A Commodified Werewolf in Colonial Canada

Wolfcop was handsomely imposed upon me by the Right Reverend Caleb Stallings.

Where does homage begin and parody end? How can influence and imposition be meaningfully distinguished in the late modern industrial West? Can commodification of our own flesh be resisted? What genuine options are available to us once the diversified brands of absurdity on offer in our era have been exposed? Moreover, what is it all fur? And were will this line of questioning take us?

The 2014 horror-comedy Wolfcop depicts the dislocating effects of colonial self-alienation through the imperialistic media imposition of the American imaginary. It self-consciously trades in the tropes and plot beats of American action films from the 1980s and ‘90s to depict the commodification of identity and the exploitation of the liberation impulse more sophisticated systems of ideological apparatus utilize to maintain their mastery.

Lou Garou, whose name is a play on the French loup-garou[1] (the first of a myriad of postcolonial winks at the audience), is a non-descript police sergeant in the town of Woodhaven, Saskatchewan. Garou is a barely functioning alcoholic who exhibits no drive whatsoever and consistently displays an utter lack of even basic competence in his work as a police officer. He is typically nursing a hangover, sleeping, or flagrantly engaged in public intoxication. How is his behavior tolerated?

Because nothing is expected of him. Garou, like other human components in the colonial machine, need only exist. Garou’s value, like others, within this machine is bound up with his utility vis-a-vis industrial production and as the raw material of sacrifice. The power Garou represents as a police officer is only skin-deep: no one, including himself, identify either authority or strength in his badge-wielding; there is neither bark nor bite to his self-presentation. Furthermore, he understands himself as dead weight, a placeholder in the force whose sole requirement is to show (and shut) up. Garou’s mediocrity is a preparatory phase for his manipulation by cultural elites.

Garou is reluctant to respond to a call regarding cult activity but is commanded to investigate by the chief of police. Garou wants to chalk the incident up to obnoxious metalheads having a good time but when he is overpowered and awakens with a pentagram inscribed into his abdomen he is forced to concede that something dreadfully wrong is prowling the periphery of what he has heretofore accepted as normal.

Garou’s unusual French name points up imposition. It is as if he was destined to become a werewolf. But he wasn’t so destined by any divinity: he was coerced into this role by secularized-yet-no-less-Satanic powers. As the film progresses the viewer learns that Lou has become a paw-n in the machinations of a cult of reptilian shapeshifters who draw power from sacrificing werewolves. These creatures unmask the dehumanized ideological apparatuses which trumpet freedom and individuality yet reproduce domination in its recipients.[2]

Why else would a feature produced in Saskatchewan stake so much on a Francophone homophony? Saskatchewan has virtually no French-speakers, no organic cultural connection to France or the militantly francais Quebec to the east.

The only Canadian province without natural borders, its centrality poses no obstacle or barrier to cultural pollination from its neighbors. Wolfcop doesn’t feel like it must nod towards gallicization— it simply knows it must. The impulse to appeal to and secure the interest of her Quebecois neighbors is encoded within the servile Saskatchewanian consciousness. Quebec commands international attention as a redoubt of recalcitrant Gallic holdover; here French superciliousness isn’t an export but a native virtue.

Ontario, likewise, captures some degree of international attention, but in this instance it is because it collects and condenses some American charm and cosmopolitan shimmer, basking in the opulent light of empire radiating northward and angling its culture-industrial mirrors to reflect that same light upon her neighbors. But this is always captured and repurposed luminosity originating from her upstart cousins to the south, themselves the descendants of colonists who channeled their ressentiment into new modes of conquest. Empire always follows the contours of oppression, from the transformation of the oppressed into the new oppressor.

Whence arises this drive to ascend and slough off the old skin of anonymity? Jean Baudrillard diagnoses the West’s dehumanization interestingly enough in terms of wolf-becoming:

Just as the wolf-child became a wolf by living among wolves, so we too are slowly becoming functional. We live by object time: by this I mean that we live at the pace of objects, live to the rhythm of their ceaseless succession. Today, it is we who watch them as they are born, grow to maturity and die, whereas in all previous civilizations it was timeless objects, instruments or monuments which outlived the generations of human beings.[3]

Like Romulus and Remus the proletariat, little more than hapless babes (or chemically-dependent police officers) find themselves the charges of beasts by whom they become conditioned, from whom they receive their “distinction” and destiny. Like wolf-mother, like wolfcop:

Like gaunt wolves rushing from their den,
Whom lawless hunger’s sullen growl
Drives forth into the night to prowl.[4]

The transformation of the werewolf symbol from menace to hero puts furry flesh on Saskatchewan’s repressed desire for a stable collective identity which stands distinct from its neighbors. This inversion is imaged in the wolfcop’s defeating a band of thugs outfitted in pig masks: here the Big Bad Wolf is reconfigured as protagonist rather than villain. Later he is seduced by Jessica, the bar owner, garbed in Little Red Riding Hood accoutrements, offering herself to be consumed. But the genital encounter which results is sterile and merely follows the clownish choreography of 80’s action flicks: adolescent desires for fondling and handling but no risk of insemination and subsequent commitment. Even this action draws Garou further into the shapeshifters’ net, as Jessica is, in fact, the town’s mayor. Sex is dangled before Garou as a means of reconfiguring his psyche to prepare him for sacrifice.

Lou sheds his human flesh whenever he transforms, graphically signifying the psychic mutilation Saskatchewanians inflict upon themselves in accepting assimilation. The interpellating voice of U.S cinema casts the Saskatchewanian as simply another unremarkable virtual-American, and the resulting ressentiment hardens the abased Saskatchewanian psyche in homogeneity. American media colonization effects the anonymity of indigenous Canadians such that their particularity fades entirely from their consciousness as well as the viewer’s. The characters are swept into a consensus which they (and we) accept as universal rather than as highly particular and problematic: to be a consumer of films in modernity just is to be a displaced colonial consciousness, presuming representations on celluloid to be the real.

The proliferation of media fosters this ubiquitous displacement by, finally, displacing place itself. Saskatchewan, as has been mentioned, is a central province, yet it bears a peripheral status in terms of Canadian culture, much less to Americans. One may see a British Columbia or an Ontario license plate on the highway from time to time, but the Saskatchewanian bears all the practical reality of the Tooth Fairy for most; they are not so much exotic as mythical.

Centrality is typically the prerogative of the powerful. In ancient near eastern worldviews the ascendant empire views itself as the center or navel[5] of the world, and the peoples and states radiating outward from her degrade in dignity and worth as one moves to the periphery of the world. From this concept arises the famous Greek superiority complex over her “barbarian” neighbors.

The covenanted family of Abraham, in spite of the nature and purpose of the covenant YHWH made with them, perverted the privilege of their election into just such a superiority complex as well. God tells Ezekiel, “I have set this Jerusalem in the center of the nations, with countries all around her” (Ezekiel 5:5, HCSB). Jerusalem (and, by extension, Israel) is set within the midst of the nations for one purpose, but this centrality reinforced her sense of status and privilege. And so this same God can bring his complaint against the covenant people thusly:

Israelites, are you not like the Cushites to me?
This is the Lord’s declaration.
Didn’t I bring Israel from the land of Egypt,
the Philistines from Caphtor,
and the Arameans from Kir?
(Amos 9:7, HCSB)

Israel’s election was meant to spur them centrifugally out into the wider world so as to incorporate the nations into the kingdom of YHWH.  But as with every instance of election and setting-apart, the covenant people began to view their geographical centrality as a sign of their greater privilege and prestige. Pompous Israel demands a centripetal motion on the nations’ parts to her, but this very demand demonstrates the abandonment of her mission and assumption of the egocentric drives characteristic of empire.

Morris Berman draws our attention to the structure of world inequality through a diagnostic of core and periphery:

Core countries are those in the privileged regions of the Northern Hemisphere such as the United States and Western Europe. It is in these regions that financial, technical, and productive (usually industrial) power is concentrated, power that is controlled by an elite. The periphery, on the other hand, contains the exploited regions that sell their resources and labor to the core without ever having access to the latter’s wealth. The enrichment of the core is structurally dependent on the impoverishment of the periphery.[6]

Renovate the economic terms of Berman’s analysis and one finally renders visible the sophisticated forms of imperialism the powers have contrived to fit the contemporary world. It is alive and well in the entertainment-industrial complex which the U.S. presides over and by means of which she skins and re-forms the consumers of her entertainments.

Wolfcop cross-examines center and periphery and simulates a monstrous transformation whereby Saskatchewan-as-central-province is de-centered and relegated to peripheral status on the outskirts of the American media empire. It matters not that Saskatchewan is directly contiguous to the United States: by virtue of its not-being-American and not-being-Ontario or not-being-Quebec, Saskatchewan slips into the chasm that opens between these cultural positions of power.

The wolfcop sublimates the repressed Saskatchewanian desire for autonomy and cultural distinctiveness by libidinally investing in the eradication of the protean Other, pictured here as the grotesque reptilian rulers of Woodhaven. Their physiological fluidity images their non-convictional shifting to accommodate and woo whomever they encounter. For their only interest is domination, and any means are acceptable to them for attaining it.

Nietzsche, of course, would advocate bringing to full consciousness the desire for revenge and bringing it to embodiment as the antidote to ressentiment, for only in acting upon the drive to destroy not only opposition but the contemptible slave morality which holds such emotions at bay does any individual become anything more than “human, all too human.” The ubermensch is brought into existence through just such casting off of restraint and exercising pure, voluntaristic will.

The joke seems to be on us: Lou Garou is more human by virtue of his transformation, Nietzsche would claim. His embracing of monstrosity liberates him from the shackles of sterile, interpellated anonymity. The wolfcop tearing into pig-faced criminals is a negative reflection of Christ’s casting of the Gadarene demonic legion into the herd of swine, and that tearing-into mirrors Garou’s birth into authentic existence. In and out are reversed and become the vehicle of their opposite; id and superego conjoin in a teleological suspension of the ethical, giving rise to violence as regeneration. The wolfcop kills because it is: the willing subject comes to be in the will to liquidate. The violent retributive justice of the police state fits comfortably on the wolfcop’s monstrous frame.

And yet the shapeshifters’ plans are wrecked by a novum they could not anticipate: Garou becomes aware of their manipulations and directs his powers towards saving his partner, Tina. The master class’ ambitions are checked by a surprising cruciformity to Lou Garou’s story, for his human, all too human weakness is revealed to be the source of strength. Lou’s rampant alcoholism was pure impediment on the plane of normal human existence, but paradoxically becomes the sword and shield by which he vanquishes the gift giver-as-enemy. The Frankenstein monster they have created for their own purposes becomes the instrument of their defeat. We are, in a sense, doomed to the courses determined by colonization of our lifeworlds by powered interests, but because grace is a real intervention within this economy of

To paraphrase Nietzsche, human beings live their lives hanging in dreams on the back of a werewolf[7], but this needn’t be understood as consignment to invincible ignorance. Perhaps there is no escaping the precession of simulacra, but Wolfcop presents the audience with a parable not of fatalism but of spirited improvisation within the desert of the real. And perhaps by acquainting ourselves with the monster lurking in each of us we can resist the colonial machinations of the elites who would exploit our weaknesses for their gain. A willed parody can become the most authentic and therefore unexpected resistance to the bourgeoisie and the powers which enable their reigns of terror.

[1] I.e., “werewolf.”

[2] Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” in On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, trans. G. M. Goshgarian (New York: Verso, 2014), 232-272.

[3] Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (London: Sage Publications, 1998), 25.

[4] Virgil, The Aeneid, 2:355.

[5] Recall that Lou Garou has a pentagram carved above his navel— Saskatchewanian centrality returns as the repressed desire for dominance.

[6] Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006), 24-25.

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, III, 15.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s