I’m an asshole.
I imagine you reading this almost as if I’m sitting in a circle among many other assholes, I’m not calling you an asshole just… you know, as if I’m at some AA (Assholes Anonymous) meeting as you stare on watching it all play out. So with that in mind…
Hi I’m Andrew and I’m an asshole.
I mention this only because I sort of loved Whiplash. This isn’t unique I guess many people have been singing (and drumming — because I need to be punny) the praises of this film. And why not? The acting is amazing, the characters are there in spades and the finale is brilliant. However, I want to talk about one very important element of that mix and why I feel interested in talking about why I love it.
The character of Fletcher, played by J. K. Simmons, is a horrible person (sort of) and the film revels in it. More to the point I revel in it. I sit down for the entire runtime of this movie and take a weird sense of joy out of watching Fletcher annihilate this child on a minute by minute basis.
It entertains me. This fact can bother me from time to time. I think about characters like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street and it’s the same thing. He sits above us all in a position of power and talks down to us consistently. And while we can disagree with his ideals and say that he’s wrong he can throw money at us and flip us the bird while high on Quaaludes driving his Lamborghini down the highway; and what can we say? What can we say to such positions but shrug and laugh.
This is the exact same here with Fletcher in Whiplash. He stands as the conductor and teacher with all the power over this child who can do nothing other than perform or be left behind. In that position it’s frustration or fruition for Andrew (the child). I know that position. I’ve felt that position. I personally don’t respond well to that kind of situation. Those are the kind of situations where I try my best to remind that person flexing such power that their power comes from my fear, and if I don’t fear them then that’s it. I find it personally freeing. But I sit here still wondering why I take joy out of watching it play out. Like some peeping tom looking into a room and just being a voyeur. With no power to have over the events happening in front of me I can only endure. I manage by laughing.
Is it because I put myself in the position of Fletcher more times than I do in the place of Andrew? Is that I’m an asshole who likes ‘winning’ at peoples expense sometimes? When I talk about showing no fear that gives that person power it’s my own version of winning in that situation. However, in the movie Fletcher is the constant winner. He’s the one showing power. I want to be powerful. So I continue to the asshole.
People will tell you that movies are one of two things (sometimes they’re both): an empathy machine; or an escape into fantasy. This film is both. You can easily see the story from both sides, Fletcher and Andrew, and you can either place yourself on either side of the discourse and take it as an opportunity to play out your own power fantasy. Am I playing out my fantasy of being that supreme asshole of Fletcher? I guess I am. Oddly enough though when it comes to Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street I don’t engage in fantasy but rather in the empathy. I look at that man on his yacht and I weep for him. When I watch Whiplash I wish I was Fletcher. I wish I was this person bold enough to push someone to be better than they are and that I had to balls to be that mean on the spot without care because I was true to my form and my goal.
Am I too much of an asshole then?