Sunday, July 17, 2005

War of the Worlds

Some people on the right don't like it:
If there is a theme to Steven Spielberg's new alien-invasion movie, "War of the Worlds," it is not that the human spirit has the courage that justifies human survival. Or that American know-how and grit can defeat invaders, even when the situation seems impossible. No, it is more like: If aliens invade, don't fight back. Run...

...While set in the Northeast, Spielberg's alien war seems very much like what would happen if aliens invaded Hollywood. There would be no praying, no talk of God, no homeowners defending their homes, no posses defending their communities, no 90210 teens enlisting to defend their country.


It is said that fiction writers write about what they know - given where Spielberg is and what he does, this does make a lot of sense. I really can't imagine the citizens of Beverly Hills grimly determined to defend their homes against an invader...after all, it might wreck the exterior paint, and blood stains on the carpet? Just not to be done...

It is still an amazing thing that we have not had a score or more movies about the War on Terrorism - back during World War Two, Hollywood churned out movie after movie on the war and made a bundle doing it. There is a little bit of the war on the big screen, but not much - and this is more because Hollywood doesn't know anything about it and thus cannot put it on the screen. The sort of war Hollywood can write about is Vietnam - horrific Americans doing nasty things for no good purpose; heck, in such a setting, they can even make the odd American heroic, though only if he stands athwart the stated purpose of America in the portrayed war. But in a war between Americans and fascist terrorists? Doesn't fit the script.

First of all, I never got (and still don't get) the hatred for Hollywood. All of Hollywood is liberal and no one should care what actors think. Except for Arh-nold. And Reagan. They can run for office and do politcal stuff. But all other actors are dumb.

As for War of the Worlds, I liked 90% of it. As for the anti-America stuff... slacktivist explains it better than I could:

It's not surprising they don't like Wells' story. "War of the Worlds" is a political book. As Jim Emerson notes at, Wells explicitly compared the alien invasion of his book with the British imperialism of his time, including incidents like the decimation of the original people of Tasmania.

The book is an exercise in empathy -- what would it feel like to be on the receiving end of such imperial force.

The alien invaders arrive. We cannot understand them. Our best technology cannot harm them. They are inscrutable and unstoppable. There is nothing we can do.

That's what makes the book so enduringly creepy. Spielberg often captures this sense of inevitable doom, and the scenes in which he does are as unsettling as Orson Welles' infamous radio broadcast of this same story in 1938. Right-wing critics of the film complain that Spielberg's hero, played by Tom Cruise, spends most of the movie running away and hiding. But that's the point -- there's nothing else he can do.

Empathy with the victim -- with the Tasmanians, or with the Mahdi at Omdurman, or the Wampanoag -- is not a favorite sentiment of the right wing. But there are other reasons they wouldn't like Wells' book.

These conservative film critic wannabes want a story to follow the moral outline of the old comics code or of Job's foolish friend Bildad. They want the good guys to be rewarded for their virtue and the bad guys to be punished for their vice. But Wells' story isn't about morality, it's about power. His Martian invaders have bigger, better weapons so they win and we lose. Period.

This, I think, is what the rightwing critics find most threatening in Wells' story and Spielberg's film. It vividly illustrates that might and right are not the same thing, that military superiority is not evidence of superior virtue. If the illustration of such a basic truth can now be interpreted as an "anti-American" political statement, that is neither Wells' nor Spielberg's fault.

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