Monday, March 15

Ross Douthat. Nuance. You Write The Rest Of The Post.

Ross Douthat, "Hollywood's Political Fictions". March 14-ish

TINSELTOWN has again disappointed Young Ross, this time by failing to scrape away the cardboard facade of the Bush administration to get at the real cardboard underneath.

Now, were Douthat himself one of Hollywood's sausage links, he'd be the sort you went to just because your date insisted, gave up on in the first five minutes, and spent the rest of the picture checking the background for fly-catching extras, inadvertent boom shadows, and cultural anachronisms, like the whole Douthat clan speaking in tongues after they'd switched over to Papism. So let's do that.

1) Bald announcement of "what Americans think" from guy whose Hahvahd education was socially leavened by prepping at Hamden Hall? Check.
Americans believe in evil, but we’re uncomfortable with tragedy. We accept that there are wicked people in the world, with malice in their hearts and a devil whispering in their ears. But the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.
Okay, first, eighty-five percent of Americans say they carry on a regular conversation with a 2000-year-old Jewish carpenter, too, and one of them is you. And somehow the incredulous are supposed to meet this with hushed respect, and pull to the curb while Tradition races by with its lights flashing. Chose a side, Ross, and stick with it.

2) "Moderate" credentials presented by means of allowing how just-announced Universal Americanism sometimes goes too far, while avoiding placing the blame on any particular group? Check.
This is apparent in our politics, where we’re swift to impute the worst of motives to anyone slightly to our left or right. It’s apparent in our popular culture, thick with white hats and black hats, superheroes and supervillains. But it’s most egregious where the two spheres intersect: in our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve.

Most egregious? Really? 'Cause I'd say political news writing and puditatin', both of which are supposed to avoid the simplistic and naive, knocked political fiction out in the first round back in '78.

3) Immediate reversal of 2) by placing blame solely on your opponents? Check.
Consider “Green Zone,” the new Matt Damon thriller that doubles as a meditation on Why We Are in Iraq.
4) Spurious remark or counterfeit observation made to butress original claim, thus officially rendering the entire operation Self- Annihilating? I'm going to turn all the cards over, Panel:
The source material is Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” a dense and nuanced account of the Iraq occupation’s disastrous first year.
Sure, assuming your idea of "nuance" is being left to decide whether Paul Bremer or Donald Rumsfeld is the bigger bungler, or George Bush or Dick Cheney the more complete disaster. True, Jay Garner was not ten pounds of Ugly American in a five-pound sweatsuit, but he was shitcanned in about seventy-two hours so Bremer could come in and fulfill the adminstration's Vision. Which one got the Presidential Medal of Freedom, again?

There's nothing in that book, nor the rest of the public record, that suggests nuance got anywhere near the planning or execution of Our Little Iraq Adventure. Hell, saying so is an insult to the neocon cabal that ran the thing, let alone those of us who opposed 'em.
But the film itself, a slam-bang account of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, has the same problem as nearly every other Hollywood gloss on recent political events: it refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a “Bush lied, people died” reductionism.
Well, one man's reductionism is another's pure distilled essence, Ross. That's nuance for ya. But let's us just assume for the moment, for the sake of making the argument you fail to, that Green Zone is a ham-fisted attempt to propagandize the simple, naive American moviegoing public, rather than sell it more popcorn. So what? What's robbing a bank compared to founding one? What's turning Donald Rumsfeld into a less than open-minded political fixer in a movie, compared to turning Sadam Hussein into a sui-generis nuclear madman so you can launch a war calculated for maximum political advantage?
The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war. You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion’s opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.
Okay, then you write the fucker, Ross. Th' fuck do you do all week anyway?

Or maybe you could try your hand at writing an argument that doesn't disintegrate while we watch.

Shock, fear, anger, the desire for vengeance? Predictable human emotional responses to 9/11. But as an excuse to extract a bloodthirsty revenge--while suffering the minimal number of casualties ourselves, and hoping to amortize our costs by seizing someone else's oil--on a nation, even a tyrant, who had absolutely nothing to do with it? Well, that's the recipe for Cartoon Movie Villain. Liberal intelligentsia? That's just a product of your stilted politics, Ross, wherein milky Centrists are indistinguishable from Bomb-Throwing Syndicalists and Broken Down Trots. The Democrats aren't any better on American military hegemony than the "Conservatives"; they just try to think up better reasons for it. Although I will grant you Keanu would make a good Yglesias. As for "the invasion's opponents", when did you listen to them? And even if you didn't, you might recall that the Bush administration was doing the furious Nixonian Backpedal (it's an expert maneuver wherein one gives every appearance of reversing the feet, while continuing to move forward) on "imminent threat". The more accurate description of events there is "not even many warfloggers believed that, and the ones who did were, like, double certifiable."

But hell, let's just deal 'em out. I'm not going to argue the art of the cinema with you, any more than I'm going to argue interior decoration with Stevie Wonder. You don't care about Art, unless it's taxpayer supported, and you sure don't care whether it requires complex characterization or just cars that blow up. You just want us all to say that the Bush administration tried its best, dammit, and had lots of good reasons--including Liberal! reasons--to go to war, and it shouldn't be viewed as an unmitigated disaster just because it all turned to shit, because Ross Douthat supported the thing enthusiastically, and he's all about nuance. Well, no fucking sale, and who th' hell d'you think you're kiddin'? Y'all were quick to reject nuance at the time; now you crave it, because otherwise you're just collection of lyin' motherfuckers who got caught. Should'a thought of that then. Don't they teach that at Harvard anymore?

"What kills me is that everyone has his reasons," says Renoir in Rules of the Game, one of the rare examples of Art in the cinema. Such does not make George W. Bush Hamlet. Or Richard III, for that matter. And, meanwhile, you have a column every week in the New York Times. How 'bout you try nuancing that for once?


lawguy said...

Maybe Richard III.

Anonymous said...

apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power

Doesn't Ross remember that Dan Rather interview where Saddam flat out said he didn't have WMD? This new "he pretended to have them that's why we invaded" line is but another turd in their bullshit sundae.


grouchomarxist said...


Actually, it's not a new line at all. I think the first time I can remember running into this particular ex post factoid was about a year-and-a-half after the invasion, when the Bushites were finally forced to admit they couldn't find any WMDs, and the talking heads began to get a bit apprehensive at the realization of just how big a lie they'd helped sell.

Of course, they needn't have worried: The very outrageousness of what we did guaranteed there'll never be an accounting for it. At least, not for the perpetrators. But we'll be paying for it, for a long time to come.

Kathy said...

When in Douthat going to write a column on the myriad sex-scandals of the Catholic Church? His *nuanced* observations would be highly ... entertaining?

Augustus Mulliner said...

The Jay Garner reference summoned a term used often by the late novelist George V. Higgins: "blivit", meaning 10 pounds of shit in an 8-pound bag. Or, in this case, Dipshit.
(Brooks would be the Family Pak.)

jackd said...

'Cause I'd say political news writing[1] and puditatin'[2]... knocked political fiction[3] out in the first round

Seeing as how damn many of the practitioners of [1] and practically all of [2] above treat them as subsets of [3], it's hard to tell the difference most days.

Keifus said...

Considering an opening that claims human motivations are complex and hard to divine, that sure is a beefy can of one-coat-covers motive-smoothing whitewash he's slathering over everything Iraq. It reads like a less-capable, more sad-eyed David Brooks.

Tinseltown has again disappointed Young Ross, this time by failing to scrape away the cardboard facade of the Bush administration to get at the real cardboard underneath

Fuckin' brilliant.

Uncle Omar said...

I said over at John Cole's place that I was waiting for your beatdown of the Douche's latest while they were salivating over Larison's work. I prefer yours. Thank you, sir, may he have another?