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Rob Ager has drawn heaps of attention from the internet and respected news media outlets, but I’m baffled in respect of how. On the press page of his site he lists links to news media content that featured his work and with positivity. Shock - these include New York Times, Time Entertainment, Indiewire, AV Club, Cracked, iO9, Irish Times, Digital Spy, Slate, Entertainment Weekly, Jakarta Globe .... some promoting his work more than once! Miramax was duped into using one of Mr Ager’s “film analysis” postings to promote the Reservoir Dogs Blu-ray. The New York Film Academy saw fit to post two Ager articles containing his supposed expertize. And now he’s in an upcoming French documentary about the Mad Max series; billed next to respected interviewees George Miller, Guillermo Del Toro, Hideo Kojima and Noam Chomsky … WHY !!
Ager has publicly opposed the EU for years, he’s written entire articles about his theories on banking corruption, US “imperialism”, and the “dangers” of political correctness. He’s a conspiracy theorist if ever there was one, but at Entertainment Weekly Ager was interviewed by Jeff Jensen alongside the great director Christopher Nolan, but what does Mr Jensen have to say about Ager? The quote is beyond comprehension, “Immersion Critics need not be conspiracy theorists (scary or jokey) compromised by confirmation bias, who see the Illuminati written all over Eyes Wide Shut, which, like The Shining, has yielded a surplus of specious academia. They can be people like Rob Ager. Part film scholar, part Robert Langdon, Ager has produced a number of written and video deconstructions ...” What – the – f___K ???????
Small conciliation can be found in a handful of articles that gave Ager the negative coverage he deserves. Wired issued two public roastings about his early conspiracy tinged “film analysis” videos, but that was 2007 and the caped film expert has flown a long way since. The only academic countering came from Dan Leberg of Gerorgetown University, but nobody read it. Leberg conceded that film students under his wing were enthralled with one of Ager’s videos. A point by point debunk by Leberg would have been welcomed, but to his discredit Leberg opted to write a long denunciation of Ager’s academic non-status (something only his colleagues would take note of). In 2010 Mr Ager was roundly attacked for his past membership of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), but the attack failed because the perpetrators went overboard by peppering their story with transparent falsehoods. When one of the key outlets published an apology and retraction it served to provide Ager with a shield against any future attacks. This might be the basis of the lack of hard criticism of Ager’s work since 2007.
My concern is that Rob Ager’s influence and popularity is growing. To have his conservative / Eurosceptic politics and half-genius / half-delusional views on the arts invade thousands or God forbid millions of minds is a terrifying thought.
Why does he get so much attention? Well,...
1) Most people know him mostly for his videos, not his essays, which you would have to read all the way through and can only do so after ordering them through his site. The videos have the advantage of being more accessible. They can immediately "prove" a theory by showing the scenes he discusses in motion. They are also shortened versions of the full-length texts, and thus more concise and to the point - not to say superficial - in some places. Thus a majority can easily understand and agree with the stuff he theorizes about, even if they aren't aware it's usually just a fraction of his entire work.
2) Several of his film analysis are devoid of political or conspiracy undertones. If you only saw a handful of them you may get the impression that he is just a passionate cinephile. I'm quite sure that the people who invite him for interviews fall into that category. It's only when you see all of them, especially the more militant ones, that you might start to question the beliefs and hidden agenda of the person who posted them.
3) Quite some people seem to think that Ager came up with all these theories and analysis himself, even though he clearly cites his sources. To them he probably comes across as a genius. Yet, like with most amateurs on the Internet who start a passion project, someone who knows a lot about a topic is not by definition an "expert", but usually just a fan with a very specific series of interests. You can document and educate yourself on various topics, but there will always be a field where you need actual classes or help from professionals.
4) There are also quite some regular movie fans who seem amazed what Ager has discovered about their favorite pictures, apparently unaware of the existence of "art analysis". It doesn't help that Ager himself sometimes snobbishly scolds people who still claim that "films are just films" and who refuse to believe a creator could have put hidden meanings in it. Therefore he makes it appear as if he is right and his disbelievers are ignorant. Yes, quite some people are blissfully unaware that movies could have intentional hidden metaphors or clues. But there are an equal amount of people who ARE aware that art can have hidden symbolism. In fact: anybody who has studied at an academy has analyzed works in terms of character, plot, style, symbolism, metaphors, historical context, the author's lifestory,...Professors have devoted entire syllabi to them. Critics have written hundreds of books about it. It's not exceptional, folks! Some of Ager's "groundbreaking discoveries" are often just deeper analysis of ideas others came up before with.
5) A lot has also to do with the presentation. Ager presents his movies as "decoding secret or hidden messages or truths", which sounds far more exciting than what he actually does: reading books and web sites, rewatching the same movie(scenes) over and over and look for small details - some very far-fetched or more coincidental - that support your "theory", then proudly claim that you "cracked the code". Half of the time it isn't even an actual "code" or "message". Perhaps Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" was faking his "illness", maybe E.T. was a fantasy of Elliott, "Pulp Fiction" could be about masculinity,...? It's all thought provoking, but in what way does it bring us enlightment? I also find it amazing that Ager didn't realize Starship Troopers was a satire on wartime propaganda on first viewing. Yes, many people didn't it realize this at the time, but in his case it's really odd. Someone who claims to be highly intelligent - yet doesn't want to reveal his I.Q. number - and is such an expert in "decoding" hidden clues is apparently unable to see actual intentional hidden messages when they are put right in front of his nose.
6) The Emperors New Clothes is also in play. Many people are understandably impressed by Ager, but feel a bit scared to actually challenge his ideas because they don't want to come across as idiots who "don't understand it". It doesn't help that Ager often tells people in a condescending tone that if they aren't ready "for the truth" or if they disbelieve him they should just accept what he says or simply turn his video off. By doing this, of course, there is no room for any discussion. And even those who would want to challenge him will get cold feet because they have to talk to somebody who has spend more time on analyzing the film than they did. So, instead of offering critique people just accept him as a genius analyst, yet haven't checked out his sources or any other sources for that matter to see whether what he says is correct and what are or aren't his "own" personal ideas. It's kind of tragic that the same kind of people who feel they are smarter than the masses for not believing what the government, media or institutions say do rely on someone whose credentials are really not that more trustworthy and whose own rhetoric is extremely dogmatic. For instance: Ager quotes from a Kubrick interview where the director said that "A Clockwork Orange" was intended as a warning against a new sort of fascism. Ager then searches for Nazi imagery in the film, which isn't difficult to spot. Then he makes a weird connotation, claiming that the film must be a warning against Fascism within the European Union, because around the same time of the film's premier the E.U. adopted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as their official anthem. Now, people who know that Ager is a politically active anti European Union activist would instantly know that he's obviously shoehorning his own beliefs in here. As "proof" he shows shots from the film where the music plays over Nazi swastikas and then shows unrelated pictures of E.U. flags who, to him, look suspiciously like Nazi flags. Then Ager combines this with a trivia tidbit that Kubrick just so happened to be a supporter of politician Tony Benn, who, as Ager informs us, was also opposed to the E.U. This, of course, implying that both he and Kubrick are minds of a same kind. Even though... 1) Beethoven's 9th is not monopolized by the E.U. Many people enjoy this masterpiece. Would this imply that they are all probably Fascist sympathizers? Even if it were a metaphor it is a particularly odd one, since most people - even in Europe - don't automatically associate Beethoven's 9th with the E.U. If Kubrick really wanted to prevent people from voting for E.U. membership why didn't he make it more blatant? Or why didn't he just join a rally against it? 2) Several of those European Union flags don't even remotedly look like Nazi flags and why would they, if they operate on a supposed "secret" Fascist level? You'd think that most people in post-war Europe would be immediately alarmed if a government used swastikas in their flag. If you even look at the current E.U. flag it's just 12 stars against a blue background, not must different from the stars in the American Stars 'n' Stripes or the blue colors in the Union Jack. 3) The entire film takes place in England, so wouldn't it make more sense to be a warning against Fascism in the U.K. government? In fact, "Pomp & Circumstance" by Edward Elgar is also on the soundtrack, a patriotic English composition traditionally associated with the annual - very anglophilic- Night of the Proms and often called an "alternative national British anthem". Or couldn't the film be a more universal warning against any institution? Distrust of governments is a running theme in Kubrick's entire work. 4) Kubrick only said the film was a warning against Fascism. Nowhere in the quote does he say anything about the E.U. 5) Kubrick may have felt sympathy to Tony Benn. But Benn had more political viewpoints than opposition to the E.U. alone. Seeing that many people seldom agree with everything politicians say, even the ones they like, and Kubrick's low amount of interviews, how can he ever know for sure that he liked Benn for that reason? Also, Kubrick is dead. There is no reason to believe that what he said in the 1970s would be still true to him today. As he can never confirm or deny any analysis made about his films it's fairly easy to start speculating and read whatever you want to read in his work. Just the mere fact that some details in a work are clearly intentional on behalf of the makers doesn't mean that every single detail supports the same theory, or a theory at all. It reminds me a bit of the "Paul is dead" theories in Beatles songs. Yes, quite some song lyrics and album cover art were clearly intended to imply Paul was dead, but certainly not all of it. And in the end: Paul really was alive. So, for all we know all these hidden messages and clues in a work could just be a Trolling Creator, making anyone who spent so much time finding a link between it all, utterly ridiculous.
> "To have his conservative / Eurosceptic politics and half-genius / half-delusional views on the arts invade thousands or God forbid millions of minds is a terrifying thought."
—I'm glad I skipped to the end of this rant before wasting any time replying to it. Wotta snowflake....
Never be surprised at the level of attention and importance humanity can bestow upon unspectacular mediocrity.
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