When teaching the concept of ideology to my first year students, I love using Michael Bay’s Armageddon as a prime example. From beginning to end, the film is one long wet kiss to Reagan conservatism. The entire thesis of the film consists in staging the inability for government to solve any of the world’s problems. No, only private business can save us. The film opens with Bruce Willis hitting golf balls at a Greenpeace ship protesting his offshore oil rig. They, of course, are to be vilified because any attempt to address climate will lead to more government regulation. Willis’ character notes that they’re hypocrites because their boat is burning gasoline. When the government arrives because they’ve been recommended as the best deep drillers on the planet, Willis finds out that the government has stolen the patents to his drill (government is dishonest and a thief), and the NASA scientists can’t even put the drill together correctly (government can’t do anything right; never mind the fact that they can land on a comet with a few months planning). When Willis decides there’s no way highly trained astronauts can save the planet and agrees to take his crew to the comet to do the job for them (private oil companies to save the world!), they all request to never be taxed again because, well, taxes are theft. Once on the comet they have to struggle with NASA in Houston to prevent the bomb from being detonated before the hole is drilled (federal government is too remote to deal with local issues).
The entire film is staged to unfold the incompetence of government, the thesis that private business is always the best solution, and the opposition between federal and local government. What I find fascinating, however– and I have no answer to this question, I’m just marking it –is the way in which the images that we’re conscious of, that are right there before us in movies, novels, comic books, and television shows somehow work on us, giving us frames for interpreting the world about us. The unconscious is right there, on the surface, for anyone to see, yet is still somehow veiled. I don’t know that the average viewer of this film registers that they’re being spoon fed an ideological frame through which to view the world, yet somehow these images still work us over and produce meaning. How is it that we absorb these things, as if through a sort of osmosis, without even being aware that we’re doing so? People often think that art– and I’m not suggesting that Armageddon is art –is a representation of reality; that it is somehow supposed to depict reality. This gets things backwards. Art, rather, is the frame through which we approach reality; through which we structure an opaque and enigmatic world, giving it sense and structure. Art somehow seems to precede the real, not the reverse.