alien & sedition.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
  Blah Blah Blah Hates America

Even the more respectable members of the conservative commentariat seem susceptible to the strange game of parsing the political significance of pop culture for the sake of determining whether x is good or bad for The Cause. The newest question: is The Bourne Ultimatum anti-American? Yes, really -- that's the question.

The whole thing begins, as so many delightful discussions do, with Bill O'Reilly, who complains that, in the film, "the CIA guys are bad, bad, bad," and also Matt Damon and Julia Stiles are communists in real life. Fulfilling his role in the ecosystem of hackery, Micky Kaus apes O'Reilly's ravings from his own faux-centrist "contrarian" perch:
The problem is the film is unredeemed by any sense that America or the American government ever stands for or does anything that is right. It is a big hit overseas. ...
From here the debate moves into tonier intellectual quarters, as Ross Douthat ponders whether Paul Greengrass's film wanders too far into the "large gray area between generic 'corruption in high places' films that don't have a broader anti-American message and exercises in explicit Amerika-bashing like Dogville."

Ultimately it's left to neo-paleocon Daniel Larison to tamp out the fires of conservative outrage:
The first mistake anyone who flings the “anti-American” accusation makes is to equate the government with the society as a whole. If someone or something is critical of the U.S. government, it is very often deemed anti-American or, if the person doing the criticising is American, unpatriotic. This plays by the state’s rules: it makes patriotism dedication to the state, rather than the country, and it makes the state into the embodiment of America. This is simply not true, and it’s a very good thing at times that this isn’t true. That doesn’t mean that the citizens don’t have some small part to play in the dreadful policy decisions made by the state (it is our government, after all), but the decisions being taken in Ultimatum are the sort that the public is never supposed to know about because the average citizen of this country would still probably be horrified at ordering the deaths of foreign journalists in the name of protecting some part of the behemoth security state. [...]

Mickey Kaus’ main complaint is that “the film is unredeemed by any sense that America or the American government ever stands for or does anything that is right.” Here’s the crucial point, since the movie is not concerned with America in general, but is very specifically concerned with one nasty corner of the American government.
I'll give Douthat a mulligan on this one. But it's fascinating that the very basic level of nuance Larison brings to the debate is completely beyond the grasp of people like Kaus and O'Reilly, who, for whatever reason, are unable to differentiate between certain people in a government and a nation in toto. Meanwhile even the smartest conservatives find themselves spending their intellectual energies in pop culture controversies drummed up by knuckle-dragging shouters and their vapid enablers. I suppose that's the price you pay for an attachment to a political movement that believes in the primacy of culture. But it looks pretty silly.

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Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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