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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 24, 2003

 
Dehumanization


I know that it is old news now in this whirlwind of information we are living in, but I wanted to make one comment about the Oscars, Michael Moore and Adrian Brody before it all disappears into the ether.

First, if Michael Moore had not said what he said, his career would be over. His audience of strident liberals would have rightly treated him as a pathetic sell-out if he had not made that comment when and where he did it. So, you could almost say that Moore was just being a good careerist and looking out for number one.

But, of course, he wasn't. His words spoke for a good number of Americans and they have a right to have their furious, righteous anger heard just as much as the furious right wing Dittoheads have a right to have oh...50 to 60 hours per week devoted to non-stop liberal-hating vitriol broadcast all over the country. For more than 10 years they have owned the AM dial, developed their very own news network and run hundreds of newspapers within which anti-Clinton diatribes were delivered with a viciousness and relentlessness that Michael Moore can only dream of emulating (and, if he's very lucky, get a 250 million dollar contract to disseminate.) The only difference here is that the stakes are higher and many, many lives are at risk. And, that is not Michael Moore's fault; it is George W. Bush's fault.

Moore is a left wing polemicist. I'm sorry if his polemics offend people, but I'm pretty damned offended by Rush, Sean, Neal, Peggy, Annie, Charles, Michael, and the rest. Nobody seems to give a damn about ME being offended by a juggernaut of right wing polemicists who are blatantly and obnoxiously disrespectful of everything I believe in. Now, why is that? All I can say is that it seems to have worked pretty well for them.

As for the rest of Hollywood, I think it’s fair to say that there has never been much of a political flavor to the Oscars, even during the height of the antiwar movement during Vietnam when Hollywood was much more politically outspoken. The Academy Awards are almost sacred to movie people and they worry about devaluing their status as a high honor. Nobody liked Satcheen Littlefeather, either.

But, I was still disappointed that so few made any kind of statement, political or otherwise, about the huge elephant in the middle of the room. Adrian Brody was the only one who managed to bring some sorely needed humanity into the event by acknowledging that war...is...well, hell. That is indisputable whether you are for this one or agin' it, and I would have thought that more artists, purveyors of emotional catharsis, would have felt some necessity to infuse this strange event with some feeling.

But, nobody seems to be able to talk about this war in human terms. Yes, there are the little CNN profiles of the wives and the kids and the send-offs and the features about what the grunts are eating and how they wear a gas mask. But, these stories are modeled on the coverage of the Olympic moments, canned and artificial and completely without any sense of who these people are. When I watched the foreign footage yesterday of the POW's, unavailable in our clean and tidy media script at the time, I was struck once again by how very young and scared these soldiers are. One of them looks just like my next door neighbor, a carefree motorcycle loving kid who has a slew of girlfriends and passion for Eminem. He's over there somewhere.

I also forced myself to watch al-Jazeera and some of the photos on their web-site were so disturbing I had to shut down and take some time for reflection. Where our coverage is sanitized for public consumption, theirs is sensationalized. They are looking at rivers of blood in hospitals and crying children and desperate refugees. While we were seeing a war of overwhelming technological force, they were seeing bloodied Arabs bravely beating back the invaders.

After that, watching the battle plan unfold, compulsively following the war news, riffing on my blog and making pithy comments on others just seemed like another form of denial. I'm disassociating from the reality. And, it occurred to me that maybe we are all doing that to some degree -- maybe because we are biologically programmed to do so just to keep ourselves from going crazy in times of war. (Perhaps Richard Dawkins could shed some light on that.)

So, when I watched the Oscars last night, something I normally enjoy and go out of my way to see, I was just hoping for someone to say something heartfelt about peace. I was actually hoping that a lot of them would say something about peace --- not necessarily in the political sense, but in the universal value sense. Instead, sadly, most of them just pretended that nothing was happening.

But a few -- foreigners mostly -- did say some words about peace. Almodovar said, “I also want to dedicate this award to all the people that are raising their voices in favor of peace, respect of human rights, democracy and international legality. All of which are essential qualities to live.” (Thanks, Pete. At least the Europeans love us, even if our own timid political brethren want us to tone down the rhetoric and let Rush Limbaugh dominate the discourse.)

But then Adrian Brody, the guy nobody expected to win, came up and let himself be human and emotional --- for his win, naturally, but also because of the the nature of the role he was being rewarded for playing. He said:

“My experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war,” he said. “Whatever you believe in, if it’s God or Allah, may he watch over you and let’s pray for a peaceful and swift resolution.”

Dehumanization. That’s what I’m feeling when I see the scared faces of those POW’s and the horrors of decapitated children.

This is why civilization was supposed to be beyond the superficially logical rationalizations of "preventive war" and grand global ambitions of world domination through military force. While tallying up the 20th century’s horrific body count we were supposed to have recognized that war must be a last resort in the face of NO OTHER OPTION. There can be no excuse but immediate self-defense to justify it. If Vietnam didn't teach us that, then it taught us nothing. Wars of aggression, by definition, cannot be glorious.

This war never met that test. And we have opened up Pandora’s Box.

The historians will sort out the rightness and the wrongness of the policy. But, as I was watching that glamorous telecast being held just a few miles from where I live, I could not help but be struck, once again, by the fact that we Americans are the luckiest people on the planet. I hope that we stay that way. We are good people, decent people, but we are being led astray by a leadership that is perpetrating a wrong. We simply cannot expect to remain safe and prosperous if we create a world in which it is the prerogative of one country, our country, to decide that a potential future threat is enough to justify a war. It is a dehumanizing undertaking that devalues every single one of us. It is not the America I know.