Rebranding the War on Terror for the age of Obama: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and the promotion of extra judicial killing

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The film Zero Dark Thirty has sparked debate on its justification of torture, its misuse of facts, and its pro-CIA agenda. The main focus of the debate so far has been on whether torture was necessary to track Osama bin Laden and whether the film is pro or anti torture.

Criticism of the film has come from the highest levels of the political establishment. In a letter to the CIA, Diane Feinstein, Karl Levin and John McCain, members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, fault the film for showing that the CIA obtained through torture the key lead that helped track down Osama bin Laden. The letter further blasts former CIA leaders for spreading such falsehoods in public statements.

Film director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who worked with the CIA in the making of this film, likely did not expect such push back since they seem to have got a green light from the White House.

In the face of these attacks, some have risen to the film makers’ defense such as Mark Bowden, the author of The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden. Writing in the Atlantic, he argues that the film is not pro-torture because the first scene shows that torture could not stop an attack in Saudi Arabia, instead it was cleverness and cunning that produced results.

Far more commentators, however, in a range of mainstream media from the New York Times, to CNN and the Daily Beast, have stated that the film lied about torture. Taking their lead from Feinstein et al numerous voices have condemned the film and insisted that bin Laden’s whereabouts where obtained through means other than torture.

It’s hard to say who is correct. The CIA clearly has an interest in promoting its version in order to win public support for its clandestine activities. The Democrats have an interest in distancing themselves from torture so as to separate themselves from the worst of the Bush era policies.

While much of the air is being sucked up by this debate, scant attention has been paid to the larger, and in my view, more significant message of this film: that extra judicial killing is good. The film teaches us that brown men can and should be targeted and killed with impunity, in violation of international law, and that we should trust the CIA to act with all due diligence.

At a time when the key strategy in the “war on terror” has shifted from conventional warfare to extra judicial killing, here comes a film that normalizes and justifies this strategy. The controversy around this film will no doubt increase its box office success, but don’t expect mainstream debate on extra judicial killing. On this, there is bipartisan consent. Therefore the real scandal behind this Oscar nominated film—its shameless propaganda for extra judicial murder—will remain largely hidden.

Rebranding the Killing Machine

Zero Dark Thirty has very clear cut “good guys” and “bad guys.” The CIA characters, in particular Maya and Dan, are the heroes and brown men, be they Arab or South Asian, are the villains.

The first brown man we encounter, Omar, is brutally tortured by Dan as Maya the protagonist (played by Jessica Chastain) watches with discomfort and anxiety. We soon learn, however, that Omar and his brethren wanted “to kill all Americans” thereby dispelling our doubts, justifying torture, and establishing his villainy.

In an interesting reversal (first established by the TV show 24) torture, a characteristic normally associated with villains, is now associated with heroes. This shift is acceptable because all the brown men tortured in the film are guilty and therefore worthy of such treatment. Maya soon learns to overcome her hesitation as she becomes a willing participant in the use torture. In the process, audiences are invited to advance with her from discomfort to acceptance.

A clear “us” versus “them” mentality is established where “they” are portrayed as murderous villains while “we” do what we need to in order to keep the world safe. One scene in particular captures “their” irrational rage against all Americans. This is the scene when Maya is attacked by a barrage of machine gun fire as she exits a safe house in her car. We are then told that her identity as a CIA agent is not public and that in fact all Americans are the targets of such murderous rage and brutal attacks in Pakistan.

Pakistan, the country in which the majority of the film is set, is presented as a hell hole. In one the early scenes, Maya as a CIA freshman new to the area, is asked by a colleague what she thinks of Pakistan. She replies: “it’s kind of fucked up.”

Other than being the target of bombing attacks in her car and at a hotel, a part of what seems to make Pakistan “fucked up” is Islam. In one scene she is disturbed late at night by the Muslim call to prayer sounding loud enough that it wakes her from her sleep. Disgusted by this, she grunts “oh God” and rolls back to sleep. Maya also uses the term “mullah crackadollah” to express her contempt for Muslim religious leaders (I have never heard this term before and hope that I transcribed it correctly. I certainly do not wish to waste another $14 to watch the film again, and will wait till the film is out on DVD to confirm this term).

What does not need re-viewing to confirm is the routine and constant use of the term “Paks” to refer to Pakistani people, a term that is similar to other racist epithets like “gooks” and “japs.” The film rests on the wholesale demonization of the Pakistani people. If we doubt that the “Paks” are a devious lot that can’t be trusted, the film has a scene where Maya’s colleague and friend is ambushed and blown to bits by a suicide bomber whom she expected to interrogate.

Even ordinary men standing by the road or at markets are suspicious characters who whip out cell phones to inform on and plot against the CIA. It is no wonder then that when Pakistanis organize a protest outside the US embassy we see them with contempt and through the eyes of Maya, who is standing inside the embassy, and whose point of view we are asked to identify with.

For a film maker of Bigelow’s talent it is shocking to see such unambiguous “good guys” and “bad guys.” The only way to be brown and not to be a villain in her narrative is to be unflinchingly loyal to the Americans, as the translator working for the CIA is. The “good Muslim” does not question, he simply acts to pave the way for American interests.

Against the backdrop of this racist dehumanization of brown men, Maya and her colleagues routinely use the word “kill” without it seeming odd or out of place. After Maya has comes to terms with the anguish of losing her friend in the suicide attack she states: “I’m going to smoke everybody involved in this operation and then I’m going to kill Osama bin Laden.” When talking about a doctor who might be useful in getting to bin Laden, she says if he “doesn’t give up the big man” then “we kill him.”

At the start of the film Maya refuses a disguise when she re-enters the cell in which Omar is being held. She asks Dan if the man will ever get out and thereby reveal her identity to which he replies “never,” suggesting that Omar will either be held indefinitely or killed.

A top CIA official blasting a group of agents for not making more progress in the hunt for bin Laden sums up the role of the CIA as a killing machine in the following manner, he says “do your fucking jobs and bring me people to kill.” By this point in the film, the demonization of brown men is so complete that this statement is neither surprising nor extraordinary.

It is a clever and strategic choice that the resolution of film’s narrative arc is the execution of Osama bin Laden. After all, who could possibly object to the murder of this heinous person other than the “do good” lawyers who are chastised in the film for providing legal representation for terrorists.

Here then is the key message of the film: the law, due process, and the idea of presenting evidence before a jury, should be dispensed with in favor of extra judicial killings. Further, such killings can take place without public oversight. The film not only uses the moral unambiguity of assassinating bin Laden to sell us on the rightness and righteousness of extra judicial killing, it also takes pains to show that this can be done in secret because of the checks and balances involved before a targeted assassination is carried out.

Maya is seen battling a male dominated bureaucracy that constantly pushes her to provide evidence before it can order the strike. We feel her frustration at this process and we identify with her when she says that she is a 100% sure that bin Laden is where she says he is. Yet, a system of checks and balances that involves scrupulous CIA heads, and a president who is “smart” and wants the facts, means that due diligence will not be compromised even when we know we are right.

This, in my view, is the key propaganda accomplishment of the film: the selling of secret extra judicial killing at a time when this has been designated the key strategy in the “war on terror” for the upcoming decade.

The Disposition Matrix

As I have argued in my book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, the Obama administration has drawn the conclusion, after the failed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, that conventional warfare should be ditched in favor of drone strikes, black operations, and other such methods of extra judicial killing.

The New York Times expose on Obama’s “kill list,” revealed that this strategy is one presided over by the president himself. John Brennen, his top counterterrorism advisor, is one of its key authors and architects. Brennen’s nomination to head the CIA is a clear indication that this strategy will not only continue but that the spy agency will more openly become a paramilitary force that carries out assassinations through drone attacks and other means, with little or no public oversight.

Greg Miller’s piece in the Washington Post reveals that the Obama administration has been working on a “blueprint for pursuing terrorists” based on the creation of database known as the “disposition matrix.” The matrix developed by the National Counterterrorism Center brings together the separate but overlapping kill lists from the CIA and the Joint Operations Special Command into a master grid and allocates resources for “disposition.” The resources that will be used to “dispose” those on the list include capture operations, extradition, and drone strikes.

Miller notes that Brennen has played a key role in this process of “codify[ing] the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists.” Based on extensive interviews with top Obama administration officials Miller states that such extra judicial killing is “likely to be extended at least another decade.” Brennan’s nomination to the CIA directorship no doubt will ensure such a result.

In short, at the exact point that a strategic shift has been made in the war on terror from conventional warfare to targeted killing, there comes a film that justifies this practice and asks us to trust the CIA with such incredible power.

No doubt the film had to remake the CIA brand dispelling other competing Hollywood images of the institution as a clandestine and shady outfit. The reality, however, is that unlike the film’s morally upright characters Brennan is a liar and an unabashed torture advocate (except for waterboarding).

As Glenn Greenwald notes, Brennen has “spouted complete though highly influential falsehoods to the world in the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing, including claiming that bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with Navy SEALS and had “used his wife as a human shield”.”

Zero Dark Thirty, nominated for the “best picture of year” Oscar award, is a harbinger of things to come. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by Obama earlier this month includes an amendment, passed in the House last May, that legalizes the dissemination of propaganda to US citizens. Journalist Naomi Wolf an argues that the propaganda “amendment legalizes something that has been illegal for decades: the direct funding of pro-government or pro-military messaging in media, without disclosure, aimed at American citizens.”

We can therefore expect not only more such films, but also more misinformation on our TV screens, in our newspapers, on our radio stations and in social media websites. What used to be an informal arrangement whereby the State Department and the Pentagon manipulated the media has now been codified into law. Be ready to be propagandized to all the time, everywhere.

We live in an Orwellian world: the government has sought and won the power to indefinitely detain and to kill US citizens, all wrapped in cloud of secrecy, and to lie to us without any legal constraints.

The NDAA allows for indefinite detention, and a judge ruled that the Obama administration need not provide legal justification for extra judicial killings based on US law thereby granting carte blanche authority to the president to kill whoever he pleases with no legal or public oversight.

Such a system requires an equally powerful system of propaganda to convince the citizenry that they need not be alarmed, they need not speak out, they need not think critically, in fact they need not even participate in the deliberative process except to pull a lever every couple of years in an elaborate charade of democracy. We are being asked, quite literally, to amuse ourselves to death.

About Deepa Kumar

Deepa Kumar is an associate professor of Media Studies and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of "Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire" and "Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization and the UPS Strike". You can follow her work at her website Deepakumar.net and on twitter @ProfessorKumar.

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36 Responses

  1. Avi_G.
    January 15, 2013, 9:44 am

    “Maya” is a rather common Israeli Hebrew name, is it a common American name?

    • Woody Tanaka
      January 15, 2013, 11:43 am

      It’s not a particularly common name, but you see it around. It’s common enough that you wouldn’t think twice about it.

    • marc b.
      January 15, 2013, 1:23 pm

      fairly common here now too, aviG. it’s in the top 65 or so of girl names in the US. but i catch your drift. i have noticed the increasing inclusion of israel/IDF into the US military hollywood propaganda narrative. see latest ‘bourne’ and upcoming ‘world war Z’, a truly disgusting work originally written in book form by mel brooks’ son i believe.

      • marc b.
        January 15, 2013, 3:46 pm

        ope. 48th in 2012.

        link to babycenter.com

      • Kathleen
        January 15, 2013, 8:02 pm

        Was interesting when the male CIA agent is torturing or is it when “Maya” is questioning the one prisoner of war about the courier something is said about “sending you to Israel” to be questioned inferring more serious torture will be done. Then Brigadier General Janis Karpinski (she was demoted) who was head of the operations at Abu Gharib at the time of the torture stated that Israel agents were in the prison training those that ended up torturing prisoners “softening them up”. She stated that on several occasions.

        it was noticeable when one of the CIA agent/torturers said that about sending the prisoner of war to Israel

    • Annie Robbins
      January 15, 2013, 1:55 pm

      yes, it is a common hispanic american link to pbskids.org , african american (famous maya angelou), native america (maya indians) and jewish american name. and i just learned it is also greek (Maia) and the name of a hindu goddess.

    • Inanna
      January 16, 2013, 3:42 am

      ‘Maya’ means ‘illusion’ Sanskrit and is a key concept in eastern religions. In very simple terms it’s the idea that we do not perceive the world as it ‘really’ is but rather as our own projection of it. (The Buddhist concept of ‘dependent origination’ has some similarity to it). Maya is something to be transcended, a veil that should be seen through to achieve enlightenment. So, understanding the name of the protagonist in that sense maybe the screenwriter was trying to say something about the protagonist’s perspective? Haven’t seen the film so I’m not sure and I could just be reading too much into it.

  2. MRW
    January 15, 2013, 10:05 am

    Listen to Dr. Steve Pieczenik discuss it in this podcast. Scroll to bottom:
    Hollywood Films Secretly Dictated By The CIA
    link to stevepieczenik.com

    Pieczenik’s bio:
    link to stevepieczenik.com

  3. marc b.
    January 15, 2013, 10:08 am

    great post. i’ll have to see the film. i have noticed the evolving conflation of ‘serial killers’ with the ideal of technological progress and social control. from ‘red dragon’ to ‘dexter’ the psychopath is normalized/humanized and then idolized, ultimately the author giving the protagonist an invaluable task to perform, a task that lesser beings are unwilling or unable to perform. i hope to see much more from deepa. this is an area that is not given enough scrutiny.

    • mijj
      January 15, 2013, 5:26 pm

      .. and for kids there are the Batman/superhero cartoons. Batman is always ready to use righteous torture to get the evil criminals to spill their secrets. And it always gets results. Get the indoctrination in early.

  4. Woody Tanaka
    January 15, 2013, 11:44 am

    The USA is really going over the edge, I fear. I wonder whether the UK, NZ or Aus. are looking for immigrants…

    • MHughes976
      January 15, 2013, 3:45 pm

      I don’t feel too good about the UK at the moment as we plunge into another war, this time supporting the French in Mali. Someone in the Independent yesterday was pointing out that this is an overspill from Libya and that we’re now able to commit to a dangerous and unpredictable intervention – the French are shrilly ‘stepping up security against terrorism’; isn’t Socialist government wonderful? – without discussion or preparation of public opinion. Anything directed against Islamic Extremism is 90% justified before it starts.

  5. John Douglas
    January 15, 2013, 12:23 pm

    JFK was already James Bond’s biggest fan when his CIA began concocting plans to assassinate Castro (poisoned cigars, ballpoints with hidden hypodermics). Cheney was gleeful in his promotion of the racist, pro-torture “24″. I wonder if President Obama has been following the bloody exploits of the assassin, Mitch Rapp via Vince Flynn’s novels.

  6. Citizen
    January 15, 2013, 2:33 pm

    Well, we can be sure it’s not Mayberry, USA RFD
    The American values therein depicted have been passe for what, fifty years? And ridiculed even before that time by the accepted brains of the times.

    • Mooser
      January 16, 2013, 3:23 pm

      I first heard “The Dilliards” on the Andy Griffith Show. Can’t ridicule that, I believe it’s the purtiest thing I ever heard.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 17, 2013, 12:33 am

        mooser, if you’re going to quote andy don’t cut him short…. “well I believe it’s the purtiest thing I ever heard.”

  7. biorabbi
    January 15, 2013, 5:48 pm

    One interesting point the movie got right is Maya was apparently recruited out of high school for the CIA. There are various accounts of Maya reporting she was recruited out of college, but she was actually recruited out of high school. Why, I have no idea.

    What the hell does Senator Feinstein know about torture? She reviewed some sanitized version of events and tells us torture was not utilized whatsoever in the killing of UBL. I love how progressives trot out the Senate report.

    Did these black spots exist? Do they still exist? What about rendition? which is only used as a threat by Maya to extract information about the courier… Tell me what you know or I will send you to Israel is what she said.

    Andrew Sullivan can pat himself on the back that torture no longer happens, and it had nothing, nothing at all to do with the finding of UBL. But it’s ok to detonate drones on multiple wedding parties over Pakistan killing thousands in the past few years.

    Another question on all of the liberal experts who claim torture did not lead to useful information. All of these sanitized reports and destroyed videos. Would a smart operator edit his own report? on what he may or may not have done???

    I believe the movie provides an excellent rendition on what actually happened. It does not provide a good rendition on what ‘should’ have happened. Sullivan and his ilk cling to their mantra that torture had absolutely no role in the killing of UBL.

    Arabs and Pakistanis, from my perspective, were portrayed with more humanity than the soulless ‘drone’ American black site CIA torture crews with their insect filled boxes, their whippings, their sleep deprivation with endless heavy metal songs. Even Maya is highly ethically challenged as she participated in torture.

    One small point on the killing of UBL. In my viewing of the movie, I did not see any of UBL’s wives get shot. It’s my understanding one of his wives was shot? Maybe I missed it.

  8. biorabbi
    January 15, 2013, 5:55 pm

    Maya, if recruited out of high school, could have been due to proficiency in some language? This is just my guess but why at this age? She was also at the Marriott Hotel bombing in Pakistan. This hotel was frequented by spies. She was shot at.

    I’m no detective, but the filmmakers and assorted literary profiters have provided more than enough clues to guess at her actual identity which I think I’ve done correctly but I will obviously not post what I’ve come up with. Another very interesting tidbit on Maya, is that the female lead actor in Homeland is modeled after her and met her at CIA headquarters according to the actress.

  9. biorabbi
    January 15, 2013, 6:05 pm

    Deepa, I very much enjoyed your piece. It was extremely thought provoking but I approach the message differently than you when you write:

    “For a film maker of Bigelow’s talent it is shocking to see such unambiguous “good guys” and “bad guys.” The only way to be brown and not to be a villain in her narrative is to be unflinchingly loyal to the Americans, as the translator working for the CIA is. The “good Muslim” does not question, he simply acts to pave the way for American interests.”

    How does the film make the US good guys when they are bashing, beating and torturing numerous individuals who at least believe in something. I cannot fathom how an objective viewer could see the initial torture scene and not be revolted. It is unclear what the motivation for Maya is outside of personal retribution for the murder of her CIA colleague station chief who was murdered in a suicide bombing near the Pakistani border.

    I think the film shows the CIA version of events, but it is hard not to have respect for the Jihadists who are portrayed as devout believers. While the movie was fast paced, I fail to see what the CIA operators actually believe in.

    I also too her comment about Pakistan being kind of fucked up more to towards the corrupt nature of the government and the ISI and their dealings with the US. This is a distinct issue from the Muslim religion. Note also how Maya charges the ISI ‘fucked’ her voice by publicly outing him.

    • kalithea
      January 16, 2013, 4:13 am

      Oy…do you really expect us to take what you just wrote seriously? You’re not addressing kindergarten here. We are not part of the dumb masses so don’t try to pull a this-film-is-sympathetic-to-Muslims fast one. The masses will no doubt NOT GET IT YOUR WAY, and YOU KNOW IT, and will gorge on the violence and torture and side blindly with the cosa nostra CIA – so mission accomplished. This film is nothing more than propaganda porno for every gun-totting, Islamophobe American to get off on. Geller and the Quran-burning pastor no doubt climaxed through the whole thing.

  10. Kathleen
    January 15, 2013, 8:26 pm

    Prof Kumar so many great points in your piece. The push and acceptance of extra judicial killings is promoted in this movie as you have pointed out. I was so bothered by the racism which permeated the film. The other piece of racism that really got under my skin was when the Seals were in OBL’s compound just splattering the guts and blood of unarmed people in front of children. Then one of the Seals keeps saying to the children “it’s ok” and hands one of the young girls a glo stick and the girl is smitten with it. As if a traumatized child would just be taken in with such a stupid object just handed to them by someone who blew their relatives to bits and blood and guts are everywhere. I was so disgusted by this scene it took everything for me to not shout out which I actually did during the film a few times. The two friends that I attended with one a Vietnam Vet who was a pilot during the Gulf of Tolkin debacle. He jumped out of his skin a few times when people were being blown up. We have yet to talk about what he was going through. We will. All three of us hated the film but felt we needed to see how Bigelow was definitely promoting that torture works.

    One thing I did notice at the beginning of the film is when “Dan” is torturing Omar he keeps bringing up the Saudi connection to 9/11. We seldom hear this brought up.

    Great post. Will be linking this one around.

  11. Blank State
    January 15, 2013, 11:01 pm

    It is painfully obvious that there is some, (alot), governmental meddling in Hollywood, seeking to influence public opinion. Call this film what it is:

    GOVERNMENTAL PROPAGANDA.

    We have seen the same thing in movies about 9/11:

    GOVERNMENTAL PROPAGANDA.

    And, uh….

    Someone wanna tell me how this feckless fraud, Obama, differs from GWB in his policies about war, torture, rendition, assasinations, and the erosion of our rights and freedoms through legislative manuvering sold as “security”?????

    What, someone is a “terrorist” just because some elitist megalomanical prick in high office tells us he is??? So, hey, how long before they point the finger at YOU because they don’t like what you post on the internet?? Isn’t that why Al Awaki was murdered?

    Anyone seen the Land Of The Free lately??? With liberty and justice FOR ALL??? Seems to be missing. Or was it ever there at all?

  12. kalithea
    January 16, 2013, 5:28 am

    “For a film maker of Bigelow’s talent it is shocking to see such unambiguous “good guys” and “bad guys.””

    Bigelow is nothing more than a propaganda shill for the war machine and the CIA racket, and this film is nothing more sado-porn for Islamophobes. I equate this film with the pictures of Saddam hanging from the gallows and the viral video of Gadaffi’s final moments. It stomps on the rule of law and replaces it with savage racist vengeance. The Maya character is a kind of dominatrix surrounded by sweaty, muscular trained “seals”, and she so to speak “gives the finger” to the Muslim world by “whipping” Muslims into submission and crushing them under her spiked heels.

    Bigelow delivers the sickest, most racist of all mic propaganda knowing perfectly well that the hungry-for-violence, biased and racist American masses will pant and drool and lap it all up off the screen, leave totally satiated and burping hate on their way out, because in America, even a large percentage of the educated are dumb as door nails – that’s how low American culture and morality have stooped. To me, Bigelow is nothing more than Geller with a camera glorifying extra-judicial killing, torture and yes, pure unapologetic Islamophobia ie RACISM.

    And to refer back to a joke made at the Golden Globes: NO, Amy, woman to woman, I wouldn’t consider living with James Cameron, torture; but I imagine it must have been insufferable living with Bigelow and her overpowering “p__envy” and hubris.

    The woman should be on the front lines in the theater of war instead of manufacturing mic propaganda porn for movie theaters.

  13. Accentitude
    January 16, 2013, 8:25 am

    Thanks for the heads up on this movie. I’ve never heard of it. Since the so-called “War on Terror” began there have been tons of these dime-a-dozen films. It seems every week or so there’s a new one out and every time….ohhhh nooo…watch out for the evil arab stereotypes that just want to shout….”Allah Akhbar kill whitey!”

    Was it filmed in Pakistan or some repressive-American ally like *cough* Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Bahrain?

    I’m sure it’ll show up on an Egyptian movie channel in less than a month…where I always turn to catch up on current American movies without paying (thank you, non-existent copyright laws)…$14 for a movie ticket??? Hell, I’ve been out of the states for awhile but $14??? Last time my feet were planted on American soil, it cost $5.00 max.

  14. NickJOCW
    January 16, 2013, 8:40 am

    I have not seen this film and have no interest in doing so. One of the victims of the cultural dumbing down of the West is the disappearance of distinction between Art and Entertainment, Reality and Illusion, Truth and Fiction. Entertainment, which this film is presumably supposed to be, has always taken liberties with facts, think of any western, any war film, any historical drama. Documentaries also involve editorial selection inevitably reflecting the director’s moral or cultural perspective. It is generally accepted that one shouldn’t believe everything one reads in newspapers. How much more true of filmic entertainment?

    If all this brouhaha implies that only entertainment conforming to Western liberal notions is acceptable one might profitably pause to consider where that might end. Don’t we already endure enough selective restrictions of what we may express lest we offend the sensibilities of this or that group? Torture has been employed for most of recorded history, whether it works or not depends on a host of factors peculiar to each subject. There can be no simple answer. Evidence from the period when victims were tortured for their religious beliefs suggests that only those whose beliefs were convictions said nothing and indeed preferred to face the stake.

  15. Terri Ginsberg
    January 16, 2013, 11:09 am

    In addition to what has already been said, we might consider how the film’s narrative structure, which in many ways is generic, contributes to its propaganda function.

    Much like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Zero Dark Thirty presents an action-adventure “search,” in this case for a “missing” bin Laden. The search is attached almost wholly to the perspective of its leader, protagonist Maya (yes, that’s a Hebrew name most often given to Israelis), a woman referred to incessantly by other (male) characters in the film as a “girl.” It is Maya’s female intuition, to be distinguished from her apparent asexuality, that ensures the success of the mission. The other, supporting female character in the film, also a CIA operative in Afghanistan, is killed off halfway through the plot because, unlike the stoic, highly “focused” Maya, who is able to envision and project “truth,” she has a warm personality and is explicitly interested in men, sex, friendship, and fun; indeed Maya and she are almost killed in a truck bombing as she discusses these very interests.

    Male characters are also positioned as inferior to genius Maya. Unlike Maya, who unlike her male CIA cohorts is 100% sure bin Laden is where her violent interrogation activities suggest he has been hiding, because she “sees” him there with/in her mind’s eye, the male special operatives deployed to kill bin Laden (the word “capture” is never used) cannot actually see their target without special night-vision binoculars (technology that happens to have been developed with US money, and used against Palestinians, by Israel). This stunted male vision is reflected by the choppy, highly elliptical camerawork during the bin Laden scene that includes a clumsy helicopter crash and significant “collateral damage” (“accidental” killing of unarmed civilians in the bin Laden compound, about which one operative expresses minor remorse).

    The film’s gendered search narrative serves to naturalize the political conditions that surrounded the real hunt for bin Laden, abstracting it from, for example, the Bush and Obama administrations’ “failure” to locate and capture bin Laden previously, their alleged protection of the Pakistani military that has been accused of harboring him, and the U.S. military’s perfunctory killing of bin Laden and controversial disposal of his body–all of which have been criticized publicly as signs of high-level incompetence at best, and of collusion and cover-up at worst.

    It’s as if to say, in yet another mockery of feminism (the first, in this context, was the initial invasion of Afghanistan), that the “intuitive” CIA was right all along, that torture works, and that extraordinary rendition and extra-judicial killings are okay, because they are based on the sort of special knowledge borne by elite experience that must be respected and deferred to by the rest of us who ostensibly really don’t “know” what’s happening “over there” because we’re too “weak” (sexual, humanistic) to handle and accept, much less “see,” the “truth.”

    Zero Dark Thirty is notable for being perhaps the most insidiously propagandistic of all post-9/11 films concerning that event and the ensuing Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, because the “intuitive” search advanced by its female protagonist is in fact based so myopically, almost exclusively on non-knowledge, misinformation, and BIG LIES.

    • NickJOCW
      January 16, 2013, 2:26 pm

      But, Terri, it’s entertainment; it’s purpose is to put bums in seats and make money and the more folk wrangle and pontificate about it the better it will do just that.

    • marc b.
      January 16, 2013, 3:41 pm

      ‘bourne 4′ is a twist on this gender play. jeremy renner, who seems to pop up in alot of this crap (‘hurt locker’ and i think as a US soldier protecting UK civililans in the second of the ’28 – later’ zombie flicks) is the protector of rachel weisz, but he (the ultimate soldier/robot) relies on her intellect and expertise as the scientist who can help him avoid his literal, clinical regression to a state of mental retardation, in other words what he/the US military is without her technical assistance. this was an unusual turn from the prior ‘bourne’ flicks where matt damon was the perfect raw material for training, while renner is a defective product to start without genetic enhancement.

  16. Donald
    January 16, 2013, 12:48 pm

    I agree with the criticisms here, but I have a more general one (though maybe someone else has said it). I’m tired of seeing films about the Middle East from the American pov. That’s why I won’t see Argo either. I haven’t read much about it, it might not be offensive the way Zero is (or then again, it might be, but I haven’t heard), but it’s yet another film about heroic Westerners vs. irrational Middle Easterners and we get enough of that in the day-to-day propaganda without having to pay money to watch it as entertainment. Let’s see someone do a film about the Iraq War or the Nakba or one of Israel’s wars from the POV of an Iraqi or a Palestinian or a Lebanese Shiite. Of course it would be controversial and presumably bomb financially, unless it was low budget and played at the artsy theaters.

    Anyway, there’s no good reason for me to spend money on Hollywood anti-Muslim propaganda when I can get it for free.

    • marc b.
      January 16, 2013, 1:27 pm

      donald, i have a friend who likes to watch these sorts of films primarily for analytical purposes, and to get a sense of what the viewers of these films believe. i’ve heard that what she does (mind you she is a notorious spinner of tales) is buy a ticket for, say, ‘rug rats: all growed up’, and instead goes into the ‘dark knight’ or ‘bourne 4′. i’m not advocating this, it’s just one way a friend of mine deals with the moral issue of ‘spending money on hollywood anti-muslim propaganda’.

    • eljay
      January 16, 2013, 1:29 pm

      >> That’s why I won’t see Argo either. I haven’t read much about it, it might not be offensive the way Zero is …

      I found “Argo” to be a moderately-enjoyable, lightweight, formulaic, clichée-laden, “based on a true story” (i.e., mostly fabrication), Hollywood political thriller / action-drama. There wasn’t enough substance in the movie to get offended about.

    • American
      January 16, 2013, 1:30 pm

      Ditto, me either.
      Smells like Jewish/Israeli inspired Hollywood propaganda film for ‘torture works’ with a female Hebrew heroine to me.

  17. Mooser
    January 16, 2013, 3:48 pm

    Violent entertainment is not good for, well, it’s like I asked a girl once “Was it good for you, too?” and she replied “That wasn’t good for anybody, and you know it” and you know, she was right.
    I avoid violent entertainment at all costs, which usually consists of not knowing the provenance of most social, political, gender, historical, and firearms ideas I come in contact with.
    Of course, I avoid most entertainment. When I’m bored, time seems to pass very slowly, so I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.

    • NickJOCW
      January 17, 2013, 7:52 am

      Mooser, That would be deliciously aesthetic. Entertainment is like drugs, fine so long as you remain aware of what you are doing and what they are doing to you and avoid being sucked into a vortex, that is to say imagining it to represent reality. A bit like sin; my grandmother used to say one should not live in sin, it was quite enough to make excursions.

      • marc b.
        January 17, 2013, 1:19 pm

        Entertainment is like drugs, fine so long as you remain aware of what you are doing and what they are doing to you and avoid being sucked into a vortex, that is to say imagining it to represent reality.

        nick, that’s what some bright renaissance guys like ficino and bruno concluded. bruno had an elaborate program for mind control based on the attractive and hypnotic powers of sex, but he had the same warning as you, that the seductress had to be careful not to be seduced by her own powers. (auto-seduction, or something like that.) and these guys, and shakespeare et, al came up with depth psychology before bleuler and freud and jung.

  18. Pope Innocent
    January 16, 2013, 10:11 pm

    Another Zio-centric movie is Magnum Force, which mixes violence with the false Zioniist liberalism. Clint Eastwood begins the movie by blasting away Muslims who have no human characteristics. Then Eastwood goes on a liberal holiday sleeping around with Asian women, then Eastwood blows away some American Nazis who are trying to infiltrate the San Francisco police force. Zionist wet dream. Muslims and Nazis blown away in the same film. Zionists benefit from war and a false liberalism in America. Just like Spielberg’s Indiana Jones where the hero outsmarts Muslims and Nazis too. I wonder if Muslims were picking on little Stevey Spielberg in the Phoenix neighborhood where he grew up I doubt it. Spielberg defended himself the best he could with peanut butter against the anti-semites in Phoenix, but that doesn’t explain why he went on to portray Muslims so unfairly in his movies. I wonder if Muslims were picking on little Sheldon Adelson in his Boston neighborhood where he learned to be so tough.

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