Tuesday 15 January 2013

And the award for the most nuanced bigotry goes to...

This article - from Rachel Shabi in The Guardian - is really great.  It's about the Islamophobia encoded in the recent spate of much-lauded movies (and a TV show) about Americans, Arabs, terrorism... and all that kind of stuff.  Argo, Homeland, Zero Dark Thirty - all recently rewarded at the Golden Globes.  Supposedly nuanced and complex, they peddle the same old lies... just in a way acceptable to liberals.

Here's a snippet:

The three winners have all been sold as complex, nuanced productions that don't shy away from hard truths about US foreign policy. And liberal audiences can't get enough of them. Perhaps it's because, alongside the odd bit of self-criticism, they are all so reassuringly insistent that, in an increasingly complicated world, America just keeps on doing the right thing. And even when it does the wrong thing – such as, I don't know, torture and drone strikes and deadly invasions – it is to combat far greater evil, and therefore OK.

Funny how the culture industry obediently steps up when the imperium is trying to relaunch (yet again) a rinsed-clean project of Muslimcidal 'humanitarian intervention'.  I'm all for complex, structural analyses of these synergies between policy and popcorn... but I can be a bit of a vulgar Marxist on this subject too.  I can't help noticing just how thoroughly integrated Hollywood is with the fucking Pentagon (told you I was vulgar).  See this excellent book for a brief, persuasive documentation of the phenomenon.

Oh, by the way, here's blogger Matt Cornell with a roundup of Twitter reactions to the 'nuanced' Zero Dark Thirty.  Like this 'nuanced' response, for instance:

 Nothing like 'nuance' is there?

(Actually, I've blogged once before about the strange way that modern drama's aim to be all, like, morally ambiguous yeah? leads to reactionary effects - here.  Essentially, because some truths about the world are too damning and radical to seem neutral, they can not be allowed to play any part in dramatic ambiguity and complexity.  It works similarly to how some realities about the world cannot get into the news because the properly educated responsible journalist feels like she's not being neutral or balanced when she mentions them.)

Why do I care about movies and TV shows?  *Sigh*  Look, fiction matters.  In many ways, it matters more than non-fiction when it comes to influencing people's opinions (and I include myself in that).

Ayn Rand never proved anything as a 'philosopher', but as a best-selling and influential novelist she proved that popular fiction needs to be ruthlessly politically critiqued.  Fiction is such an enormous part of our daily cultural and social diet that to critique it is to critique the world as it is.







YET MORE (27/01/13):

"This awareness of the torturer's hurt sensitivity as the (main) human cost of torture ensures that the film is not cheap rightwing propaganda: the psychological complexity is depicted so that liberals can enjoy the film without feeling guilty. This is why Zero Dark Thirty is much worse than 24, where at least Jack Bauer breaks down at the series finale." -


  1. I actually felt Zero Dark Thirty was relatively objective in its portrayal of what happens, since it focuses most of its time on Chastain and her reaction/development through what all happens. The way the climax is pitched is very important to that, since it very deliberately avoids the sort of gun-blazing jingoism that one would expect from the film, and instead paints it in a rather stark and uncompromising way- letting the catharsis of the moment itself come from Chastain's character and her reactions.

    I mean, the problems you mention still exist, but they're less of a concern then they would be because it's not where the film is focused- it's really more of a character study around Chastain, and it treats the events as things that just happen, rather than things that are intrinsically "right" or "wrong".

  2. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it is 'objective', and that it avoids jingoism, and that "it treats the events as things that just happen". That makes it worse.

    1. I don't know if I'm entirely convinced, though- it's merely a case that the film is more interested in things other than the political ramifications of the events (namely, the way the central character is developed through the film and how the events affect her). I'll admit I'm not really seeing the intrinsic problem there.