“Zero Dark Thirty: CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda” by Glenn Greenwald [Guardian]

Director Bigelow and screenwriter Boal are utterly overrated; “The Hurt Locker” was Oscar-anointed Iraq War propaganda that sucked hard. Bigelow’s looking like the neo-con/neo-liberal Leni Reifenstahl. If you’re making a film about bin Laden, you are warping reality to start with 9/11 and ignore the fact that he was a key asset/ally in the US’ CIA-enabled proxy army fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the ’80s – Zuo Shou

14 December 2012

* As it turns out, the film as a political statement is worse than even its harshest early critics warned *

…”Zero Dark Thirty and the utility and glory of torture”…

…This film presents torture as its CIA proponents and administrators see it: as a dirty, ugly business that is necessary to protect America. There is zero doubt, as so many reviewers have said, that the standard viewer will get the message loud and clear: we found and killed bin Laden because we tortured The Terrorists. No matter how you slice it, no matter how upset it makes progressive commentators to watch people being waterboarded, that – whether intended or not – is the film’s glorification of torture…

…”CIA propaganda beyond torture”…

As it turns out, the most pernicious propagandistic aspect of this film is not its pro-torture message. It is its overarching, suffocating jingoism. This film has only one perspective of the world – the CIA’s – and it uncritically presents it for its entire 2 1/2 hour duration.

All agents of the US government – especially in its intelligence and military agencies – are heroic, noble, self-sacrificing crusaders devoted to stopping The Terrorists; their only sin is all-consuming, sometimes excessive devotion to this task. Almost every Muslim and Arab in the film is a villainous, one-dimensional cartoon figure: dark, seedy, violent, shadowy, menacing, and part of a Terrorist network (the sole exception being a high-level Muslim CIA official, who takes a break from praying to authorize the use of funds to bribe a Kuwaiti official for information; the only good Muslim is found at the CIA).

Other than the last scene in which the bin Laden house is raided, all of the hard-core, bloody violence is carried out by Muslims, with Americans as the victims. The CIA heroine dines at the Islamabad Marriott when it is suddenly blown up; she is shot at outside of a US embassy in Pakistan; she sits on the floor, devastated, after hearing that seven CIA agents, including one of her friends, a “mother of three”, has been killed by an Al Qaeda double-agent suicide-bomber at a CIA base in Afghanistan.

News footage is gratuitously shown that reports on the arrest of the attempted Times Square bomber, followed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pronouncement that “there are some people around the world who find our freedom so threatening that they are willing to kill themselves and others to prevent us from enjoying them.” One CIA official dramatically reminds us: “They attacked us on land in ’98, by sea in 2000, and by air in 2001. They murdered 3000 of our citizens in cold blood.” Nobody is ever heard talking about the civilian-destroying violence brought to the world by the US.

The CIA and the US government are the Good Guys, the innocent targets of terrorist violence, the courageous warriors seeking justice for the 9/11 victims. Muslims and Arabs are the dastardly villains, attacking and killing without motive (other than the one provided by Bloomberg) and without scruples. Almost all Hollywood action films end with the good guys vanquishing the big, bad villain – so that the audience can leave feeling good about the world and themselves – and this is exactly the script to which this film adheres.

None of this is surprising. The controversy preceding the film arose from the deep access and secret information given to the filmmakers by the CIA. As is usually the case, this special access was richly rewarded.

In the Atlantic this morning, Peter Maass makes this point perfectly in his piece entitled “Don’t Trust ‘Zero Dark Thirty'”. That, he writes, is because “it represents a troubling new frontier of government-embedded filmmaking.” He continues: “An already problematic practice – giving special access to vetted journalists – is now deployed for the larger goal of creating cinematic myths that are favorable to the sponsoring entity (in the case of Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA).”

Indeed, from start to finish, this is the CIA’s film: its perspective, its morality, its side of the story, The Agency as the supreme heroes. (That there is ample evidence to suspect that the film’s CIA heroine is, at least in composite part, based on the same female CIA agent responsible for the kidnapping, drugging and torture of Khalid El-Masri in 2003, an innocent man just awarded compensation this week by the European Court of Human Rights, just symbolizes the odious aspects of uncritically venerating the CIA in this manner).

It is a true sign of the times that Liberal Hollywood has produced the ultimate hagiography of the most secretive arm of America’s National Security State, while liberal film critics lead the parade of praise and line up to bestow it with every imaginable accolade. Like the bin Laden killing itself, this is a film that tells Americans to feel good about themselves, to feel gratitude for the violence done in their name, to perceive the War-on-Terror-era CIA not as lawless criminals but as honorable heroes.

Nothing inspires loyalty and gratitude more than making people feel good about themselves. Few films accomplish that as effectively and powerfully as this one does. That’s why critics of the film inspire anger almost as much as critics of the bin Laden killing itself: what is being maligned is a holy chapter in the Gospel of America’s Goodness…

…The issue here is falsity. The problem isn’t that they showed torture working. The problem, as Adam Serwer and Andrew Sullivan amply document, is that the claims it makes are false. Given the likely consequences of this fabrication – making even more Americans more supportive of torture, perhaps even making the use of torture more likely in the future – that this is a so-called “work of art” does not excuse it (notably, Bigelow is not defending the film on the ground that she showed torture as valuable because it was; she’s disingenuously denying that the film shows torture as having value)…

…Whatever else is true about it, Zero Dark Thirty is an aggressively political film with a very dubious political message that it embraces and instills in every way it can. David Edelstein, the New York Magazine critic, had it exactly right when he wrote that it “borders on the politically and morally reprehensible”, though I think it crosses that border. It’s thus not only legitimate, but necessary, to engage it as what it is: a political argument that advances – whether by design or effect – the interests of powerful political factions.

Full article link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/14/zero-dark-thirty-cia-propaganda?INTCMP=SRCH

Excerpted by Zuo Shou

See also “The truth about Zero Dark Thirty: this torture fantasy degrades us all” by Michael Wolff [Guardian] Article link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/24/zero-dark-thirty-torture-bigelow-boal

Excerpts: “…Without the pretense or, in some ultimate post-modern sense, the fiction that this is true, what you would have here, with all the lovely staged scenes of cinematic torture, is something as bent and campy and revisionist as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ…”

“…Bigelow, more a special-effects cinematographer than a movie director, and Boal, a run-of-the-mill scriptwriter, have, like many in Hollywood, only average or sub-par dramatic skills. They are helped and elevated by “real events”. Truth is a dramatic crutch.

In some further moral inversion, it is probably not the case that they actually believe their movie to be true. Rather this is, for them, a convenient construct, a rhetorical rouse, a vulgar and opportunistic lie, which the entire apparatus of making and selling this film is happy to join: truth, or the appearance of it, sells…”

“…The bald claim, or the meta construct, or the wink wink about this being a serious and important version of a big issue is really just so we can get to the total sexiness of physical abuse. You need a higher purpose to get out-and-out pervy stuff like this into a big-budget movie. History is the justification.

Kathryn Bigelow is a fetishist and a sadist, which, in a literary sense, certainly has a fine tradition [that’s irony, I suspect – ZS]. But without some acknowledgement that this is her lonely journey and not a shared one – not our collective reality, not a set of accepted assumptions but, for better or worse, her own particular, problematic kink – all you have is a nasty piece of pulp and propaganda.”

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One Response to ““Zero Dark Thirty: CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda” by Glenn Greenwald [Guardian]”

  1. “Dude, art is amoral and ruthless…”

    Mr. Stirling’s comment is truncated because it fails to follow WordPress blog etiquette [https://sweetandsoursocialism.wordpress.com/about/], in particular Rule #4.

    There’s also significant confusion about to whom the comment is directed. Since yours truly (Zuo Shou) has not seen “Zero Dark Thirty”, and cannot make an informed assessment of it, and since “Zero Dark Thirty” is the ostensible topic of the post, the received comment seems misdirected. This blog can only refer to published criticisms of those who have seen “Zero Dark Thirty”, or respond to particular comments attributable to the blog itself.

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