Day: February 13, 2010

The Hurt Locker

When I heard that the “Hurt Locker,” a drama set in the midst of the Iraq War, was nominated for several Oscars, I was intrigued. Americans have not shown much interest as a people in either of the current official wars and even less interest in documentaries about and dramas set in these conflicts. My initial hunch was that this film, was selected to balance out “Avatar”, the narrative of which clearly questions militarism and imperialism (while also reveling in astounding levels of mindless violence). So I assumed that “The Hurt Locker” would make a conservative counter-argument which justified the necessity of this war of choice. After finally seeing it, I was stunned that this film was nominated for any awards.

I would argue that the film is certainly racist/orientalist in the way in which the Iraqi population is portrayed. Iraqis are depicted as either villainous or as an undifferentiated mass of passive spectators and victims. There are no images of Iraqi women which do not depict them either wailing or otherwise “hysterical”. The English speaking Iraqi men, all of whom have bit parts, are completely emasculated. The American soldiers are generally depicted as brave (if insanely reckless in a cowboy fashion) and highly competent.

The one chance that the writer and director had to stage a dialog between the protagonist and an Iraqi professor is completely squandered as the professor’s “hysterical” wife throws the protagonist-intruder out of her home. Perhaps I should be thankful that the writer and director did not choose to try to speak for “the other.”

There is the requisite paternal engagement with an Iraqi child. However, the child apparently is indistinguishable to the protagonist from all of the other masses of poor Iraqi children who chase and throw rocks at military vehicles.

The film may not be quite as aggressively racist as “Blackhawk Down,” “300,” or “Zulu,” the defining films in terms of racist war genre, but it is certainly a contender. There are thankfully no scenes in which a brown or black horde attacks an outnumbered group of mainly white heroes. In terms of the anti-Arab content, the film is not as bad as “True Lies” or any of the worst Hollywood films in the anti-semitic/anti-Arab genre, mainly because it does not really engage “the other” at all… so none of the more complex racist tropes are brought forth. Nevertheless, the film does continue the long tradition documented in Reel Bad Arabs.

It will be argued that the film is true to the perspective of the main characters. The film shows how narrowly focused the life of the average soldier is. Of course, we do not get a portrayal of the level of boredom that often accompanies military duty. War is depicted as an exciting adventure, particularly in contrast to the bland challenges of raising a child and maintaining a household. So I question its realism. In showing us how soldiers view Iraqis and the Iraq War, it also gives the audience permission to see Iraqis (and by extension the Middle East) in the same uncritical way.

Does any of this matter, particularly in a forum where we discuss international relations? I think it does. War films become a part of a nation’s memory and they have the potential to spark debate and dialog about the causes of war which shapes policy. Moreover, war films are often central to the cult of militarism. The “Hurt Locker” does nothing to interrogate the causes, meaning, or consequences of war, it dehumanizes the people living under occupation. As such it merely serves as propaganda for the war machine. Perhaps there should be a separate Oscar for this genre.

Share

The Oatmeal Olympics


Following on Charli’s excellent post about the Olympics, I thought I’d add my two cents.
If you live outside of North America, (okay, and Scandinavia) you probably didn’t know. The fact is the international coverage seems to be lacking, at least if my experience in London is to be judged by. Here, the Six Nations Rugby Tournament is getting far more coverage. Not to mention the Football/Soccer.

I have been trying to figure out why this might be the case. It may be, as has been suggested before, that the Winter Olympics are quite simply the “rich people’s games”. Virtually all of the sports, skating, skiing, skeleton, etc – all of these require vast amounts of money, years of training and expensive equipment. Compare this to the summer games: track and field (with pretty much any high school in the developed world possessing the equipment to at least get you started), baseball (needed: one bat, one ball, one glove), volleyball (needed: one ball), etc. Even “expensive” summer sports (like tennis) can be entered into relatively cheaply. Growing up on the (not so mean streets) of my home town suburbia, I used to play tennis with the neighbours in the street. And we lived on a hill.


Skiing, however, was out my family’s financial reach when I was growing up. To this day I still can’t ski and I really couldn’t care less about the sport.*


So bizzaro sports (seriously – can anyone actually explain skeleton? Why are there always cow bells?) for rich white people may be one cause of a lack of interest.

But geography has to play a key role here. There is a very limited number of countries which could host a Winter Olympics. You need adequate ski slopes, cold weather and snow (something of a problem this year, from what I understand). Plus, I’m guessing that if you’re from Africa or, say, the subcontinent, this isn’t the Olympics for you – expensive sports in climates that don’t exist within miles of your national borders.

Finally, I can’t help but wondering if it is just that Canada is boring. I mean, the lead up to Beijing was HUGE. The BBC ran daily leading stories on it for months. The games were seen as symbolic in all kinds of ways. China taking another step as a major global power. The crackdown on dissidents. The fact that a major earthquake happened just a few weeks before. I could go on.

In other words, the Beijing Olympics were interesting because China was interesting. And the Canadian Olympics? They’re boring because Canada is boring. Other than native protestors, there really hasn’t been much hoopla (and those protests haven’t received much coverage internationally). It may be the story behind the games which really captures our imagination.

So that’s why I dub these the “Oatmeal Games” – might be good for you and wholesome, but not exactly interesting. The breakfast food of the middle classes – when, let’s face it, we’d all rather be digging into some Lucky Charms.

*I did try to learn once in French. Let’s just say I got a lot of practice screaming “au secours!”

Share

Olympic (Pipe) Dreams

Last week, Ban Ki-Moon made his standard plea for an Olympic Truce during the XXI Olympic Winter Games from Feb. 12 to Feb. 28 February and the X Winter Paralympic Games from March 12th to 21st.

Thing is, the concept of the Olympic Truce is based on two fallacies: 1) that nation-states (which are the units of contestation in the Olympics) are also the containers of political community and 2) that they are the wagers of war against one another whose actions must be tamed.

But actually, the fault-lines of global violence fall not between states but rather within them, evident in the fact that wars between countries have been hovering around zero for awhile. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2009 16 conflicts were ongoing around the world, but none of them occurred between the sovereign nations whose teams are pitted against one another in the Olympic games. Instead, all were civil wars.

Too bad then that the logic of the Olympic truce doesn’t really apply to civil wars, since rebel groups or secessionist movements only in very rare cases qualify for involvement in the Olympics. What care the Tamils or Comali ICU or Taliban about whether Sri Lankan or Afghani athletes have safe passage to the games? What care, for that matter, first nations in countries like Canada in promoting an event that underscores their nominal exclusion from the club of sovereign nations?

Is the concept of the Olympic Truce therefore outdated? Or does this mis-match between the institutionalization of the Olympic games as a contest between nation-states and the actual nature of political violence globally imply the need for a different conceptualization of “teams” if we are to translate the goodwill of inter”nation”al sporting events into a movement that can pacify conflicts in a world where the nation-state is no longer the key container of political community?

[cross-posted at LGM}

Share

© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑