The Undeserved Acclaim of Jordan Peele

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Jordan Peele: a name that was once exclusively known as that of an obscure MADtv cast member, has, in recent years, taken one of the strangest and most unforeseen turns in cinema history. After his stint on the Fox produced sketch-comedy program, he and fellow cast member Keegan Michael-Key joined forces to create the now well recognized comedy twosome Key and Peele. Their show of the same name Key & Peele enjoyed adequate success during its respectable run on Comedy Central, and boasted the duo’s ability to flex their comedic muscles in terms of performance and writing. In the wake of the program’s cancelation, however, there has come the emergence of what is perhaps the most baffling rise of celebrity to occur this decade. That, of course, refers to Mr. Peele, who has amassed what can literally be called an overnight one-eighty, in terms of both reputation and social capital within the film industry.

Peele, a filmmaker with a hit debut picture under his belt, has quickly drawn comparisons to the likes of Hitchcock and other pioneers of cinema. This would all be well and good, except for one simple, solitary fact: Jordan Peele is neither a proven talent nor is he yet a visionary. With the accolades thrown Peele’s way, he could serve as ‘Exhibit A’ in a library of filmmakers that could only be manufactured from the strange times of which they are contained. What will follow is a summation of Peele’s supposed accomplishments, or lack thereof, and how such a reputation can only be considered as superficial and inauthentic.

One might ask such a question when considering the unprecedented rise of the former comic goofball: why, or how, did he become so popular so quickly? To said question, there lies both a complex answer and a simple answer. The simple answer: socially progressive profiteering.

Even the most stringent apolitical types might find difficulty in dissecting Peele’s meteoric rise to unearned prominence without mentioning the hyper-political, progressive-based motivations of his work. Since his cinematic debut, Peele has hastily and enthusiastically taken up the mantle of being Hollywood’s arbiter of the new wave of “socially-conscious” genre filmmaking. With that status, he has already been awarded an Oscar for screenwriting, as well as an unspoken impermeability in terms of his standing in the industry. In such an infantile career, the arrogance of Peele and his seemingly sycophantic army of admirers can do catastrophic damage to the future of movies and film criticism. Such an assertion calls for a deeper dive into Peele and his body of work.

Look no further than Peele’s 2017 film. His only film. Get Out. A low-budget effort fronted by Blumhouse, this picture was an undoubted success at the box-office but was more notably a critical sensation. Critics (or the dopes we’ve been told are critics) fawned over the film’s race heavy, social driven message on the concepts of white privilege, cultural appropriation, and “Uncle Toms”. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone quipped, “A jolt-a-minute horrorshow laced with racial tension and stinging satirical wit. How is one movie all that? See ‘Get Out’, from debuting director Jordan Peele… and get woke.”

Yes. Such words were written and handsomely paid-for. Therein lies the issue regarding Peele. It is no mystery that with Get Out premiering just weeks after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, Peele was emerging at an opportune time for heavy-handed, politically driven cinema to be viewed as profitable. Regardless of what the individual may feel about the politics of our time, it makes Peele’s instant leap to prestige all the more transparent and, in essence, phony. Get Out was just the beginning.

Let words not be minced, though. Get Out has its moments of proficiency. Peele was capable enough in his rookie effort to develop a keen eye for cinematography, as well as a distinct scheme for thematic imagery (“The sunken place”, no matter how pretentious it may be). In a different world, say America just a generation ago, Get Out would be a modestly respected film for its thriller elements as well as its technical accomplishments, and would likely gain a shelf life as a cult indie experiment. In today’s America, however, with the hyper-politicization of everyday life and the pathological purveyors of thought-policing and virtue signaling, Get Out was a dream come to true to self-aggrandizing altruists. This has allowed Peele to become the “Teflon director”, so to speak. To criticize his films raises the questions of bigotry or malice within the critical square. Partnered with this zealous praise of “woke” cinema is an unending and unquestioning following of Peele’s every step.

Incoming this year is Peele’s sophomore directorial effort Us. In short, Us appears to be little more than a self-congratulatory victory lap by Peele. The trailer, filled with the same sense of pseudo-intellectual dribble that bogged down the finer elements of Get Out, has already stoked excitement among the masses at large. The shill-critic complex has seemed to already celebrate the film without having seen a frame of the final cut, and there has been a hilariously silly praise of the trailer’s use of re-cutting the song “I Got 5 On It” to suit its horror-thriller tone (which hundreds of trailers have done with other songs). There is a simple way to diagnose the zealous nature of critics and moviegoers toward Peele and his efforts: tunnel-vision.

It is tunnel-vision on part of the critics who daren’t be the sole voice to knock down Peele’s wildly inconsistent and conflicting commentaries on race, classism and politics. It is also tunnel-vision on the part of audiences; that to question or dislike a film that fictitiously and tone-deafly appeases the insecurities of a patronized generation of millennials, one must be morally unjust. This dichotomy has allowed for Peele to have the allure of turning to gold whatever he touches. He has amassed Executive Producer status on such large entities as a reboot of The Twilight Zone, Candyman, and Akira to unabashed excitement and full-fledged faith on part of his zealots. This proves troubling for a cinematic community that is so self-convinced it is based in honest, artistic merit.

The problem remains: Peele has not been challenged, criticized, or called to address any (of the few) legitimate criticisms of his work. Peele has aptly, perhaps even accidentally, weaponized the game of social justice in his favor. Though he has enough talent to work outside such a shallow market, he may liken himself a fool to disband from such unearned power. Through the cultural zeitgeist of the supposed “resistance” to contemporary America, as well as exploiting and channeling the current misplaced millennial angst, Peele has hustled reactionary audiences and critics alike. A young (39) and capable talent, Peele has undercut the meritocratic past of former directorial greats and has found a new game, that of impervious “woke” cinema. Perhaps some day Peele and his army of keyboard minions will be humbled for the better, and hopefully sooner than later.

// The Cinematologist [01-17-2019]