Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Movies w/sympathy for Terrorists

Partisan ?Understanding?

Tibor R. Machan

During the last few weeks some movies have come out that are, in effect,
a plea for the case of terrorists. Steven Spielberg?s Munich is one of
them. (A little known fact is that there was a previous TV movie, 'Sword
of Gideon? [1986]?based on the same book, Vengeance?that Spielberg
borrowed from freely.) In Munich the murders of the 11 Israeli Olympians
are treated as, well, sort of understandable, given the feelings and
anxieties of the Palestinians who committed the terrorist act. Those, in
turn, who have vowed to avenge the murders are depicted as morally not so
different from the terrorists. This way, one may assume, we are provided
with a balanced and nuanced view of both sides in an ongoing, age-old
deadly conflict.

One may wonder just how this would have played back after World War II.
Had anyone done this with the Nazis, I doubt all this talk about gaining a
better understanding of them would have found too many mainstream
champions. But we do not need to go all the way back to the Nazis and how
they were depicted on film. What about, say, Enron executives in the
movie, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)? Or the villain of the
movie Wall Street (1987)? Or how about the tobacco company executives who
have been presented as virtual murderers in several Hollywood vehicles,
both on the big and small screens (for example, in Insider [1999].)? What
about as Erin Brockovich (2000), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and, even
earlier, in The China Syndrome (1979)?

If the intent of those who have given us the recent sympathetic
presentations of terrorists were really to provide a deeper insight into
the lives and minds of those taking part in the conflict, one would expect
that this same motivation would have produced for us numerous complex
dramas about the inner lives of the constantly denigrated business
executives on television, in novels, and in the movies. But none of the
movies above, or their cousins in other fictional vehicles, ones in which
business and capitalism are depicted in the worst possible light, make any
effort to get at the possible nuances of the heavies who are targeted.

So you will forgive me for not finding the current explanation for
treating terrorists with kid gloves very convincing. Instead, I suspect
that what is going on is precisely a tad too much sympathy with
terrorists. Why? Among other reasons that come to mind I would place on
top the fact that terrorists are all thoroughly anti-American.

Let us not forget that most of the writers and producers in Hollywood?the
ones who make a quintessential American institution, namely, business,
look so terrible in their various vehicles?are politically sympathetic
with the Left. They have been that for a long time. (Even today, after the
true nature of communists has been clearly demonstrated?based on, among
other things, KGB and similar archives?there is still far more hostility
shown from much of Hollywood against Joe McCarthy than against Joe
Stalin?for instance, in George Clooney?s movie, Good Night and Good Luck

No, there is no sudden discovery of subtlety and complexity within the
minds of evil people by Hollywood writers and producers. Rather what we
have here is apologetics, plain and simple. The folks who put out this
stuff just cannot work up a genuine disgust of terrorists because, well,
most of the terrorists share their anti-American point of view. That seems
to suffice for them to place most terrorism?which, one must keep in mind,
consists primarily of killing people who are innocent, among them
civilians and many children, and whose only ?crime? is to be Americans or
Westerners, meaning, they belong to the tribe the terrorists want to wipe
out?into a sympathetic light.

The movies in question are, of course, made up, fictional, and fiction at
one time used to deal with essentials, not with all the nuances of human
personality. Good guys versus bad guys didn?t play so widely and well
because we all believed that in actual life those who did immoral things
had no complexity about them. But such complexity didn?t matter much for
the sake of the kind of drama shown in the movies or on TV. What mattered
is to show the conflict and to indicate how and why the good guys would

This sudden decision that the fictional depiction of terrorists must
acknowledge their complexities, doubts, inner battles?as if that was
totally absent among Nazis or racists or other villains often depicted in
such fares?doesn?t appear to me to be concerned with improving the art of
film. Maybe some writers and producers are genuinely interested in digging
deeper into the souls of villains. But too many of them seem to be hell
bent on convincing us that the terrorists are not really villains at all
but soldiers fighting the right enemy, America.

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