That saying, the fitting inspiration of a 2019 J. Cole track, is meant to ground us. On one hand, we’re not God. The universe has plenty enough space and time for anything and everything to have happened. We’re not that special.
On the other hand, the phrase is empowering. The universe, one way or another, returns to something known. Some balance, some way of falling into place. No human creation is permanent, flawless, or completely original. In a bittersweet way, everything we make will erode downstream and build into something “new.” Why, then, should you let big names and famous faces intimidate you in your quest to create?
Thinking bigger, why should we cling to any way of life as desperately as Americans are clinging to nostalgic content and militarized police forces?
Here in the year 2021, 82 percent of Americans oppose defunding police departments and the biggest movie of the year thus far is the second film, 60 years apart, about a giant gorilla fighting a giant reptile. And with 161 million dollars poured into it, a different sequel is set to be the movie of the summer (Space Jam 2).
In a time where most Americans have access to resources with which they could make their own films and U.S. police kill more than 1,000 people annually, most of us couldn’t possibly imagine enjoying an original indie film in theaters or taking money away from people who kill us. Despite many Americans decrying the same old stories—on screen and in the streets—few of us are daring to write new ones.
Known Devils, Fictitious Angels
In Minneapolis, the current eye of the racist policing storm, residents on the predominantly Black North side are among the most distrustful of police officers. But when asked about their preferred solutions to racist police violence, reforms like “training” to interact with residents and a requirement of officers to live where they serve had the most enthusiastic support in a recent New York Times piece.
One man in the piece likened cops to his mother, saying he might dislike being whooped once in a while but he still relies on them. A young woman who was shot in the back seat of a car argued, “It’s good to have good police,” and, “It’s bad to have bad police.”
The possibility that the young man views his scuffles with cops as trauma, or that the young lady sees cops who are silent about police brutality as complicit, is small.
Arguments for the benefits of increased police presence are dubious at best, and the drawbacks prove themselves after every murder of an unarmed or unthreatening citizen by police. But can we blame these residents for being unwilling to throw it all away? Can we blame each other for being more scared of what could be than what is?
Many public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul were designed by prison architects, my alma mater included. In these uninspired buildings, we were conditioned more than we were inspired. And with every pledge of allegiance, every brown-skinned child dubbed a “lost cause,” every push to attend college, and every insistence that only tech gurus and scientists have worthwhile ideas, the fearlessness we all had as kids evaporated.
It’s hard to find an idiom to better capture this American conundrum than “A known devil is better than an unknown angel.” The choices American society grants its citizens, from the job market to the voting polls, can be summed up by that quote. Taking this South Asian adage one step further, many Americans do not think there are angels to know. We are aggressively taught to deny their existences and are considered insane for believing in them.
The angels—no private prisons, less police, well-paid teachers, and college and healthcare for all, among others—simply do not exist. Even to those of us most desperate for change.
Today, many of us would rather be right than be free. More terrifying to us than generations of life devoid of creativity, peace, health and quality time with loved ones is making a mistake fighting against that.
Fortune 500 CEOs can gamble away billions of other people’s dollars, get them right back and be encouraged to try again. But damn you for actually using your vacation hours.
A group of only 100 companies are responsible for more than 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions between 1998 and 2015. But yes, drag your friend for using a plastic straw. They are killing Earth.
So much of the onus to hold the world together, to save humanity from itself, is placed on you and I. The few people who ruin it for us all deeply depend on us to be cool with slavery behind bars, slavery to wages, and a suicidal reliance on fossil fuels. Our power to stop those things is implied, but many of us are still too afraid to collectively step into that power.
How are 82 percent of us against taking money away from police when 89 percent of us think police brutality is a problem? And if we dislike remakes so much, why don’t we put more time and money toward new stories to define us?
With digital content capitalists poised to squash indie creatives and local governments refusing to rein in police, we’re headed for more reboots. Of Space Jam and Ghostbusters, of the Eric Garner act, the Emmett Till act, and “reforms” that ask police departments to self-report violent and racist practices. It’s like trusting DC to not insult us with another Suicide Squad film, which isn’t even a continuation of the 2016 version. It is quite literally another shot at the same movie five years later with different actors and a change of scenery.
Much like the “sweeping” George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Congress is trying to pass.
Much like Biden’s corporate tax hikes that, historically speaking, are not very high.
Truman Show Boats Hitting The Wall
The successes of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, experiments with Universal Basic Income, and autonomous spaces like George Floyd Square have created hairline fractures in our worldview. Few of us are pounding on those fractures to break down the walls of our imagination, the walls that keep us from acting on beliefs that food, shelter, and healthcare should not require labor. The walls that keep us from believing we can handle crime better than people who play with military hand-me-downs and spend their money and imagination on robot surveillance dogs.
We don’t like addressing the roots of an issue because it’s scary to be uprooted. To be reminded the only things securing us in space-time are the things we can all agree to believe in. And as fundamental as Jesus’ death, the caesium second, and gravity are in grasping physical reality, the bedrock of America’s social reality is anti-Blackness, violence, and exploitation.
And wack film reboots that weaken our imagination.
Ain’t nothin’ new under the sun, meaning whatever world awaits us next can’t be that wild. After living through a pandemic and regularly seeing murder through handheld anxiety machines, how much longer until our frustration with this world outweighs our fear of a new one?
P.S. Seriously, DC couldn’t just leave Suicide Squad alone? They don’t even know whether to call it a sequel or a reboot because their revival of the film is so weird. All this money toward rewriting a movie that flopped instead of, hear me out, writing a new film?? At this rate I’d rather watch a feature-length version of RDCWorld’s Black Avengers.