Saturday, November 20, 2004

How David O. Russell Inadvertently Triggered the Invasion of Iraq 

Below, a brief but entertaining excerpt from Eric Spitznagel's interview with David O. Russell, director of IHuckabees, in the November Believer. Russell's 1999 Gulf War movie Three Kings was at one point scheduled for a theatrical re-release this year, and the director had shot Soldiers Pay, a short documentary on the current situation in Iraq, as an extra for the anticipated DVD reissue. After he told the New York Times that he hoped the film would be "useful to voters," however, Russell was informed by Time Warner that it would be "logistically impossible" to release the film, the DVD, or the documentary prior to the election:
BLVR: Three Kings dealt with the hypocrisies of the first Iraq war, suggesting that we were wrong to call it a victory when there were still so many atrocities taking place in that country. It could be argued that Bush Jr. answered those charges. He went back to Iraq and removed Saddam from power. Isn't that exactly what you were calling for in Three Kings?

DOR: Yes and no. I was pointing to the absurdity of making an international coalition and going all the way to the doorstep of Baghdad, and then not even bothering to get Saddam and basically fucking the Iraqi people over. But if you rewind even further, the film also asks, "Why go there at all?" I don't think we should have gone to Iraq in the first place. And I think Bush Jr.'s reasons were even more disingenuous.

BLVR: Why's that? Because he was so clearly doing it for daddy?

DOR: He was. That's not even a question. I met Bush Jr. when I was editing Three Kings. This was before he'd even gotten the nomination. He was at a gathering at the home of the chairman of Warner Brothers. I was invited and was introduced to him, and I told him that I was making a film that would question his father's legacy in Iraq. At first he looked at me like, "Who the fuck is this guy?" And then he went cowboy and said, "Well, I guess I'll just have to go back and finish the job, won't I?"

BLVR: Holy Christ. Are you serious?

DOR: That was in July of '99. He was planning to invade Iraq long before he had any idea if he'd even get elected.

BLVR: That is fucking scary.

DOR: And it's not like pointing that out really makes a difference. It's not like the Bush family is the only culprit here. There's a whole history of war profiteering that's just become ingrained in the political system. Especially for the Republicans. To be honest, I think that Republicans love terrorism. I know that's a terrible thing to say, but I really think it's true.

BLVR: Well, terrorism is the new communism. It's the new Red Scare.

DOR: Exactly. It's easier to control people when they're afraid. Yeats said something that reminds me of how politically effective the Republicans are in our culture today, and how well they work the media, which is not liberal at all. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." The Republicans just want to bankrupt the government. They think that the government should do nothing, except maybe support the military. So terrorism is perfect for them. What happened to the domestic agenda? What about education and health care? Fuck all that. We need to bomb another Middle-Eastern country. Bush was in a shithole on September 10. 9/11 was the best thing that ever happened to him.

BLVR: Helping Bush probably wasn't what the terrorists had in mind.

DOR: And yet that's what happened. For some reason, fundamentalist Muslims always play into the hands of the Republicans. It's probably unwitting, but they do it every time. They almost single-handedly took down Jimmy Carter and allowed Reagan to take over. It's like they're all suffering from a sort of political tone-deafness. Don't they realize they're helping the very politicians who want to destroy them--who will only continue oil policy without regard for the human costs? Does Osama understand that he gave Bush license to invade any country he wants?
The full Russell interview is not, alas, available online, but the Believer has posted its October 2004 Q&A with cognitive-linguistics guru George Lakoff, who wrote Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate with Howard Dean and Don Hazen:
GL: After the '64 campaign, no one wanted to be a conservative. And what's interesting is that Goldwater's numbers are exactly the same as the hard conservative numbers today. I don't know if you're aware of that. Goldwater lost with something like 37 percent to 39 percent. It was something like 61 percent to 39 percent in the general election. Well, take a look at the Pew Poll now. The Pew Poll is interesting, because it segregates the strong support from the support, and if you look at the strong support for both Kerry and Bush, it's in the range of like 36 percent to 40 percent. The conservatives had had that same percentage of people straight on through from '64 to the present, but what they've done is they've managed to get people in the middle, people who have sympathy for both models -- the strict-father model and the nurturing-parent model -- they've gotten a lot of them to vote with them . . . .

BLVR: Can you explain to me in layman's neuroscience terms how September 11 changed the way we think?

GL: It reshaped our brains. That's why they had to keep showing the towers falling over and over and over again. The imagery meant that the towers were people. The planes going in are like bullets going through your brain, the people falling are you falling. Here's a picture of you dying. The other thing was it was framed in terms of war, instead of crime. Then it was not just war, but metaphorical war, where the enemy is this abstract thing: terror. Terror, which is in you. That's what's sort of weird. The enemy is inside America. It's terror, not terrorists, the outside guys. Of course, by saying "a war on terror" you can never feel safe. The locus of the war is in you.

BLVR: Are the conservatives who formulated all of these terms aware of these other meanings?

GL: Yeah. I suspect Karen Hughes is smart enough to understand that.
UPDATE: We just discovered that, by a happy accident, IFC will be showing David O. Russell's Soldiers Pay bright and early on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 24, at 7:30 AM EST / 4:30 AM PST.

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