Sunday, February 10, 2013

Media: The never-ending sexism

"After all, the director's chosen subject was the male subject of war."  Yeah, we're back on the topic of Katharyn Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty.  Back in December, we wrote "Media: The allure of Bash The Bitch" and thought we'd said all we needed to.

We quoted the idiotic Bret Easton Ellis, "The Hurt Locker also felt like it was directed by a man.  Its testosterone level was palpable, whereas in Sofia Coppola's work you're aware of a much softer presence behind the camera."


"After all, the director's chosen subject was the male subject of war."  That sexist sentence comes for Yale professor David Bromwich.

Really, piggie?  War is a male subject?  Gee, someone should have told Anne Frank that.  She could have  left the attic, right?  Because she was a girl and war didn't effect her, right?  Silly Anne, up in that attic, hiding for her life, not realizing that since this was World War II and war is a "male subject," she could just leave at any point and be fine and dandy.

Or, to cite a more recent example, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi.  The 14-year-old Iraqi who was gang-raped March 12, 2006 in Iraq by US soldiers James Barker and Paul Cortez while her parents and five-year-old sister were murdered in the next room by US soldier Steven D. Green.  She should have shouted, "I am a girl!  War is a male subject!"

That would have made it all go away, right?

As we noted last time, you have to be really educated to be as stupid as people like Bret Easton Ellis or David Bromwich.

War is  gender neutral.  And female artists have not imposed a ban upon themselves when it comes to the topic of wars.  Among novelists, Merce Rodoreda's The Time of the Doves and Jayne Anne Phillips' Machine Dreams immediately come to mind.

But among writers across the board, we immediately thought: Hannah Arendt.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt was of the liberal persuasion.  That didn't stop some on the left from slamming one of her greatest works The Origins of Totalitarianism.  The problem with the book, for some on the left, was that she called out the work of Stalin.  Many of the crackpots calling out Arendt then share similarities with the crackpots calling out Bigelow today.

And maybe they need to get honest.  Not just about being something other than Democrats -- though that would be helpful.  But maybe they need to get honest that it's not the torture angle that has their jockey briefs in a wad.  No, it's the fact that Barack Obama ordered Osama bin Laden killed.   It's interesting to listen to these people or to read them and notice that they stay silent on that part of the film.  But the reality is that in real time, they weren't silent at all.  They booed and they hissed the killing of bin Laden.  Since Zero Dark Thirty is the story of the hunt for bin Laden and since the third act is invading the compound where he's hiding, this isn't a minor detail.

Attorney and radio host Michael Ratner, to offer one example, was once very vocal about the fact that he felt a crime was committed when the US government killed Osama bin Laden.  He began backing away from that position -- he still holds it but is less vocal about it -- when he realized that there was no popular support for it.

So if  the third act is something he ethically opposes, maybe he was never going to be an objective voice on the film to begin with and maybe if he had any real sense of ethics he would have noted that he didn't agree with the outcome (murder of bin Laden) so he was never going to enjoy the film?

Kathryn Bigelow has directed an important film about one of the most important periods in our country's history.  It's a film that will make you think.  If you're a thinker.  If you're a knee-jerk reactor, the film will just have you exploding and frothing at the mouth because it didn't offer the simplistic and cartoon version of events you need to feel safe.

Jason Clarke (who was so good in The Chicago Code) plays Dan.  Dan tortures.  Onscreen, we see him repeatedly torture Ammar (Reda Kateb)  Dan isn't thrilled when torture is pulled.  Dan leaves the black site and goes back to the US but not before warning Maya (Jessica Chastain) not to be the fall guy for changing administrations.

Dan brutally tortures.  And life would be so much easier for many if Bigelow had shown him with a spouse or significant other that he beat or maybe had him looking at kiddie porn on the computer.  Instead, Dan's a likable person when he's not torturing.  By not being a cartoon, Dan really forces the audience to confront the thesis Arendt proposed in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.  In fact, substitute "Dan" for "Eichmann" in the following:

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.  From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.

Kathryn Bigelow's film does not endorse torture.  It does show the use of torture.  It captures that moment in time when American leaders decided that torture was okay and when people in the chain of command then began using torture as ordered to, that moment in time when the American people wanted to play dumb and distract themselves with some diversion instead of screaming at the top of their lungs, "WE DON'T TORTURE!"

Now you can see the film for many reasons and enjoy many things about it.  But what's surprising to us is that the people screaming the loudest against the movie are missing the point of the film.

Again, from Arendt:

"I am certainly tough and I am ready to help solve the Jewish question," Kube wrote to his superior in December, 1941, "but people who come from our own cultural milieu are certainly something else than the native animalized hordes."  This sort of conscience, which, if it rebelled at all, rebelled at murder of people "from our cultural milieu," has survived the Hitler regime; among Germans today, there exits a stubborn "misinformation" to the effect that "only" Ostijuden, Eastern European Jews, were murdered.
Nor is this way of thinking that distinguishes between the murder of "primitive" and of "cultured" people a monopoly of the German people.

What Michael Ratner apparently needs, to get his feet out of the pool of guilt that all of us Americans are standing in, is a character -- possibly named Michael -- who runs through the film insisting, "Torture is wrong!  Torture is wrong!" He needs some sort of an out, an exception, a waiver.

Tough.  You don't get that.  The country was attacked on 9-11.  Bully Boy Bush made the decision that violence would not be investigated and prosecuted but would instead begat more violence.  What should we have done?  Like Michael Ratner, we protested, we marched, we rallied, we spoke out.  It didn't stop the events from happening -- the sort of events captured in Kathryn Bigelow's film.

It's a very dark period and the movie gets at that.  But some 'film critics' like Michael Ratner and Glenn Greenwald need a film that claims torture happened because those involved were bad and evil people.  That's not what happened.

That cartoon version of reality may provide happy thoughts and pleasant dreams but it doesn't do a damn thing to provide understanding of how a nation that once knew torture was wrong ended up using torture as a first and foremost resort.

It would help if people discussing the film would see it.  There's a lie that Ammar gives up information after he's water boarded.  How that lie got started, who knows?  But David Denby certainly popularized it in his review for The New Yorker, "Yet, in attempting to show, in a mainstream movie, the reprehensibility of torture, and what was done in our name, the filmmakers seem to have conflated events, and in this they have generated a sore controversy: the chairs of two Senate committees have said that the information used to find bin Laden was not uncovered through waterboarding." And because The New Yorker no longer has functioning fact checkers, it first appeared in a 'report' by Dexter I-Lied-About-Falluja-And-Let-The-US-military-vet-my-copy Filkins:  "Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life.  According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding."

People have repeatedly latched onto the lie in slamming the film.  You can't get through a comment thread on any article about the film without somebody bringing that up.  But in the film itself, the water boarding does not produce a name.   How do you miss that?   In fact, in the shooting script, the scene's end is described as, "Dan and Maya exit.  They've learned nothing."

Throughout the film's public life, sexist attacks have taken place.  Some feminists, like ourselves, have stepped forward but not enough, not nearly enough.

The newest sexist spin is put out by human filth Bob Somerby who insisted upon going goo-goo over Jessica Chastain to the point that he resembles an online Peeping Tom and flasher.  It may be confusing for some who tried to read his multiple 'reviews' on the film so let's make it clear:  Jessica Chastain is never naked before the camera.  She's not shown in the shower or in bed.  It's only Bob Somerby's dirty little mind that 'sees' things that just aren't there.

He rails against the film while explaining he likes his films with female leads to have them being innocent girls on the verge of becoming women (My Brilliant Career) or government whores (Notorious).  Yes, he truly did set up the virgin-whore dichotomy in his review.

He feels that Bigelow focuses on Chastain's beauty.  We don't know where he's coming from.  In the film, Jessica Chastain really doesn't qualify for beautiful.  In person and in other roles, sure.  But she's not going for that in her portrayal of Maya.  Bob Somerby also sees the film progressively undressing her.  Again, there's no nudity and we were confused by what the hell the old fool was slobbering over this time.  According to him, as the film progresses, Chastain's blouses plunge more or she's seen wearing t-shirts.

Now we get why he misses the points of the film -- he was too busy staring at Chastain's breasts the entire time to notice plot elements.

Fueled by a brief interview Irin Carmon (Salon) badly conducted with Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal, Somerby insists that new print ads featuring Chastain's face are trying to rebrand the film in the marketing.

He really does live in fear of feminism, doesn't he?

Chastain is nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.  Many consider her to be a real contender in the category and some feel that this is the strongest chance Zero Dark Thirty has of taking home a statue.  So that's reason one for the new ads.  Reason two?  She's not an actress in a hot film.  She's the lead in two box office hits now.  Mama has earned $64 million (through Friday) in four weeks of release (Zero Dark Thirty, through Friday, had made $83 million at the box office).  It's always funny to watch know-it-alls who know nothing about the industry tell us why something is happening.

The sexism never ends.  Like when Senators Dianne Feinstein, John McCain and Carl Levin embarrassed themselves with the letter calling for censorship -- yes, government officials insisting on altering a film from the director's intended version qualifies as censorship -- whether it's the insertion of a title card or a call for deletions.

That cry for censorship was shameful.  And they've backed off that call.  In part because former CIA Director and the outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has praised the film as has former US House Rep.  Jane Harman.  But also because it was made clear that a line had been crossed.

With that checked off the list, let's return to the three senators and their little letter calling for censorship to note the sexist aspect of it.

Zero Dark Thirty is a film released by Sony Pictures.  The senators complain to "Chairman and CEO Sony Pictures Entertainment" Michael Lynton.  That position actually has a co-chair.  Amy Pascal is the Co-Chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group.  How telling that the Senate -- where sexism is institutionalized -- would blow off Pascal and make their appeal to Lynton.

Or did it just not occur to them that a woman could be in charge?


Disclosure, Ava and C.I. know Kathryn Bigelow and Amy Pascal.  Piece corrected to note "War is gender neutral."  (As opposed to "War is not gender neutral."  Ava and C.I. say they have no idea what they were thinking when they typed.)
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