Friday, March 03, 2006

krauthammer takes on hollywood

Charles Krauthammer often comes across as your nutty cranky uncle -- writes and says things that make you laugh and shake your head at the same time. But usually he's tilting at hefty windmills, things that are important, even if he spouts utter nonsense about those things.

His column today takes on Hollywood in general, and the movie Syriana in particular. His main point is that the Oscars this year are doing a disservice to America by honoring the evils of the Middle East. He starts out with:

Nothing tells you more about Hollywood than what it chooses to honor. Nominated for best foreign-language film is "Paradise Now," a sympathetic portrayal of two suicide bombers. Nominated for best picture is "Munich," a sympathetic portrayal of yesterday's fashion in barbarism: homicide terrorism.

But until you see "Syriana," nominated for best screenplay (and George Clooney, for best supporting actor) you have no idea how self-flagellation and self-loathing pass for complexity and moral seriousness in Hollywood.

I think Krauthammer needs to have his perspective changed on the nature and purpose of art.

First, from everything I've read Paradise Now is not so much sympathetic as it is trying to tell the story from both sides. Art is supposed to make us rethink our world. It's ok if we come away from a piece with the same position on an issue – at the very least that work should inform us and also challenge us to see the entire picture, not just a narrow point of view. An even-handed approach doesn't mean that people will come away thinking suicide bombing is ok, but would it be that bad if the film at lest shed some light on what drives people to such extreme action? Would it kill the average American to see this point of view, even if he doesn't come away agreeing with it?

Same with Munich. Again, I haven't seen (my movie-going was sadly limited this year), but every review of the film I've seen (and this is corroborated by friends who've seen it) notes that one of Spielberg's main points was to show the psychological and emotional cost to the Israeli Mossad agents as they hunt down the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the massacre of the Isaeli Olympic athletes in 1972. I don't see how that makes the original act sympathetic, but hey, crazy Uncle Chuck's on a roll, why derail it?

Finally, he calls Syriana's creators anti-America. All because they essentially tell a fictionalized story of the interdependence between our reliance on Middle Eastern oil and a foreign policy that thus must support unsavory regimes. This isn't self-flagellating fiction, it's reality -- c.f. Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.

Krauthammer outlines the plot, and then drops the dime:

What is grotesque about this moment of plot clarity is that the overwhelmingly obvious critique of actual U.S. policy in the real Middle East today concerns America's excess of Wilsonian idealism in trying to find and promote -- against a tide of tyranny, intolerance and fanaticism -- local leaders like the Good Prince.

Hey Uncle Chuck -- some of those intolerant, fanatical tyrants? We've been propping them up for a while. But don't let facts get in the way of a boilerplate conservative rant against liberal Hollywood.

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