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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Terminator’ movies promote leader worship syndrome

    “”The Terminator”” has become a remarkable cult action series now spanning a quarter of a century. The current blockbuster “”Terminator 4: Salvation,”” is sweeping the country – with an unkempt broom, it must be said, having bristles that are themselves awkwardly untidy.

    The fundamental flaw with “”Terminator,”” however, is not with any one aspect of the films (not to mention the current one, which is a far sight less than mediocre movie but nevertheless wonderfully thrilling). Its defect is rather locked within its entire plot.

    I’ll pause here to note that I don’t mean this in a wholly denigrating way. I love the “”Terminator”” movies as much as the next action-lover who is drawn in a semi-sadistic way to tales of human self-extinction, murder and destruction. And, after all, where else is one going to see police property being blown up en masse and observe large droves of police officers violently humiliated by one person (who is the good guy), even if he is a machine? Only in “”Terminator,”” or to a lesser extent in “”The Blues Brothers”” (1980) or “”Reservoir Dogs”” (1992), of course.

    Now, most people know the story of “”Terminator,”” even if they haven’t seen any of the films. In the imminent future, humans create a supremely intelligent computer system (under auspices of the U.S. government, of course), in order to gain a greater power and efficiency over their own lives, and over the lives of other humans. But with terrific irony the computer system by its own manufactured nature (mimicking its creators) becomes self-aware and launches a literally ruthless campaign to gain power and exterminate (first by worldwide nuclear attacks) the human race, which it views as a threat to its existence.

    But lo, humans resist and are organized (note I use the passive voice here) by one man who is “”the last best hope for humanity”” (T3), John Connor. So the computer system (called “”Skynet””) then creates superb killing machines called “”terminators”” to hunt down and destroy humans – most especially John Connor, who is targeted by the machines in all the films as the one link in order for evil to overcome.

    Now, herein lay my misgivings with “”Terminator”” – that its plot is so hopelessly leader-oriented that, subliminally, the audience, if they behave and don’t ask questions, are converted into uncritical simpletons who can do no better than presume as fact that the history (and thereby future) of resistance movements is actually like this, where the fate of the many always rests on a singularly gifted one or precious few persons. This suggests that resistance, or indeed any social movement, has a linear path in space and time, and is an embodiment of itself that is so fixed and defined that simply murdering the so-called leader(s) of the movement will bring about the movement’s downfall.

    Well, I don’t buy it. No thinking person would. Anarchists would tell us different, and I think they have something there. In fact, radicals of all varieties – communists, revolutionary democrats (circa 18th-19th century, alas), libertarian socialists, etc. – would remind us that if you kill a resistance fighter, or leader or organizer – in the words of freedom fighter Victor Laszlo in Michael Curtiz’s “”Casablanca”” (1943) – “”hundreds, thousands would rise to take our places.”” This is because resistance is organic. And when undertaken by a mass popular movement of people against a monstrous evil, it is insuperable, and ultimately unstoppable.

    Though, for all its flaws, there is one utterly transcendent gem about the films which I recently discovered, while gearing up for T4’s release. In “”Terminator 3,”” released in the summer of 2003, there is an absolutely priceless line when the good-guy terminator explains for the audience how crucial it is that John meets his future wife Kate because it is she who, being the daughter of the U.S. military weapons division chief (creator of Skynet), connects John and his rebels with the “”remnants of the U.S. military … forming the core of the resistance.””

    The Shakespearean irony here is that the creators of “”Terminator 3″” – for all intents and purposes another mindless summer action flick – were unknowingly writing the entire historical downfall of the brutal U.S. occupation of Iraq. Just two months earlier, our bright and novel leaders in Washington, thinking that their war upon weak and defenseless Iraq was unequivocally won and its occupation should therefore be a lighthearted stroll in the park, airily proclaimed “”Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2,”” which effectively terminated (pun intended) the Iraqi army.

    Effect: A half-million armed, trained, humiliated – and now unemployed – young men who were witnessing the most powerful military machine (also pun intended) in modern history lay waste to their country, naturally knotted themselves with other anti-occupation forces, helping form the backbone of the Iraqi resistance and eventually turning some of the victimizing effects of our war back on us.

    If only we would have paid attention to the strangely humanist lessons in the “”Terminator”” movies, we might have learned something or two about how to make a better society, and perhaps avoid destroying another one. But one of the lessons of the Terminator movies, after all, is that we still can help make a better world if we want, whatever disastrous circumstances we’ve already made for ourselves and our grandchildren. Yes, while I’m at it, I’ll end by that treacly maudlin – yet poignantly classic – line from the series: There’s “”no fate but what you make.””

    – Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a junior

    majoring in art, literature and media studies.

    He can be reached at

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