Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Laughability of Intellectuals

It's amazing how dumb smart people can be. Take, for example, the myth propagated by some libertarian capitalists that the media is saturated with socialists. Even in leftist magazines, parecon has received criticism that has nothing to do with the vision of parecon, and it's scarcely reviewed elsewhere. Manufacturing Consent and Necessary Illusions prove the propaganda model practically beyond a doubt. Yet these individuals continue to argue that, say, movies never focus on how bad Communism is.

This is a copy of an e-mail I wrote to someone making this comment, called "Hollywood's Missing Movies:"

"The argument you make about why Communism is not featured too often in Hollywood movies is laughable. American movies take for granted capitalism's triumph, by and large; even Michael Moore's work is made far more reformist by the silver screen (trust me, I know from hearing him speak in person). How come Manufacturing Consent has received virtually no American attention but widespread European applause? It can't be due to American opinion, which overwhelmingly agrees with Chomsky on the rare opportunities that they get to hear something like what he says.

Certainly Rambo, a movie focused on POW camps in Vietnam but not the murderous bombardment of an entire country killing millions and still extracting a death toll through mines and Agent Orange, disproves your theory entirely. In fact, American action movies in particular are filled with trite cliches about domestic crime, conservative-style vigilantism (even the films like Boondock Saints that I enjoy), Third World dictators that we surely do not prop up and offer crucial support, Communist intrasigence, etc.

Why no films about how the US, along with the fascists and the socialists, quashed the Spanish Revolution? Why no documentary on Vasili Arkhipov, the Russian sub commander who may have saved the world by rescinding a nuclear launch order during the Cuban missile crisis? Why is the current anti-Kerry documentary being shown all over on most national networks?

Sure, exploration into what Pol Pot did would not be bad; particularly since, due to our support for Democratic Kampuchea and carpet bombing of Cambodia (conditions that helped create the condition for the rise of the Khmer Rouge), we bear responsibility. Or what about Ceausescu, a monster who was overthrown by his own people while we gleefully supported to the end?

Heck, let's take it to the current day, with the anti-terror myth. Why not talk about how the Israelis created Hezbollah and Hamas, how we incited the Soviets to invade Afghanistan and supported the moujahadeen (essentially leading to the Taliban by logical development of events), how we flew in radical Islamists into the former Yugoslavia to support our clients, how we support Saudi Arabia/Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan/Turkey (despite its repression of Kurds)/Indonesia (despite its horrible days with Suharto)...

And heck, why not an exciting film about Operation Paperclip, the operation that spirited away Nazis like Reinhard Gehlen and Klaus Barbie for US counter-insurgency?

Even if Communists "took over the film industry", something laughable (and something that you support with quotes taken out of context and made to make arguments that the sources would find eminently ludicrous), that surely isn't the case now..."

I bring this up because I'm watching Rocky IV. It's an honestly good movie, but there are assumptions that dominate Cold War thought: Rocky (white America, while Apollo being even more a central symbol of America) is too stupid to be evil or deceitful; Ivan is angry, bringing down Apollo and killing him in a joke fight (though Ivan does say "I fight for me"); the totalitarian masses of the Russians cheer for Drago until they see the purity of Rocky; etc. While there is some deviation (America is stupid, Russia is admirable), the basic assumption fits the Cold War mold.

Now, I must admit, for the sake of full disclosure, that it is definitely the case (from my own study of film and by simply looking at most film) that Hollywood is probably fairly liberal. This liberalism is limited, though: The response to Mike's politicization of the Oscars shows how much these people often care about politics. Also, it is probably the case that explicitly anti-Communist movies rarely came out (though if you watch movies from MST3K like "Invasion USA" and some shorts of theirs, you see how truly vapid the 50s propaganda movies were), but there's a good reason: Hollywood rarely produces anything explicitly anti-anything or pro-anything. The majority of films are stock films: Romantic comedies, action, horror, what have you. The applicable categories don't leave a lot of room for politics. Among those films, there is probably a left-leaning slant, but I think that the case is probably the same as among the film industry before WW2: left-leaning, but still supporting the basic elite doctrine. In fact, the film industry collaborated with the Fascists to a surprising degree, much like the entire US economy and political system did for quite some time. The amount of films that I can think of with an evil Third World dictator, terrorist group, or something is surprising. Further, a lot of action movies are revenge or vigilante movies, everything from The Punisher to Boondock Saints (movies I really liked, by the way). There are some movies that come to mind that do break from this mold:

1) The Rock. Good movie, excellent action, this has a terrorist group, but the terrorist group is composed of former Marines with a real, legitimate plea and with admirable (and not-so-admirable) characters. It also makes oblique references to conspiracy theories and criticizes to some extent the US military-industrial complex and our prison system.

As I think of others, I'll edit this post.


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