Monday, July 9, 2007

Film that Time Forgot

Ross Douthat provides an overview of the reaction to Michael Fumento's weak exercise in cultural criticism and I have to say I'm kind of surprised that neither Yglesias, Sullivan, Douthat, or Larison mentioned The Siege as a movie of the summer blockbuster variety with Islamic fundamentalist antagonists. Bruce Willis' character was hardly the paragon of military virtue Fumento would likely have portrayed more frequently, which I would suppose make this movie more about civil liberties in a multicultural society than about terrorism per se, but there is little question that the movie portrays steadily escalating acts of violence by terrorists that would cause justifiable fits of national outrage.

Part of the problem with trying to find a group of terrorists to demonize is that we simply don't know who that group is. I'm not saying that I don't know, I'm say that people at the very highest levels of the U.S. government don't know (or at least agree) on who it is we're fighting. Colin Powell and Karl Rove seem worlds apart when talking about who we're fighting in Iraq and these are two people who in a perfect world should be on the same page.

The Siege was a pre-9/11 movie, and so was another pretty good flick from David O. Russell, Three Kings. Three Kings had good Iraqis and bad Iraqis; American soldiers going to do a bad thing (stealing gold), but eventually doing a noble thing (helping the Iraqi refugees) -- in other words, it had complicated characters, both good and bad, acting like human beings would in situations of enormous stress and in those moments when the hero sometimes fails to act heroically.

Fumento should also know that Hollywood doesn't just make movies for Americans. There's the worldwide commercial aspect of show business to consider, and alienating a billion potential consumers is not exactly a good marketing strategy. If anything, Hollywood as been guilty of being rather ignorant of Islam and the Arab Street -- when terrorists do show up on screen they tend to be two-dimensional, but it's hard to fault the movies for not stigmatizing the right group of evil-doers when the people in charge of national security are having a hard time figuring out who those evil-doers are themselves.

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