Hollywood Jahilliya

Democracy, whiskey, sexy.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I'm an old-school liberal, like FDR or, heck, even Trotsky if I'm feeling generous. That is, I recognize a fascist enemy when I see one, and I treat it like an enemy. It's my mission (self-appointed, of course) to convince other Hollywood liberals to do the same.

04 March 2006

Syriana: say what?

I haven't yet seen Syriana, one of the movies up for this year's Best Screenplay Oscar, but I have read the script for it. And I just read Charles Krauthammer's complaints about it. I don't agree with the first sentence of his last paragraph, but I think everything else he says is spot-on... despite the fact that he's a conservative.

A choice sampling from the article (emphasis added by me):

The political hero is the Arab prince who wants to end corruption, inequality and oppression in his country. As he tells his tribal elders, he intends to modernize his country by bringing the rule of law, market efficiency, women's rights and democracy.

What do you think happens to him? He, his beautiful wife and beautiful children are murdered, incinerated, by a remote-controlled missile, fired from CIA headquarters in Langley, no less -- at the very moment that (this passes for subtle cross-cutting film editing) his evil younger brother, the corrupt rival to the throne and puppet of the oil company, is being hailed at a suitably garish "oilman of the year" celebration populated by fat and ugly Americans.

What is grotesque about this moment of plot clarity is that the overwhelmingly obvious critique of actual U.S. policy in the real Middle East today concerns America's excess of Wilsonian idealism in trying to find and promote -- against a tide of tyranny, intolerance and fanaticism -- local leaders like the Good Prince. Who in the greater Middle East is closest to the modernizing, democratizing paragon of "Syriana"? Without a doubt, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, a man of exemplary -- and quite nonfictional -- personal integrity, physical courage and democratic temperament. Hundreds of brave American (and allied NATO) soldiers have died protecting him and the democratic system they established to allow him to govern. On the very night the Oscars will be honoring "Syriana," American soldiers will be fighting, some perhaps dying, in defense of precisely the kind of tolerant, modernizing Muslim leader that "Syriana" shows America slaughtering.

To Krauthammer's list of MidEast good guys who are now, at long last, getting America's support, I'd add Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and currently the president of Iraq: a man who fits Krauthammer's description of Karzai to a tee, and is a good ole-fashioned socialist to boot.

Stephen Gaghan, the film's writer-director, has bragged about the "massive research" he did while working on the script. I don't think it shows: the movie is a live-action cartoon, populated by caricatures from a fantasy world, and premised on "realities" that are the reverse of what's actually going on. And with a CIA agent as the hero, no less (!!!). Since when is that liberal?

Of course, fictional movies aren't journalism, and a lot more goes into a film's being Oscar-worthy than merely its politics (or so I'd like to think); and a good thing, too, since this one doesn't seem to be paying attention to what's going on these days. Maybe if it had been made and released when we were backing Saddam Hussein (albeit half-heartedly) or arming mujahedin rather than fighting them, Syriana would be relevant. It sure reads like it was written back then. But we've moved on, and are moving towards -- not away from -- backing the kind of guys that Dr. Bashir plays in this movie. You'd think a "liberal" movie about oil politics would argue for more and better of this trend, rather than engaging in doublespeak, implying that our new, armed support of the Left in Iraq and Afghanistan is really its own opposite.

Makes me wish we had another installment of Lord of the Rings. At least it was honest about being a total fantasy.


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