It seems like assholes aren’t just everywhere you turn – in the papers, on cable TV, at political rallies and protests. , and all over social media – but that they and their behavior, has been normalized.
It is this “rising tide of assholery” that is at the heart of director John Walker Assholes: A Theory, which adapts the 2012 non-fiction book by philosophy professor Aaron James into a documentary aimed both at precisely defining the term “asshole” and at exploring how those who fit this bill have come to dominate more and more.
Donald Trump is not seen or mentioned once by name in Assholes: A Theory.
Without mentioning it once, Walker makes it clear that Trump is the epitome of this problem, given that his election to the highest office – and failure to abide by the rules and norms of common decency – made it appear acceptable. , and indeed gratifying, to act in the worst possible way as a means of achieving one’s selfish ends.
He is, the film silently says, the pinnacle of American assholery.
As James puts it, “The asshole, as I define him, is one who grants himself special advantages in co-op life through an ingrained sense of entitlement that immunizes him from the complaints of others.
In other words, he’s the individual – usually male, although, as John Cleese frankly admits, his mother probably was too – who thinks the general rules don’t apply to them because ‘they are somehow smarter or more special than their fellow citizens.
Fraternities are breeding grounds for horrific group mentalities about women and sex. The financial sector encourages greed, cruelty and vulgarity as the best way forward. And the army defends the ritual abuses of initiation in the service of its own good.
Using relevant clips from, respectively, Animal house, the wolf of Wall Street and Full Metal Jacket, director Walker conveys the idea that these circles are all plagued by a similar sort of assholery in which arrogance and entitlement justify all manner of despicable ideas and deeds.
Assholes: A Theory suggests that real assholes probably don’t know they are one; at the heart of this condition is the certainty that any bad behavior is in fact OK.
This is detectable in some of Walker’s interviews with young people, one of which freely admits he only pays attention to other social media users if there is a personal benefit in connecting with them.
This kind of me-first worldview is crucial to Walker and James’ conception of their subject matter, and while some of the tangents in the film may use more detail – like the idea that most NHL players are. inherently morons – his overall classification of assholery seems stain-on.
Plus, while his form can be a bit stilted and awkward , he has a cheeky sense of humor, like when he compares America rich in assholes to asshole -lighter Canada (where people tend to be more pleasant and accommodating).
Assholes: A Theory
The most compelling – and infuriating – segment of Silicon Valley, where Mark Zuckerberg and like-minded CEOs have developed a culture of trampling on competitors, laws, historical norms and fundamental principles of democracy to looking for eyeballs, clicks and additional income streams.
In a place where young men team up in a desperate quest to develop the next big innovation that will turn them into tech moguls (a situation one interviewee calls ‘bro-gramming’), nothing matters but the egocentric end goal.
Although Facebook, Twitter, Google and their ilk can change that landscape by simply quelling the horror that permeates their platforms, they choose not to because of the negative financial consequences.
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