How American Politics is Expressed Through Pop Culture

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The War on Terrorism was constructed upon the biggest myth in recent American history. Not that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but rather than the Bush administration ever seriously thought for a second that there were WMD in Iraq. They knew from the beginning that no WMD would ever be found and the fact that there is no inherent heroism in the war in Iraq makes it impossible to create a heroic film. Thus, Hollywood has tried to tie the wholesale disaster of invading Iraq into the revenge narrative that permits heroism to enter into the invasion of Afghanistan. Yes, that was a disaster, but at least it ended with Zero Dark Thirty affirming that torture works.

It doesn’t, of course, but why let that get in the way. As for The Hurt Locker, it is not an “Iraq war movie” or even a “war on terrorism movie” but simply a war movie. As far as any depth to the indigenous people our American hero is defusing bombs for, they could just as easily be Poles in the 1940’s or South Vietnamese in the 1960’s for all that is ever learned about them. The defining movie about the so-called “war on terrorism” remains the one that the media tried their hardest to convince was too confusing to understand. Of course, Syriana probably is too confusing for the average person that voted The Hurt Locker as the Best Film of the Year to understand, but it is important to keep in mind that when some people say “confusing” it is because they aren’t intelligent enough to know the meaning of the word “complex.” Until a movie comes out that show the reality of Abu Ghraib abominations and the fact that torture simply doesn’t work, Syriana will remain the defining movie. Meanwhile, The Hurt Locker is already halfway to becoming the 2000’s version of The Green Berets.

Two films stand out in terms of manifesting the dynamics of the Cold War relative to creation of atomic bombs. The Atomic Café dares to suggest that one can survive nuclear annihilation simply by following the directive to “duck and cover.” What this silly documentary that seriously examines serious documentaries that treat nuclear in the silliest possible fashion has to say about the Cold War is that the U.S. and the Soviet Union never for a moment stopped to consider making a serious effort at preparing their citizens for survival because they knew all along such an outcome was sheer fantasy. The United States government essentially readied the US population for all-out nuclear war in much the same that Tyler Durden explains the point of oxygen masks in Fight Club: it was never about preparation, but anesthetization. The Cold War nuclear war films that really touched the nerves of moviegoers weren’t the somber and serious examinations, but the ones where nuclear radiation created giant ants and monsters from the deep. Only Stanley Kubrick with Dr. Strangelove seemed to realize that a film that really examined the utter impossibly of surviving nuclear war could only be presented in the guise of a serious film where every gag is horrifying ironic.

African-Americans have always been forced into a position where they have had to view their own culture through the prism of white judgment on movie screens. Hollywood patted itself on the back by having a pretty young white girl be liberal and open-minded enough to fall in love with Sidney Poitier. It was the 1960’s, the question of guessing who was coming to dinner with her should have been answered by a dark-skinned, militant Black Panther if liberals really wanted to assuage their black guilt. Sidney Poitier may be a fine actor, but look at his material. By way of comparison, consider how much more Mantan Moreland did with far, far less. The same holds true for Spike Lee; Do the Right Thing was defiantly brilliant in forcing white audiences to view the daily racism that black America faces. By contrast, Denzel’s Malcolm X seems like a Poitier character compared to Radio Raheem. There remains only one figure in all of Hollywood history who ever provided an uncompromisingly authentic view of their own culture to black audiences. Black people throughout American history have been subjected into a situation where they must view themselves through the prism of how others judge them. Oscar Micheaux low-budget films often laughable flaws nevertheless stands as a testament to Hollywood’s only consistent and purified attempt to use the cinema to address the assertion by W.E.B DuBois that all African-Americans experience a sense of double consciousness that is peculiar to their own situation. By eschewing the protest film and maintaining a traditional structure to follow melodramatic plots, he paradoxically protested the fact that blacks had been so fully assimilated into the white mainstream.

After more than eight decades, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally decided to recognize a woman with an Oscar as the Best Director of the Year. They waited too long and the winner was undeserving of the honor, but nobody ever accused Hollywood of being ahead of the curve. As late as the 1990’s in films like Baby Boom Hollywood was still pushing the idea that to be successful in the world of business, a woman has to be a bitch and that all it takes to tame that bitchiness is a cute and cuddly little baby. For all the glorified adulation given to such feminist heroines as Diane Keaton in that comedy and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and even despite handing James Cameron’s ex-wife an Oscar for a mediocre war movie, the sad fact is that the Golden Age of Hollywood Feminism died when the institution of the Hays Production Code. Barbara Stanwyck character in Baby Face was positively Nietzschean in her rise to the top and would probably have given Stella Dallas—or Mildred Pierce for that matter—a sharp slap across the face to wake up them. The story of Oscar Micheaux and what he represents to African-Americans is not terribly dissimilar to what Frances Marion means to female writers, what Lotte Reiniger means to female animators and what Alice Guy means to female directors who do not have a famous Oscar-winning daddy or famous Oscar-winning ex-husband. From Mary Pickford helping to create the star system to Sherry Lansing breaking through the glass ceiling of studio executives, the story of women in Hollywood bears a shameful struggle. How else to explain that every film student knows and respects the work of a rat fink hack like Elia Kazan, but has never even heard of names like Ruth Ann Baldwin, Ida May Park, and Lois Weber? If any proof was ever needed that Hollywood respects men more than women, that fact should do it.