22 October, 2003

Coming soon to a theatre close to you

OCT 23 - I was listening to a radio report on whether the terrorist sleeper cell that was busted in Buffalo was really a sleeper cell, when somebody’s voice came on air. The voice was breathy and stern, clearly belonging to a tough guy. “One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice,” the voice said, making sure to pause between One-By-One to give it the proper dramatic effect. Echoes of cowboys galloping through the prairie, police cars chasing the bad guys, commandos sliding down walls in fast pursuit of deadly danger came to mind. I got chills up my spine. I wanted to run to the mall and stand in line to see this latest action movie.

“That was President Bush on air. This is NPR,” said the bland voice of the announcer. “President Bush is planning to meet with Governor Arnold Swarznegger in California.” “I am going to share with him the optimism with him about this country,” the Hollywood action voice returned. I mentally added the crescendo that should be playing in the background. I saw the Prez hanging with the Terminator. “Goddamit dude, this man is good!” But wait a minute. This is not a trailer, and we are not living in a Hollywood movie, even though the leaders of the free world would make us think so.

Right after 9/11, the Pentagon called up the Hollywood honchos and asked them not to air films that might give ideas to the bad guys. Hollywood said okay and pulled the plug on a film about a airplane crashing on the skyscrapers of New York that had just been shot and edited. Odd co-incidence, huh? Seems like that idea was on more minds than one.

But the Hollywood connection did not end there. “Wag the Dog”, a bitter spoof of the Clinton administration’s bombings of some minor Third World country after the Monica Lewinsky affair, depicts an administration that fakes a war on TV to distract the public about the president’s sexual peccadilloes. But today, Hollywood is far less critical. There have been high level meetings between the Pentagon and Hollywood discussing how that industry can be useful for national security. President Bush, on his famous landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, was given a full media shoot that would have warmed the heart of Jennifer Lopez. Susan Bumiller of the NY Times called it “one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history”. She went on to look at the lights used to light up the Statue of Liberty - lights so expensive she could not get an estimate from the people who rented them out, and used only in Hollywood in the past but which had now made it as a prop in presidential theatre.

Politicians using the film industry to raise themselves to the status of cult leaders is nothing new. Hitler did it in the 1930s, when he used Leni Riesenfeld as his personal propaganda filmmaker. Leni followed Hitler around and carefully framed panoramic shots of the man surrounding by adoring crowds. In the recent elections in California, I was struck to see how the Terminator had been carefully flaunted by a diversity of faces: his approving wife, a young girl, a couple of brownish faces, two approving Chinese grandmas. It was a public relations coup. In case you think I am stretching this fascist analogy too far- after all, Arnold just said he admired the Nazis, he didn’t say he was one himself - listen to what Paul Krugman has to say about revolutionary powers. Krugman, an economist based in Princeton university who writes a column on business and economics in the New York Times, recently came out with a new book: The Big Unraveling. Krugman, quoting Kissinger, says that revolutionary powers don’t give a damn about the old rules. They don’t care what people say about them. And they are so convinced they are right they will take everybody along with them to the bitter end.

Krugman, a staid economist in Princeton, is not the kind to jump to embrace conspiracy theory. At the same time, he points out, the takeover of neo-conservative forces within the US government is something that responsible people can no longer ignore. The current administration is not just cutting back on social welfare programs, they are morally opposed to it. And there is no sign that they will give up their power meekly to a democratic, election process once their time is up - there might be a nominal election, but there is no sign they take the democratic process all that seriously. War is promised on a grand scale: After Iraq, its going to be Syria, North Korea, and anybody else who crosses their path. Krugman points out that dissenting voices within democratic governments was always accepted even at the height of war - Roosevelt was called a “tired old man” by one of his contemporary in the middle of WWII and nobody thought they should kick that critic out of politics, but John Kerry’s questionings of the war is bringing accusations of being a traitor. Krugman gives an intelligent, chilling argument in this new book. Read it. It will give you a new angle when you turn on the radio and hear the trailer of one more politician promising a thrilling new world.Posted on: 2003-10-22 11:50

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