Friday, August 04, 2006

Remember, remember the fifth of November

You know those shivers you get up your spine when something is scary? Or awful? I am having them right now. I feel like my body is blushing. It's because I'm remembering V for Vendetta, and how good it was.

Here's a good spoiler-free review by James Wolcott of Vanity Fair. I've wanted to see the movie badly ever since he wrote this, and boy, was he right on the money. The movie is so well made, and so rewatchable. I actually want to see it again right now, but we rented it for a dollar at the Redbox and it has to go back today, and I have to work. I told Sarah we have to buy it. I want to be spoiler-free too, so that review is the closest I will come to summarizing the action. I went into it fresh! like Frank Costanza. And I was glad to be fresh, in hindsight.

The guys who wrote the screenplay, the Wachowski brothers, are the same guys who did The Matrix. V for Vendetta is magnificent like the original, instead of goofy like the sequels.

(Tell the truth, I haven't seen the third Matrix movie yet, like the Star Wars prequels. I held out for a long time before watching Episode III because Episode II was so very bad. Recall that episode in the Holy Grail where the Prince of Swamp Castle just wants... to... SING... and then the father comes into the shot and says "Stop that! You're not going into a song while I'm 'ere!" Anyway, there is this scene in Episode II when Anakin and Padme are about to kiss and the music swells up, melodramatically, and then... they don't kiss. And the music cuts off immediately, just like in Holy Grail. I was rolling. Not Natalie Portman's finest hour. However, she gives a really solid performance in this movie, very believable.)

This movie got panned by some critics, like David Denby of the New Yorker, for its politics. In this case, I think they got what they brought, and saw what they wanted to see. The parallels between the totalitarian government in the film and America's secret prisons struck a nerve with those folks.

I also think they boinked on the film's central contradiction: terrorism restores democracy in the film's dystopian England. You could argue about whether V, the terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask, is a terrorist or a revolutionary, an insurgent, a freedom-fighter. In fact, we've all had that conversation before, in a slightly different setting.

I also find it funny that the neocons advocated a violent invasion and occupation to promote the flowering of democracy, but recoil from the same violence when it is a Western government, however fictional and oppressive, that is destroyed. Once again, the global war on terror is not about the high moral ground. Instead, it's about "when smart bombs fall, better thee than me" rationalizations about the existential threat posed by people who read the Qur'an.

But the real threat to the neocon agenda is not from without; it's from within, when people in America stand up for democracy and reject the easy Manichaeism of cowboy diplomacy, of Christian versus Muslim, of the fear of faceless enemies, and of the sacrifice of essential liberty for temporary security. God knows I hope they do stand up this November, and use the ballot box as the weapon of destruction. After all, who wouldn't want to destroy this?

While the select few on the House or Senate Intelligence oversight committees could review this raging river of classified information, the most sensitive materials were shown only to the two ranking members -- one from each party -- on each committee. Yet there was much that even they did not see.

In short, 9/11 allowed for preparation to meet opportunity. The result: potent, wartime authority was granted to those guiding the ship of state. A final, customary check in wartime -- demonstrable evidence of troop movements or casualties, of divisions on the move, with correspondents filing dispatches -- was also missing once the Afghanistan engagement ended. In the wide, diffuse "war on terror," so much of it occurring in the shadows -- with no transparency and only perfunctory oversight -- the administration could say anything it wanted to say. That was a blazing insight of this period. The administration could create whatever reality was convenient.

Messages, of all kinds, could finally stand unfettered and unchallenged -- a kind of triumph, a wish fulfillment, that could easily overwhlem principles of informed consent and accountability.

Accountability, in fact, was shrunk to a single standard: prevent attacks on the U.S. mainland. As long as there were no such attacks, little else mattered.

-- Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine

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