Dark Planet: Visions of America

dark-planetDark Planet: Visions of America, released in 2005 by Illuminati Pictures, portrays four youth subcultures as they are lived on the streets of the contemporary United States: skinhead, straightedge, black metal, and zealot. The documentary’s creators, Jason “Molotov” Mitchell and his wife, Patricia “DJ Dolce” Mitchell, are a new breed of conservative Christian, combining traditional values with a hipster ascetic. Both provide video commentary for But “Molotov” Mitchell is familiar with subcultures and life on the streets. A former punk, Mitchell spent a year voluntarily living on the street and converted to evangelical Christianity in the late 1990s. D.J. Dolce appears in the documentary, but her relationship with the director, “Molotov” Mitchell, is not revealed in the film.

Dark Planet features interviews with members of all four subcultures. Three (skinhead, straightedge, and black metal) have evolved out of music scenes, and the fourth (zealot) was formed around evangelical Christianity. Zealot was the only subculture in this documentary that has not received much attention in literature about youth cultures, and seems to have been entirely made up by the filmmakers. Zealots, like straightedgers, reject drugs and alcohol, but also oppose pornography and feminism. They do not shy away from tattoos, piercings, and body modification.

While attempting to expose stereotypes about these four subcultures, the film inadvertently obscures their complexity and reinforces some stereotypes of its own. For instance, most of the skinhead segment is devoted to “debunking” the notion that skinheads are racist. White power skinheads are dismissed as not “real” skinheads, rather than included as a small subset of skinheadism generally. In contrast, the segment on black metal reinforced popular stereotypes. It featured the only professional social critic in the entire film, who warned it is a gateway to Satanism, while the subculture itself was linked through associative imagery to Nazism and all kinds of socially destructive activity.

The creators of Dark Planet succinctly summarize their documentary thesis with the hyperbolic slogan: “12 cities, 4 armies, 1 future.” While—to its credit—the film examines a wide variety of scenes in cities throughout the United States, it greatly exaggerates their influence. It is the filmmaker’s contention that these four subcultures, each of which probably has no more than a few thousand enthusiasts, represent four possible futures. The filmmakers invite moviegoers to choose which of the four subcultures they would like to see enter the mainstream, as though these are the only choices.

I suspect Dark Planet’s real purpose was to introduce the “zealot” subculture to unsuspecting viewers interested in alternative lifestyles. Zealots, essentially Christian hipsters, take their name from a first century political movement that sought to expel the Roman Empire from Judea. It means “one who is zealous on behalf of God.” In contrast with the other subcultures, zealots are portrayed as happy and carefree. You do not have to agree with the filmmakers conclusion to enjoy this documentary, however. Regardless of its flaws, it is an interesting look at American youth subcultures.

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