If I didn’t make it clear in my original article, I am deeply conflicted about Scorsese and Schrader’s decision to get inside Travis Bickle’s head and treat his awfulness without judgment. On the one hand, I’m inclined to side with Roger Ebert when he said that movies at their best are “empathy machines.” On the other hand, I’ve found that my interest in more “non-judgmental” movies hasn’t made me any more empathetic to other people, but it’s made me way too easy on myself, since so many films look at people through the lens of their justifications. More to the point, are artists responsible for misinterpretations of their work? If the masses don’t understand their messages, is that the audience’s fault for watching passively, or the artists’ for failing to communicate ideas in a way that the masses can understand. Since Taxi Driver was a personal project that Scorsese expected to fail, it’s natural for him to not worry about how people would interpret the film if they weren’t on his wavelength. But Taxi Driver became a cultural touchstone, and a lot of its viewers didn’t see it the way its creators did. I mean, have you looked at the Youtube comments lately? (Sorry the pictures are so small. Click to view at non-squinting size.)
Let’s start out with a pretty simple statement of the ideals of the Cult of Bickle. Notice that the guy laying down the truth doesn’t have anywhere near the popular support of the original poster. I mean, for crying out loud, that was only three upvotes until I read it!
It’s not an isolated incident either:
Yeah, you showed him, Chong GongGongOppal! He probably still does believe that only men in red underwear can be heroes! He needs to watch Man of Steel!
Ah yes, doing a disservice to the writer who has said very publicly and frequently that Travis is a terrible person.
And here we have someone who realized Travis is insane, but still ties himself up in knots to justify seeing him as a hero:
This guy sees your worshipping a movie villain and raises you another movie villain.
Well, at least this one has his heart in the right place… I think. Speaking of not communicating with the audience…
HOOOOROOOOOAAAHHH! One of us was a deadly, pathetic psychopath!
And here we have one of the most common blatantly wrong interpretations, thinking that the gorey, horrific shootout is the same kind of rah-rah white hats vs. black hats confrontation Taxi Driver is deconstructing. Butthen, what’s the harm? It’s not like it’s inspiring people to go out and do this in real life.
And here it is with a nice side dish of racism and oversharing:
There’s also a disturbing amount of teenage sophists who seem to think the lunatic “gets it.”
Wow, that’s deep, man, and totally what Scorsese meant. But not as deep as this guy!
Well, it just wouldn’t be a Youtube comments section without some Neo-Nazis!
Hey, look, I found another! He seems a little confused.
And hipsters who probably don’t even know what seventies New York was like? We got those too!
You don’t even know, man. It sucks so hard being in Le Wrong Generation.
And here we have some good old-fashioned name-calling and death threats.
Now with more partisan rage!
Ah, but the reverse meritocracy of Youtube is a beautiful thing. You want to kill a bunch of people? You do you, man. Make a funny comment on an unfunny political diatribe? YOU ARE HISTORY’S GREATEST MONSTER!
The Youtube chain: witty comment –> possible sexism –> blatant racism.
Well, I guess Travis isn’t the only scumbag character people seem to like for some reason…
I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let’s keep it that way.
Reminder: this is twelve-year old Jodie Foster he’s talking about. Yeah, I ain’t touching that with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.
Yeah! What? And of course, as a bonus, we get one of those guys who says a great movie is overrated as if that was all that need be said. And people are eating it up!
More trolling, now in more weirdly stilted language!
And finally, a comment so stupid that I caught the stupid and got my stupid self involved:
I should have known he would respond, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what he had to say:
Um… is that supposed to be a burn on me? Why the oddly reworded metaphor? Now that I think of it, he was probably being sincere. He really did get so caught up looking for secret messages that he missed out on how much more there was.
So what do we do with all this? Are the upvotes a fair indicator of public (not critical) consensus on Travis’s role? Is Scorsese responsible for what these people think? Maybe Travis just reflects the corruption they see in themselves, and celebrating it keeps them from having to come to terms with being in the wrong. I don’t know. I have returned from the dark depths of Youtube, and now I don’t know anything anymore.
I think I should go lie down.