Sunday, September 09, 2007

Whose Prop Is It Anyway?


"Here's a little agit for the never-believer. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah."

Last weekend we had a pretty vigorous discussion around these parts when I wondered if the film festival-assisted publicity buzz that was starting to build around Brian de Palma's film 'Redacted' was really a good thing, either way.


Not because of Mr. de Palma's intentions, which appear to be honorable, of showing the horrors of what Iraq has become.

And not because it is a fictionalization.

But rather because, by all accounts so far, including that of the creator, it blurs the line between fiction and so-called fact, apparently out of necessity to get to some sort of ultimate truth.

I also brought timing of the buzz and commerce into the thing.


A number of folks took exception to the sentiment of the post. And most had very good points to make.

This one from 'quin' was especially powerful:

my son is a marine in iraq.

he has no political agenda, he's not a gung-ho patriot. in fact, not a single one of his fellow marines leans one way or the other in this non-war. (remember, the war is over, this is spreading of something or another).

he wants to finish his tour and come home... reality is, he'll finish his tour, come home, and be shipped back.

none of those soldiers will be the same. i guess we didn't learn anything from vietnam.

my blue eyed boy said something to me before he left, when i asked if he wanted to go to where the towers were, a place i still can't see, "mom, all wars have an excuse; some are just better than others."

if this film starts a groundswell that stops the killing there, if it brings them all home....excellent.

Which is very, very hard to argue with, indeed.

However, in attempting to defend myself, I made the following statement:

I have come to the conclusion that all prop is bad prop, no matter what POV it pushes, because, ultimately, if everything becomes propaganda we will all be unable to trust anybody or anything.


So, for the last week I've been thinking a lot about this.

And while I've been thinking I've been reading.

Reading about things like meaningless 'aspirational' goals meaning everything.

Reading about changing the definitions of sectarian violence such that bullets that enter peoples' heads from the front (ie. rather than the back) don't count when you're getting ready to trumpet a surge of death as life.

And even reading the whispers that are starting to wonder why a video by a guy with a suddenly black beard was released by Washington rather than by radical Islamic websites.

As a result of all this thinking and reading and off-line discussing with people whose opinions I respect highly, I started to question my position.

Because, especially given everything that we know for sure, if we don't pushback with everything we've got and lives continue to be ruined and people continue to die won't we be, at least in part, well, responsible?


But then, in the wee hours of a late summer, post-Zoolander screening Saturday night, I slapped myself up the side of the head and, with the help of the good folks over at the Moon of Alabama, came across an inspired bit of wisdom from Brian Eno:

When I first visited Russia, in 1986, I made friends with a musician whose father had been Brezhnev's personal doctor. One day we were talking about life during 'the period of stagnation' - the Brezhnev era. 'It must have been strange being so completely immersed in propaganda,' I said.

'Ah, but there is the difference. We knew it was propaganda,' replied Sacha.

Then, after describing the litany of manipulation of all things demonstrably false that occurred during the run up to the Invasion of Iraq in both 1991 and 2003, Eno really gets down to it.

It isn't just propaganda any more, it's 'prop-agenda '. It's not so much the control of what we think, but the control of what we think about. When our governments want to sell us a course of action, they do it by making sure it's the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone's talking about. And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images, devious and prejudicial language, dubious linkages, weak or false 'intelligence' and selected 'leaks'.

Now, after reading that, I have become more resolute in staking out my original position which is that no matter how tempting it is to push back against 'bad' prop with 'good' prop the temptation must always be resisted.

Because no matter who owns it, prop is prop.

And if everybody is ultimately forced to continually siphon this slop into the boxes that fuel our TeeVee screens in a vain attempt to ward off all the things in the world that are bad, bad scary, and/or downright evil, the stench of it will overwhelm absolutely everything.

And if that happens we really will be in trouble.


Crazy the things those darned musicians say and do sometimes, eh? Take that Rex Murphy!


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