Monday, December 14, 2009

Why no war against terror films?

Something continues to perplex me about the state of Hollywood. That's its refusal to come to terms with the War on Terror. Sure I know that phrase has been heaped into the dustbin by the current Obama administration. Whether you like it or not you have to admit that over the past decade the liberal democratic West has been the target of Islamofascists, people as every bit illiberal, anti-democratic and nihilistic as Adolf Hitler's Brownshirts or Stalinist totalitarins. Yet, whereas in the past Hollywood rallied to support the democratic traditions of North America, Western Europe, the Commonwealth, etc., scant efforts have been made this decade to take a stand for liberalism against Islamist extremists who would destroy the freedoms we have assiduously built up over the centuries: freedom of speech and the press, the right to vote, equality among races, creeds and nationalities, and more recently if belatedly the rights of women and gays. These are all bedrock principles that virtually any Hollywood actor or director would pay lip service to. But when it comes to defending these traditions in the context of our existential struggle against religious fanatics filmmakers have been more than missing in action. Since 9/11 where are the films that stood for the values we believe in? The only one I can think of is Team America: World Police, the hilarious puppet extravaganza by the folks who brought us South Park. Yet we have had a laundry list of films that could be interpreted as taking stands against our general interests, even if they are narrow critiques of U.S. foreign policy in, for example, the Iraq War. Here are a few: In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Body of Lies, Redacted and A Mighty Heart. Not to mention a blockbuster such as Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Any of these films arguably may stand on their own merits as pieces of criticism of U.S. policy. The problem is that Hollywood is missing the forest for the trees. Regardless of whether the U.S. was right to invade Iraq why hasn't there been a pro-American film about the supposedly just war in Afghanistan? Why are there no biopics, such as about NFL up-and-comer Pat Tillman's desire to leave pro sports and join the army to fight for country? Why indeed has there not been some type of film - even of the superhero variety - pitting the West as "good guys" against a bunch of fictituous evil types who could easily stand-in for Islamists?.....Interestingly while the current Hollywood view is anti-Western it wasn't always this way. Far from it. Hollywood in the 1940s was also quite liberal or even left. But liberals realized that the very traditions they held dearly were ones that totalitarian regimes in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan wanted to snuff out. As a result the industry rallied and churned out a multitude of films that were in some way patriotic, many of which became classics in their own right, refuting the notion that an ideologically-slanted movie isn't art. These include You're in the Army Now, To the Shores of Tripoli, Sergeant York, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and of course Casablanca, one of the greatest movies of all time. In fact, after World War II, Hollywood kept releasing countless such films, from The Dam Busters and Dunkirk to Twelve O'clock High and Stalag 17....Today's Hollywood, by its almost total lack of conviction in defending Western values, stands in stark contrast to this history. I suggest the chief reason is that the current crop of filmmakers are largely of the Baby Boom generation who came of age during the anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960s. Moreover, affluent and materially-spoiled in the technological age of TV, to them war became a once-removed and abstract concept. In their view, America changed from an heroic nation to an imperialist invader. And its role in the world has been viewed in that context ever since. So embedded is this philosophy that even the worst foreign attack on America's shores couldn't inspire them to come to democracy's defence. Rather, while perhaps saddened by the immediate death and destruction, they viewed it as the rising of an oppressed Third World against the longstanding sins of the West - "we had it coming." Never mind that Muslim extremists have been indiscriminate in their bombing targets - from New York office workers to markets in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan - indeed targetting people of their own religion, all in the quest for worldwide jihad..... Because of this narrow focus Hollywood has lost sight of the bigger picture - the defence of democratic values. It's more than time filmmakers did some serious reflection on the principles they say they hold dear.

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