The Philosophy of Get Out – Wisecrack Edition

Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Philosophy of Get Out. There are few films as clever in their depiction of racial tensions in America as Jordan Peele’s social thriller Get Out. While most movies that focus on race take aim at those who overtly try to disenfranchise minorities, Get Out does something unique: it explores how the demeanor of white liberals who have supposedly “moved beyond racism” may not be as authentic as they may think. By drawing on black thinkers and philosophers, we explore how Get Out is a masterful depiction of the black condition in 20th Century America.

Written by: Mike Burns
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon

The Philosophy of Get Out – Wisecrack Edition

Hey Wisecrack, Jared again. Pour yourself a cold glass of milk, cuz today we’re talking about Jordan Peele’s social thriller Get Out. While many films explore race in America, what makes Get Out so unique is that it doesn’t go after the usual targets but instead takes aim at an unlikely mark: white liberals. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Get Out. And, of course, spoilers ahead. But first, a quick recap: Get out follows Chris Washington as he meets his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. While the first half of the film explores white liberals awkwardly attempting social interaction with a black man; the second half of the film takes a pretty horrific turn. After we find out that the party hosted by Rose’s parents is, in fact, a slave auction of sorts, we learn an even more terrifying truth: An old white man wants his brain implanted inside of Chris’ body. Writer/director Jordan Peele said the story came to him after reflecting on how many Americans thought the Obama presidency signified a ‘post-racial’ era. The film argues that so-called post-racial liberalism is something more terrifying than most would imagine.

Throughout the film, Chris is confronted with “totally not racist” white people who have ‘moved beyond’ racism. It explores how this disavowal seems to reinforce a relationship with black people that, at its best, is suspicious and at its worst…well, we’ll get there. But the first act shows us how attempts of people to show Chris just how ‘not racist’ they are only serves to further alienate him. The Armitage family seems unnaturally eager to bring up “black people stuff” around Chris- as if this proves that they’re not racist. This tendency to over-perform their “acceptance” of all things black only further cements the difference between them, and makes Chris extremely uncomfortable. Chris just wants to to get through the weekend and take some pictures, but everyone around him can’t help reminding him that he’s black, thus only making him feel more “different”. This also leads to a situation where any actual racism can be excused as long as one can show how “down” they are with black culture and anti-racist ideas.

The second act exposes Chris to a bunch of white people all fascinated with Chris’s blackness. Party guests want to know what it’s like to be black in America, and even feel compelled to tell him that blackness is in fashion. There is a term for white fascination with black culture that can help us better understand Get Out: negrophilia. The term emerged in 1920’s Paris to describe the craze for black culture amongst the hipsters of the day. Writer Petrine Archer-Straw writes that, for these Parisians, blackness was a sign of young Parisian “modernity.” But this had a problematic flipside,: “Black personalities were either lionised or demonised in a manner that denied normality.” In other words,they could never be, you know, actual people, and instead existed as one of two stereotypes: brilliant artists or uncultured animals. Throughout the film, we see both sides of this. Chris is celebrated for his cultural background, yet as the creepy brother reminds us: “With your frame, and your genetic makeup, if you really pushed your body – and I mean really trained, y’know, no p***yfooting around – you’d be a f***ing beast.”

To paraphrase Archer-Straw, in both cases, it’s the white perspective that decides how black people are defined. And this negrophilia isn’t just confined to the desire for black culture, it can be the desire for the black body itself both sexually; and athletically. And while you might be tempted to think “is it so bad to be desired because you’re sexy and strong?”, the answer is, yes. Negrophilia isn’t about truly understanding black people and their culture, it’s about using them to satisfy your own desires. This is not understanding humans, it’s collecting them. And while Get Out exemplifies classic Negrophilia, we see it take a leap forward to the literal colonization of the black body in the third act. Early in the film we learn about Grandpa Armitage’s experience of being bested by a black athlete. Well, it turns out that his inability to get over it led him to having his brain implanted in an athletic black body.

And Grandma Armitage? Well, it turns out her brain was placed in Georgina so she could spend her golden years playing dress up as a beautiful black woman. And of course Chris is on track for a similar fate
when he is auctioned off to a blind man who wants the award winning photographer’s eyes. And in an extreme version of liberal racism, Chris’ new owner refuses to attribute his purchase to racism: “Please don’t lump me in with that, I don’t give a shit what color you are. What I want is, I want your eye, man. I want those things you see through.” While a white person wanting to literally transform into a black person might sound preposterous, there is at least one American who wishes this was a reality: “Well, I don’t identify as African American, I identify as black, so I’m part of the pan-African diaspora.”

The film also offers insight into the psychological experience of black Americans navigating white America. Before the title screen, we see a black guy lost in white suburbs- a metaphor for what’s to come: “It’s crazy, got me out here in this creepy, confusing a** suburb. I’m serious though, I feel like a sore thumb out here.” The physical maze of white suburbia sets a clear parallel for the emotional maze that Chris will have to navigate. Many of Chris’ interactions seem modulated specifically for his white audience, like during interactions with the police, Rose seems content to make a scene while the only thing Chris wants to do is not piss off a cop: “No no no, f*** that – you don’t have to give him your ID because you didn’t do anything wrong.” Or when he suspects someone has been tampering with his phone, he quickly drops the issue to not make a scene with Rose’s family. Even something as simple as meeting his girlfriend’s parents leads Chris to worry: “Do they know I’m… do they know I’m black?”

And being one of the only people of color at the party leaves Chris anxiously trying to navigate this overwhelmingly white space. Philosopher Frantz Fanon described his own, similar, experience as a black man living in 20th century France. Fanon describes meeting “the white man’s eyes” as placing a burdensome weight upon him, one that left him feeling uncomfortable in his own body, and out of place in a world dominated by whiteness. Like Fanon, Chris is burdened by the weight of trying to fit in a world from which he’s fundamentally excluded. He is caught trying to integrate into Rose’s world, while at the same time trying to retain his identity. This forces Chris to be two people at the same time: a black man with his own identity, and, Rose’s black boyfriend who is nice to everyone no matter how absurd their questions.

To navigate this, Chris has to silence his own identity, a process made literal during a late-night chat with Rose’s mother: eventually viewing his own reality through a screen. This is the name for a hypnotic state in which one’s mind is separated from their body, and they are left to passively view their own experiences through a screen. When asked about the meaning of the Sunken Place, Jordan Peele tweeted that “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” According to this logic, any society built upon inequality will inevitably leave those on the outside without a voice, or at best, with a tempered version of their voice. One’s true identity has the remain in the background for the sake of going with the flow. We can understand the sunken place better with some help from sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, who coined the term double consciousness. According to Du Bois, double consciousness is the internal conflict experienced by African Americans living in a structurally racist society. These societal conditions lead black people to see themselves through the perspective of the dominant societal force, in this case, white people. Chris is repeatedly evaluated by the measuring tape of white society, and in particular, certain forms of white desire. The experience of being constantly examined leads to what Du Bois calls a “two-ness” in the black soul: “One feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” This imposition leads to confusion about the authenticity of one’s experience, and for Chris, this double consciousness has left him feeling like a helpless spectator.

If you were wondering why Chris seems to be haunted by the deer he and Rose killed it may not because he’s some kind of PETA activist, but because watching helplessly as a living thing died probably reminded him of his mother’s death. In other words, the sunken place seems not only be a hypnosis technique, but a metaphor for his own life as a helpless spectator. This fear of losing oneself is made literal in the Coagula procedure, in which black consciousness is literally pushed to the background to make room for the white mind; thus he risks being permanently cast into the sunken place. Chris is able to avoid this fate by plugging his ears with cotton picked from his chair which brings to mind poet Audre Lorde’s famous insistence that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” For Lorde this meant that it was futile for the oppressed to use the logic of the oppressor in their attempts at resistance. Instead, Get Out suggests the opposite: Chris uses a type of labor associated with slavery, picking cotton, to assert his own identity and avoid a type of slavery. Chris not only uses cotton to avoid bodily colonization, he re-purposes a bocce ball, arguably a symbol of the white elite, to take out Jeremy. Not to say that bocce balls are blatantly white objects, but, the only thing whiter would be playing hacky sack at a Dave Matthews Band concert. And, calling back to the symbol of Chris’ spectatorship, Chris takes a mounted deer and goes straight for Dave’s jugular with it, a sign that he’s overcome the powerlessness he once feared. Chris’ emancipation from this near-enslavement can be seen as a radical assertion of his black identity.

While Chris is able to escape the Armitage plantation of horrors, the real hero of Get Out, and the film’s comic relief,…is his best friend, Rod. Throughout the film Rod serves as the voice of reason who warns Chris of the horrors of white culture and eventually goes to the police once he puts together a theory for why Chris has gone missing. After a, um, revealing conversation with Rose he decides it’s time to come to Chris’ rescue. But before Rod saves the day, the film’s most terrifying scene comes from an unexpected source. We all know what is likely to happen if the police show up and see a black man kneeling over the bleeding body of a white woman. While the film’s intended ending was this devastating worst-case scenario(which will be an alternate ending on the DVD). Peele opted for a more triumphant conclusion in the final cut. But the moment between the police sirens and Rod getting out of the car is a stark reminder that the real monster of Get Out isn’t a fictional boogeyman, but rather, the horrors of the system itself, something that cannot be heroically defeated at the conclusion of a film. And the other lesson of Get Out? Well that one is more obvious: never, ever, underestimate the TSA: “How did you find me?”
“I’m TS -motherf***in’-A. We handle shit. That’s what we do. Consider this situation, f***ing handled.”

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