“And the Oscar for promoting self-destructive escapism and historical amnesia goes to…” OR: “How I turned leftist outrage into bitchy pop culture criticism”
I like movies. I even like seeing them in the theatre. But I didn’t catch many of last year’s releases. So even though I kind of have a thing for Emma Stone (Come on, even Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are cuter for being in “Super Bad”!), I won’t be watching this year’s Oscars. Why would I, when I haven’t seen any of the nominees for Best Picture or Best Screenplay?
I didn't go to see "Argo" because I was suspicious of its timing. I mean, why would a 33-year-old story about U.S. good guys in the Middle East (indeed, IN IRAN of all places) be released now?
Yeah, yeah. I know. “Argo” was inspired by a 2007 article in Wired magazine, and the Wired article reportedly was based on fairly recently declassified source material. And no, I’m not going to argue that the CIA lobbied Ben Affleck to make the film.
I will argue, however, that Hollywood is smart enough to know there is a huge audience of American moviegoers desperate to throw down some cash to be reassured that the Bush years were simply a brief anomaly in the otherwise unbroken historical panorama of virtuous American grandeur. That is, if that pesky, little bump in the road even happened at all – Bush who? And certainly, our president is not a mass murderer of men, women and children so long as he doesn’t carry himself like a bumbling hick from Texas!
Pardon my buzzkill, but I have no desire to help anyone make a buck off the pathetic national cop-out that’s enabled the continuation of the Afghan War and the Obama Administration’s proliferation of extrajudicial murders via drone strike.
I didn't see "Zero Dark Thirty" for pretty much the same reason. Well, that and I'm not a masochist. If I wanted to watch a celebration of assassins who just as easily could have apprehended an unarmed terrorism suspect and had him put on trial (you know, like the Allies did to those accused of even more horrendous Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg), then I'd turn on Fox – or, just as well, listen to Obama's comments on the matter. Why give up $10 when I could just stick my finger down my throat for free?
And poor, poor Chris Pratt… I’ve loved you in “Parks and Recreation,” Chris. But your involvement in “Zero Dark Thirty” reminds me of Curtis Armstrong’s explanation for why he reprised his role as “Booger” in “Revenge of the Nerds 3” – a film which the iconic 80s actor himself lamented as the second sequel to brutally bastardize the majesty of the original “Nerds.”
“Well, I’m an actor,” Armstrong told his audience at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh last year. “And actors are whores.”
So maybe you should go back to living in that van you told Dave Letterman about, Chris. You might find a more dignified existence there.
Finally there's "Lincoln." In case you were wondering just how far back Hollywood producers have to reach to rekindle those feel-good, profitable myths of American virtue, the answer is apparently about 150 years. It seems Hollywood has mined World War II for all it’s worth and now, after a brief detour through the late 1970s, is headed straight for the mid 19th Century. Just don't mention what the U.S. government was still doing to this continent’s indigenous population back then, and everything will be fine.
Ha! Of course it's not like that little genocide has any bearing on America’s present mentality. I mean, it's not like the Navy SEALS who killed bin Laden gave their target the code name of a famous Native American resistance leader or anything!
During and after Lincoln’s time, the U.S. government was hunting the real Geronimo. At least when that enemy of the state was finally located previous presidential administrations had the relative decency to imprison him for the last quarter century of his life, rather than having him summarily executed and quietly turned into fish food without a trial, as our current Constitutional-Scholar-in-Chief and darling of the Nobel committee likely would have preferred. (Indeed, Obama would probably have had enough Audacity of the Sick Joke to evoke Martin Luther King, Jr. in the process.)
Oh, but while I’m still on the subject of “Lincoln,” I’d be surprised if some of Lincoln’s earlier advocacy of white supremacy made it into the 2012 film. Like, say, when Lincoln was campaigning for the Senate in 1858, and declared, “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people…” (See Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.)
Of course, if this aspect of the iconic president is omitted, theirs is perfectly reasonable explanation. Yeah – see, apparently, in a scene that didn’t make the final cut of "Back to the Future 3," Marty McFly schooled Honest Abe on the error of his ways before teaching him a few Chuck Berry riffs and dodging sex-starved, all-American cutie Leah Thompson – because, well, she was really Marty’s mom, and that’s sure as hell the only reason anybody would wanna dodge a horny Leah Thompson, circa 1985! Anyway, our hero Marty couldn’t stop that dastardly bully, John Wilkes Biff, from offing Lincoln – but those nasty little comments about white supremacy? Problem solved. If you don’t believe me, just try to find them in your high school history books. It’s like they were never even there!
In case you missed the underlying cautionary tale of my fantastic little jaunt through 1980s movie nostalgia, let me make it as hard to miss as a big ol’ fake rubber shark riding shotgun to Michael J. Fox in a tricked-out, time-traveling DeLorean DMC-12. If we can’t trust our history textbooks when it comes to accuracy, then we probably shouldn’t be looking to the guy who, in producing “Back to the Future” some 28 years ago, already revealed himself as a major proponent of historical revisionism!
In her February 18 piece, liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd makes the point that “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln” can't even get their own stories right. She rightly criticizes Oscar nominees “who bank on the authenticity of their films until it's challenged, and then fall back on the ‘Hey, it's just a movie’ defense.”
However, Dowd neglects to mention the cherry-picking of the stories themselves.
Perhaps that’s because there’s nothing like a Democrat in the Whitehouse to get respectable liberals to dumb down their critical faculties. Or perhaps it’s because Dowd’s employer, The New York Times, might not want to bring up the issue of cherry-picking. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that “the paper of record” had to halfway admit its complicity in the Iraq quagmire, having published multiple stories and pro-war editorials based on cherry-picked intelligence reports and the lies of U.S. government officials, all of which those intrepid, truth-hunting journalists so eagerly had swallowed – maybe “without fear or favor,” but certainly hook, line and sinker.
Gee, I wonder why some people are just soooo eager to forget those Bush years?
What’s more, I'd be willing to bet the falsifications Dowd mentions are but the tip of the cinematic shit-berg. I can't say for sure, though, because as I mentioned earlier, I'm not an aspiring bulimic. And since I’m not criticizing these three films in terms of their scripts, casts, lighting or scores, so much as I’m taking issue with their choices of subject matter, the timing of their releases and their likely contributions to our broader cultural context and some horrendous U.S. foreign policy, I still don’t feel compelled to barf my way through any of them. But, yeah, I’ll probably gather up the Dramamine at some point. And when I do, if I find any clever attempts to subvert a collective desire to hide from our complicity in recent American atrocities within some comforting fantasies of past national virtue – and, finally, that last refuge of scoundrels, patriotism – then I’ll punish myself with a marathon viewing of every episode of “24.”
At any rate, despite Dowd’s superficial treatment of her subject, her February 18 column still is worth reading.
In fact, if you want to lose some more respect for Tony Kushner, peep Dowd’s column for Kushner’s refusal to correct an unfortunate inaccuracy in “Lincoln” before the film gets shipped off to America’s school children! Forget about those gay angels from Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1993 masterpiece, the famed playwright turned screenwriter might just be after a Nobel Prize this time around as he plays a minor role in the latest production of “Assholes in America.”
Sadly, as much as we might like to believe the curtain finally fell on “Assholes in America” back in 2008, the events of the past four years prove that the show must go on – at least as long as our institutional structure demands it, and a lack of popular activism allows it. Meanwhile, by helping Americans hide from the grim realities of the Obama era with releases like “Argo,” “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” our entertainment industry might just expand the new Kushner-Spielberg-Affleck three-part production of “Assholes” into the next Project for a New American Century.
Unlike its predecessor, the neo-con think tank of ill repute, this new, grand design of our military-news-and-entertainment-media-industrial complex won’t have the audacity to openly advocate U.S. imperialism. It will just lull us into idiotic complacency with comforting fantasies of our innate goodness, whispering to us sweetly a seductive siren’s call: “Come on, just look the other way. Believe this instead. We know that’s what you really want...”
I think I can hear it already.
As for me, I never knew I could transform indignant leftist outrage into bitchy pop culture criticism. Maybe there is a writing career out there for me after all! But a career in Hollywood? I doubt it. Maybe I’ve just got Chris Pratt’s old van to look forward to.
Damon Krane is a U.S.-based freelance news reporter, opinion columnist and essayist with a history of involvement in grassroots left-wing organizing and liberatory pedagogy. He is also a 2000 graduate of Z Media Institute. His favorite films include “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.”