21 Jump Street – Phillip Lord and Christopher Miller on how to get guns into schools. (Film Review)
What saved 21 Jump Street from being a total yawn fest, was the great one liners and the surprise appearance of Channing Tatum as something other than beefcake (comic beefcake) who has good timing. The first 21 Jump Street was loaded with the exaggerated praise reserved for this sort of fan-boy film worship of macho-ism and that seeming endless longing we have for Jonah Hill to get it on with a teenager just because he’s overweight. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jonah Hill, but these films get far too much praise, for what boils down to an incubator for about ten really good comic lines. Surely there is something a little off about people wearing flack jackets and arming themselves to the teeth in order to survive the prom – even by American standards? Or is this film funded by the NRA? It’s creepy enough that Jonah Hill (26 at the least) and Brie Larson (17 at the most) get it on, but the whole guns at the prom thing is in bad taste; It was then and it is now when we are about to hit ourselves up with a second go round.
So why are we so desperate to excuse all this? Is it those ten good lines?
Films like 21 Jump Street satisfy a need we have for film culture to stop rocking the boat and to show us what makes us feel safe. It is highly conservative propaganda shrouded in left-wing gags and pseudo-self parody, more about cops stopping drug dealers who are working through schools, although just in case the right-wing message wasn’t strong enough for you, we’ll take it to the colleges next time. Maybe we really do need all those guns in schools, and perhaps education is a haven for blue-collar illegal activity? If the film was a direct parody of the much-loved TV show that launched Johnny Depp to stardom you could at least giggle it off as a nostalgia trip, but it has little to do with the original show except for Fox’s concept to show that a place of education is dangerous, and really shouldn’t be thought of as good for everyone, least of all immigrants and the poor. The Lord /Miller edition preserved that overtone, and if it made plenty of fun of the protagonists, it retained its right-wing agenda never questioning that drug dealing in schools is infiltrated/controlled by (non-white) cartels who will probably be at the prom. With their guns.
According to an American government report on indicators of school crime and safety in 2012, the year 21 Jump Street came out, the statistics relating to school violence was decreasing when compared with the previous ten years of research. Homicides involving school children were far less likely to happen at school. But this isn’t all good news, because there was a dramatic increase in cyber bullying, racial minority bullying and forcible sex crimes on campuses. More often that not the targets are non-white and they are terrified of education. And yet, after the 2012 Obama appeal to Congress failed to change lax federal gun laws, parents and schools became increasingly concerned about safety in schools. So, what do you think they did?
So schools still seek to increase security by arming teachers, adding private security and increasing the number of “school resource officers” — police officers trained to work with students. The report found that 28 percent of all schools reported security staff routinely carried firearms in the 2009-2010 school year, and 43 percent of schools said they had one or more security staffers at least once a week. The report doesn’t include data as recent as Newtown. But it does show schools increasing security in some ways, even before the massacre. Sixty-four percent of schools reported using security cameras to monitor potential threats, and 88 percent controlled access to their building by monitoring or locking doors during the school day. Forty-nine percent of schools had dress codes in the 2011-2012 school year, and 24 percent reported using “random dog sniffs” to check for drugs. Poor schools had more metal detectors, ID requirements, dress codes, contraband sweeps and clear book bag rules than wealthier schools. Huffington Post
And this is where 21 Jump Street comes in. If you were told you had undercover policemen working among the students at your kids school (or more likely, schools in poor districts) despite the reduction of on campus violence, and the increase of racially motivated harassment and cyber bullying, does it make you feel safer for your kids or are you a little concerned about all that hardware being carried into that atmosphere? Well, how would you feel about it if when they said undercover cop, you thought Jonah Hill ? 21 Jump Street came out in March of 2012 and in December the same year, twenty-six people were killed at Sandy Hook, immediately after which greater gun control efforts failed and increased oppressive on campus security to target “suspicious individuals” snowballed.
I’m not suggesting Phillip Lord and Christopher Miller are right-wing operatives planted by the NRA to make us want more cops and surveillance devices in schools. However, I am suggesting that when they say they are “bummed that their film didn’t get green lit and they have to re make it” (from The Best Film You’ve Never Seen by Robert K Elder) that they are playing into an agenda outside of their own, and they may be supporting something unwittingly. 21 Jump Street made well over two hundred and one million dollars off the back of a forty-two million dollar budget. Where did that money go?
I’m also asking us to think about why we are laughing so hard in the dark, to demand a little more from our film culture than propaganda and to realise that the films we are fed are part of the system we are in, not a break from it. Consciousness in the consumer isn’t a chore, it’s an essential component of an effective democracy, and how we spend our dollar is one of the few true powers we have at our fingertips every single day.