It was big news this week when it was announced that actor Kal Penn of House, M.D. and Harold and Kumar fame was taking a position in the White House. Penn did a lot of work on the campaign and is taking graduate-level courses at Stanford, so celebrity or not, he doesn’t seem terribly unqualified for the job. (Olympic hero Kerri Strug held a not-dissimilar position in the Bush White House, for what it’s worth.)
But when the White House said that Penn had passed the background check, I wonder if anyone actually watched his films? Specifically, the scene from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay that portrays U.S. servicemen as raping the inmates at Guantanamo. You can watch the scene here — but be forewarned it’s quite graphic. (There’s also another scene that has President Bush getting high and laughing about the inmates’ getting raped by Gitmo guards.)
I asked Pete Hegseth, Iraq war veteran and Chairman of Vets for Freedom, what he makes of the scene:
Seems to me that such a portrayal is born of willful ignorance; from the insinuation that anything like that would EVER go on at GITMO, to the uniforms and appearance of the guards. I would hope that anyone who was involved in such a crude portrayal of our troops would not go on to work at the White House (or the Senate). I am from Minnesota, however, so nothing surprises me these days…
To be clear, I have ZERO beef with the film having a satirical point of view — making fun of the president and how he conducted the war on terror is completely fair game. Hegseth and I would even admit to enjoying the first Harold and Kumar film as something of a guilty pleasure. Moreover, given this magazine’s position on marijuana legalization, I hardly think we’re reflexively anti–stoner comedy around these parts.
But when you portray members of the U.S. military doing their assigned duty honorably as rapists and homophobes — well, then I think a lot of people would rightfully have a problem with that. I’d certainly like to know if the commander in chief condones such a portrayal, and whether it does honor to the White House to employ someone who thinks that this is acceptable. Penn has the freedom to make whatever films he likes, and from what I’ve seen he’s a talented actor. I realize that the film was going for laughs, but nonetheless, a simple apology from Penn might go a long way here.