|Wednesday, January 30, 2008
23:01 - I must be watching a different movie
Why do I do this to myself?
Curiosity got the better of me, and I went looking at the IMDB page for the Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center, just to see what people thought of it, critically. (The reason why I looked, for the record, was that I just saw Cloverfield, a movie which explicitly evokes 9/11 imagery in the form of a monster movie; and I started thinking about how the film industry has approached 9/11 thus far in only a handful of other ways, namely as documentary and as farce, and I thought it odd to recollect that the only traditionally "blockbustery" approach to date has been Stone's, the one I'd heard nothing about.)
IMDB typically puts a representative well-thought-out user review on the front of every movie page, and in the middle of a bunch of thoughtful analysis of the filmmaking and acting, here's what the one on top of the pile had to say:
The crumbling of the towers, which still is incredibly difficult to watch, let alone fathom, is handled with taste, but also is awfully gripping. We get a real sense of the terror and panic and then Stone gets the claustrophobic atmosphere right. With close-ups of Pena and Cage amidst the ruins, he gets us so close, we can almost taste the rubble and concrete dust.
But that's the last time we really see or feel any sense of genuine, gripping storytelling in this film. I realize criticizing a film about 9/11, especially one that displays its American stars and stripes so blatantly, is tantamount to treason these days. After all, as this administration and its minions love to point out, if you disagree with them, you're not only unpatriotic, but also an appeaser of the villains. It's poppycock, of course. Dissent is undoubtedly American, but these chaps so love draping themselves in the flag that jingoism overwhelms all reason. Why bother with rational thought when you can scare people?
What struck me while watching the film is realizing how much goodwill was channeled toward the United States after the attacks and what's ultimately sad is how this president took all that goodwill and squandered it by launching an utterly pointless war in Iraq. We could have done so much good in the world, instead of now being one of the most hated nations in the world. And Bush has now turned 9/11 into a political slogan for political (and personal) gain.
...And then, as though nothing had happened, we take a breath and dive right back into the on-topic film critique.
Why is it that I feel like angry kids are throwing rocks at my head from behind the rocks and trees everywhere I go? I turn my head to look where it came from, and all I detect is a rustling of leaves and a vanishing snicker. Hey, you! Come back here! I saw that!
Seven years is a long time, and it's wearing on me.
I can understand not liking a president. I can understand the impulse to snark about someone you didn't vote for who's been in office for most of a decade doing things you wish he didn't. That's all part of democracy: the right to be loudly angry about things. As I said in a comment at Dean Esmay's, it's depressing and spirit-crushing and generally maddening to see random Bush swipes everywhere you turn, from "Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About" to reviews of Cloverfield to Randy Newman at Macworld, place after place that I imagine to be safe from political intrusions upon the things I seek for entertainment and relaxation—yet it's people's right to make them.
But what I don't get is this... this narrative. This "We are a silenced minority voice, repressed and marginalized" conceit. The bizarre idea that speaking out against the administration is some noble and risky act of bravery, nay, something "tantamount to treason"—something that doesn't take place for hours on end every single weeknight on Comedy Central and in the multiplexes and even at the freaking White House.
"After all, as this administration and its minions love to point out, if you disagree with them, you're not only unpatriotic, but also an appeaser of the villains." Really? Really? What is this sentiment, repeated in its infinite variations on thirteen out of every ten randomly selected web pages on the Internet, based on? Some State of the Union address that I missed some year? Did Bush stand up there at a podium, look into the camera lens, and say "If you don't follow along with our plans, you are unpatriotic"? Did he? Or is this some kind of hyperbolic extrapolation from the allusions of some talk radio host or commentator on the dread Fox News (which, as we all know, holds monopoly power over the airwaves and prevents people from tuning in to any other news source)? Might I point out that the only times—the only times—I've ever heard anybody talk about anybody accusing anybody of being "unpatriotic" is when opponents of the administration complain about how they feel they've been made to feel by some mythical public demagogical haranguing that always seems to be on some different channel from the one I'm watching? What does "these chaps so love draping themselves in the flag that jingoism overwhelms all reason" mean? What quotations support this thesis—that a case for, say, war on Iraq was built not on a decade's worth of flouted UN resolutions and trusted intelligence reports from agencies all over the world (not just our own), but on empty, podium-pounding outbursts of militaristic hoo-ah that overwhelmed, I suppose, the faculties of reason of hundreds of Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle? "Why bother with rational thought when you can scare people?" Why indeed—when forced to choose between soothing the public with meaningless platitudes and lame assurances that everything is okay and there's nothing to worry about and everyone should go about their lives and shop and strengthen the economy, and telling everyone that they're doooomed and must blindly and unquestioningly vote a certain way in the upcoming irregular elections or else The Terrorists Win, which as I seem to recall is the exact opposite of how that particular turn of phrase was deployed way back in the day—why, what kind of evil genius politician would ever consciously choose to make people feel secure instead of scared? He'd have to be some kind of idiot evil genius!
As for the closely related invocation of the "utterly pointless war in Iraq", which you physically cannot derail someone from blustering about who's got himself a head of steam worked up, I will only comment that saying something like "We could have done so much good in the world, instead of now being one of the most hated nations in the world" does not count as a case or an argument. Let's have some kind of vague example, perhaps, of what "good" we could have done in the world following 9/11 that did not involve removing Saddam Hussein from power. Eradicating terrorism? Is that what this is about? You want to talk about eradicating terrorism, while leaving Saddam in charge in Baghdad? Seriously? Or do you mean something like how we should have responded to 9/11 by forcibly sending all our richest and most top-hatted and bemonocled tycoons into the skies in dirigibles, to float over impoverished nations and shower them with $100 bills? Is that how a country that's just been mugged and is the beneficiary of global pity is supposed to act, so as not to "squander" that sweet, sweet pity? Is that the vision that dances in your head? It must be something like that, because simulacra of reality have evidently been banished from it in favor of "Bush has now turned 9/11 into a political slogan for political (and personal) gain"—boy, if I could earn myself a sub-30% domestic approval rating and a permanent spot on the World's Top Three Most Hated People (And the First Two Don't Count) list, coupled with the near-certainty of the opposition party taking over the office next year and eradicating any of my residual political legacy from the White House, then surely my nefarious master plan would be realized to its iniquitous conclusion, and I'd be one happy dictatorial overlord, wouldn't I?
In short... what movie are these people watching?
It must be a good one, because I feel like I'm missing out on all the injokes.