Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Next Friday V for Vendetta opens in theaters nationwide. For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, the hero is a terrorist who blows up buildings and assassinates political leaders in an alternate reality world where the British government is vaguely fascist. Okay, nobody expects Hollywood to get behind our president, or the war in Iraq, but is it too much to ask that occasionally a studio make a movie in which the terrorists are the bad guys? This isn’t moral relativism; it’s moral inversion.

In the late 1930s, to help gin up support for rearmament and a more internationalist foreign policy, the Roosevelt administration pressured the big Hollywood studios into making anti-Nazi and pro-military films. If they didn’t, the administration vaguely hinted, there might be a need to nationalize the motion picture industry in the name of national security. Would that be too much to ask for today?

Discussions - 17 Comments

John,

To be fair, I believe you are simplifing V for Vendetta much too much. The government in the graphic novel (which the movie is based off of) is not vaguely facist, it is pure evil. They own all media, have a one-party system, and put minorities in concentration camps.
When the public refuses to care, V decides to take action. Are the actions of blowing up buildings and assassinating political leaders (especially corrupt ones?) terrorist acts? I don’t think anyone argues it would have been an act of terrorism to assassinate Hitler or Stalin. I believe, also, that V targets only political targets and not random women and children.

I think the movie will examine the rationalization of using "terrorist-like" means in order to accomplish a positive good, such as freedom. It should be entertaining at the least. In any case, you simplify the plot.

Much too much? I need to edit these things.

Fine, but is that the lesson we need right now? After Pearl Harbor, should some brave filmmaker have stepped forward to challenge us to consider whether there might be some cases in which it might have been okay for a foreign power to attack an American military base without a declaration of war?

Here’s what the latest issue of Time says about the movie:

V for Vendetta is about a heroic terrorist. Hwoever unjust the regime he opposes...V is a guy who goes around blowing up parts of London, and he liked his work. That was repugnant enough back when Moore wrote his comic book, two decades before Sept. 11. It’s become even more so since last July, when terrorists actually did bomb three subway trains and a bus in London.

Here’s what the movie’s co-star, Natalie Portman, has to say:

I think the most important thing is that people will go home and fight about it. We all realize that at a certain point, violence might be the only means of effectively combatting injustice, but it’s always going to be subjective--what injustice is great enough to provoke you to harm someone else?

Well, we all know how Timothy McVeigh would have answered that question.

Wait, I forgot the best part. This comes from Time’s movie reviewer, Richard Corliss:

These days, with many millions around the world seeing every evil in Bush and Cheney, a film like Vendetta is, at least, timely. And if the villains are the big guys, the hero can be a terrorist--or should we call V an insurgent?

In the late 1930s, to help gin up support for rearmament and a more internationalist foreign policy, the Roosevelt administration pressured the big Hollywood studios into making anti-Nazi and pro-military films. If they didn’t, the administration vaguely hinted, there might be a need to nationalize the motion picture industry in the name of national security.

Can Mr. Moser cite a credible source for this federal muscling of Hollywood? Furthermore, how did the Stalin Hitler pact impact a Hollywood which was so infested with Commies in 1939? Or are you talking about after Hiter’s attack on Russia in 1941?

Thanks, Pubius, for the opportunity to promote my own work! I suggest you check out an article that I had in The Historian back in 2001: "Gigantic Engines of Propaganda: The 1941 Senate Investigation of Hollywood." You can find it online here. I only address this issue tangentially, but some of the works I cite (check out the first footnote in particular) deal with it directly.

Your question about communists in Hollywood is a very good one. In fact, many Hollywood Reds broke with the party when the Nazi-Soviet Pact was announced (although some, like the highly unlovable Dalton Trumbo, remained true to the Old Cause). In any case, the studio heads, like Harry and Jack Warner, and Daryl F. Zanuck, were certainly not communists, and they were the ones in contact with the administration.

Gee whiz, John Moser, what a piece! I got a lot more than I bargained for. I have a tendency to forget that Anglophobia was just as prevalent as Hitlerphobia in the late thirties. Or as one guy you quoted put it, The handful of men in control of the film industry "are themselves dominated by these hatreds, and are determined, in order to wreak vengeance on Adolf Hitler, a ferocious beast, to plunge this Nation into war on behalf of another ferocious beast [Great Britain]."

Obviously you’re a fan of John T. Flynn. I found it fascinating how this guy went from a Progressive with the New Republic, to virtually equating the New Deal with soft-fascism and supporting America First, to thanking God for Joe McCarthy. Oh, what a mixed up time that was back then!

But I digress. I was simply thinking (which was a stupid thing to do) that Hollywood was predisposed to be anti-Hitler because uncle Joe was so in fashion in those days (until the Pact). Indeed, your piece seems to confirm that uncle Joe’s "comrade," Franklin D., managed to cozy up nicely to Hollywood (the Old Right’s Borah et al notwithstanding). Contrast this with Tinseltown’s love of Clinton and hatred of Dubya today. So while Congress may have beat on the propaganda beast a bit (think Janet Jackson), Hollywood was ready to do their biggest Propa-number on everyday folks after December 7th.

Imagine, however, if the H/S Pact had survived... and Hollywood would have found itself having to cheer against uncle Joe Stalin, too, during the war. Would the unions in the Dream Factory permitted such pro-Capitalist propaganda to get out the door? Or would the cry of "Sit down! Sit down!" reduced Hollywood to a mere mumble during WW II?

"...the administration vaguely hinted there might be a need to nationalize the motion picture industry in the name of national security. Would that be too much to ask for today?"

Alright, I guess it’s possible that question wasn’t rhetorical and that you really were asking if that would be too much to ask. Maybe, as with your "Where’s McCarthy when you need him?," you’re not being entirely serious. If you are, then I’m reading that in a straightforward manner as a call for the federal government to run the film industry. Aren’t you the blogger here with frequent libertarian inclinations? Where’d those go? So, government should stay out of citizen’s lives, except for controlling media? Doesn’t it at least make you pause to consider that this was the nature of the relationship between the USSR film industry and the Communists, the German film industry and the Nazis? Would the idea in having it state-run be to prevent films like "Fahrenheit 9/11" or this "V for Vendetta" from being produced?

"Fine, but is that the lesson we need right now?"

I think the idea is that people can make whatever films they wish, with or without any attempts at lesson-teaching. I’m hardly some market populist, but I don’t think anyone has been or is being prevented from making films in response to Michael Moore (actually, there HAS been a response film for "F9/11"), or "Vendetta."

And I’m still trying to understand the logic behind your privatize-or-nationalize suggestions, knowing that you also said this: "There’s only one way I know of to keep politics out of education, and that is to privatize it. Politics naturally--and correctly--enters into every area that receives government funding." Apparently, as your post on Vendetta clearly demonstrates, the fact that the film industry is private hasn’t kept politics out of it. Maybe if the Strong Executive - Cheney White House were to take over Hollywood, the meaning behind your "Politics naturally--and
correctly--enters into every area that receives government funding" might have a new twist then?

and then this:


"If you’re going to have taxpayer-funded education, don’t be surprised when the taxpayers want to have some say in how their money is spent." So, who would have more say in a state-run, taxpayer-supported Hollywood, the Extra-Strong Executive or the taxpayers?

So, privatization is best, unless the government needs to use a particular industry to correct false ideas maintained by the populace?

Lastly, let’s not forget that Rove did meet with the cream of the suddenly-useful Hollyood elite in November, 2001 to make sure that they would be "on message" regarding the War on Evil - here’s an article, curiously called "Privatizing Profit," about it. Since Warner Bros. don’t appear to be offering the appropriate lesson by producing this Vendetta film, and are perhaps in some eyes "aiding and abetting terrorists" will they be deemed "enemy combatants" and shipped off to Gitmo?

The point is that in World War II FDR didn’t have to make good on his threat. Most films in the late 1930s were complete apolitical; studio heads hated so-called "message films" because they usually lost money. But nobody even considered making a film that tried to interpret recent events from the Axis point of view.

So now we’re in another war, and Hollywood seemingly can’t produce enough "message films." And the message is always the same, and it’s always cynical about the War on Terror, if not openly pro-terrorist.

The funny thing is, I remember a time not too long ago when Middle Eastern terrorists were common villains in American movies. Then, amazingly, after 9/11--the most devastating attack ever on American soil--it became politically incorrect to portray terrorists as bad guys.

Yeah, I suppose filmmakers have a right to make any movie they want to. And I have the right to say that they are doing their country--indeed, all Western Civilization--a grave disservice.

Hmmm . . . I read this quasi-review of the movie and am a little more interested in the movie now (based on the preview, I wasn’t really planning to see it).



This part of the review was really interesting:



Most inspiring of all, though (and the movie’s climax is incredibly inspiring), is the film’s final statements that while violence against the state sometimes, in extreme circumstances, must be done with gunpowder, it can also be done with ideas and words.



Hmmm . . . I certainly hope that’s the message that’s portrayed through this movie. I’d hate to see liberals start blowing things up in protest of the Bush Administration (especially because I feel liberals (and especially the progressive liberals . . . because there is a difference :-D) should be the people of this nation who fight ideas with ideas and not violence).



But enough about what I think. If someone has the time, I’d appreciate a person with a more conservative leaning to take a look at that review and give me some feedback . . .

Matt,
The article you mention seems to contain a lot of bashing, but one line in particular does seem to ring true.

"Violence against the state will always be classified as terrorism – by the state..." I agree entirely.

I must say, admittedly not having seen the movie or having read the comic that it is based upon, that I don’t see why this movie should be seen as a pro-liberal or pro-Islamic-terrorism movie.

It seems unlikely that the movie will really portray the British government as merely "vaguely fascist." Assuming that it portrays the government as profoundly totalitarian, why should liberals or conservatives be offended by a movie that encourages and glorifies a man who incites a revolution to overthrow that totalitarianism? I suppose his methods could be questioned. Assassinations are surely an extreme method, but in an extreme case, I certainly would not object. Would not a German who assassinated Hitler in the early 1940s be regarded by history as a hero, not a terrorist? And rightly so.

The movie’s website uses the tagline, "People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people," a sentiment for which I can surely agree and for which I would think most conservatives would agree, especially those who lean libertarian. If anything, I would think it would be liberals that would see this as a conservative movie, as liberals tend to be the party that trusts government to implant itself into everything while conservatives typically wish to remove it. Distrust in the motives of government is a classic conservative trait, not a liberal trait.

Now, of course, in practice, this movie may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt to make things like the Patriot Act look like a slippery slope to this futuristic British government, in which case I will be disappointed and irritated. But for now, I’m hopeful and failing to understand why some of you are assuming that this will be nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on Bush or conservatives generally.

I look forward to seeing it. Truthfully, the inclusion of Natalie Portman was probably enough to get me to the theatre. Even with a shaved head.

Distrust in the motives of government is a classic conservative trait, not a liberal trait.

Not true. When Reagan declared government to be the "problem," he was talking domestic policy, not the primary agent of foreign policy, the military. Conservative strongly believe in Big Government when it comes to defending this nation and it’s constitution. This guns or butter stance is reversed for liberals, who loath the military and worship at the shrine of the Nanny State.

However, it is interesting to note, that after twenty years of Democrat ownership of the Commander in Chief White House, from 1932 to 1952, Democrats handed a new Republican president a federal budget of which 70% was earmarked for national defense. Today, after forty years of mostly Republican dominance of the White House, 70% of the budget is earmarked to running, not defending, the Nanny State. This ironic twist is what differentiates political parties (who actually run the show) and intellectual ideological elites (who stand on the outside the temple of power and "athwart history, yelling" stop or go).

Pubius,

Point taken, though it seems rather likely that the government in this movie is crushing liberty domestically. From what I have read, it doesn’t sound like the hero/terrorist in the movie is inciting a revolution to protest the government’s foreign policy. Thus I believe my point stands.

I’m concerned with the timing of the movie. Some defend it by saying "the comic was written 20 years ago," but make it now? It was supposed to be released ealier, but was pushed back because of the London bombings. Regardless, it would have been created after the 9/11 attacks. Hopefully it won’t be too political (it looks good), but the timing already has me concerned.

Look, context is important. If V for Vendetta came out among a group of movies that was generally anti-terrorist and/or pro-America, then I wouldn’t be complaining. Heck, I might even applaud the movie, given that I believe in the Lockean right or resistance as much as anyone. What concerns me is that Hollywood seems to be speaking with a single voice on world affairs, and on the wrong side.

This isn’t about Iraq, or support for any of Bush’s particular foreign policy moves. It’s a question about whether or not we are in a war, and what the responsibility of the entertainment media is during a war. J. Montgomery brought up my "libertarian inclinations." It’s true, I suppose, that I have them. But I think most small-l libertarians like myself see an expanded role for government in wartime. We accept that victory is critically important, we expect the government to determine the needs for victory, and if it appears that the market will not produce what is necessary, then government will have to step in. I don’t normally believe in the draft, either, but if, in time of war, enlistments don’t provide the necessary manpower for the armed forces, then there’s nothing morally objectionable in my mind to a draft. What should the government have done during World War II had Ford refused to build tanks and bombers?

When it comes right down to it, though, the government shouldn’t have to intervene at all. Filmmakers, if they value their country, should want to make films that encourage patriotism; they shouldn’t be rushing to present the terrorists’ point of view. Nobody’s asking them to produce a John-Wayne-style film celebrating the Iraq War. I’d be happy if they stopped tyring to glamorize the Osama bin Ladens.

John,

Given that I haven’t seen the movie, I probably will regret defending it as soon as I do, but I still fail to see how you can automatically assume that this is Hollywood playing badly. Why do you assume that it will glamorize the bin Ladens and not serve as inspiration for some young Iranians seeking justice in their own country. It seems unlikely to me that a movie like this will do much to inspire either radical Islamic terrorists or justice-seeking youth living under totalitarian regimes, but assuming it affects either group, how can you be so sure that it will do the former and not the latter? Why do you assume that it portrays the terrorists’ point of view rather than portraying the point of view of someone living under totalitarianism and finding hope. Could not the hero of the film be seen as a symbol of American intervention in the world, fighting the evil-doers and dispensing justice at the tip of his blade?

My first instinct upon seeing the trailers was just the opposite of yours, which I guess is why I’m pursuing this. When I saw it, it looked like one of those films that would cause my chest to swell as the oppressive government was overthrown (which I presume it will in the end) and freedom was allowed to spread. I thought it looked like it would prove to be one of the more pro-War on Terror movies released in quite some time.

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