Quentin Tarantino (AP)

Quentin Tarantino is Fox News' piñata: The real reason why Bill O'Reilly and the police hate him

Tarantino's movies paint oppressive authority as evil but ridiculous. No wonder pro-police forces are after him


Amanda Marcotte
November 7, 2015 7:34PM (UTC)

As my colleague Andrew O'Hehir notes in his analysis of Quentin Tarantino's movies in light of his avid support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Tarantino seems genuinely baffled at how police organizations have made him a focal point in their attempts to paint BLM as somehow pro-crime or anti-police.

Tarantino is a middle-aged white man. Reactionary forces seeking to stoke conservative resentment usually pick young women or people of color as targets, individuals to symbolize Everything Wrong With America Today. Take Bill O'Reilly's constant hammering of Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for instance, or the right-wing obsession with Lena Dunham. Or, as NPR notes, the OG of celebrities that reactionaries love to tell to sit down and shut up: Jane Fonda. So yeah, it's a little weird they're going after a white man.

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Why break form? Partially it's because the movement Tarantino is promoting is aligned with people of color and, as O'Hehir notes, Tarantino himself shows a real fascination with black culture in his movies. Part of it is base opportunism---Tarantino labeled the killing of unarmed black people "murder," giving pro-police forces a chance to argue that it should be taboo to call this particular destruction of life "murder." (Good people really should shudder at how dehumanizing it is to black victims of police violence to deny that their deaths rise to the level of murder. Tarantino is 100 percent in the right here to use language that demands we treat black lives like they matter.) Because Tarantino is a known loudmouth, it's easy to falsely claim he called all cops murderers and have thoughtless people believe your lies.

But I think it runs deeper than that. The police are going after Tarantino, even though he's a white man, because they know he's a perfect piñata for the Fox News crowd. No, he doesn't provoke sexual anxieties like Lena Dunham or Jane Fonda, or racial anxieties, like the long string of rappers that O'Reilly likes to abuse do. But his movies, especially after Pulp Fiction, are post-modern, clever, and deeply, deeply anti-authoritarian. They are packed full of esoteric references and swift-moving action, but always feature people who reject oppression, usually violently, as the heroes.

In other words, if you're a fan of Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, Tarantino movies can simultaneously make you feel stupid while still conveying the sense of an anarchic opposition to oppressive authority. You can see how that might feel threatening to conservatives.

One of the most telling quotes from the police attacks on Tarantino comes from the president of the Philadelphia police union, John McNesby. "Mr. Tarantino has made a good living through his films, projecting into society at large violence and respect for criminals," he whined. It's a perfect culture war attack, implying that authority figures are being oppressed by effete, wealthy liberals while simultaneously fear-mongering about the supposed pro-crime messages in that scary pop culture kids these days (read: people who were teenagers in the '90s) are into.

But do Tarantino's movies glamorize crime? After Pulp Fiction, which portrays crime as a ridiculous endeavor full of ridiculous people, his movies did start to use violence to convey themes and ideas. His movies are very, very violent, no doubt, and both good guys and bad guys use a lot of violence. But if you actually bother to watch them, the idea that they movies are somehow glamorizing crime doesn't make sense---unless you are a rigid authoritarian who flinches at any portrayal of oppressed people rising up against their oppressor.

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Because if there is one theme to every single Tarantino movie post-Pulp Fiction, it is of the oppressed rising up against their oppressor. Jackie Brown escapes the misogynist gangsters who have her in their thrall. The Kill Bill movies, as blood-soaked as they are, are fundamentally a tale of a woman who will do anything to escape an abusive man who thinks he owns her. Inglourious Basterds is a movie about a French Jewish woman and a bunch of American Jewish soldiers deciding to kill Hitler. Django Unchained is basically the same story, but about slaves killing slave masters. Even Deathproof, a short film he did as part of the double-header Grindhouse, is about a bunch of women revolting against a sexually-inspired serial killer.

Tarantino movies aren't subtle (why should they be?), but they are extremely clever in their use of violence. The general rule of thumb in a Tarantino movie is that the violence the oppressors use against their victims will be more realistic and hard to watch. But when it's time for the victims to strike back, the violence is cartoonish and induces a sense of glee. There's a lot of debate about why this is, but my sense is that there's a message there: He wants you to understand that the violence that authority figures use to keep people in line is very real and serious. But he frames the victim retaliation as cartoonish to drive home that it is a fantasy. It's about using fantasy as catharsis---who doesn't want to see The Bride kill the people who are trying to force her to live with her abuser?---but not as an actual recommendation.

Considering how Tarantino villains are the worst people imaginable---Nazis, slaveholders, rapists, criminal overlords---you would think that even rock solid authoritarians, like the whining police leaders, would give him a pass for showing cathartic fantasy violence against them.

But Tarantino villains are more than statements on how Nazis are the worst.  He uses, for instance, the figure of the Nazi to interrogate authority itself. The Nazis in Inglourious Basterds  are monsters, but they are recognizably human---and reminiscent of many people you meet today, often in roles like law enforcement. And these villains are ridiculous. Tarantino uses his movies to mock the self-important puffery of authority figures, to show the insecurity and childishness underneath the grandiose posturing about how powerful and important they are. It's easy to see why some folks, such as those that mindlessly support law enforcement, might get touchy watching a Tarantino movie.

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Tarantino delights in ripping off the mask of authority figures, especially those deemed heroes and noble people in the eyes of their corrupt communities.  Inglourious Basterds, for instance, is built largely around the story of one young Nazi soldier who is held out by German forces as a national hero because of his sniping abilities. But no surprise (he is, after all, a Nazi), our gallant young gentlemanly German soldier is a would-be rapist, and a pathetic one at that.

The whole thing calls to mind the entire story of Lt. Joe Gliniewicz of Illinois, which feels like something straight out of a Tarantino movie: A cop's death is used as a pretext by police everywhere to wax maudlin about how they are heroes and their use of violence therefore should go unquestioned by the general public. But it's quickly revealed that instead of being an officer and a gentleman, the police hero is actually a sniveling villain---an embezzler, a bully, and a sexual harasser---and that he was villainous in death, even trying to frame innocent men for murder by committing suicide.

This is the sort of hypocrisy and whiff of ridiculousness in oppressive authority figures that Tarantino loves to skewer in his movies. No wonder people who are trying to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement hate him so much.

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Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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