Birdbrained

Hmm, Bird Box is quite offensive, really. Well made, compelling, but with a truly obnoxious concept, not quite at the heart of it, but close. I’d say it was operable: if you were concerned about defaming the mentally ill you could remove the offending material, replace it with something less fascist, and go about your business.

No way to get into this without some spoilers. As I say, the show is tense and involving so you might want to watch it first. But then you should think about what you watched.

Alien, windy things arrive on earth and everyone who sees them has to commit suicide. They’re like the little girl in KILL BABY KILL, or worse, THE WOMAN IN BLACK. That part isn’t offensive. It doesn’t say anything about real-world self-harm that I object to. It’s a pure fantasy concept.

But mentally ill people are affected differently. They don’t kill themselves, but they run about forcing other people to look at the that-which-must-not-be-looked-upons. The crazies in question include the escaped populace of an institution for the criminally insane, but also a hitherto harmless but weird guy who works at the local supermarket.

Tom Hollander is really good in this, by the way.

But what the show is saying, it seems, is that all mad people are basically the same, so that they might all be affected by an alien influence in the same way. And you can’t trust them.

Pretty clearly, if they’d made a show in which all black people or all gay people are turned into agents of the alien invader, that would have been seen as offensive.

Of course, insane people ARE different from any ethnic minority or sexual preference. But they’re also different from one another.

You could make a comparison with Joe Dante’s grim Masters of Horror episode, The Screwfly Solution, based on Alice Sheldon’s story. In that alarming anthology episode, an alien influence causes men to become murderously violent towards women when sexually aroused. The differences between that and Bird Box being that (1) you’d have to be a seriously butthurting male chauvinist to object to this premise. If the story is offensive to men, it’s offensive to the group who has the most power in human society. Also, this story touches base with our reality in several places: serious male-on-female violence is much more common than the reverse; the male sex drive and the aggressive drive are somewhat intertwined; making one gender kill another rather than procreate with it would be a wickedly effective way to exterminate a species. And (2), closely connected with the previous point, the makers of The Screwfly Solution and the original author pretty clearly thought about what they were saying and portraying.

The makers of Bird Box pretty clearly didn’t.

Bandersnatch is really good, though. Watch that.

 

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