Tag Archives: fiction

SYNDICATED COLUMN: “Selma” and Hollywood’s Sleazy Perversion of History

Movies are the historical record.

Americans experience the Vietnam War by watching “Apocalypse Now,” slavery in “12 Years a Slave,” and D-Day through “Saving Private Ryan.” A lot more Americans watch historical movies than read history books. Which, when done well, is not a bad thing. I’ve read countless books about the collapse of Nazi Germany, but the brilliantly-acted and directed reenactment of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin bunker depicted in the masterful 2004 German film “Downfall” can’t be beat.

When a film purports to depict a historical event, it becomes the only version of what most people believe really happened. So, as we move further into a post-literate society, misleading historical filmmaking isn’t just a waste of 2-1/2 hours.

It’s a crime against the truth.

The Ava DuVernay-directed film “Selma” is at the center of controversy, both due to its semi-snubbing by the Oscars – viewed as backtracking from last year’s relatively racially diverse choice of nominees – and accusations that it plays loose with history.

Former LBJ aide and Democratic Party stalwart Joe Califano fired the first shot with a Washington Post op-ed. “Selma,” wrote Califano, “falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.”

He’s right.

Robert Caro’s magisterial four-volume biography of Johnson portrays him as a deeply flawed man, but one whose passion to push for desegregation and an end to discrimination against blacks informed his political career throughout his life, though it wasn’t always obvious to his detractors.

It was only after JFK’s assassination brought him to power – actually, a movie portraying Kennedy as reluctant to support civil rights would have been accurate – that he had the chance to push through both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he did aggressively and quickly, despite what he famously predicted would be the loss of the South to the Democratic Party for a generation or more.

Johnson gave J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI too much latitude, which Hoover used to harass King, but there’s no evidence that, as the movie depicts, it was LBJ who ordered Hoover to send audiotapes of King having sex with other women to his wife. And let’s be clear: every important conversation in the Oval Office was being taped. We have the transcripts. We would know if that had happened.

Califano takes his defense of his former boss too far when he says “[the march on] Selma was LBJ’s idea.” Otherwise, the facts are on his side: the LBJ in “Selma” is not the LBJ King knew.

Fans of the film argue that it doesn’t matter.

“Did ‘Selma’ cut some corners and perhaps tilt characters to suit the needs of the story? Why yes — just like almost every other Hollywood biopic and historical film that has been made,” the media writer David Carr writes in The New York Times.

Yes, in a movie the story is the thing. It’s hard to imagine “The Queen” — about the inner workings of the British monarchy and its relationship to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana — working without a lot of made-up dialogue between the principals. However, the great detail of these obviously private conversations signals to the audience that they don’t come out of a transcript, and that we must be witnessing a fictionalized account.

There comes a point, on the other hand, where so many corners get cut and so many characters get tilted that a film ceases to resemble history and enters the territory of complete fabulism and, in the case of “Selma” and LBJ, retroactive character assassination.

The clash between MLK and LBJ – King pushing, Johnson resisting – isn’t merely some extraneous detail of the script in “Selma.” It’s the main plot of the film.

It didn’t go down like that, yet thanks to this BS film, a generation of Americans will grow up thinking that it did.

Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post repeatedly calls “Selma” “fiction.” As in: “film and other fiction.” To her, apparently, film is always fiction. But it’s not.

Like books, film is a medium.

Film can be nonfiction.

Film can be fiction.

“Califano’s approach,” she writes, “besides setting a [sic] odd standard for how fiction ought to work…suggests that we should check fiction for inaccuracies.”

As usual, the crux of the debate boils down to an inability to agree on definitions of terms. For those like Rosenberg who believe that everyone knows movies are just for fun, it doesn’t matter that “Schindler’s List” depicts showers at Auschwitz spraying water rather than Zyklon B — even though that never happened, and thus serves to understate one of the horrors of the Holocaust. To the all-movies-are-fiction crowd, “Zero Dark Forty” is cool despite its completely false claim that torture led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

“This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,” director DuVernay told PBS. “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.”

That’s sleazy. Truth is, her film is being marketed as fact, as she knew it would be. And it’s doing better because of it.

Audiences need a ratings system to separate films that purport to recount actual historical events from those like “Selma,” which are fictional tales using historical figures as hand puppets.

I suggest that the MPAA institute the following ratings:

Rated H for Historical: a film that makes a good faith effort to recount history accurately.

Rated S-H for Semi-Historical: a film that relies on devices like made-up dialogue and encounters, but whose basic plot line reflects history to the best of our knowledge.

Rated H-F for Historical Fiction: a film in which anything, including the basic plot line, can be made up out of whole cloth.

If the movies are going to lie to me, I deserve to know before shelling out my $12.50.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: American Select

Wall Street-Backed Third Party Flogs Fake Democracy

For “1984” Orwell conjured up a one-party state so powerful and pervasive that it was forced to create a phony “resistance” movement led by a fiction-within-a-fiction, Emmanuel Goldstein.

This past Sunday’s New York Times op/ed column by Thomas Friedman, the hackiest hack in American mediadom, presents a Goldstein for America 2012: a third party whose candidate would purportedly be chosen by we, the people. “Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand,” writes Friedman, “a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012.”

Amend that: rather than being chosen by we the people, whose ideologies span the gamut, this candidate would be picked by a tiny segment of centrists, i.e. the fraction of the electorate whose ideology falls between the Democratic and Republican parties.

Alas, Friedman continues. He always does.

“The goal of Americans Elect is to take a presidential nominating process now monopolized by the Republican and Democratic parties, which are beholden to their special interests, and blow it wide open—guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated independently, will not only be on the ballot in every state but be able to take part in every presidential debate and challenge both parties from the middle with the best ideas on how deal with the debt, education and jobs.”

The world may not be flat. Friedman’s prose, on the other hand…

Check it: there were 80 words in that sentence. A typical op/ed column is 650 words. Thomas Friedman could write an entire column in eight sentences.

Maybe the bizarro world of American journalism, in which Friedman deserves Pulitzers and #1 bestsellers while fellow Timesman Paul Krugman can’t get arrested on national TV, is correct. Only a genius could get paid for this.

Like the proles of “1984,” Americans of all political stripes are disgusted with the Democrats and Republicans. Americans Elect offers a tantalizing prospect to a populace starving for representation worthy of them and the problems that face our nation: genuine democracy free of big corporate money.

So who is Americans Elect?

Their website, americanselect.org, reads more like American Select.

There’s good reason for that.

Americans Elect, Friedman writes as though his readers would approve, is based in “swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.”

Just what we need—another phony Astroturf movement (hello, Tea Party) financed by thieving Wall Street hedge-fund scum.

Americans Elect is run by “Elliot Ackerman, an Iraq war veteran with a Silver Star, who serves as the chief operating officer of Americans Elect, and whose father, Peter, a successful investor, has been a prime engine behind the group.”

Talk about opaque! Elliot Ackerman, all of 30 years old, isn’t even listed on Wikipedia.

Let’s not get into how and where Mr. Zillionaire War Hero scored his Silver Star. Oh, let’s: it was for massacring local Iraqi resistance fighters defending Fallujah from U.S. occupation troops.

Anyway.

Ackerman & Son want to acquire nothing less than the United States of America. First they should probably learn how to name a website. Not to mention build one. Unless you register you get bumped one screen into their “my colors” page, which is supposed to measure where your politics are on the right-to-left-o-meter.

They might have fixed the website before calling Thomas Friedman, but whatever.

The proposed political mechanics of Americans Elect are beyond naïve. They’re so silly that a 7th grade civics student would laugh out loud.

“Any presidential nominee” resulting from the Internet nominations for president, Friedman says, would have to be “considered someone of similar stature to our previous presidents. That means no Lady Gaga allowed.”

In other words, you can vote for anyone you like, as long as it’s an Old White Protestant Male. Nice democracy you got there, Mssrs. Hedge Fund. Why not open things up? Whatever you think of her wardrobe, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta hadn’t destroyed the economy or started pointless wars.

Now for the best bad part. “Each presidential candidate has to pick a running mate outside of their party and reaching across the divide of politics,” sayeth Ackerman the Lesser, He Who Slaughtered the Ragheads of Fallujah.

So old-fashioned party politics do come into it.

Ds can run with Rs, Rs can run with Ds, socialists and libertarians need not apply. Oh, and why would anyone run for president knowing that their Old White Protestant Male running mate would be one heartbeat away from reversing everything you cared about?

Concludes chief cheerleader Friedman: “What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life.”

Drugstore.com? Really, Tom?

Big cheese at the Times. Makes high six, more like low seven, figures. Proof that anyone can make it in America, as long as they’re not smart.

“Serious hedge-fund money” aside, Americans Elect doesn’t stand a chance against the billions of corporate dollars lined up behind the Dems and GOP. But that isn’t stopping mainstream media like NPR and the cable news networks from giving them publicity—and thus false hope to a public in dire need of real solutions, not more charlatans.

Just like Emmanuel Goldstein, Americans Elect accomplishes something remarkable. It offers a third-party alternative so phony and disappointing that it can only make Americans more cynical than they are already.

Which makes me wonder. Are these guys the pompous clods they look like, or agents provacateur hastening the Revolution?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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