A new John Pilger documentary is always a media event. For over four decades he has set the bar for incisive and intrepid investigative journalism. In The War You Don’t See, his latest, Pilger indicts the mainstream media for its responsibility in enabling wars by sanitizing its image and glorifying its aims.
by Kim Bizzarri
Following last night’s choice of the Oscars’ jury to award Katherine Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker with the Best Picture prize, the debate has since then moved to the pubs and the ether. It appears to be primarily concerned with whether Bigelow’s portrait of “the” war does justice to the genre and whether, with time, Avatar will come to be recognised as more deserving of the aspired title. The debate however is having the effect of reducing Cameron’s gargantuan critique of modernity to “just another war movie”, adding to the already popular dismissal of the film, by the intellectual left, as a western guilt-fantasy.
Lets start by considering the assumption that Avatar is “just another war movie”.
If indeed we accept that Cameron’s intention was to provide us with a science-fictional portrait of war, then we must also conclude that von Trier’s Dogville is nothing more than an aesthetically minimalist representation of the Great Depression. Just as von Trier exploits the Great Depression as a historical backdrop against which he develops a provocative portrayal of human nature, so does Cameron in the use he makes of military intervention in Avatar.
Hollywood — like the Democratic Party or the New York Times — is alleged to be liberal. When it comes to questions such as gay marriage or abortion, this is indeed the case. When it comes to the American relationship with the rest of the world it is about as liberal as the Democratic Party or the New York Times. That is to say, it subscribes to the notion of American Exceptionalism, and accepts prima facie a messianic view of the US role in the world. It is jingoistic, militaristic, and frequently racist. This failure to see the contradiction between its domestic liberalism and its aggressive and patronizing attitude toward the rest of the world has been a staple of its politics since the days when the legendary Hollywood director, producer, novelist, and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Ben Hecht was able to combine his advocacy for progressive causes in the United States with his outspoken support for Zionist terrorism in Palestine (Indeed, he wrote an open letter praising the ‘terrorists of Palestine’, the Irgun Zvei Leumi). Likewise, Marlon Brando could combine his support for American Indian rights with his vocal defense of Zionist crimes (although toward the end of his life he decried the ‘Jewish Hollywood’s’ inability to show to other ethnicities the same sensitivity that it demanded for itself). When Lebanon was being ravaged by Israel’s Nintendo bombers, 50 Hollywood A-listers took out a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times blaming the victims. True radicals have always been few and far between. When Vanessa Redgrave denounced the ‘Zionist hoodlums’ heckling her at the Oscars, she was booed. So was Michael Moore when he spoke out against the Iraq war. Paul Haggis, Brian de Palma, Robert Redford — they were all given a short shrift when they made statements against the war. Like Moore, de Palma collected his laurels in Europe. Meanwhile Hollywood was producing Top Gun, Rambo, and Rules of Engagement. And more recently, The Hurt Locker. Like the Democratic Party or the New York Times, Hollywood has always gone out of its way to balance its liberal reputation with its need to project an image of toughness and realism. It is not surprising therefore to find out that in a year that James Cameron produced perhaps the greatest visual spectacle of all times — a film exceptional for its conceptual daring, its unabashed radicalism, its antiwar politics, its sensitivity to deep ecology, its respect for foreign cultures, and its humility in representing its own — the best picture award should go to The Hurt Locker, a film that is pro-war, racist, unrealistic, trite, and terribly acted. As the late George Carlin would say, the Academy has a manhood problem — and honouring crude war propaganda won’t prove otherwise. It merely attests to its suspect judgment.