felt less alone, less crazy, less powerless. I scraped the memory banks trying to recall a parallel experience. “I haven’t felt this validated by Hollywood,” I added, “since Colbert broke the silence on Dubya.”
This was very Gen X of me since a great deal of Twitter was barely or not alive in those days when someone, anyone, finally excoriated the neocons on national TV for their crimes against humanity.
Prior to social media or the modern bloom of platformed independent journalists, voices critical of the Iraq War had been either from the margins (or immediately marginalized); in our own heads; or Amy Goodman. But then Stephen Colbert began ripping into the whole debacle on television and apparently this was allowed because it was only satire, he was only a comedian. Colbert understood what many still don't: the way to deal with conservative cable news and the forces it empowers is through the lens of absurdism.
The Colbert Report’s deadpan take on the Rovian “Threat Downs” we were living under was searingly funny to those who understood and possibly sailed right over the heads of those who didn’t. You laughed at Colbert’s crisp delivery and faux news graphics and you laughed to celebrate the tension breaking in your brain. Someone on a major network was finally talking about what was actually happening. You weren’t crazy. You weren’t alone. You laughed at the absurdity of these murderers which was a form of crying.
And god bless Stephen Colbert for taking it live to the White House Correspondents dinner in ‘06. After years of full spectrum media complicity with the neocons' incipient surveillance state and violent global fascism, Colbert sat a few feet from Dubya and said things like:
I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers, and rubble... And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound—with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world...
A decade or two later our dark political reality has metastasized into something so dystopically multi-faceted, decentralized, and insane it often defies even our ability to poke fun at it. And yet this is what Don’t Look Up pulled off. The creators held a fun house mirror up to exactly where we are and enticed us to view it for over two hours.
For some the mirror was not far enough away -- it’s certainly traumatic when scary and ridiculous satire is near indistinguishable from the reality it portrays. For others it was too far away, “too subtle” for those who want clear messaging on the climate crisis. For me it was in the goldilocks zone.
My partner and I had decided to give it a ten minute preview and then switch to something more numbing if needed, but found ourselves rapt and laughing aloud for hours. What a balm for the psyche to see a single clean knife slice through liberal cable news, the twitteratzi, clickbait media websites, hollywood, pop influencers, conservatives, DC insiders, elitism, tech overlords, and all the other things that drive me nuts.
The film suggests community – that I am not alone in seeing and struggling with the absurdity of our lives these days. And its prominence on the leading entertainment network of our era suggests this community may be larger than it often feels in my head.
Those who saw the Iraq War for what it was, and still have eyes wide open, can identify with Kate Dibiasky and can see why the film’s primary antagonist - a 10 km comet - was named after her. We can also see why Don't Look Up circles around and around the world’s insistence on punishing Kate for simply seeing the truth hurtling at us all and being unable to shut up about it.
I am not an astronomer or PhD candidate, but as a person who cares, as a person who prefers truth to pleasantry, I saw myself in Kate Dibiasky. Don’t Look Up is at its most raw, its most clear, when Kate screams from the cable news desk that sometimes we have to talk about ugly things people don’t want to hear and if not we are all going to die.
That Kate then becomes a meme for insanity only underscores her point. The powerful have always used the specter of mental illness to nullify and marginalize challengers.
There was no happy ending for humans in this film. Comet Dibiasky makes impact as its namesake predicted. But there was a happy ending for humanity. Kate Dibiasky was vindicated and she was not alone. She found love (albeit from an evangelical gamer) and community (albeit with flawed characters) as she carved her own path staying true to her truth.
We may all be sitting around the dinner table saying a prayer with scientists and gamers at the end of the world as in Don’t Look Up’s powerful final scene. But the film’s insistence on seating us crazy ones, the ones who speak up, around that table makes it a sort of prayer in and of itself.
The Iraq War was of course about oil, decades after Exxon's company scientists first identified how oil would change the climate. Then, as now, social complicity in the violence of petro-capitalism relied heavily on social isolation. Defeatism is first felt as loneliness, as personal depression. Ostracized, we’re powerless. It may be too late to divert the comets we’ve created, but if there is any chance at all, it lies in connecting to and surrounding ourselves with those who will fight for the future when it’s insane to do so.