Apr 27, 2006

Well, GET ready 

As anyone who has read this blog for awhile knows, I love movies. I can quote you line and verse on far more films than anyone should be able to who doesn't get paid to review the things. So when I saw this, it sparked a question in my mind before I was even done reading it.

Mark Steyn - uber-conservative extraordinaire and freakin' genius, to boot - has posted an interesting thought on his website about how a lot of Americans seem to be "unready" for a movie like United 93, or for that matter ANY movie dealing with September 11th, 2001. The crux of his argument is this: Americans at the time commented how the whole thing seemed "like a movie," so how - almost five years later - can they not be "ready" for this?

Americans on the whole, love their movie violence. To quote Jay Mohr's "Peter Dragon" from the short-lived but brilliant show Action,
"I'll tell you exactly what they want, Senator: they want chase scenes and car crashes! They want firm breasts and tight-assed Latino men! They want their cowboys to be strong and silent. They want their cops to bend the rules to get the job done. They want the boy to get the girl. They want the alien to be killed...unless he's cute. They want the good guy to win. They want the bad guy to die, hopefully in the biggest explosion the budget will allow. But most importantly, Senator, they want to walk into a theater for ninety minutes and forget the f---ing mess you have left of this nation."
That whole rant is, without a doubt, true - especially the last line. They WANT to forget. But the problem with that is that 9/11 is unforgettable. Or at least it damn well should be.

As time has gone on Americans have grown less and less comfortable with reality, to the point that - on screen - the blood spilled is five times what the human body holds, the gun shoots three times as many bullets as it should be able to without reloading, the car jumps whole city blocks to get away from the cops, and Jack Bauer redirects satellites with his iPod while never getting in so much as a power nap. Hell, RAMBO is making a comeback, and if he was shooting down helos with explosive-tipped arrows in the 80's, I shudder to think what kind of capabilities he'll have now. He might actually throw someone into the sun…

This is not new, and a lot of it used to be attributable to technical inabilities of the special effects guys to reflect reality. Computer technology and other improvements have solved that particular problem for the effects department. Now it's just a question of wanting to be accurate. And when somebody shows an accurate representation on screen anymore, it makes people squirm.

Steyn asked why the American people aren't ready. My question is, why isn't Hollywood?

How many films about World War II were made while that war was underway? Dozens?

Casablanca - 1942. Sahara - 1943. They Were Expendable - 1945. The Flying Tigers - 1942. The Fighting Seebees - 1944. Bataan -1943. Back to Bataan – 1945. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo - 1944. Guadalcanal Diary -1943. Gung Ho! – 1943. The Story of G.I. Joe – 1945.

Hell, even Bugs and Daffy got in on the act!

As time went on, Hollywood shrank from showing war on screen. And if they did, it was to apply “current sensibilities” to the past, the greatest example of which was MASH, which transported the Vietnam anti-war vibe to Korea. It took somebody with the testicular fortitude of John Wayne to make a movie actually about Vietnam, during Vietnam (The Green Berets).

War movies – if they’re done well – are guaranteed money makers. Black Hawk Down was a huge success. Saving Private Ryan was so successful it practically funded the making of Band of Brothers, which was maybe the best mini-series that will be made about war ever. Gettysburg, We Were Soldiers, U-571, hell, even Jarhead (which I have yet to see, but as I understand it is the war movie that basically features no war) made money at the box office. So the topic of a fight between peoples, the concept of death, and the “biggest explosion the budget will allow” are all A-OK with Hollywood. So what is it?

Look at the films from World War II. Look especially hard at those two cartoons… what do you see? Propaganda? Jingoism? A demonization of the enemy, perhaps? Call it what you will, but dehumanizing the enemy – reducing him to little more than a target – went the way of the dodo and we ushered in the era of political correctness. And that movement was driven especially hard by the folks in Hollywood, who somewhere along the way stopped being patriotic entertainers and started being world-traveling, jet-setting “elites.”

Maybe it’s time we started calling a spade a spade. Maybe it’s time we cut through the bull by both showing (on the Hollywood end) and seeing (on the public end) the enemy for who they really are. I hoped that someone had finally figured this out, and the people who actually made the film seem to. But the studio, on the other hand, has not. Universal Studios – in a rather bold-faced attempt to undercut it’s own film – gnashes it’s teeth, and whiningly wonders, “Why do they hate America?” Here’s a better question: WHY DO YOU CARE?

The people who hate us, hate us. Past attempts to reach out to these people should clue us in that no amount of goodwill or foreign aid or happy thoughts of butterflies, puppydogs, and ice cream is going to change that. It’s time to start viewing the enemy as the enemy, instead of a friend we just haven’t done enough to make yet. They know they’re at war with us… when are “we the people” going to figure out we’re at war with them?

“But those other movies were about wars far away or long past. This is too close to home,” you say. Well then, you have a frame of reference.

“But it’ll be too emotional,” you say. Bring a handkerchief.

“But it’ll only make them hate us more,” you say. F---ing, please… they pegged the meter on that one a long time ago.

“But it’ll only inspire hate here at home,” you say. Ahhh... but if that’s focused in the right direction, it can be useful.

Forget what Yoda has to say on the subject. He’s nothing more than a mouthpiece for George Lucas, who himself went down the “dark path” quite a few years ago. Hate can be turned into motivation, commitment, drive. It can become resolve; so much so that the hate itself is supplanted by nothing more than determination. I would argue that the hate and anger directed at Japan after December 7th, 1941 was little more than “the will to win” by 1945. I don’t want mobs in the streets rounding up muslims and burning down mosques. However, it wouldn’t hurt to have a nation that spoke with a common voice, showed the rest of the world a united front in the face of strife, and committed to the concept of freedom and the destruction of those who would destroy us. And there are American muslims who are on board with that. So, to the people who are basically afraid of this film, fear not.

Look, I’m all for dropping into the movie theater, checking my brain at the door, and for two hours installing the contents of a whole popcorn machine in my gut. I love it. I’ll usually do it a couple times a month. But this whining, hand-wringing lament about how “we aren’t ready” for a 9/11 film pisses me off. To both Hollywood and the public in general I have only one message: grow a freaking backbone.

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