In the previous edition of Forums and Analysis, we spoke about the article of former Slovenian presidential candidate Slavoj Zizek who, in the British leftist journal The Guardian, dealt with torture becoming so common and its legitimization in television series 24. This article was an example of the challenge posed by the world of entertainment on political struggle.
Television series and films portray a vision of the world. In general, they respond to the prevailing consensus aiming at satisfying as many spectators as possible and at to the recovering of production costs. By doing so, they reinforce the assumptions of the spectators, but they can go further and serve more specific interests, thus becoming propaganda instruments, regardless of whether they are or not financed by the state.
Traditionally, the US executive power has recruited the Hollywood industry, even in times of peace. Actor and later US President Ronald Reagan had his foreign policy supported by the productions of [Cannon], which criticized the USSR and minimized the US defeat in Vietnam.
This method came back in fashion after the unilateral rearmament begun by the United States in 1998. The CIA then financed a film: [In the Company of Spies]. After George W. Bush took power, the propaganda works increased: nine films and three television series ([The Agency, Alias] and, of course, [24], were financed by the intelligence agency). The Pentagon, for its part, only orders movies on exceptional occasions (like in the case of [Black Hawk Down]), but lends its men and materials to several super-productions in return for the right to see and modify the scripts. After the September 11 attacks, the White House mobilized Hollywood in a big patriotic effort to support the “war on terror”. The US presidency and Jack Valenti, president of the employers’ union of the movie industry (Motion Picture Association of America), signed the first agreement that was later extended to Paramount, CBS television, Viacom, Showtime, Dreamwork, HBO and MGM. By the end of 2002, actors Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover tried to create a reaction in favor of the independence of the profession, but they were not heard.
On the contrary, the entertainment, television and movie industries can also use a speech denouncing the traditional symbols or the policies of a state, then turning into an adversary for those who implement these policies whose impact should be minimized.
In the last months, we have seen several movies of political nature that contain elements criticizing the activities of the Bush administration. The neo-conservative or Zionist circles have mobilized to discredit them.
Syriana, by Stephen Gaghan, with the participation of actor George Clooney, is thus criticized by neo-conservative propagandist Amir Taheri in an article well spread by the Benador Associates public relations staff in the English versions of Arab newspapers Asharq Alawsat, Arab News and Morocco Times, as well as in the author’s weekly chronicle in the New York Post.
The film, whose premiere in the United States was in December and is scheduled to be showed in February in France (that is why we have not watched it yet) tells the story of a CIA conspiracy to assassinate an Arab progressive leader who decided to break his trade links with an American company to benefit a Chinese enterprise. The movie should further stir up the anger of the supporters of the Bush administration as it was produced by Section 8, the company of director Steven Soderbergh and actor George Clooney. This same company recently produced the second film directed by the latter Good night and Good luck, which denounces the mistakes of McCarthyism and was showed in the United States almost at the same time as Syriana. The actor and director, who does not hide his support of the democrats and his opposition to the war in Iraq, used the promotion of this movie to make fun of the Bush administration and to establish parallels between the White House activities and the period portrayed in the film.
For Amir Taheri, Syriana tells, of course, a completely improbable story as the goal of the US policy is precisely to witness the emergence of “enlightened” Arab leaders. However, the author pretends to ignore that the film is inspired on a novel by a former CIA agent, Robert Baer, who had a post in the Middle East for 20 years and who plays a short part in Syriana. According to Mr. Taheri, the film is just a load of nonsense distorting reality to please the “conspiring” Arab population and to yield to the US fashion of “self-hatred”.

This expression of “self-hatred” retakes the Zionist expression used in reference to Jews who condemn Israel’s policies or Zionism in general. It is also widely used or understood by the circles who attack Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Munich, showed in early January in the United States and which will be showed by the end of the same month in France (and, thus, we have not been able to watch it either).

This film is attacked by the US and Israeli media who criticize the director for giving a not so flattering image of the Israeli assassination policy against Palestinian militants of the group Black September after the bloody kidnapping of hostages in Munich in 1972 and the death of 11 Israeli athletes during the Olympic Games.
With a significant presence in the media condemning The Passion of Christ, by Mel Gibson, the former director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Walter Reich, affirms in the Washington Post that the main problem of the movie is that its director, although being a Jew, does not commit himself enough to the Zionist faith. Thus, although it does not say that Palestine historically belongs to the Jews, it shows a Palestinian expressing his sorrow after losing his home. In a word, the movie’s error is ignoring 2000 years of history and the evolution of the territory.
This lack of support for Zionism is the main argument of those who criticize the film. The attacks focus on the personality of scriptwriter Tony Kushner, and anti-Zionist Jewish author who, according to his critics, would have described the creation of the State of Israel as an “error” and a “moral and historical disaster”. In the Jerusalem Post, Isi Leibler, director of the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee, affirms that Steven Spielberg’s Munich is an example of the pernicious development of anti-Zionism among the Jewish Diaspora and he regrets that “good Jews” are affected by the “self-hatred” spread by the “internal enemies”. The traitors are the editorialists of the journal Ha’aretz, Israeli leaders who have decided to make it up with the Arabs and scriptwriter Tony Kushner. In the Wall Street Journal, the former chief of the editorial staff of the Jerusalem Post, Bret Stephens, also regrets the choice of Tony Kushner for the writing of the script and recalls, like Leibler, his remarks against Israel. But he goes further by saying that this movie is not far from using anti-Semitic clichés about Jews and money and offers a too beautiful image of Palestinians, while it presents a not so credible main character that abjures his faith in Zionism.

The film is also criticized for its open pacifism.
Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was killed, again resorts to the memory of his son in Los Angeles Times to try to discredit Steven Spielberg’s film. In his opinion, the movie stresses moral relativism by placing in the same level the murder of the Israeli athletes and that of the organizers of the killing. But Pearl goes beyond that. For him, the murders denounced by Steven Spielberg in his film are in fact a way of justice. The author uses the expression “take the criminals before justice” when speaking of extra-judicial killings. Should we understand that Pearl speaks of divine justice? Going even further, he considers that the deaths in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq cannot be compared to that of his son as his son was innocent. So, we arrive at the conclusion that all those who have been killed during the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan, or by the collective punishment in Palestine, are guilty and what was done against them was fair. For the author, not admitting it would show “moral relativism”. This article is another example of the little attention that the western mainstream media pay to Afghan and Arab lives.
For his part, neo-conservative chronicler of the New York Times and of the Weekly Standard, David Brooks, in the New York Times regrets the opinions expressed by Steven Spielberg during the promotion of his film as well as the director’s decision to show in images the assassinations that took place after the kidnapping of hostages in Munich. Perhaps fearing the impact that the film could have on the current vision of spectators about the situation in the Middle East, the editorialist affirms that the world has changed since the 1970’s: it is far more dangerous as the mad Islam fundamentalists (described by Brooks as the “evil”) want to destroy Israel when the latter is acting in a less violent way leaving aside killings and giving priority to detentions. This remark sounds very false when the author concludes his article by rejecting Spielberg’s pacifist point of view and extols “constructive” violence against “destructive” violence.

As a consequence of this media campaign, the results of Munich in the United States are far less important than those achieved by previous films by Steven Spielberg.