Early on in Get Out, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut and one of the most significant American films of the last three decades, a couple runs over a deer on a country road. It’s all downhill from there: Soon, the cops arrive, and the film’s real drama begins to unfurl. The driver, Rose, is white. Her boyfriend, Chris, is black. A policeman asks Chris for his driver’s license. Rose insists Chris was never behind the wheel, and so shouldn’t have to present his papers. Tense looks are exchanged. The drama of race in America simmers, threatening to boil over.
It does, but not as you might expect. Soon, Chris and Rose arrive at the elegant home of her parents, the Armitages. Dad’s a surgeon with a white beard and twinkly eyes. Mom’s a therapist with a soft smile. They’re huge fans of Obama, as they make a point of telling Chris right away. They’re every bit as welcoming as that cop was suspicious. They’re enlightened folk, good progressives who hold all the right ideas. And they may also be homicidal maniacs.
Just who is slain and how and why is best left unrevealed—this, after all, is a horror film, and its pleasures depend in part on the thrill of terrible surprises—but it’s not giving too much of the plot away to state that Chris soon learns that eerie things are afoot at the tony Armitage estate. A gaggle of guests soon appears, in creepy matching black sedans, and they swarm Chris with an attitude that is just a touch too familiar for comfort. There’s one other black man among them, but he’s wearing a tattered boater and a forced smile that’s just as frayed. The only other black people on the scene are the Armitages’ housekeeper, Georgina, and her husband, Walter, and they, too, stumble about the grounds with frozen smiles and the measured speech of a particularly reticent zombie. Chris begins to feel someone’s out to get him. And, of course, someone is.
That’s not the scary part, though: What’s truly terrifying about Get Out is that its monsters aren’t the stock bigots we’re used to seeing—the sweaty, swaggering sheriffs with Southern drawls, the oily Republican preppies—but a novel, and much more realistic, kind of menace. Peele’s villains say all the pretty things about white guilt and black empowerment and racial equality, but when it comes to doing, they’re very much proponents of more coercion from on high, more social engineering, more bad ideas that put the bodies and the minds of black people at mortal risk. Chris’ experience may be more macabre than usual, but it’s not fundamentally different than, say, that of the folks living on Chicago’s West or South sides—where 762 people were murdered last year alone, and where the response of the progressive administration was to call for making the already stringent and clearly ineffective gun laws even more stringent and ineffective—or that of the kids in Detroit, where decades of progressive policies have turned the public schools into crumbling monuments to hopelessness. In those cases and too many more, black lives matter mostly as abstractions, the moving background in the morality play designed to reinforce liberal pieties, vilify anyone who doesn’t hold the right opinions as racists, and, most tragically, ignore the real lives of real people in need of real help.
American Jews, thankfully, are considerably more fortunate, but the dread evoked by Get Out is not entirely unfamiliar. In most of polite society, Jewishness is treated in much the same way as the murderous Armitages treat blackness: an idea to be celebrated while the actual people who embody it are destroyed. For proof, look no further than Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the massive Women’s March, protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump: Having raised tens of thousands of dollars to help rebuild a Jewish synagogue desecrated by anti-Semitic vandals in St. Louis, she thinks nothing of siding with Islamic Jihad operatives or embracing convicted terrorists who have murdered two young Jewish men. To our progressive betters, this is not a problem: They embrace Judaism but have no problem with those who kill Jews. Platitudes are offered, power is preserved, and the parade of folly goes on.
Like many, I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Spending a few years as a professor at New York University, I soon realized that while my colleagues would, if asked, go to great lengths to denounce anti-Semitism as vile, they had little patience for anyone, myself included, who believed that Jews were people who deserved basic rights. When I emailed a fellow professor and asked to participate in a weekend seminar she was organizing to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a subject I know a thing or two about—I was ignored, and eventually informed that the event was by invitation only, and that I wasn’t invited. It was, of course, dedicated to discussing the singling out of Israel for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions, a plot that would hardly benefit from the perspective of a proud Israeli-born Jew who insists his people have as much of a right to self-determination as everyone else in the world.
It was this kind of corrosive ideology—extolling the values of diversity while enforcing a crippling orthodoxy that had little patience for Jewish identity—that eventually drove me to get out of academia. It didn’t take long for me to learn the same lesson Chris does in the movie, namely that the point of this new strain of toxic liberalism isn’t really to help victims of racism or anti-Semitism or any other sort of discrimination; rather, it’s to reconfigure the identities of white people so that they may go on and enjoy the same exact comforts to which they’re accustomed. It’s the same prejudices wearing better clothes. And it works because it projects its disdain for the unruly lower orders onto poor whites—working stiffs like that hapless cop, schlubs who probably eat at Denny’s and listen to Toby Keith and vote for Donald Trump—while continuing to deny actual black people the right to cast themselves as the protagonists of their own dramas outside of the rigid scripts written for them by the white elite. The same is true for anti-Semitism, which the same elites can now project onto Israel: The Jewish State, our intellectual and moral betters insist, is the home of the bad Jews, murderous thugs who massacre innocent Palestinian babies and therefore can expect nothing less than the knife, the bomb, and the rocket, while the good Jews are those who nod in agreement, smile politely, think little, and say less.
Chris’ purgatory, like mine, wasn’t one specific moneyed estate occupied by one specific set of psychopaths. It was, and is, the twisted version of multicultural meritocracy peddled everywhere from our finest universities to our most revered newspapers, institutions once devoted to free inquiry and now committed to nothing more than laundering the inherited privilege of the children of the enlightened elites who can then emerge, after four years of devouring the doctrine, as social justice warriors who can safely inherit their parents’ fortunes and get jobs in cool start-up tech companies, which, surprisingly or not, look like the exact opposite of the quota-based politically correct heaven-on-earth to which they aspired so fervently just a few months earlier. It’s a scam, and, as Jordan Peele reminds us, it can be a deadly one.
Watching Get Out, then, I felt the old sense of dread that gnawed at me every day of my academic career creep back. I know what it’s like to be in a room full of people who smile but don’t really believe you matter. And in life, just like in that fine movie, there’s really only one thing to do in such situations: acknowledge that the threat is real, refuse to play the game, and get the hell out.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.