In Quinten Tarantino’s seminal smash hit film Pulp Fiction there’s a harrowing and bizarre scene where two men from very different backgrounds find themselves bound together in a most confusing and vulnerable circumstance. “Butch”, a white boxer from Tennessee (played by Bruce Willis) and “Marsellus”, a black crime boss from L.A. (played by Ving Rhames) were bitter enemies based on a lot of history and a fight over a lot of money. They had been fighting each other on a city street so ferociously that they did not notice that they had fallen into the dungeon of the common enemy from hell. By the time they found themselves gagged and bound, it was too late.
The common enemy whose lair they had fallen into was a demented local beat cop named Zed. And in only a few frames on film we discovered that Zed was a twisted figure whose lust for power and dominance was matched only by his lust for sexually subjugating other men. And Butch and Marsellus were right there for Zed’s taking.
Because Pulp Fiction was both a huge box office hit and is a certified cult classic I can assume its safe to fast forward to the teachable moment for the upcoming election cyles: Butch escapes the dungeon while Zed and his manservant are raping Marsellus. Butch could have taken off and gotten away clean with both his money and his rectum intact. And although Butch still had serious beef with Marsellus (even a legitimate fear that Marsellus might have him killed) he just COULDN’T leave him in that dungeon in that situation. He couldn’t do that because it would have changed who HE was as a man. He knew deep down that he and Marsellus had more in common than what separated them- and had Zed’s cryptic game of “eenie meenie, miney mo” gone differently, HE could have been the one down in that pawn shop basement with deranged hillbilly rapists and a leather clad gimp.
Butch returns and stops the depraved assault, killing one assailant and leaving Zed to Marsellus’s “mideaval” torture and revenge. That is a tough way for two men to bond but bond they did: Agreeing that all issues between them were settled- on the condition that Butch leave town immediately and that he never speak of the insanity that unfolded in that dungeon.
Quinten Tarantino is a genius, but he couldn’t have foreseen that he was crafting a narrative that ultimately held the answer to America surviving and rebuilding itself after the debasing presidency of Donald Trump more than two decades later. As turbulent as this flight is that we’re all on I doubt very seriously that we’re going to crash and burn. I’m not saying this sick freak-show we’re watching in Trump’s D.C. is going to just blow over on its own and come to a peaceful end. But I am saying that it will come to an end one way or another and when it does, America will still be standing. Trump most certainly represents a new low for the nation but he doesn’t have the gravitational pull to keep it at the bottom he’s dragged it to.
We have to figure out what in the hell we’re going to do and who we’re going to be when that day comes and he’s gone- if we have any luck it’ll be in 2020 and not in 2024. That brings us back to Pulp Fiction and the story of Butch and Marsellus.
Those guys did not become friends or buddies, but they banded together to turn the upside-down world they were in right-side up again. And then they went their separate ways. The main two groups of Americans that will have to reconcile our politics if we are going to correct course in the Trump era is black folks and working class white folks. Its really simple: Trump is Zed and he most definitely intends to rape us both. He is expert at pretending to be against only one of us (hint: its the ones who look like Barack Obama). And that keeps a natural barrier between us.
But the pillaging and plundering of the U.S. Treasury bodes horribly for both of us- we are going to suffer tremendously in the years to come if we don’t fix that problem and we need each other to fix it. We’ve got to kill Zed AND his accomplices so we can get the hell out of this mess.
We don’t have to agree on everything to agree that neither of us wants Zed to have his way with us. Trump, a.k.a. Zed, has us BOTH right where he wants us after this insane tax cut and his gimps in the conservative media- Fox News, Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh- will do their best to make sure we don’t get away. Those media outlets are being stroked and coddled by the White House like servile puppies to make sure they keep us distracted so we don’t recognize what has happened, get wise, and unite to vote all of their asses out of D.C.
Trump’s time is going to run out, but Trumpism could live forever if we don’t stomp it out. And it won’t be stomped out until we shift gears on our identity politics and redefine our identity, indexing it to our economic prospects and not to our race or geography. That’s a heavy lift but its the one we’ve got.
So black folks and working class white folks, listen up: if you want to save your ass like Marsellus and save your soul like Butch, the surest way to do it is to recognize how much stronger we are voting together than we can ever be voting in opposition to each other. White guys, you don’t have to hold hands and sing kumbayah with us: just understand that if you live on your paycheck like we do, it really doesn’t help you to politically commit yourself to a bunch of guys that don’t know what it is like to need a paycheck to sustain their lifestyle.
They will keep hyping you up to believe that you are going to be rich like them one day with dividends, stock options, royalties, properties and equity that creates generational wealth, but until that day comes you should take a fresh look at who your true allies are. But don’t believe the hype. Your paycheck should be driving your politics because your politics will never drive your paycheck. And the next time Trump’s billionaire boys club steps to you trying to get you to vote against your own interest, stand with the brothers and let them walk into this image. If you recall Pulp Fiction, you know walking into these guys was bad news.
Something tells me THIS team will give them pause and we’ll both be much better off. Well done, QT.