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The liberal publicity line on ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

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The director and the screenwriter of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, in the two months since the release of the film have tried and discarded
a number of defenses against accusations by Jane Mayer, Karen Greenberg, Glenn Greenwald, Dan Froomkin and others who say that the film distorts history and
that it will have the effect of softening the popular acceptance of torture.

In order of justifications, Bigelow and Boal said: (1) That Zero Dark Thirty reflects a “journalistic approach”–apparently meaning that it has a fast trim
storyline and you can’t include everything. (2) That to make the film, they interviewed CIA agents who assured them that torture yielded substantial clues
toward the killing of Bin Laden. (3) It’s just a movie.

None of those reasons separately convinced anyone. Their incompatibility when taken together suggested that Zero Dark Thirty was made in a hurry–as if the
filmmakers had never stood back, walked around their project, and asked what star they were sailing by.

In a recent interview interview in Salon, Mark Boal tries out a possibly more resistant strain of apology. The hero, he now says, is a feminist heroine. Zero Dark Thirty is a simple police procedural all right, but the detective is a liberated Western woman, and her quest is to rid the world of Bin Laden. Challenge the heroine’s tactics or protest the low morale of the Bigelow-Boal redaction of history and you align yourself with the oppressive males of the East.

By a coincidence that fits nicely with this presentation, Kathryn Bigelow has joined a social media campaign [link here] for including women in combat. Her tweet for the women-in-combat movement–

“Women helped find the world’s most dangerous man. Are you surprised? #ZeroDarkThirty

Join Kathryn Bigelow in sharing this message together at the same time – automatically.

–is attached to advertising copy that oddly alternates between first-person and third-person voices. The ad affirms her status as a “lifelong pacifist” under a
new aspect: “I personally believe war should be avoided whenever and wherever possible, [but] there is no justification for inequality among those ready and
willing to serve our country in the armed forces.” The next voice we hear praises “the filmmakers” who “tell the story of many men and women.” Then the
author turns into Bigelow again: “When I discovered there were women at the heart of this 10-year odyssey, I was excited to take it on. It was like being dealt a royal flush.”

In conclusion, the action director speaks for herself and her screenwriter to assert that, whether Zero Dark Thirty is fast journalism, or a CIA story about
the CIA, or “just a movie,” Maya, the heroine, was a real woman and she got Bin Laden. “Our account of bin Laden’s pursuit and capture offers viewers an inside
look at women like Maya who dedicate their lives to selflessly protecting our freedom.”

David Bromwich

David Bromwich's latest book is "American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us." He teaches literature at Yale and is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines. He is editor of Edmund Burke's selected writings On Empire, Liberty, and Reform and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of On Liberty.

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29 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther on February 3, 2013, 10:21 am

    The card of all cards!

    Remember when feminism’s slogan was ” women will change (for the better) the world of men”? How’s that going? Weird how all these ism’s end up this way, eh?
    You start out trying to “liberate” (at least that’s what you say) a group of people, a few at the top get hitched to the existing power structure, and then that group ends up defending and enabling said power structure. To be sure, every once in a while the folks at the top need to re-up their membership and throw some of their group members into the fire for the cause. We’re all in this together, after all.

    I personally think it’s unsafe for women to be in infantry rifle platoons (whose only job is to seek out and kill the enemy) but to me the story as it regards women in combat is: The DoD obviously doesn’t see close quarters ground combat as vital going forward. To me, there’s a direct relationship between drones and this decision.

    • Keith on February 3, 2013, 7:02 pm

      DAN CROWTHER- “You start out trying to “liberate” (at least that’s what you say) a group of people, a few at the top get hitched to the existing power structure, and then that group ends up defending and enabling said power structure.”

      All too true. In the long run, money (power) overwhelms most opposition. Capitalism is the most effective form of social control yet devised, co-option a recurring phenomenon. And when the women are seduced by the dark side of the force, what hope will there be? I foresee dark times ahead.

      • Mooser on February 4, 2013, 6:01 pm

        “And when the women are seduced by the dark side of the force, what hope will there be?”

        Keith, excuse me but “seduced”? Isn’t that just a bit chauvanist? Women don’t make decisions, they get “seduced”? (Okay, here’s the kicker) I see no reason why an American girl couldn’t decide to join the military service for all the same well-informed, aware of the consequences, politically astute, not connected with her domestic circumstances, and economic reasons as any young man would!

      • Dan Crowther on February 6, 2013, 12:14 pm

        Boo mooser Boo!!

        Anakin Skywalker got “seduced by the dark side” too, ya know? and he was no dainty flower….

      • Keith on February 6, 2013, 3:50 pm

        MOOSER- “I see no reason why an American girl couldn’t decide to join the military service for all the same well-informed, aware of the consequences, politically astute, not connected with her domestic circumstances, and economic reasons as any young man would!”

        I agree completely with your inferred meaning (oh, subtle one!), however, I wasn’t referring to women joining the military. In response to Dan’s comment, I was lamenting the sad fact that much of the leadership of the feminist organizations have quite obviously succumbed to the seductive allure of power rather than continuing a principled attempt to pursue equality for all women, including their sisters in Afghanistan and other Third World countries, which, in turn, would exert pressure for the demilitarization of America, and an end to neoliberalism. While the feminist “leadership” has behaved somewhat predictably, hopefully the majority of women will continue to be more peaceful and community oriented, our slim hope for the future. I truly believe that any progressive social change will be strongly woman powered and woman empowering. Feminism shouldn’t be a fight to permit women the opportunity to “kick ass,” rather, it should be a rejection of the predominantly male obsession with power. The struggle for power has defined most of human history and has been the cause of ongoing mass-murder. Unless successfully dealt with, it will be the cause of mass species extinction, including humans.

      • on March 5, 2013, 1:24 am

        Keith – Of course an upper class feminist lady will do ruling class feminism, a liberal feminist woman will go for warmongering bootlicking feminism, a working-class feminist woman will do militant, socialist feminism, etc. They are smarter than we are, but that’s still a long way from being anything to write home about.

  2. American on February 3, 2013, 10:32 am

    Their ‘women’ justification for the film is nonsense.

  3. marc b. on February 3, 2013, 10:47 am

    you’ve left out michael moore’s defense of ZD30, moore asserting that the film will “make you hate torture.” first of all, that’s not the case for the plural, collective ‘you’. it seems there are plenty of watchers who positively identify with the torturers. second, the whole controversy over the depiction of torture is a mischaracterization of the movie. (the movie clearly supports ‘torture’ as one legitimate tool in the kit, and any ambiguity in the eyes of boal or bigelow is projected onto them, feigned ambivalence by proxy, the press doing their part in the propaganda sleight of hand). torture is a tactic, the usefullness of which can be debated even among practioners of the black arts. it’s the ‘war on terror’ that’s beyond debate. pakistan/muslims are ‘f*cked up’ according to maya. white americans and europeans are the only victims of the ‘war on terror’ in the movie. muslims are either teeming, anonymous masses, or resources to be exploited in the war on terror. ZD30 is much more vile than a handful of jihadis being tortured. it’s an unequivocal endorsement of a decade of killing and mayhem directed by a ‘lifelong pacifist’. yeah, right, who’s apparently sold her soul (boal being her handler and connection to the inner sanctum) for fame and a seat at the table.

    • Keith on February 3, 2013, 7:04 pm

      MARC B- “it’s the ‘war on terror’ that’s beyond debate.”

      Yes, indeed. The clash of civilizations, the long war. The entertainment media engaged in massive propaganda in support of empire and our warfare state. Neoliberal structural adjustment a necessary sacrifice, not to be resisted, questioned, or thought about too much. There is the Super Bowl and the next humanitarian intervention.

      “Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” (Herman Goering)

  4. pabelmont on February 3, 2013, 11:03 am

    I am convinced that torture sometimes “works” to elict truth, but that it much more often serves to elict whatever will stop the torture, true or false. And that the torturers probably don’t know which is which. And have no way to find out.

    (I have no idea what “truth serum” does, or whether it works, but at least it doesn’t sound like it does it by “torture”. It sounds as if the Israelis and Americans who use torture don’t think much of the results got by “truth serum” or simply enjoy torture too much.)

    As I disapprove of torture so strongly that I blame myself when I backslide and think torture appropriate as a punishment for torturers, please don’t read this as any sort of approval of torture in any case.

    There is a case in which a Palestinian (#1) was tortured to reveal names of bombers in Israel and named someone (#2) then living in USA (#1 later said he thought #2 was “safe” from Israeli reach). Israel then got #2 extradited from USA despite the facts that [1] accusation was obtained by torture and [2] #1 had since retracted his accusation. (Most of this is in an actual USA federal court report.) One question is, whether the accusation — given to stop the torture — was true or was false. Another question is why USA courts honored #1’s accusation.

  5. Krauss on February 3, 2013, 11:37 am

    When I first heard that they were given unprecedented access, I found myself, bizarrely, on the same side of conservatives.

    The motives for our worry, however, were different. My worry turned out to be the correct one. That the pentagon knew exactly what it was doing when it co-opted co-operated with the filmmakers.

    From a stylistic viewpoint, the movie has its strengths. But no film which deals with a topic this heavy can afford to be blindly viewed on the stylistic merits alone and the filmmakers’ defensive and at times bitter defensive hasn’t helped. They knew deep down that they were tools for the industrial-military complex.

    As a sidenote, I’d be interested in reading your thoughts, David, on the liberal Zionist obsession on ‘The Gatekeepers’ while ‘5 broken cameras’ is given scant – if any – coverage at all. Of course, another day, another post.

    • Reds on February 3, 2013, 2:25 pm

      NPR’s second piece on the movie “The Gatekeepers”

      Someone on the thread noticed that NPR has done not one but two(that I currently know of) pieces on the GateKeeper while Zero on “5 broken Camera’s). My guess will be if NPR will once they can find a way to unanimously attacking the produces and reduce the impact on how bad it makes Israel looks.

    • German Lefty on February 3, 2013, 5:23 pm

      the liberal Zionist obsession on ‘The Gatekeepers’ while ’5 broken cameras’ is given scant coverage

      The Gatekeepers: In New Film, Ex-Shin Bet Chiefs Denounce Occupation, Compare Israel to Nazi Germany
      The interview with the film’s director shows that he’s a “liberal” Zionist.
      Besides, I think that “liberal” Zionists care more about Jews and the Jewish perspective (The Gatekeepers) than about Palestinians and the Palestinian perspective (5 Broken Cameras).

    • Woody Tanaka on February 4, 2013, 9:34 am

      “the liberal Zionist obsession on ‘The Gatekeepers’ while ’5 broken cameras’ is given scant – if any – coverage at all. ”

      It’s just another example of this oh, so unique conflict in which the supposed “liberal” side is obsessed with how the conflict affects the oppressor, which the victim is merely a bit-player. One wonders if the situation were reversed, and Palestinians were the oppressors and Jews the victims, whether these same “liberals” would obsess over how the situation affects the Palestinians.

  6. Les on February 3, 2013, 2:41 pm

    Either she deliberately sanitized the torture by the same people who supervised Abu Ghraib or she has no memory, even short term.

  7. Les on February 3, 2013, 2:52 pm

    Our thanks to MJ Rosenberg for this heads up on another film.

    New Kevin Spacey Film Exposes Lobby & Its Supporters

    You have to check out this new film.

    It is big. It stars Kevin Spacey who also directed it. Additionally, it is the first film produced by Netflix, which is itself a huge deal, and is available instantly at its site for free streaming.

    Here is the amazing part. I don’t think I’m revealing any spoilers because this is only a small part of the plot but, if you are sensitive about such things, stop reading.

    So…Kevin Spacey plays the Democratic whip of the House of Representatives. A new president has just been elected, who has promised to appoint Spacey’s character Secretary of State. However, he reneges and gives the job to someone else. The guy who gets the job is fine, even from Spacey’s viewpoint, but Spacey is mad and has to block him to hurt the president.

    But the guy is clean. What to do?

    Spacey’s staffer comes up with a Williams College editorial on Israel, published when the Secretary of State nominee was editor-in-chief of the college paper. The editorial calls the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza illegal.

    Spacey figures that should be enough to destroy the would-be secretary’s chances EXCEPT it turns out that he did not write the editorial, another student did. Spacey dispatches a corrupt, drug addicted Congressman (really) to visit the guy who wrote the article and convince him to say that it was, in fact, the Secretary of State nominee who was responsible.

    The guy doesn’t want to do it. He says that, even as a student, the Secretary-designate was a total wuss who would never take any controversial stands.

    So the doped up Congressman bribes him with pot and cocaine and, voila, he changes his mind. He will go public with the fact that it was the Secretary guy who opposed the occupation.

    Spacey gives the story to the Washington Post and then the Secretary nominee is confronted by the real George Stephanopoulos on his Sunday show who nails him for having criticized Israel 30 years ago! The addled nominee laughs!

    Spacey calls the head of the Anti-Defamation League (not played by the real Abe Foxman) who denounces the Secretary-to-be as an anti-Semite (in part for laughing at the charge of disrespecting Israel). He is forced to withdraw.

    All the forces of corruption win!

    Exaggerated? Nope, as the Hagel assault demonstrates.

    This is how the lobby operates.

    Kevin Spacey, bless you.

    Hey, lobby, lots of luck bringing Spacey or Netflix to their knees!

  8. chris_k on February 3, 2013, 3:31 pm

    “They’re misogynist, so kill them, even the women and children” has been part of the propaganda of this war from the outset, written into this film’s script, so it should surprise no one that it is used as a defense of a defense of torture. Using women to interrogate Muslim male prisoners is a psychological tactic that has been documented as having led to Abu Ghraib, a pictorial which promises more lasting resonance.

  9. piotr on February 3, 2013, 10:00 pm

    Torture is inherently degrading and corrupting. The corruption aspect should be very disturbing to observers, in part because it undermines any claims concerning usefulness of the practice. There is almost no bound on the audacity of coverups when the torture is involved, and then we are suppose to trust the most corrupt institution in our society that Osama bin-Laden was actually killed (and body disposed into ocean within 24 hours, a bit hasty and convenient?).

    Two disturbing examples can be found using key words “Dilawar” and “Guantanamo suicides Harper’s”.

  10. Avi_G. on February 4, 2013, 5:40 am

    At least 2 propaganda films came out in 2012, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo.

    Like ZDT, Argo paints the CIA as a force of good out to rescue hostages. Sure, it does mention the CIA’s complicity in the overthrow of a democratically elected leader, but it does so briefly and so early in the movie, that by the end of the film, the viewer has forgotten about the role the CIA played in creating the entire mess.

  11. marc b. on February 4, 2013, 8:35 am

    There is almost no bound on the audacity of coverups when the torture is involved, and then we are suppose to trust the most corrupt institution in our society that Osama bin-Laden was actually killed (and body disposed into ocean within 24 hours, a bit hasty and convenient?).

    great point. my pre-teen doesn’t believe the official narrative it’s so goofy. we’re supposed to believe that OBL evaded detection for so long in the same city that another top AQ op was captured a few months before, where the pakistani military academy is located, where musharraf used to go jogging (and who reportedly knew of the ‘built to order’ safe house), and that *meh* it’s no big deal he wasn’t captured alive because he was probably out of the game so long he had no actionable intelligence. cow patty on top of cow patty stacked a mile high, and the ruminants in the press just chew their cuds, lolling their heads from side to side as history passes by.

    • seanmcbride on February 4, 2013, 9:22 am

      marc b.,

      great point. my pre-teen doesn’t believe the official narrative it’s so goofy.

      We had no interest in capturing and interrogating OBL and felt a need to dispose of his body at sea as soon as possible? But in any case the final nail had already been hammered into the coffin of the ludicrous 9/11 official story years ago.

      Ops like this are reliant on the mainstream media failing to point out that the emperor (the official story) has no clothes (no credibility) — governments are often able to get away with absolute nonsense in plain view of the entire world with the cooperation of the mainstream media.

      The best bet is that OBL had nothing to do with 9/11 — which is what OBL himself claimed — The operational details of 9/11 will remain forever shrouded in mystery and the mainstream media will continue to pretend not to notice what is happening.

      • marc b. on February 4, 2013, 5:04 pm

        it is bizarre, sean. the lack of curiousity that is. after a decade-long manhunt the whole affair supposedly wrapped up in the time it takes to bake a cake and not a whiff of suspicion in the MSM. nobody’s born that ignorant. it has to be cultivated.

    • Mooser on February 4, 2013, 1:32 pm

      I am so glad I will never see this film. Frankly, I have not concluded whether extensive viewing of TV and films is safe, or is a hazard to health. So in the meantime, I’m playing it safe. Of course, watching the earth die isn’t fun, but nobody charges admission.

      • marc b. on February 4, 2013, 5:00 pm

        mooser, i watched it as part of a ZD30/les miserables afternoon double feature at the local cineplex. just like the old days. you’re old enough to remember ‘creature double feature’, ‘godzilla’ and ‘dracula meets the wolfman’ on the same afternoon.

      • Mooser on February 4, 2013, 5:49 pm

        ” just like the old days. you’re old enough to remember”

        I’m sure it was great, but not me, marcb, I went, or rather, my parents took me to a few movies when I was a kid, but I didn’t like them. (Live theater, yes. but sit there and watch shadows on a wall? No.) I didn’t continue to go, it never became a habit. I gave up watching TV (true story) after I tried to punch a kid in 6th grade, like they do on TV. Instead of a satisfying crack, and he drops like he’s pole-axed, I rip out the sleeve of my button-down shirt, missed him entirely, and then got a bloody nose from the excitement. Oh yes, and suspended! TV lies, and that was my last “Man from U.N.C.L.E schtick“.
        Besides, you are shortening your life virtually by watching all the TV and movies. It makes the time pass quickly. It’s not like we have all that much. By being so all-fired bored I get full value out of every minute. Nobody charges admission for that!
        We do have a small TV, my wife likes the occasional game (if available broadcast) or “Jeannie” or “Bewitched” re-run. But as soon as those big flat screens came out, I made a hard and fast rule: in my house, I have the biggest head and the loudest voice, except, of course, for my wife, who has a whim of iron.

      • Mooser on February 4, 2013, 5:51 pm

        “you’re old enough to remember ‘creature double feature’, ‘godzilla’ and ‘dracula meets the wolfman’ on the same afternoon.”

        Yes, but as I got older, I had more excuses to avoid visiting relatives.

  12. Stone on March 4, 2013, 7:31 pm

    I haven’t seen the film. I don’t think I want to but the impression I got from the Time magazine cover story(which I read a few days ago) is that this is a film that Progressives or at least anti-war people should like for it shows that war is messy and that we sold our souls in order to get Bin Laden. It was quite “grey” in this way. It showed that things are murky in this new war. At least that’s what I got from the article. I mean if it showed that we used torture to get Bin Laden then I think that is good then. I mean it showed that we were inhumane when we wanted to get him. It shows that we were not sensible people. I think that’s good in that it shows that we weren’t always the “good” men and women. So I don’t get what the beef is from progressives then. Is it because they showed them using torture and that was justified because it “worked” and therefore the means justified the ends? Well, I don’t feel that way. I didn’t even want Bin Laden killed. I think we should have put him on trial. But I know I’m in the minority here so maybe the general public will feel differently and think “Hey, this torture stuff is good since it helped us get Public Enemy #1.” Well, if that is so then I feel sorry for the general public. But then I would also feel sorry for the progressive community for not sticking to their beliefs and hoping that people might feel differently after seeing the film. I think it depends on what angle you take coming into the film. I see the CIA, the MIC and the military in general as doing nothing but wrong. So I hope they are not chest bumping throughout the film. If they are doing what we would consider horrible things then that just proves their immorality to me.

    • just on March 4, 2013, 10:38 pm

      OBL should have been put on trial! I agree with you wrt to the CIA, MIC and the military. I won’t see the movie, ever. I did not agree with the murder of Saddam’s sons and the endless photos that the media showcased. I did not agree with the visuals of Saddam Hussein himself before he was hung.

      All of these moments in our recent history diminished us a country and as a people. So did Dilawar’s death, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the secret disappearances to ‘black sites’, and torture in my name.

      PS– I protested both wars.

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