Politics & Policy

Hollywood’s Munich Moments

Years of trashing U.S. culture haven’t bought American filmmakers immunity.

North Korea supposedly hacked Sony and exposed hundreds of embarrassing behind-the-scenes e-mails, humiliating the company into giving in to blackmail by delaying for a time the release of its new film Interview. Perhaps the murderous North Korean thugocracy thought that, by revealing the innermost illiberal thoughts of the global corporate elite, it might win adulation commensurate with that accorded the liberal crusader Julian Assange — the heartthrob hacker who exposed U.S. government secrets and the private musings of the ruling American hierarchy.

Kim Jong-un’s hackers were supposedly displeased by the Sony Corporation’s unkind depiction of North Korea’s nightmarish dystopia. For a while at least, Hollywood backed down and acceded to the new reality that a foreign country can dictate the scope of artistic expression to U.S. residents.

Now another nuclear power, Pakistan, is angry at Hollywood. According to Pakistani diplomats, Showtime’s series Homeland failed to note the supposedly liberal, humanitarian, and compassionate nature of the Pakistani government. American filmmakers were faulted for making no effort to highlight the lush greenery and general upbeat atmosphere of underappreciated, tony Islamabad.

Unlike crazy North Korea, Pakistan is not necessarily just blowing smoke. For years, elements of the Pakistani intelligence services have worked hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda–affiliated terrorists to thwart American efforts to build consensual government in neighboring Afghanistan. It was no accident that Osama bin Laden lived with impunity for years right under the noses of Pakistani authorities.

Not to be left out, Egypt’s junta is likewise furious at another new Hollywood film, Exodus. In fact, the junta just banned Exodus from Egypt. Apparently, the censors believe that the movie is an effort by Jewish movie moguls to unduly glorify the ancient Jews and deprecate the pharaohs — as part of a Zionist plot to champion Israel at the expense of its Islamic neighbors. Not long ago, Egypt and other Arab countries banned Noah, on the grounds that its portrayal of Noah, whom Islam considers a prophet, was blasphemous.

The filmmakers seem somewhat baffled by all the pushback. They should be. It is understandable why they would feel that their consistently anti-American, multicultural fides could never be questioned.

Of course, Western filmmakers know that the stuff of dictatorships is censorship and cheap bullying of free expression. But such recognition wars with the elemental anti-American DNA deeply embedded within Hollywood, which leads it to champion the so-called Third World while trashing the United States.

Do not the North Koreans, the Pakistanis, and the Egyptians remember the slew of recent Hollywood movies — Body of Lies, In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Syriana — in which American soldiers, the CIA, and conservative presidents murdered noble innocents around the globe? Have the North Koreans, Pakistanis, and Egyptians forgotten Michael Moore, whose fantasy documentaries savaged U.S. culture and delighted our enemies? Do they not appreciate that the usual villains of Hollywood action dramas are sunburned white bigots with Southern accents, or neo-Nazi foreigners with German-sounding patois and South African connections? As far as Jewish conspiracies go, did not the Egyptians watch Munich, in which the Palestinian assassins of innocent Israeli athletes were portrayed as the moral equivalent of the Mossad teams that hunted them down?

In regard to portraying the death of foreign leaders, Kim Jong-un should relax and watch the British-made film The Death of a President, released in 2006, which was fueled by the Bush Derangement Syndrome that was sweeping the international progressive community at the time. BDS was manifested by novels imagining the killing of Bush, and various op-eds like the 2003 New Republic rant “Why I Hate George W. Bush” or the 2004 Guardian op-ed expressing disappointment that assassins like John Wilkes Booth were not around when they were needed.

The Death of a President was called a “future historical docudrama,” which I think translates into something like, “In a fair world, this might just happen at some time in the not too distant future.” The North Koreans should have relished the soap-opera plot. Bush is gunned down in Chicago in payback’s-a-bitch fashion. A diabolical Dick Cheney takes over and foists his fascistic agenda on the U.S., including ideas about bombing Syria and renewing the Patriot Act. The usual scheming government rigs evidence (of course) to scapegoat a poor innocent Arab (of course), while the real killer is an unhinged white male (of course) Persian Gulf veteran (of course), finally gone off the deep end because of the death of his son — a pawn (of course) sacrificed in Bush’s redux war of 2003. In an example of reality imitating film, Janet Napolitano three years later issued a Homeland Security warning that the country was threatened by “right-wing extremists,” and that “Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive” to these extremists.

In case the audience did not follow the first-grade-level moralizing of The Death of a President, the film ends with a grim printed reminder of the renewal of the nefarious Patriot Act. The film was awful — amateurish, cheap, macabre, and a pathetic propaganda effort — and even the usually anti-American global public appeared to agree: Although it opened in nearly 150 U.S. theaters, The Death of a President failed to earn a mere $1 million.

No matter. Here at home, liberal critics mostly loved the message. Roger Ebert was ecstatic: “The Death of a President is electrifying drama, and compellingly realistic.” I suppose the image of Bush’s head exploding when the bullets struck it was at least compelling in its realism. The film was shown at the Toronto Film Festival of 2006 and won the International Critics’ Prize, among other awards. Surely The Death of a President should have won the Western film industry some future good-deed exemption from the ungracious North Koreans. I doubt that director Gabriel Range will do a sequel, substituting Barack Obama for George Bush, or that he will amplify his previous anger at Bush with current outrage over the Obama administration’s embrace of the Patriot Act, renditions, and military tribunals; its bombing in Libya, Iraq, and Syria; and a tenfold increase in the Predator death program.

Did North Korea’s rulers ever watch a segment of Game of Thrones, in which the head of George W. Bush is served up on a platter and impaled on a stake, the filmmakers’ crude way of showcasing their anti-American fides?

As for the ingrates Pakistan and Egypt, never before has a Western industry been so kind to Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes and so critical of Western democracy. When the jihadists put hits out on Western cartoonists for supposedly poking fun at the Prophet, did many Hollywood actors and directors stand up for the concept of free artistic expression? Apparently, Hollywood was not too much bothered that an edgy provocateur Dutch filmmaker was murdered for portraying Islam negatively. One wonders which are better grounds for collective artistic outrage — humiliating liberal Hollywood corporate grandees as racists and sexists for imagining the death of a North Korean psychopath, or slicing up an independent filmmaker for negative commentary about Islamic-inspired terrorism?

The constants in these recent embarrassments of Hollywood are abject hypocrisy and childish surprise that its obsessive anti-American themes never quite satisfy anti-American dictatorships. In truth, the Western film industry has become predictable and trite in its cardboard-cutout saints and villains, and in its cowardly and selective responses to criticism. I could empathize with George Clooney in his unsuccessful efforts to rally actors around the idea of universal artistic expression free of dictatorial threats, if he had shown the same zeal to come to the aid of the unsavory Nakoula Nakoula, who was accused by the Left of precipitating the Benghazi attack. Nakoula lacked Sony’s PR apparatus, although he showed far more audacity in his crude online video than did Sony in its glossy movie. Nakoula’s childish Innocence of Islam was no more or less slanted than Hollywood’s usual fare. The only difference was cash. Had Nakoula had a Hollywood budget he might have upped the production quality of his crude propaganda.

Do we remember the way the Obama administration, in the runup to the 2012 election, reacted to the threats on Nakoula’s life? Or the serial occasions when Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama falsely blamed the easy target Nakoula for their own laxity that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi? Or how a federal judge conveniently jailed Nakoula on a trumped-up probation violation?

Maybe a hurt and scared Hollywood should be worried about the juxtaposition of Barack Obama’s damnation of filmmaker Nakoula with his recent opportunistic lecture to Sony that “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate us out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.”

Yes, let us imagine for a moment. In that 2012 election cycle, Barack Obama did exactly what North Korea is now trying to do: silence and punish a videomaker for a stupid movie that he found politically inconvenient. If Obama can criticize Sony for its cave-in over its slick, high-priced Interview — “That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.” — then Hollywood could at least have reminded Obama about his untrue and opportunistic charges against Nakoula’s YouTube Innocence of Islam. And added a rejoinder that “Yes, that’s exactly what America is now about.”

Free speech is won not just by championing a global corporation’s high-budget hit piece on an isolated and universally hated thug, but more importantly by protecting the right of an unpleasant cheapster to caricature radical Islamists, who, unlike North Korea’s blustering dictator, have a proven record the world over of executing those with whom they disagree.

A final lesson from this sad chapter: Trashing the United States does not satiate foreign despots, but only increases their appetite for their own versions of unwavering and predictable political correctness.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.



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