Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video that explores how Get Out exemplifies Hannah Arendt’s theory on the Banality of Evil.
Any fan of horror movies is inevitably asked to account for their depraved taste. Why, after all, would anyone want to watch mutilations, masked murderers, and unsettling displays of the macabre, let alone take comfort in it?
Everyone has their own answer. But I do think there are two truths at the heart of why so many of us feel an attraction to the genre. The first is that, not unlike sci-fi, horror has an uncanny ability to call out terrifying things about the real-world in a way that feels controlled, safe, and contained. It depicts and dramatizes nightmares like abduction, home invasion, and body horror in ways that you can wrap your head around.
The second is that no matter how socially aware they may be, horror movies will always pale in comparison to the horrifying truth about real-world evil. Namely: that it is dangerously and insidiously normal-looking. Evil is something banal and every-day. It is complacency for bad behavior that, by virtue of being normalized, no longer registers as such. Evil in the real world is a dangerous lack of thought. It’s a weaponized complacency. As such, diving into fictional worlds where you can pick villains out of a line-up is reassuring. This is a comforting fantasy of horror: that evil is obvious and that it (usually) can be defeated.
The concept of “the banality of evil” was conceptualized by Hannah Arendt during her coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. Arendt was struck and horrified by Eichmann’s ordinariness. This boring bureaucrat thoughtlessly oversaw systematic genocide. And the implication is horrifying: that evil, real evil, often appears under the guise of ubiquity. This is the horror at the root of all systemic oppression, including the ingrained objectification and oppression of Black people perpetrated by white supremacy.
As the video essay below explains, Jordan Peele’s 2014 horror film Get Out not only confronts the normalized conventions of its own genre but the horror underlying the normalized oppression of Black people. The video essay teases out how Get Out echoes Arendt’s banality of evil theory and unpacks how Peele uses the expectations of the genre to dramatize the horrific normalcy of real-world evil.
Watch “Peele’s Get Out and The Banality of Evil“:
Who made this?
The Movement Image is a film journal edited by Grant Kerber and Paul Ebenkamp. Their companion YouTube channel contains videos based on content from the journal and analogous projects. You can subscribe to The Movement Image on YouTube here. You can check out the journal’s website here.
More Videos Like This
- Here’s another video from The Movement Image: how Nietzsche’s theory of the “eternal return of the same” clarifies the call to action of Béla Tarr‘s The Turin Horse
- Lessons From the Screenplay with a look at how Get Out uses an unfamiliar protagonist to unlock new ways of creating tension and establishing trust
- Here’s a clip of Hannah Arendt discussing totalitarianism in a lecture given in 1968 on power and violence
- Still a bit fuzzy on what the banality of evil is? Have three minutes? Here’s an episode from Wisecrack’s 8-Bit Philosophy series that breaks down Arendt’s coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann
- If you’d like, you can watch the entire Eichmann trial on YouTube.