On the (Unintentional) Consequences of Get Out
A frequent marker of satire is a premise so absurd and exaggerated that the correlative, more subtle issue being examined can be exposed for its ridiculousness: poor parents should sell their children to rich people, who will then eat the children, to alleviate their financial burden; Black people enthusiastically undergo a procedure to turn their skin white to solve the US’s race problem; single people are given a few weeks in a hotel to find a suitable partner or are turned into animals. Each outlandish premise should inspire the audience to think about the bones of the issue (poverty, racism, the culture of monogamous partnership) and interrogate the absurd ways in which society constructs itself with them.
What makes Jordan Peele’s thriller Get Out also a satire is its own absurd premise: (liberal, moneyed) whites have fetishized blackness and Black people so much that they willingly occupy black bodies when their own prove insufficiently abled or are near expiration. Indeed, given the advantages of the oft-discussed white privilege and the ways that even the most liberal of whites cling to its vestiges, the premise is almost beyond absurd: no rational white person--not even a disabled one--would trade places with a Black person. Whiteness is simply constituted of too many advantages; one might as well die rather than, somewhat ironically, extend life by inhabiting a black body.
Despite its astonishing performance at the box office, Get Out is rather anemic. It’s scarce. However, it correctly assumes and relies upon its audience’s capability to fill in the gaps in content. It’s a bassline, allowing its delineation of Black people’s anxieties about maneuvering in liberal white spaces to create an exhilarating narrative with which many of us can identify and relate. Moreover, the film casts its allegiances by playing upon and with tropes of blackness, both shallow and deep, head nodding to the homies on the corner and the Black studies majors alike: from miscues in dap-giving as an indicator that something is afoul to the various utterances of the DuBoisian second sight by way of Chris’ use of photography and his potential owner’s desire to see the world in the way he does. Indeed, Get Out allows Black folks to sing their testifying notes while--it is hoped, I think--compelling white viewers to confront their own racism and really question the nature of their alleged allyship.
But what are the ramifications of the premise? Although a lot of commentary has been dedicated to the ways in which Black people can relate to Chris and to deciphering the symbols of the film, not much attention has been given to the consequences of what puts Chris in peril: “White” brains are being placed in black bodies, which is to say that the resulting “creations” are Black people who are kind of racial automatons, mascots who express a seemingly liberal (racial) politic but in actuality convey a white supremacist ethos. The blowback of the premise, then, is a kind of implicit commentary on white neoliberalism as it is conveyed by Black people who are chosen, in certain ways, to embody and forward its goals.
This, for me at least, is the most salient point of Get Out. The film, perhaps unintentionally, produces an opportunity to think about the ways that, in real life, Black people and black bodies are deployed to extend and preserve the aims of white supremacy. After all, what sparks the experimentation at the core of the movie is Rose’s grandfather’s realization that his own body cannot secure his dominance into perpetuity. He recognizes his limitations. He must, therefore, adjust, mutate into something that will sustain his desire to dominate. In actuality, what late capitalism and neoliberalism require is for Black people to become both the foot soldiers and very bodies of white supremacy. In so doing, at least initially, white supremacy goes undetected and therefore continues its damage, luring Blacks towards their own (social) death. Initially, Chris seeks out those who have undergone the procedure as allies in a dangerous space--they are Black; they must be must be cool. But it’s not until these figures miss certain tropes of blackness that Chris begins to realize that he is not safe and that these skinfolk are not, as Zora Neale Hurston might put it, his kinfolk. Rather, Chris’ rescue comes at the hands of the homie Rod from TSA, an organization with a reportedly robust group of Black, poor-, and working-class employees.
White (neo-)liberalism, then, becomes a trap, a kind of post-modern reboot of white supremacy that hypnotizes and lures Blacks into becoming (willing) instruments in their own demise, allowing for closer proximity to power, while, wearing sheep’s clothing, adjudicating Black oppression. There are plenty of examples of this: from network cable TV talking heads to bloggers to political leaders, including the former POTUS, who Peele often portrayed in spoofs centered on the POTUS’ seemingly dexterous ability to code-switch.
This observation is not necessarily an invitation to interrogate the various “meanings” of Obama while many deal with the (temporary) “defeat” of the white supremacist liberalism he embodied by pining for the days of 2013, give or take a few years. Rather, what I hope to illustrate is the ways in which Get Out, as a film in which we can project our Black (bourgeois) anxieties about being in mixed company, perhaps distracts us from the cruel and true consequence of its own premise, which is to say that the film unintentionally, yet implicitly, calls for us to question the very dangerous stakes of our participation in such encounters. That is the real heavy lifting the audience must do. But just as Chris’ inability to kill Rose suggests, one cannot easily kill the thing that one ultimately desires--whether that be white women, (proximity to) power, or both--without adequate intervention.
That, I suppose I’m suggesting, is the ultimate lesson of the film. But white supremacy can be tricky. And it’s so much sexier to talk more about, I don’t know, how Get Out once again unifies the North and South and their respective flavors of racism via nods to Deliverance, Jim Crow-esque refusals to mix milk and Froot Loops, and the OG conspiracy of the West: the kidnapping of black bodies. And because of that, perhaps the joke, or rather the satire, is still on us.