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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reel Life

Is Glenn Greenwald making a mountain out of a mole hill in his recent Guardian piece lambasting the depiction of waterboarding in the critically acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty?

James Poniewozik of Time magazine ponders whether 'great' movies and the depiction of violence in those acknowledged as such can be tantamount to endorsing the violence, as Greenwald argues is the case in the making and reviewing of Zero Dark Thirty.

Greenwald on the waterboarding shown in the film:
"If Bigelow had merely depicted episodes that actually happened, then her defense that she is not judging and has no responsibility to do so would be more debatable. But the fact that she's presenting lies as fact on an issue as vital as these war crimes, all while patting herself on the back for her "journalistic approach" to the topic, makes the behavior indefensible, even reprehensible. Is it really possible to say: this is a great film despite the fact that it glorifies torture using patent falsehoods?Ultimately, I don't believe that this film is being so well-received despite its glorification of American torture. It's more accurate to say it's so admired because of this."

Poniewozik's counterpoint:
"It’s a simplistic way of looking at art, but it’s not surprising, because Greenwald is a political writer (or at least an ideological public-affairs writer), and this is the political way of looking at art. For someone who’s passionate about policy and public issues, aesthetics are secondary. Utility comes first. Things help the cause or they hurt it. There are Parts of the Solution and there are Parts of the Problem.
There are several bad assumptions that go into that kind of thinking. For one, that the primary function of art is to serve, or at least not undermine, one’s desired political arguments. For another, that artworks have literal, direct and easily predictable effects. In this kind of worldview, one kind of entertainment makes people more conservative, another makes them more liberal."

If you live in the Foxian world, where every thing shown on (especially a TV) screen is gospel truth, then Greenwald's argument about the waterboarding scene rings true. Like '24', it will attract the goodwill of those addicted to seeing violence perpetrated on any that they see as enemies.  24 was much praised and awarded, no doubt the same critics who lauded it, are now jumping on to the 'Praise Zero Dark Thirty' bandwagon.

But in the real world, will it be regarded by most thinking people as anything more than an off-note in an otherwise excellent recreation of the events leading to Bin Laden's killing?  Many reviewers have commented on it seeming like gratuitous violence, designed to sate the film makers' thirst for the dramatic, in a movie that is dedicated to showcasing the painstaking (and sometimes very dirty) work of how OBL was traced to his hiding place in Abbottabad.

Of course, I haven't seen the movie yet, and will most definitely catch it when time and circumstance permit. Somehow, I don't think Greenwald is going to give this a pass and miss seeing it, torture glorified or not.

Update: Three U.S. Senators agree that the film wrongly conveys the impression that torture produced some information that helped get Bin Laden. Most notably, Senator John McCain (who himself had been tortured), said so after viewing the film.  The senators are demanding that the filmmakers alter the movie and make it clear that torture did not produce the information.
"We are fans of many of your movies, and we understand the special role that movies play in our lives, but the fundamental problem is that people who see 'Zero Dark Thirty' will believe that the events it portrays are facts," the three senators wrote. "The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner."

1 comment:

Amit said...

It says a lot more about Greenwald and his mind and his PC-ness (and his projection on to the rest of the potential viewers) than the scene in the movie itself. Both left and right have their fair share of crazies and idiots.