Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Politics Of: White House Down

Oh Crap: The Canadians Burnt It Down Again
White House Down is the second terrorists-take-over-the-White-House movie to come out this year following Olympus Has Fallen. The Omnivore hasn't seen Olympus Has Fallen--but he used a clever combination of babysitting and missing the last showing of Fast and Furious 6 (wherein Vin Disel works with Eric Holder--played by Dwayne Johnson--to use his fast car to run guns to Mexican cartels).

The first part of this post reviews the movie. The second part does the politics and has spoilers.

White House Down
With a Roland Emmerich action-film appearing any time during the summer it is your fault if the substance and quality of it surprises you. Emmerich can do a few things well and one of them is commission expensive special effects against national monuments. He especially likes the White House as a target and in addition to 2012-ing it, he has also blue-light-lasered it in ID4--something one of his characters remarks on during the film.

With any other director I would consider this Lampshading--but with Roland ... I'm not sure.

Roland also has an eye towards mediocre save-kids-in-danger familial dramas and he doesn't disappoint here: Joey King playing Channing Tatum's daughter does a great job and Tatum is an actual actor--so despite the quality of the writing it clocks in as "about average." But maybe I'm being harsh: If I'd thought for a moment something bad would happen to a kid in a Roland Emmerich summer block-buster I'm sure I'd have been anxious. Perhaps even nervous.

If I ever discover I'm living in a Roland Emmerich blockbuster I will strap two kids and a dog to me and run right at the bad guys--slowly--like in slow motion--with two guns. I'll be unstoppable--if I wear ear protection. Because it'll be loud.

White House Down is a competent action movie. Things blow up nicely and, despite my above cynicism, Foxx, Channing, King, James Woods (who I have an amazing soft spot for), Lance Reddick (who I also have an extreme soft spot for), and the rest of the cast all do an exceptional job of carrying the film--with millions and millions of dollars in special effects and sets--across the finish-line of enjoyment.

If you turn your brain off (and, uh, make sure your political orientation doesn't get tweaked) you may find White House Down an enjoyable show. It's certainly the kind of thing Emmerich has given us before--but it's no stupider than 2012 (how could it be)--and if it isn't as big as ID4, maybe that's, you know, a good thing.

Let's do the politics!

The Politics of White House Down
There are two aspects to the politics that I want to cover. The first is this: "Is it left or right wing?" It turns out, for WHD, this is a very, very simple question. The second is "Just how bad of a thing is that?"

Is White House Down Left Or Right?
The answer is "it's Left Wing." Extremely so. Conservatives are thrilled that it is tanking / has tanked at the box office and David Stein called it "obama porn." Is it? Yes. It's actually worse than that: It's terribly, terribly naive Obama Porn.

Why so? Well, firstly Foxx plays the charismatic president in his first term. It doesn't say he's the first black president--but he is the guy who is "getting the troops out of Afganistan" and for that time-table Obama simply must not exist (they do not mean 'the last remnants'). He has a movie-grade-dumb Middle East peace plan that the Military Industrial Complex won't like--so the guys who come to kill him are Americans.

They're ultra-right-wing nationalists (White Supremacists) led by a turn-coat whose final goal is to nuke Iran--after killing off the chain of command of the country and then auto-firing the rockets via the "football" (apparently War Games happened in this reality because everyone knows that the football sends a launch command but does not robotically fire missiles from submarines).

In White House Down we are introduced to the "Speaker of the House"--who seems a good and level-headed bloke--until it's revealed that he's in collusion with the terrorists because he wants to be president (so he has to have them kill the president and vice-president). In other words: Obama good. John Boehner bad. No word on Nancy Pelosi.

Emmerich said he was looking forward to negative reviews from conservatives (who also didn't like 2012, apparently, for its environmental themes) so this is no secret. If you are looking for evidence that "Hollywood is left wing" this could be Exhibit A--except, if you are actually looking for this evidence, for you it's probably Exhibit ZYZZY51-K or something.

So in this case there's no doubt: the movie is left wing. It's also stupid. We'll see how those two descriptors may interact in a second.

Movies, Good Guys, And The Right
This is Jamie Foxx's presidential peace plan from White House Down:
  1. Remove all US Forces from the Middle East--they are just for show.
  2. Because "Poverty is the number-one cause of violence" spend billions of dollars to build schools and stimulus and whatever in the Middle East--so they will no longer be poor.
  3. Get the newly elected president of Iran--who he is friends with--to hand over his information about how the US Military Industrial Complex has been creating wars in the region so he can send them to jail.
Even without #3, the MIC doesn't like this because it gets so much money from the eternal wars over there that us pulling out would be terrible. So they want him dead anyway. I will note that it is unclear that the MIC has anything to do with the plot which seems to turn on a few key disgruntled people inside the White House (the Speaker, the head of the Secret Service, and all the right-wing nutballs they hire to do the job). In any event, it doesn't matter: the movie is hoping we won't notice.

What is wrong with this plan? 

What's right with it? It's not like we haven't given billions of dollars to these regimes already--in fact, we do every year: our "stimulus" is buying their oil. Secondly, those regimes which house our bases want them. It's not like we're occupying Bahrain--we're invited in. If you think the new plan might involve the rulers distributing those awesome funds to their people, think again: they took the money and built palaces. Even if they did give the money away, a lot of the people wouldn't really want it: Saudi Arabia is the womb of Wahhabism--Islamic extremism--which wishes we and our culture would cease to exist--especially with our evil democracy and sinful education of women. If you think I'm being sarcastic or extreme--or even hyperbolic--let me assure you I'm being entirely literal and perfectly fair.

American weapons in the hands of the Middle East regimes? Egypt--yes. Everyone else? Do you see those AK 47's ... and know where those come from?

The problem here, however, is not just that the movie's plan is stupid--as I've said before, if we judge movies purely by the intelligence of their plans all is lost. The problem here--for anyone who isn't happy with this--is that left-wing causes do, in fact, better lend themselves to the simplistic "good-guy" treatment in a movie (or other fiction).

Yes, the above plan is catastrophically dumb--but it sounds (a) compassionate and (b) logical if you restrict yourself from knowing anything about the root causes of Islamic violence. It sounds friendly and nice and tolerant. Those people throwing acid on school girls just get that way because they're impoverished.

It has been said that liberalsim cloaks itself in the 'nice clothes' of pluralism and tolerance and general humanity--all things good--and that allows it to enable bad or stupid things because everyone will vote for clean-air or healthy school lunches without really looking at what those bills might actually do or be.

This is, of course, something of a straw-man critique of liberalism (the same way that calling all conservatives racist is a straw-man critique of conservatives) but like most straw-men there's some stuff in there that is worth examining. In that spirit I want to look at three things:
  1. When we see James Woods getting ready for work we see him remove a flag pin and place it beside the picture of his dead son (we don't know what's going on at the time).
  2. Conservatives really did sing "Bomb Iran" in the 2008 election. Anyone who thinks this position--that we should attack Iran before they get bomb--which was coming any day in 2008--was not part of the Jewish political dialog in Florida. In the movie Woods is going to Bomb Iran once and for all.
  3. One of the white power guys is a big fan of the Glenn Beck-style character who gets kidnapped in the takeover. I haven't seen anyone call it ridiculous and, if they did, I'd wonder who they were trying to kid: Beck trades on apocalyptic conspiracy theory and, trust me, those white power guys love apocalyptic conspiracy theory.
What does all of the above mean? Before I tell you, let me introduce you to Allen G, a tenther (meaning he is a fervent supporter of the 10th Amendment--which limits government to only what is explicitly allowed) with a long-running political blog. Here's a piece of one of his posts shortly after the apocalyptic 2012 presidential election. It's entitled Culture Wars:
We need action movies with explosions, and bad guys dying in impressive ways, and a good guy who is definably conservative. The Governator has made a few of these, but we need more. We need zombie movies where stereotypical examples of the things we don't like die in gruesome and inventive ways, while stereotypical examples of things we support win the day through self-sacrifice and teamwork. We need romantic comedies where the main characters epitomize purity and kindness and all of those things, and the conflict comes from something other than one of them lying to the other, or assuming the worst about the other. 
I think he's on to something here: although there are conservative-message movies, for the reasons I outlined above--as well as the general composition of Hollywood (and a few other reasons)--I am hard pressed to name a modern pure-entertainment movie that advances a decidedly conservative position with any sophistication. I'd cite Captain America's religiousness and patriotism--but I didn't see any mainstream liberals getting upset about it so I don't think it counts.

I think there's a problem with Allen's plan, though--and he doesn't see it because he has a blind spot many other conservatives today do: the GOP has augmented whatever damage liberals have done to conservative credibility. For example:

The Flag Pin: In 2012 conservatives really did give Obama a hard time about wearing a flag-pin. In White House Down, when the character decides he's going to attack America, he removes it. This is playing the same nonsense back at (portions of) the conservative base. It was nonsense then and it's nonsense here--but it has currency because of the 2012 election (the president in the movie wears his flag pin).

Bomb-Bomb-Bomb Iran: Anyone who thinks that the actual, literal bombing of Iran wasn't a point of discussion in the 2012 election wasn't paying attention to South Florida. It was a real concern to Jewish liberals that McCain's willingness to bomb Iran (forget about the silly song--that's not what I'm talking about) was a strong selling point to other Jewish voters who felt someone had better get Iran before they got Israel. This wasn't movie violence they were talking about either--it was the real thing.

McCain's perceived willingness to attack Iran--preemptively and shortly after the election--was a for-real strong selling point. In the movie the bad guys do it. In reality a lot of people wanted Republicans to do it.

White Separatists And the GOP: I'll stop referring to the guy at CPAC at the "refuting charges of racism" panel who spoke in favor of separate living spaces for blacks and whites and lauded slave owners for providing food and shelter to their property when someone gives me a reason to. It's a disgrace and the guy should've been thrown out on his ass rather than have the speaker make nice with him once the mics were off.

In other words, if the right is to cloak itself in humanity, charity, and responsibility it may have to launder its current clothes first.

A Post Script: I think one can credibly argue that the above points have analogues on the left--and that the left certainly isn't "without stain" when it comes to self-defeating bad behavior. That is true--but I will tell you that I observe that the above points are very, very mainstream conservative elements. Glenn Beck may be a nutty conspiracy-monger but his (extremely high) popularity was very real.

If you want to compare 9/11 Trutherism with Birtherism, I will point to Donald Trump both leading the candidates in the primary and standing on stage with Mitt Romney in 2012.

Obama has certainly been called soft on Iran by the GOP--but if the Republican's position really is regime change that would be proving true the worst Arab-Street conspiracy theories about us. I don't believe McCain would have started a disastrous war with Iran in his first 100-days--but that concept was used as a tool to woo naive and scared voters in a key swing state. Him signing Bomb-Iran didn't exactly disavow it either.

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