Angry Birds, wrote Tom Bissell, is a game that’s “great and infernal, and about which no one needs to write or say another word.” He wrote that back in 2011, fully five years before Angry Birds, the feature-length animated movie, arrived in theaters today, and long before that movie’s two-and-a-half-minute trailer launched a particularly insane (even for the internet) racist conspiracy theory. The willingness of people to overlay a political agenda on Angry Birds is surprising if you’ve ever played the game, which is, at its essence, a bleeping, blorping pile of narrative nonsense. But it’s not surprising given how the game’s “meaning” has long inspired a number of disparate political interpretations — and given a current climate in which every popular distraction, no matter how literally meaningless, must now be imbued with a story.
If you’re not familiar with Angry Birds the game — i.e., if you are an infant, or you’re Amish — it’s about birds who are angry. Pigs have stolen their eggs, for some reason. (According to this report, the egg-stealing narrative was added by the game’s developers after initial game-testers found the birds’ unmotivated attacks on the pigs to be too disturbing.) In response, the angry birds attack makeshift fortresses and other edifices erected by the pigs, launching themselves via a giant slingshot. None of this makes particular sense. (If you’re going to make a game about angry birds that attack, why incorporate a slingshot to get them aloft? THEY’RE BIRDS.) But it makes about as much sense as a game about a chomping circle with a mouth that exists to eat tinier circles while being chased around in a maze by ghosts. The insane popularity of Angry Birds likely has more to do with its resemblance to the soothing repetitive stimulation of a slot machine than with anything to do with its ostensible story, let alone its ostensible meaning. But that hasn’t stopped Angry Birds from inspiring a theme-park ride, a branded line of bouncy castles, a recipe book, and, now, inevitably, an $80 million animated kids movie.
It also hasn’t stopped the game — which has been downloaded over three billion times since it debuted in 2009 and which, at its peak, enjoyed 300 million minutes of global game-play a day — from inspiring an endless number of theories about Angry Birds as political allegory. The nature of these allegories has ranged across the political spectrum, much like a cranky fowl that arcs suicidally toward a pig-fortress across a cloudless blue sky. When the game first appeared, some speculated that it was an allegory for, well, anger — the kind of free-floating societal discontent that was now finding an unlikely outlet. Others used the game’s affinity with toppling stuff as a platform to criticize entrenched government corruption. One critic likened Angry Birds to Animal Farm, positing that Angry Birds “pits the oppressed versus the corrupt” and thus “appeals to our innate desire to see evil vanquished and the underdog succeed.” Red, the game’s main “character,” has been enlisted, in the form of a giant balloon, as an ambassador to spread awareness of climate change. All this despite the fact that Angry Birds itself is actively apolitical — in fact, it turned out to be the signature online distraction of the politically disengaged during the 2012 election.
Yet the movie — sorry, check that: the trailer for the movie — has inspired a new level of red-pill, rabbit-hole theorizing, the rough idea being that Angry Birds (the movie) is a coded message about the dangers of European immigration policy. Because birds. Also, pigs. Also, the color green. And — of course, how could we have been so blind — the appearance in the trailer of a giant, ineffective eagle who urinates into a body of water. According to the internet, if you squint and look at the movie version of Red one way, he could be Donald Trump. If you squint and look at him another way, he’s obviously Adolf Hitler. (When he’s young, he’s even bad at art.) Obviously, the bearded green pigs are suicide bombers who come equipped with TNT. Except that the birds themselves are also suicide bombers of a sort, given that they fling themselves at edifices in order to destroy them and then, mission accomplished, disappear in a puff. Or maybe the birds are SJWs and the angry bird Red (Red! Red pill! Get it? Open your eyes, sheeple) is the one bird who recognizes the invasive existential threat from the green pigs. Except, no, wait, sorry, scratch that, the angry birds represent the German flag. Obviously.
It’s not particularly enticing to get further into the specifics of the current Angry Birds–inspired conspiracy noodlings — except to note that, by virtue of being something we’re accustomed to staring at collectively for hours, Angry Birds practically begs to be assigned a narrative meaning where none is obviously present. (Kind of like a presidential primary campaign.) All that’s required to embrace this current deranged reading of Angry Birds is a willingness to ignore the most obvious questions — e.g., Would a major movie studio really spend $80 million in order to use a kid’s film based on a wildly popular video game as a platform to advance its subliminal anti-European-immigration-policy messaging? And are Josh Gad and Jason Sudeikis in on it? — and instead dive straight into the more compelling and totally not-nonsensical arguments about how the green pigs invade the bird’s homeland, an eagle fails to help, and the three main birds are the same color as the German flag.
Of course, one of the well-established purposes of the internet is to allow people to advance their outlandish interpretations of the coded messages hidden in cultural products, thanks in large part to the miracle of screen caps, message boards, and feverish anonymity. (Thankfully, the obviously non-narrative nonsense games of yesteryear were never subjected to this level of imposed analytical scrutiny.) We might wonder where this inclination to impose narratives that suit our particular purposes onto nonsense material might come from, beyond a natural human compulsion to tell, and see, stories in things, much as we naturally see human faces. But then, isn’t that what the entire enterprise of making an Angry Birds movie in the first place is all about? As our culture becomes ever more indentured to “branded I.P.” — i.e., making every new thing out of some old thing you’ve already heard of — we’re forced to constantly impose stories onto things where no story naturally exists. In this sense, it’s no more surprising to foist a coded racist subtext onto a narrative film about cartoon birds than it is to foist an artificial feel-good narrative onto a puzzle game about a bunch of birds crashing into pigs. One inclination is inspired by hate (or fear); the other is inspired by money. Either way, we’re collectively going to shake every bit of existing intellectual property until some sort of narrative falls out. Just this week, a studio announced they’re making a movie (a trilogy!) out of Tetris, the video game that involves endlessly arranging blocks. As to what the endless arrangement of these blocks really means — start formulating your theories today.