Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Zero Dark Thirty" and democratic discourse

Most of the discussion about this film has been about how it depicts the effects of torture, and rightfully so based on many people's accounts who have seen the film. But I haven't. So I won't rehash what those people (Glenn Greenwald for example) have written. One thing that bugged me from the first time I heard about this film is the fact that they made a movie about the killing of bin Laden when we as the public have conflicting reports as to what happened. How the hell can they make what the filmmakers are calling a "journalistic" movie when there are conflicting accounts? Here's how:

The senators’ letter notes that “there has been significant media coverage of the CIA’s cooperation with the screenwriters.” It’s not bad that the filmmakers talked to the government; reporters do it all the time. What’s troubling is that the government hasn’t talked more. We are meant to understand that the filmmakers heard things we can’t, at a time when cases brought by torture victims are thrown out of court because the government has invoked the state-secrets privilege. That’s not how our political discourse should work, either. So much about our recent history as torturers has been left unexamined, with no accountability, with details of events marked secret and shoved away, and the lines between the parts we do know left open to the imagination. The next time we are asked to make a judgment about whether our country should engage in torture, we should be able to look at more than a single movie. That is the value in the senators’ statement. Feinstein and Levin have access to classified information, too, as part of a review of this history, and they cite it in their letter. The senators shouldn’t edit the movie; they can, and should, increase transparency about torture.

This is a movie, after all, that opens, as the letter notes, with the real, recorded voices of the victims of 9/11, trapped in the towers, about to die, followed by a note saying that what follows is “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.”

So as a public who wants to have important information about what our gov't does so that we can hold our elected officials accountable can't have access to that information. But if you want to make a movie about an event that the current administration finds flattering you can have access to this super-secret, too important to trust with us normal folk information. And then you can depict the effects of torture in a way that people with access to that classified information find inaccurate but still get signed off on using all this info for your "journalistic" movie.

I'm not one for hyperbole, but that is some Orwellian bullshit right there. I won't go to the other end of the spectrum and say that these filmmakers can't do what they did. That would be almost as ridiculous. But when they choose to not make a documentary (thus making it more art than journalism and leaving it open to interpretation) but then turn around and claim they took a "journalistic approach" to the movie while supposedly getting the effect of torture wrong, they open themselves up to the type of criticism they are getting. And if, as the people who have seen it are correct, it is wrong, those of us who know the facts regarding torture should criticize them loudly. Because sadly, popular entertainment is where many people might shape their stances on important issues such as torture.

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