Posts Tagged ‘imperialism’
Tags: murder, war, atrocities, violence, imperialism, foreign policy, bombings, NATO, US, civilians, casualties, occupation, victims, anecdotes
Tags: atrocities, dehumanization, Drone Bombing Americans, Drone Bombing Of Chidlren, Drone Contractors, Drone Wars, Drones And Soldiers, endless war, geneva conventions, imperialism, propaganda, state terrorism, terrorism, war crimes
[Would these pilots say the same things if their unmanned planes were circling over the United States itself?]
Drone Pilots Expose Politicians’ Lies
By David Swanson
Our elected and unelected officials tell us that drone strikes target top level enemies of the United States who are imminent threats to us, and that killing innocent people is avoided altogether or minimized.
But drone pilots have begun talking to the media. And they describe policies that bear a lot closer resemblance to reporting from the areas where the missiles strike. These pilots should be brought before Congress.
Here is a stunning new interview with one of them:
“So the pilot is not only flying the airplane, he or she is using all those sensors to watch a potential target, circling over it for hours or days at a time. What can you really see?
“Okay, so in a village in, say, country X, where the houses are built together, there are adults who live in this house, and these children belong to those adults because we see them out in the fields together or we see them eating dinner. So you can start figuring out who is associated with who. Who is a stranger, who is it that’s visiting this house? There’s a dog and it barks at strangers, so if we needed to go in and free a hostage or conduct a raid, you’d want to tell the land forces there’s a dog there and either it’s an attack dog or it alerts the village that somebody’s coming.
“You must develop an emotional tie with the people on the ground that makes it hard if there is going to be a strike or a raid, people are going to be killed.
“I would couch it not in terms of an emotional connection, but a ” seriousness. I have watched this individual, and regardless of how many children he has, no matter how close his wife is, no matter what they do, that individual fired at Americans or coalition forces, or planted an IED — did something that met the rules of engagement and the laws of armed conflict, and I am tasked to strike that individual. The seriousness of it is that I am going to do this and it will affect his family. But that individual is the one that brought it on himself. He became a combatant the minute he took up arms.”
This pilot, in fact this director of the Air Force Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities Division, has not said that a high level operation leader of terrorists who is imminently threatening the United States is targeted. He has said that some ordinary guy who has chosen to violently resist the hostile foreign occupation of his country by shooting at the occupiers is targeted.
He has also not said anything to satisfy those who support the notion of just wars but want them conducted in compliance with the Geneva Conventions and other such legally binding limitations. This director of a U.S. drone kill program openly says that our public employees target a family for death if needed in order to blow up a foreign soldier from thousands of miles away. Every effort is made to avoid killing innocent family members, he says in the interview, but if it can’t be avoided, well, the target “brought it on himself.”
War is murder, and this type of war ought to look to most people like the murder that it is. But even if you accept war, this is not how ANYBODY claims it is to be legally done. This is beyond what Congressional witnesses or even Congress members would say is acceptable or legal. Yet this pilot blurts it out to the media with apparently no concern that his life will be inconvenienced by further questioning.
Enough is enough is enough. End this madness now [petition to ban armed drones].
David Swanson is the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org
Tags: arms, bigotry, Bill Maher, bombing, covert, dictators, foreign policy, Glenn Greenwaldk, imperialism, Islam, meddling, propaganda, propagandist, racism, religion, US, war
Glenn Greenwald calls out bigoted imperial apologist Bill Maher for his biased, blinkered views, and it looks like he might not be returning to that TV show. That’s the way it works.
I can’t stand Bill Maher, a really loathsome despicable propagandist who masquerades as a critic. File him with Rush, Sean and Beck.
Tags: American, Anti Empire Report, blogroll, empire, exceptionalism, foreign policy, imperialism, William Blum
We have a blogroll on the side bar. I had neglected to add William Blum’s Anti Empire Report, but have since corrected that. Blum’s hard hitting reality report consistently shreds the popular corporate myths most people mindlessly live under.
Only the best stuff makes the cut on the blogroll.
Tags: fascism, atrocities, imperialism, history, war crimes, empire, vietnam, wars of aggression, Viet Nam, crimes against humanity, soldiers, revisionism, massacres, rewriting, accounts, stories, horros
We fight fascism here, and this is the front line.
“Citing a recent Gallop poll, journalist Robert Sheer reports that “a majority of Americans ages 18-29 believe sending U.S. troops to Vietnam was not a mistake… the young now approve of an irrational war in which 3.4 million Indochinese and 58,000 Americans died…” Holding steady across the age divide, “70% of those 50 or older… with contemporary knowledge…” retain their beliefs in the war’s essential wrongness. “
The real Vietnam war: Kill Anything That Moves, a new history by Nick Turse is reviewed over at Counterpunch. Using a large cache of firsthand accounts by US soldiers on the ground there, this is the wake up call generation dumbass needs to read.
That said, Michael Uhl’s review of the book is far from flattering, with a sense of the one-upsmanship and infighting of the left. Uhl, a veteran of the war criticizes the young Turse for his limited knowledge and knee jerk myopia. More from Vietnam era veterans found at In the Mind Field.
It’s often a thankless job fighting the neo-nazism of the current empire. These aren’t the articles, posts, videos, books and films that draw the big crowds. A video called “Beer Boobs” would probably reach millions virally on Youtube, but the descent of the nation into barbarism, mass murder and totalitarianism fails to attract much notice. They say you get the government you deserve. What does that say about the US public?
“…an old lifer Sergeant Major spoke, pointed to us and very specifically stated, ‘These whining, complaining Vietnam veterans will die off. I want to assure you, we have written the history of the Vietnam war your grandchildren will read.’”
If you want to hear what a real hero sounds like, listen to helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson’s account of how he stopped the My Lai massacre by turning his helicpter’s guns on the infantrymen massacring women and children.
Tags: narrative, censorship, Islam, media, imperialism, empire, foreign policy, democracy, data, military, myth, ted, facebook, invasion, trust, app, middle east, United States, marketing, privacy, survaillance, global, extremism, hegemony, integrity, friends, apps, permissions, comments, Arab Uprising, mistrust, militancy
Betray Friends’ Privacy to Comment?
I was ready to “Login with Facebook” over on TED’s website, when their privacy invading app told me they were taking my email address and other info – including my friend’s info and video information. And I stopped.
Who gives them the right to stick these data mining marketing tricks into their message board?
Fuck you, TED. We live in an invasive, privacy destroying Brave New World of aggressive marketing yuppies with no scruples. Rudeness is being normalized. You can’t even have a conversation with a human for more than two minutes without them pulling out some tappy tappy device in the middle of it. The humans are resembling cyborgs more and more, slaves to the devices.
Anyway, I wanted to comment on Maajid Nawaz’s talk about extremism allegedly running rampant across the globe far and ahead of democracy. Some of his claims make more sense in particular Arab countries than they apply to the rest of the globe. Some of his thinking is constrained and limited in scope, and that is the point I wish to make. The talk, and the world view behind it, are completely missing the larger picture of empire, global hegemony by the US and friends. Behind the scenes the real exercise of power grinds on to coopt and derail popular movements, to benefit extremists when convenient, to fund and arm military dictators, which is very often convenient, to protect brutal human rights abusers when they provide strategic benefit, and etcetera. This is not a new or novel understanding.
The Arab world in particular should know well the machinations of Uncle Sam in propping up oil dictators and overthrowing the disobedient ones. Iran’s actual democracy was destroyed in 1953 by the CIA, and even admitted to. This is not covered up today. Nawaz focuses a lot on Egypt, without mention of US support of Mubarek right up until his ouster by one of their torturer friends in the Egyptian military. The Egyptian military receives more than a billion dollars in so-called military “aid” every year, $1.3Bn as of 2010. What are they purchasing with this graft? Pakistan has also received much. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain receive quite shockingly positive media when their people rise up demanding democracy – and are brutalized, tortured and imprisoned for their efforts. US leaders smile and change the subject. To fail to mention any of this obvious undemocratic imperial meddling is a credibility killer, in my view.
Nawaz himself is a former “extremist,” already taken in by one set of dogmas. One wonder if this new prevailing democracy myth he ascribes to is similarly processed in extremist fashion? As far as fighting for democracy and against Islamic militant extremism, we again must examine the facts on the ground. In 1979 the Mujahadeen, the precursor to “Al Qaeda,” were created, armed, trained and imported into Afghanistan to overthrow the pro-Soviet government. Decades of horror and destruction followed, which persists to this day. That particular US supporting of extremism was launched under Jimmy Carter of all people. Today, the Al Nusra Brigades in Syria are doing the empire’s dirty work. These absolute extremists, with a blood drenched record of terrorism that exceeds Al Qaeda’s record already, are part of the current imperial strategy to topple dominoes. Al Nusra is supported directly and unequivocally by US client regimes Saudi Arabia and Qatar and are hosted and given free passage on NATO state Turkey’s territory to invade Syria next door. US CIA are also on the other Syrian border in Jordan, arming and training fighters.
How does any of this fit into the picture that Nawaz paints during his talk? His is a sin of omission. The myth prevails rather than the reality. I’m all for democracy and promoting it, but let’s not close our eyes and play fools.
And TED, you can go to hell for daring to demand personal contacts from people commenting on your website. Have some shame and some tact, basic etiquette. To talk to you in the street you first demand my mother’s Facebook posts, and which videos she watches? And my sister’s dog photos? Can I say my comment then?
Tags: africa, child soldiers, conflict, Congo, firearms, imperialism, independent, review, Under The Radar, violence, war, War Witch, weapons, western
Where Quiet Beauty is Meshed with Violent Reality
Thirty minutes into Kim Nguyen’s film War Witch (2012) (simply titled Rebelle in its original French Canadian release) I knew I was watching something like nothing I had seen before. Nguyen’s film is based on true stories of child soldiers captured in Burma by rebels to fight against the government army. The film is set in the Democratic Republic of Congo and told through the eyes and words of the young girl Komona. It follows Komona from ages 12-14 as she is torn from her childhood and thrown into the blood-drenched violent chaos of an unnamed African civil war. The story is harrowing, brutal and heartbreaking, yet the cinematography is so beautiful, the camerawork so sensitive and perfectly executed that the pain is brought to the surface not through overwrought melodrama but through quiet beauty meshed with violent reality. Komona’s tale will rip your heart out for sure, but her survival is not the result of some Western Deus Ex Machina, some prince on a white horse, or helicopter for World Relief. Rather Komona’s survival is a result of her own will, her personal strength, her instincts, and her ability to continue to move forward and keep herself alive even as her world is crushing in on her.
So no, War Witch is not the kind of movie we usually see about Africa. This is not United Nations Cinema and a vehicle for white people to feel bad about Third World struggles so they can feel good about themselves for feeling bad. Rather, War Witch delivers African Realism like we’ve never seen on the screen before. It is experiential cinema, and the experience is not filtered through the propaganda of Hollywood or Western culture. War Witch is the tale of heartbreaking survival in an environment where the odds against survival are stacked as deeply as the boxes of AK47s which young children wield against an unnamed government army. But through the set location, mechanisms of production, cinematography and acting, the film allows the audience to breathe even in a seemingly suffocating and hopeless world. We are given a chance to feel and experience the plight of Komona, yet without a didactic Western imprint.
Komona’s story could be called a coming of age story, but that is too tame a phrase for this film. If Hollywood made this movie, perhaps it would be a coming of age story. It would undoubtedly involve some sort of Western intervention – the Peace Corps, missionaries, the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, or maybe even Bono or Madonna. But the young protagonist in this film isn’t even allowed to come of age. Rather Komona’s childhood is violently ripped away from her, and she is thrust into a tale of survival against all odds in a landscape whose bloody and violent history rustles in every leaf on every tree and every blade of grass in the film. For the entire 90 minutes we are immersed in Komona’s life within her African culture. There is not one single white person to offset, dilute, or Westernize this exceptionally harrowing and heartbreaking vision of life in the Congo. In other words, this is not Out of Africa, The Constant Gardener or Blood Diamond. War Witch is African Realism, and realism in the Congo includes traditional practices of African magic and ritual combined with guns, child soldiers, chaos and a landscape soaked with the blood of its violent history.
The only image of a white person who appears in the entire film is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s distorted and blurred face projected from a shitty VHS tape of Universal Soldier projected on a beat-up TV that is used for a theater to entertain (and indoctrinate) the army of children with guns. The children applaud with glee and raise their guns in celebration and victory as the credits of the movie role and they identify with the plight and victory of Van Damme’s vigilante rebel hero. Other elements of Western culture are strewn through the film like so much litter. The film begins with Komona’s face staring from behind a commercial banner which provides a makeshift wall for her shantytown house. The banner literally frames her face before the rebels arrive, kill off the adults in the village, and capture the children as soldiers. The film ends with Komona playing out her final struggle while wearing a t-shirt with the brand ABERCROMBIE emblazoned across its bloody and dirt smeared front. So while Komona’s story is grounded completely within its Congo setting, the imprint of Western culture certainly exists but not in any heroic sense by a long shot.
In fact, the rebel army that captures Komona and is led by a leader simply known as Great Tiger barters in the mineral coltan and exploits his child soldiers not just to fight against the government army but also to mine this mineral which is exported and sold to make cell phones. Nearly 80% of the world supply of coltan comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The children are taught to see the mineral as the source of magic power (particularly that of its rebel leader) when in reality it is just a natural resource being sold to the profit of few at the expense of many, including children. So ties to Western culture certainly exist in the film, but not in a very favorable light.
This brings me to the title of the film War Witch and Komona’s story. The film opens with a pan of the shantytown where Komona lives. Komona’s mother braids her hair as we hear Komona’s voice begin to narrate her tale in a voiceover that runs throughout the film. Komona tells her story to her unborn child, and she prays to God that she won’t hate the baby. The words she speaks are so brutal in contrast to the image of the innocent twelve year old child walking out into the sun, her hair spiked with the braids her mother just gave her. Komona bounces playfully on a wooden board, and the fragility of the board, the fact that it can crack at any moment, sets the tone for the world that is about to collapse around this twelve year old girl. Smoke from war rises beyond the grassy planes where Komona plays. Everything in this opening picture is a painful contradiction. Here we see a young girl carving childhood joy out of a precarious landscape of poverty and violence. She turns her head to a sound in the distance, and in a flash her world rips apart as she runs screaming for the people of her village to take cover. The rebel army arrives, slaughters the adults and captures the children to serve as its soldiers.
In a scene of unbearable pain and tension, the rebels place an AK47 in Komona’s hands and tell her to shoot her parents or the soldiers will violently butcher them with machetes. The parents implore Komona quietly to go ahead and shoot them. Komona pulls the trigger and rapid gunfire punctuates the tears that roll down her cheeks. Her braided hair is the last trace of her childhood as she walks out with the soldiers in a state of shock. At that moment, the twelve year old Komona is thrust abruptly into a violent adult world where all she can do is fight for her survival, a world where she learns “to turn the tears inside her eyes” so they can’t be seen and she won’t be beaten.
Enslaved by the rebel army, Komona covers her braids with a cloth band. In other words, the last trace of her childhood is covered with garments of war. She and the other child soldiers are given AK47s and told that the guns are their mother and their father now. Their ancestral traditions have been replaced by the violence of war. The children walk through the Congo landscape weighed down by ammunition and sacks of coltan.
This all sounds brutally harrowing, and it is. But what moves the film beyond a relentlessly hopeless, bleak and violent tale of one girl’s struggle is the way in which Nguyen blends traditional African Vodun (spiritual magic) practices with the hard reality of war and violence and the way the cinematography heightens this blend. From the onset of Komona’s capture by the rebels, magic, war and violence are all mixed up. The cinematography literally saturates the screen with color and light, propelling this tragic and violent tale into a kind of magical realm that has been usurped by the forces of civil war. Magic is as much a part of the reality of this film as the war that is being fought. One young soldier tosses a handful of rocks and reads their position to determine the troop’s next tactical maneuver as if he is reading tea leaves. When the new children recruits are given their AK47s, it is done with ritualistic song and dance combined with a celebratory shower of gunfire, a coming of age ritual performed with bullets instead of herbs.
In order to make life in the frontlines more bearable, the child soldiers drink hallucinatory “magic milk” that comes from tree sap. This alters their sense of reality, and turns violence into a dream instead of a nightmare. When Komona takes her first drink, she wanders through the jungle hallucinating. She stumbles onto a road and has a vision of two ghosts of the dead. They warn Komona to run because government forces are coming. Komona yells at her rebel group to flee, but it’s too late. Gun fire explodes from the jungle as if the landscape itself has been transformed into a weapon, and every single child from Komona’s village is shot dead except for her.
As the lone survivor, Komona is named “War Witch” by rebel leader Great Tiger. The rebels celebrate Komona’s magical contribution to their guerilla efforts by shooting off their guns into the night. The night sky explodes with orange fireworks from gunfire from automatic weapons. The troops celebrate their new “War Witch” in an apocalyptic vision of chaos and ritual. Komona, on the other hand, sits quietly shut off from the revelry, her face a portrait of inverted stone. Great Tiger may have named her a War Witch, but she is a reluctant witch. All she knows is death, brutality, pain and blood. She is named witch simply as a tool for Great Tiger to exert power over his enslaved troops and hold them in his spell, and Komona will be killed off as soon as she ceases to be valuable. Not a lot of magic in that formula. The close-up of Komona’s resigned face cuts to a brief scene in the middle of the celebration when Great Tiger guns down one of his rebels for stealing some of the coveted coltan.
Guns, as witnessed in this scene and many others in the film, are directly connected to ritual and magic. They have been integrated into the violent culture as much as Vodun magic itself. Children wear rifles as if the weapons are extensions of their bodies, prosthetic limbs. Their young bodies are laden with ammunition straps like the costumes of ancestral warrior rituals. The rifles are lifted and fired in celebration. They are used to slaughter the enemy as if they are divine weapons. The powder from bullets is used to light fires. Komona is given a “magic” AK47 with carved Vodun images on its grip – the Witch Gun. But there is no magic in these rifles, and Komona knows it, just like she is no War Witch. In Komona’s world, tradition has been replaced by ammunition. The kind of blood sacrifice witnessed in this film has nothing to do with offerings to the gods, but is senseless violence without reason or spiritual connection.
Komona hooks up with a fellow young soldier (one of her original captors) Magicien when she glimpses him performing magic in his sleeping quarters. Magicien, an albino soldier, shows her strings of stones and bones that represent his dead ancestors and a wing of a bird that represents freedom of the spirit. Komona looks on hopefully as if she can find a glimpse of something beyond the hell she is living. Magicien opens her palm and places a string tied around a cluster of rocks in Komona’s hand. He shakes violently with the magical energy of the talisman, infusing it with Vodun spirit, and he tells Komona to keep it in her pocket to protect her from war. Magicien himself wears a similar talisman around his neck to protect him. But in the end, the talismans are made of rocks, string, and other junk and only allow for momentary glimpses of possible protection, a small taste for magic in a world where AK47s and machetes trump magical powers. Magicien and others infuse Vodun rituals and talismans with faith because they need to hold onto something that is greater than the sum of their reality (death, blood, death, blood).
In a bloody shoot-out on a great rocky expanse, both Magicien and Komona let lose all their anger, rage and confusion as they fire violently at the encroaching enemy. Komona lifts her “magic rifle” and fires while screaming. Magicien fires endless rounds through a mounted machine gun. After the battle, a lone AK47 stands mounted as Komona watches the ghosts of the dead move silently over the rocks. The ghosts Komona sees are filmed beautifully and subtly almost like whispers as their white bodies and empty eyes roam the war-torn landscape. Their beauty fills the ghosts with both grace and tragedy.
After the shootout on the rocks, Magicien convinces Komona to flee the rebels. He proclaims his love for her and asks her to marry him. In a momentary glimpse of real magic and sincere beauty and tenderness and an attempt to reclaim the ancestry that was stolen from her, Komona proclaims that she will only marry Magicien if he gives her a white rooster which is the African tradition she learned from her father. Magicien takes his charge seriously and embarks on an often humorous and heartwarming hunt for a white rooster, providing a window of relief in a film that is suffocatingly brutal. Magicien eventually finds the white rooster in a community of albinos like himself, and he trades his magic for the bird. The albino community is filmed through an overexposed sun-soaked lens and shows happy families, children and adults smiling and living freely. There is not a gun in sight. It is a tiny window of possible utopia in the hell that is Magicien and Komona’s world.
With the white rooster strapped to the back of a motorcycle, Komona and Magicien are happily married and in love. They go to live with Magicien’s uncle “The Butcher” whose entire family was slaughtered in war. Komona and Magicien laugh and kiss in the fields with the grass blowing around them. But there is tremendous tension under the laughter and the smiles. The fragility of their connection blows through the landscape. The cinematography captures a landscape in a constant state of agitation. We know that the rustle of the grass could be the result of a playful breeze or could be a disruption from the feet of soldiers moving toward them. The landscape is filled with beauty and potential danger. There are secrets lurking in its recesses, and those secrets come bearing weapons. Danger rises violently and breaks the magic spell that briefly holds Magicien and Komona together. In a violent clash between love and pain, magic and reality, Magicien is butchered before Komona’s eyes, and she is taken as a sex slave to another rebel leader.
At this point, Komona goes into aggressive survival mode. She fights off her slave by combining magic with cold hard tactical strategy. She inserts a seed pod in her vagina, an act that could seem like a Vodun ritual, but which is actually a tactical maneuver to castrate the man who rapes her. She then wields a machete and brings him down with the force of a lion. The magic is gone for Komona, War Witch or not. The only magic she has is her own strength to survive, which proves to be a miraculous force.
Bleeding and pregnant with her rapist’s baby, Komona moves through her fourteenth year in a haze of extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She thinks everyone and everything is a threat. Her internal state of self-imposed disassociation turns into a toxic cocktail of unspoken outrage. She eventually wanders off alone where she rows a canoe back to her homeland, pausing along the way and doubling over in labor pains. She delivers her baby on the shore entirely on her own, pushing it out of her body as if she is pushing every bad thing that she has witnessed in her young life, every horror she has committed under force and that has been committed against her.
With her baby in her arms, Komona returns to her home to bury the ghosts of her parents who have been haunting her since she was forced to kill them. Komona stands in the spot where she held the AK47 in her 12 year old arms and fired on her parents. She looks at the bullet holes and blood stains on the linen blowing in a dirty breeze, and it is utterly devastating, the only material left of her childhood home.
In the dirt on the ground she finds the broken remains of the comb her mother used to braid her hair during those last moments of Komona’s childhood. The comb had been stomped on, crushed, and shattered by rebel soldiers. She takes the comb’s broken body and a shirt and performs a burial in the sand. In this scene, she sings a song setting her spirit and her parents’ spirits free as she buries the ghosts of her parents, her lost childhood, and everything that was stolen from her. Finally the tears she hasn’t shed run quietly down her cheeks.
We see these tears as we always seen Komona, in absolute close-up. Her face fills the screen. The emotions locked inside her stone face are as volatile a force as the landscape she occupies. Every moment she is filmed, the strength she exerts to contain her emotions pushes out of the frame of the screen. Rachel Mwanza, the young actress who plays Komona, brings such enormous emotional presence to the character that it feels like we embody her as we are immersed in this violent world through a child’s experiences. Every scene carries a tremendous sense of immediacy and shock.
One of the reasons the film is so emotionally effective is because Nguyen uses non-actors. Rachel Mwanza was actually a child living on the streets when she was recruited for this role. Most of the actors can’t read. They were given only a page or two of script at a time and had no indication of what was going to happen next in the film’s story, so every act in the movie played out as if it would in real life – unpredictably. The actors responded with immediate emotion that was captured on film. This is not highly polished and rehearsed Hollywood filmmaking. This is largely unpracticed spontaneous human emotion, and it seeps through the film as densely as the beautifully rich cinematography.
By the end of the film, we have followed young Komona as she is forced to kill her own parents, pick up an AK47 to fight government soldiers, become enslaved by rebel leaders, go on a hunt for a magic white rooster, watch the ground literally drip with blood from those she is forced to kill and those who she watches get killed, and finally give birth to the child of her rapist. Certainly this could be the material of overwrought melodrama, but the film never once lapses into that exploitive Westernized territory. It stays true to its unique brand of harrowing cinematic magic grounded in the brutal realism of the Congo and the history of senseless violence and civil war that have soaked that land in blood. In War Witch magic and the real are combined to show a tale of survival on its own brutal terms. At the end of the film, when Komona falls asleep in the back of a truck, she has saved herself through her own perseverance and resourcefulness, not from some divine intervention, magic spell or Western aid. Her baby resting in the arms of a stranger, Komona lays her head on a sack, and she finally falls asleep. At age fourteen, she has her whole life ahead of her, or maybe she doesn’t . . .
Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently published her first book, Mapping the Inside Out, in conjunction with a solo gallery show by the same name. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: 9/11, Abby Martin, al qaeda, banks, Bradley Manning, Breaking the Set, coercion, deception, diplomacy, drones, empire, foreign policy, foreknowledge, imperialism, insider trading, Knowledge vs. Belief, PJ Crowley, SEC, September 11th attacks, visas, war crimes, whisleblower
Fireworks fly in the second interview with a former State Dept. lackey:
Maybe even more fireworks were called for?
Two quick jabs to respond to the Al Qaeda Card:
The Saudi Connection and High Treason
The 9/11 Hijacker Visas (15 from Saudi Arabia btw)
US government complicity, cover-up and cooperation with the despicable Saudi monarchy — the main sponsor of Al Qaeda — is what makes us less safe. To this day US CIA is working with Saudi and Qatari agents to send TERRORISTS to Syria to destroy the country and attempt to remove Bashar Assad from power.
As for foreign terrorists entering the United States, Mr. Crowley’s STATE DEPARTMENT, along with its CIA infiltrators at the consulates, should stop issuing them VISAS! What a novel fucking idea?
Tags: developing nations, documentary, economics, empire, Europe wealth, exploitation, free, free film, historical crimes, imperialism, poor, poverty, resrouces, slavery, theft, third world
Imperial crimes continue today. The real causes of poverty around the world, and its symbiotic relationship to obscene wealth.
The aphorism “The poor are always with us” dates back to the New Testament, but while the phrase is still sadly apt in the 21st century, few seem to be able to explain why poverty is so widespread. Activist filmmaker Philippe Diaz examines the history and impact of economic inequality in the third world in the documentary The End of Poverty?, and makes the compelling argument that it’s not an accident or simple bad luck that has created a growing underclass around the world.
Diaz traces the growth of global poverty back to colonization in the 15th century, and features interviews with a number of economists, sociologists, and historians who explain how poverty is the clear consequence of free-market economic policies that allow powerful nations to exploit poorer countries for their assets and keep money in the hands of the wealthy rather than distributing it more equitably to the people who have helped them gain their fortunes.
Diaz also explores how wealthy nations (especially the United States) seize a disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources, and how this imbalance is having a dire impact on the environment as well as the economy. The End of Poverty? was an official selection at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
Tags: 007, empire, imperialism, intelligence, James Bond, myth, nationalism, propaganda, Sam Mendes, Skyfall, slpy, storytelling
by Mark Epstein
Writing about the latest Bond movie may seem like an exercise in futility to many, but having read many positive reviews in the corporate mass-media and a couple of negative ones in CP (Paul Carline has intelligent and detailed comments about the franchise and the world of intelligence; Peter Lee makes a couple of good points about British history and foreign policy: but in my view both really don’t acknowledge Mendes’, and his scriptwriters’, intent), I decided I would jump into the fray, since the negative comments didn’t seem specific to the latest film directed by Mendes (in fact he was barely even mentioned), and many of the positive ones really didn’t seem to have seen the same movie I saw.
In fact knowing that Mendes was the director was the decisive point that made me go to see the movie, since I thought, and still think, that “American Beauty’ was one of the best movies to come out of Hollywood in the last decades.
Below I analyze the movie and try to establish the following points:
-“Skyfall” is not a paean to British patriotism and imperialism
-It is a movie that contrasts encompassing, historical, networked and networking understanding, with blind, mechanical, repetition-compulsion and obedience
-It is a movie that itself requires decoding, decrypting and “human intelligence” in the best sense of the word to be understood
-References to recent episodes in UK “national security,” (over)reactions and escalations are intended to make the viewer(s) ask what should ultimately be on trial
-It is a movie that puts the very foundations of certain aspects of serialized ‘entertainment’ into question, including the most popular ‘hooks’ (and ‘hookers’…) in the Bond franchise..
-Mass-art and mass-culture in very late monopoly capitalism have not infrequently led directors to use forms of Aesopian language. I argue Mendes in “Skyfall” is one important such example
“Skyfall” (although some of the information relating to his ancestral home and parents does come from Fleming written material, the symbolic twists given the name, the purpose of the “return home” etc. are all the scriptwriters’ and Mendes’) advertises its difference from other films in the franchise starting with the title itself and continues doing so for the careful viewer throughout the movie… While superficially, phonetically, it might resemble the titles of other flicks in the series, “Thunderball” for instance, semantically it immediately catches your attention. The “sky falling” hardly has very positive connotations in anyone’s cosmology, and in this case as we shall see appears to echo meanings coming from negative apocalypses…
Already in the movie’s opening sequence Mendes is asking the viewer to pay attention: we see an out of focus Bond in a corridor. As we come closer and the shot comes into focus, we transition to a counter-shot of what Bond sees. Corpses and bleeding bodies, violence and destruction in a room: the sort of handy work that is routine in this genre of “spy” “action movie”, in fact part of the “popcorny” repetition compulsion of these genres and the franchise itself.
We soon find out thanks to the soundtrack, that Bond is actually in constant communication with M, and the object of the search is revealed: a hard drive, with, as we will duly find out, an extremely important encrypted file with the names of agents belonging to NATO countries inside “terrorist organizations”. The fact Mendes chose this as the content for the files is itself very important and revelatory. What is the purpose of NATO having double-agents in “terrorist organizations”? How does that relate to so many important events of the last decades, from 9/11 to the London subway bombings, to renditions, to covert uses of Islamic fundamentalist organizations (Al-Qaeda among them) for the destabilization of other countries? Of course the propagandistic/ ‘official’ answer will always be along the lines of: “defense”, “prevention” and “monitoring”. Careful analysis of events, foreign policy and otherwise, from the break-up of Yugoslavia to the destabilizations of Libya and Syria prove otherwise. As I have argued elsewhere these kind of “double-agents” are literally the kind NATO used in programs such as “Gladio” and the “strategia della tensione” in Italy, as ways to destabilize and attempt to foment authoritarian coups there on behalf of the US, UK and NATO.
But one of the most important pieces of information in helping us to try and decode the film, is that while Bond’s instinct is to help the shot and bleeding fellow agent, compressing his wound, M wants him to leave him immediately and engage in pursuit to recover the stolen drive. As we shall see this initial signal and cue as to M’s behavior and modus operandi will be a constant and a central factor in understanding the “commanding officer”, the end of the (in-house, institutional) chain of command of this particular incarnation of MI6. As I shall argue later, we should contrast it with Silva’s almost obsessive preoccupation and interest in the physical well being of others, or the wounds they have been subjected to (something we will find out is probably connected to the torture and physical abuse and destruction he had to suffer as a consequence of M’s betrayal).
As the chase scene develops in the tradition of many Bond and other “action” flicks, Bond finds himself on the roof of a train with the hired killer who has stolen the hard drive, Patrice. The agent who had been with Bond, Eve Moneypenny, has been following the duo, and now has a brief moment in which she could take a shot, but advises M that she does not have a good shot. M once again goes for it, regardless of the consequences for her agents, in this case Bond. Moneypenny misses the shot and hits Bond, who has already been shot previously by Patrice. He falls into a river from hundreds of feet above, we presume he has died… Preparations are made for his funeral, and the bureaucratic wrap-up of his career, M herself writing his obituary (the glimpse we catch is of an extremely brief, and cold couple of sentences…). In the course of the film we will find that, significantly enough, MI6 has sold his flat and the house of his birth in Scotland, yet another significant piece of information about the system MI6 sacrifices its agents to defend…
Mendes invites the viewer to focus on his movie, not as the killer (Bond) but as the decoder (Bond? Perhaps, not likely, this is not Le Carre’..). So while the plot obviously has to fit into the Bond franchise, and has to obey many superficial rules of the “spy” “action” genre, Mendes complies, but only superficially. He is really inviting the viewer to decode the literalized metaphors that are like a “trail of breadcrumbs” throughout the movie, and to connect them to some key revelatory (“apocalyptic”) moments, such as the monologue about islands and rats, a very striking piece of story-telling which is how Silva (Rodriguez) introduces himself to Bond…
So while superficially Silva fulfills all the required plot roles to play the “villain”, even only the colors he is associated with, the colors of his preferred clothing: white, cream, light, as contrasted with those of Bond: dark, gothic, gloomy, aging, symbolically tell the viewer something more is going in this film than “meets the eye” (golden or otherwise…). Silva obviously sounds like “silver” and his hair, cybernetic abilities, close association with hacking and computers, ability to uncover information the government(s) want suppressed, and some physical resemblances have led a number of critics to make a connection with Julian Assange.
During the course of the entire movie, the information provided by Silva turns out to be correct and corroborated (whether about Bond’s “unresolved childhood issues” or about his not having passed any of the examinations which M, ready to sacrifice him one more time for her career, draped by her ego in the colors of the imperial Union Jack, has, true to what we will find her character to be, falsely stated to Gareth Mallory, and Bond himself, he has passed). The same of course, and crucially, is true about his having been betrayed by none other than M herself: he is a former MI6 agent himself, betrayed, tortured and left to rot in prison. He took the (supposedly standard issue) hydrogen cyanide capsule hidden in the fake tooth to commit suicide to escape his predicament (after he has figured out M’s betrayal), only to have yet another MI6 device and caper malfunction, so instead of killing him, it merely destroys his insides (very symbolically of course in terms of his relations to MI6, i.e BOTH the “physical” AND the “inside” part…).
So although “Skyfall” is not the only film in the Bond franchise in which the villain is a former MI6 agent or affiliate, it is certainly the only one in which M herself and MI6 headquarters are the principal targets. This in and of itself should be another significant clue to tell us that this specific Bond movie is NOT about “external enemies”, but it is a reflection on the “organization”, the activities, the goals, etc. themselves… In her attempt at defense and self-exoneration at the inquiry, M states that one no longer knows who the enemies are, since they are part of the hidden world of the “shadows”… In the opening credits (which of course do not open the film…) the graphics show Bond actually shooting at his own shadows, a very significant other clue about the meaning of the film. M in her incompetence and arrogance tries to mystify the inquiry and oversight into her behavior, by talking about the “unknown” nature of these “enemies.” Yet as the film makes quite clear, both literally and metaphorically, the enemies M is fighting and has to fight have been created by her own actions, bad judgments, incompetence, and pig-headed resolve to continue regardless, without ever learning from any of her mistakes (these are M’s and MI6’s own “shadows,” in other words “the enemy is us”…). She leaves the agent in the opening sequence to die, she has Moneypenny take the poor shot which to all intents and purposes would have killed Bond, she decides to let the hacking of the MI6 system continue instead of shutting it down, causing (indirectly) the explosion at MI6 headquarters and the deaths of many more agents. The drive she is trying to recover, has been stolen, and the names of agents revealed, BECAUSE she had betrayed Silva due to “unauthorized hacking”…. Her decision to decrypt the code in Silva’s computer actually allows the ultimate breach of the MI6 system, enabled also by Bond’s “decoding”… Ultimately even her final moments are marked by the utter selfishness that has characterized her life. She refuses to accept Silva’s invitation for her to pull the trigger and kill them both (an undoubtedly more selfless and perceptive, in terms of an understanding of his ‘superficial’ self/role, act than she ever offers), clearly because she is not willing to engage in any real form of self-sacrifice (even though this would of course be the highest…). Instead, immediately after Bond murders Silva, she passes away… highlighting the futility of her self-centeredness in the grand scheme of things…
So “Skyfall” is also in some sense a test of the viewers’ (remaining…) moral code(s). Will they follow the superficial markers of the ‘action’ and the plot, and accept Silva as the ‘villain’ or will they actually judge both M and Silva by what they do, say and accomplish, what their past has been, based on the information we have from the movie…?
“Skyfall” is also about history, time, origins and aging in a way I believe no other films in the franchise are. This is the only movie in which the relationship between M and Bond is explored in such depth and detail, it is the only Bond film in which we learn about Bond’s childhood, and in which we return to his childhood home. It is the only Bond film in which we repeatedly turn to Bond’s signs of aging and physical fragility, a theme raised to another level by the whole issue of his passing the tests, which he hasn’t, and Silva knowing about this (as M is caught in yet another fraud). And of course nothing is more deadly to the ‘action’ flick than meditations about aging… And Mendes is quite clearly undermining this aspect of the genre, as well as the compulsive drives of the audience who watch them, as he proceeds… Even Bond’s abilities in terms of repartee seem to be drastically (intentionally) curtailed and hampered, as in the exchanges with both Silva and Q, and Moneypenny, which could also be interpreted as signs of aging. Clearly the information Silva provides in the film helps the viewer to reconstruct history, to start building a whole picture, a big picture, from fragments, deceptions, etc. Silva’s parable of the island and the rats is perhaps the most important, trenchant, and key of all the story-telling in the movie, in terms of finding our ethical bearings, as opposed to the ‘hooks’ of action-movies superficialities, glitz, booms’, babes, and gadgets… As deuteragonists to Silva, M and Bond are instead bent on erasing history, as M threatens to do to the traces of Silva’s past at MI6, and as Bond so successfully does to the traces of his childhood past and home in the film’s finale. Silva is decoding and putting together a whole, M and Bond are blowing intelligent connections to smithereens, and fetishistically venerating the most kitschy, meaningless, superannuated, evacuated, symbolic junk of ersatz-‘patriotism’ in the land… The following dialogue between Q and Bond on their first meeting at the National Gallery looking at the painting of a warship is also indicative of the theme of time and history, and the different levels of sensibility and awareness (or lack thereof) the protagonists have (I believe the fact that the dialogue centers on the interpretation of a work of art is not casual): [Q] Always makes me feel a bit melancholy. A grand old war ship, being ignominiously hauled away for scrap. The inevitability of time, don’t you think? What do you see? [Bond] A bloody big ship. Excuse me. [Bond starts to get up] A telling exchange, where once again Bond is shown as not particularly perceptive, since he obviously was supposed to meet Q. But also because the warship symbolically seems to represent British imperialism, its self-importance, and pre-historical barbarism in terms of both ends and means. Later in the dialogue, time, history, age and competence/efficiency, sense of purpose again come into play:
Q: My complexion is hardly relevant.
James Bond: Your competence is.
Q: Age is no guarantee of efficiency.
James Bond: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.
Q: I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.
James Bond: Oh, so why do you need me?
Q: Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.
The line about “efficiency” being of course particularly accurate and telling in the case of this Bond in this movie..
The theme of “going back in time” is quite explicitly a dominant theme for the final part of the movie, after Silva’s first attempt on M’s life at the inquiry. It is also a return that in terms of plot (I believe an intentional decision on Mendes’ part) seems barely plausible. Returning home, using more primitive technology, including the Aston Martin from “Goldfinger”, as well as the weapons and communications (or lack of them) deployed in Bond’s ancestral mansion of “Skyfall”. The line about “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs” also refers to a more primitive, childish, phase of story-telling, fairy tales, though this one is a particularly dark overturning of the genre. As we shall see, “going back in time” also means being aware of one’s cinematic history, and how this knowledge also contributes to the layers of meaning in the movie.
The Multiple Meaning(s) of M
Though the character of M has obviously been a fixture in the franchise, never has decoding very richly layered references to this letter/character been as important as in this movie. Understanding and decoding M is in one sense the most important point of the movie, both in terms of the ‘surface’ plot (Silva’s revenge) and in terms of the viewers’ decryption of the movie and gaining intellectual and moral bearings. The fact that M is a woman obviously works symbolically to Mendes’ advantage in establishing symbolic connections to the ‘supreme’ head of the Empire, Her Majesty, representative of the Monarchy. At a lower institutional level the head of MI6, a central institution in the projection, defense, coordination and projection of Empire.
Tags: propaganda, Hollywood, racism, CIA, imperialism, history, IRAN, economics, war propaganda, Ben Affleck, deception, The Hurt Locker, Argo, revisionism, Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Shah, SAVAK, ommission, Michelle Obama, sweatshps
Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?
by Kieran Kelley
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem.
There have been a number of critical condemnations of the film Argo. The most thoroughgoing that I have read is this one. What seems to me to be missing is any critique that successfully conveys the utter ludicrousness of expecting something other than lying propaganda to come out of a Hollywood film about the CIA in 1979. It is like expecting the Soviets to have made an accurate and unbiased account of KGB activities during the Prague Spring. I saw the preview before the film’s release, and after about 5 or 10 seconds of suspense it became apparent that it was a load of crap – the usual Orientalist stuff, straight out of the Reel Bad Arabs playbook, except with Persians instead of Arabs. The film mirrors the preview – at first it seems possible that one might be about to see a balanced and thoughtful movie, and then… not. Decidedly not.
Let me begin with some historical context. The CIA’s first coup in Iran, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph”,1 brought the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into Iran’s political culture”.2 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency, trained in torture by the CIA3 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and international dissident assassination programme.4 Repression was at its peak between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.5 By 1976 Amnesty International’s secretary general commented that Iran had “the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than Iran.”6
Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture “passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”7 Racism allows commentators such as Tim Weiner to blithely exculpate the CIA of fundamental guilt: “The CIA wanted SAVAK to serve as its eyes and ears against the Soviets. The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power.”8 After all, what could civilised Westerners teach Orientals about torture? But something of the real US attitude to such repression can be seen in the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action, including inevitable massacres,9 the US ambassador objected strongly to a reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are disorienting.”10 The funny thing about this was that it occurred after the US had forced the Shah into the liberalisation that set loose the forces that were to rip his régime apart.11 This may seem puzzling, but it made more sense for the US to push Iran into the easily vilified “enemy” hands of an Islamic theocracy than to try to maintain control over a Shah who, however repressive, was determined to develop his populous oil-rich country independently.
That is the key point that you will almost never hear about: the US was sick of the Shah. He had become too nationalistic and developmentally inclined, and they didn’t want him any more. They may not have really wanted a revolution in Iran, but they weren’t going to shed tears over the Shah’s departure. Their main fear was the strength of the secular revolutionary left, which had more popular power than the Islamists (despite SAVAK’s repression) so the US helped nurture the Islamist factions.
The CIA were far from unaware of the impending fall of the Shah’s régime, here is a quote in the film which is an instance of absolute barefaced deception: “Iran is 100% not in a pre-revolutionary state. CIA brief, November first, 1979.” Let’s not be stupid here – it is one thing to claim not to know of an impending revolution, but the film is claiming that the CIA were unaware of a revolution that had already happened. Of course some people in the CIA knew that revolution was brewing and the actual CIA brief was from August 1978 and was plainly dishonest even then. By that stage even the State Department was planning for a post-Shah Iran.12 The revolution had actually happened nearly a year before Argo claims that the CIA believed it wasn’t going to happen (the Shah fled Iran in January, Khomeini returned from exile on February 1). But Argo makers really, really, really want you to “know” that the CIA were caught flat-footed and are willing to go to considerable lengths to make you believe this lie.
There is another deception in the film which indicates a conscious systematic attempt to indoctrinate the audience. Some describe Argo as “well-intentioned but fatally flawed”, but these “good intentions” cannot possibly be reconciled with the disgusting propaganda treatment of the issue of the shredded documents put together by Iran. The documents seized by radicals in the embassy takeover were the Wikileaks of their time. Most seized documents were not shredded and they exposed massive systematic illegality and wrongdoing by US personnel, especially the CIA. They were extremely historically significant. Iran spent years piecing together the shreds and the reconstruction was a major intelligence and propaganda coup. In the film, however, we see a very different narrative played out, and we are shown a set of very different images.
In the film, for some inexplicable reason, there were xeroxed photographic images of the staff who had escaped from the embassy when it was seized by radicals. Could this simply be a cinematic plot device for generating suspense? Not really. Any number of other devices might have been used – such as a dragnet, or informants, or surveillance (mobile or static), signals interception and cryptography. You name it, if you are willing to make stuff up, then there is quite a lot you could make up that would be potentially more suspenseful and, unlike this particular conceit, wouldn’t run such a risk of the audience losing their suspension of disbelief because of such an obvious unrealism.
“Realism”, I should add, is a very import aspect of this film. It is not done in a documentary style, but is presented as a dramatisation of historical events. Let me illustrate with a quote at length from Wide Asleep in America:
[Salon's Andrew] O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”
Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film. In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.” He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”
“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”
To emphasise this point, the initial part of the end credits juxtaposes images from the film with real documentary images. They show how much the actors look like the people they portray. The show how they had faithfully recreated scenes from the revolution. And they show the teeny tiny hands a the poor slave children forced to piece together shredded CIA documents. Wait a second though… don’t the hands in the real photo, despite severe cropping, look more like a woman’s hands? And why would young children be used to piece together valuable and vulnerable documents written in a language that they could not possibly understand?
For some reason the film makers took it upon themselves to invent a whole bunch of “sweatshop kids” putting together these documents. There is no conceivable reason to do so that does not involve conscious deceptive propaganda. In this case, the intent is to make deliberate emotive subliminal association. What do I mean by subliminal? As Joe Giambrone explains:
The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, wrote in the late 1920s:
“The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Bernays 1928)
Bernays noted the “unconscious” character of much film propaganda. It was not necessary to directly state messages, but to let the scenarios and the story world carry the messages in the background. Once immersed in the foreground story — whatever it was — the “unconscious” background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge.
This subliminal quality is praised by Bernays as a positive thing, in his view. This is hardly surprising as Bernays’ concept of propaganda is broad in scope encompassing every medium and method of communication that exists. Bernays’ seminal book Propaganda begins:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” (Bernays 1928)”
Subliminality doesn’t mean that images are flashed too quickly to be noticed, rather that associations are made without conscious thought. It is true that you can find a great number of deliberately concealed images in advertising, but the claim that this is all that constitutes subliminal advertising is itself a deception. Advertising, in particular television advertising, is dominated by subliminal messaging, and it is not about tricky concealment. It uses repetition more than anything else, to make associations between advertised products and services with other desires – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual. If you want to sell a car, you don’t generally use brake horsepower or fuel consumption statistics. You associate it with a lifestyle, with attractive people, with status, with sex, with success, with normalcy, with excitement, with fine wine and food, and so forth. That is subliminal.
Obviously when film makers are unconsciously disseminating their own internalised propaganda they convey such messages subliminally. Subliminal means below the threshold, meaning, in this case, below the threshold of consciousness. This is a very, very significant manner in which an orthodox ideology, such as chauvinist US exceptionalism, is deepened and perpetuated. However the deliberate use of techniques designed to manipulate people by subliminal means can be far more powerful still. As an apposite example, let us examine Michelle Obama’s Oscar night appearance. Some have pointed out that Obama being flanked by military personnel as “props” suggests a desire to subliminally associate the First Lady and the presidency with military virtues. That may well be the case, but think how common it is to see faces arrayed behind political speakers in our times. Every time it is possible to do so nowadays, major US politicians will have a bunch of people in uniform behind them when they speak. But it is not strictly about the association with uniforms. Press conferences often pose colleagues behind the speaker – including military briefings almost as a matter of course – and when politicians speak to political rallies or party conferences, they are framed by a sea of supporters’ faces behind them.
You see, we automatically respond to other people’s facial expressions. In fact eliciting an emotional response is as much a component of facial expression as conveying emotion is, and this occurs subliminally. Now think again of Giambrone’s description: “… the ‘unconscious’ background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge….” The people behind the speaker are being used as a way of evoking an emotional reaction like some science fiction mind control ray. Fortunately, people are fickle creatures and often their reaction to watching the back of a speaker’s head, no matter how eloquent, is to look bored or embarrassed. But clearly the technique is being perfected, and the people chosen are those who can be relied upon to convey the right emotions, hence the predilection for military personnel and partisan enthusiasts.
Similarly, subliminal messaging in advertising and film is often also aimed at a gut level. They are not conveying particular ideas, but emotions. The victim (I mean viewer) can rationalise these emotions any way they might later choose, and the brilliance of the system is that it enlists every victim’s own inventiveness tailored in response to each specific circumstance that might challenge or belie the conditioned sentimental sense of reality. So where does this leave us with regards to Argo‘s mythical “sweatshop kids”? We have precisely four references to them. The first is in our hero’s initial briefing: “The bastards are using these [pause and do gesture to indicate need to
convey novel concept] mmm sweatshop kids.” Nearly an hour later, we are shown about 5 seconds of the “sweatshop”. It actually looks very stupid if you pay attention to it, but it is over too quickly to register (more subliminality similar to that used in The Hurt Locker). What it actually shows, when the camera pulls back to reveal the scene for around one second, is dozens of children aged about five to eight sitting amidst piles of paper shreds. There is an unnatural hush, redolent with a sense of fear. Half of them are just staring into space, and there is no conceivable way that any of them could actually be doing any useful work. Accompanying the scene is one of the 16 tracks on the official soundtrack. It is called “Sweatshop” and here it is:
Note the image chosen for the album cover.