Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Bush Era (of Movies and TV) Is Over Too...

President George W. Bush is history.

It's been eight long and unhappy years since Bush the Lesser first assumed office in a hotly-contested election arbitrated by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court.

Since 2001, We have been attacked twice on our own soil (9/11 and the Anthrax mailings), and become bogged down in two long, expensive wars. Over seven thousand Americans have died since Bush took the oath of office, either by attack or in war.
Nearly 50 million Americans are currently without health care. Unemployment is the highest it's been since...well, since the last Bush governed.

An American city sank in a hurricane while Nero fiddled (or played the guitar for John McCain's birthday, as the case may be.)

Oh, and the economy collapsed thanks to almost a decade of governmental negligence and lack of responsible regulation.

Wait, I'm still going...

We had the Enron Scandal, the Abu Ghraib Scandal, the warrantless spying scandal, the criminal outing of a covert CIA agent, and the overt politicizing of the Justice Department. We saw a record surplus transformed into a record deficit by unnecessary tax cuts for the top earning 1 percent of the "haves and the have mores." We saw, as (I think...) Allan Mendelowitz put it: "t
he Bush administration -- which took office as social conservatives" -- "leave as conservative socialists," presenting our nation with the greatest example of corporate welfare in its long history.


Have I forgotten any other outrages?

Probably...they were a dime a dozen in the Bush era. I state this not as a committed progressive, not as a lefty, not as a liberal, but as a patriotic American who happened to have his eyes open during these years. I know many conservative friends who feel precisely the same way I do.

As I recover from the Bush II Era -- the very era in which I began blogging -- I pause now to remember a few movies and television programs that seem (right now, anyway...) to capture the zeitgeist of this turbulent span.

Right off the bat, the adventure TV series 24 (which I quite enjoy...) leaps to mind. The series protagonist, CTU agent Jack Bauer (Sutherland) will do anything, and I mean ANYTHING (torture included), to keep America safe. He regularly battles terrorists and prevents the detonation of WMD on our soil, in our cities. The whole series exists in its own "climate of fear," real-time.

I'll always associate two movies in particular with the Bush Era. The first is Zack Snyder's amazing Spartan epic 300 (2006), an egregiously violent, heroic poem about jingoism, nationalism and xenophobia. An interesting facet of this silver screen adaptation of the Miller graphic novel is that some reviewers view it as an inspiring defense of the Bush Way, while others imagine it a deliberate contrast and critique. I'll be reviewing the movie here on the blog shortly. This week, actually. Stay tuned.

And then there's Christopher Nolan's beloved untouchable, The Dark Knight (2008). I understand why so many people enjoy The Dark Knight, and I'm glad so many people are so happy to see their favorite superhero treated so...seriously. I predict the movie willl likely win several Academy Awards. And I don't begrudge the film these successes, either critical or box office.

For me, however, The Dark Knight plays uncomfortably as a long validation of and apology for Bush's most troublesome policies. So it's hard for me to laud it.

In The Dark Knight, the ends justify the means. There is no higher ideal than that. The Joker is not merely a criminal these days, but actually a committed terrorist. And when he attacks Gotham City, his reign of fear brings the city to a standstill. A pervasive climate of fear is forged, even though one man (either the Joker or Osama Bin Laden) is...only one man, and can't possibly harm every person everywhere, simultaneously. Doesn't matter.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

At a difficult moment like this, Gotham requires a transcendental hero who can stand above the moment; a hero who can righteously declare "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." A man, perhaps, like Bruce Wayne's heroic father, who lifted the city out of economic Depression. Unfortunately, Wayne the Elder is dead.

Instead, Gotham gets Wayne the Lesser; just like America got Bush the lesser.

A man who, instead of calling to the best angels of Gotham's nature, lowers himself - and the very Thebes he defends - to the Joker's level. Bruce breaks the law (spying illegally on the citizenry), violates the sovereignty of a foreign nation, and most significantly, refuses to entrust the people with their own future, with the truth. He would rather lie, rather forge a black-and-white, Manichean fable of "pure good" vs "pure evil" than let the people make an informed decision. About the Joker. About Dent. And even, about him. This is a grave disservice to justice; not a defense of it.

Let us never again mistake the former for the latter.

So, what will the Obama Era bring? Well, at the very least, a clean break with the past. A new beginning. I'm hoping Obama brings a pervasive sense of can-do optimism to our country, and to our pop culture entertainment. I hope that J.J. Abrams Star Trek -- made in the Bush II Era but reserved for the Obama Era -- is the very movie that defines this new time; a time of promise; a time of brotherhood; a time of re-building.

Leave the Dark Knights to America's Dark Night of the Soul (2001-2008). Instead, let's commit ourselves to tomorrow.


  1. it will be interesting to read a similar post 4-8 years from now. obama has lifted my spirits and given me a sincere feeling of optimism and belonging, but i think there is some validity to the theory that bad times yield good art. at least musicwise, bush's reign of destruction has given us some amazing tunes. with obama, however, i can't remember in my lifetime a president who was more embraced as an inspiration in pop culture. here's hoping for some better times and inspired art.

  2. joey_bishop_jr.1:46 AM

    I would just like to point out that America was attcked twice durnign Clinton's watch too- the first World Trade center bombing, and the Murrah Federal building. Also, a case could be made against the Elian Gonzales snatch at the barrel of an MP5, as well as the Ruby Ridge incident. And what about the ever popular WhiteWater mess? And his rapid response to the LA riots, and his forceful measures against the Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 servicemen? And am I wrong, or didn't the dot com bubble burst under Mr Slick Willie? I admit, I have no love lost for George Bush, and am pretty glad to see him go. However, if you want to adress a list of scandals that occured during his term, some not even able to be directly laid at his doorstep, let's be fair and list what happened under Clinton's time as well...

    And also John, what kind of informed choice can you make about the Joker? He blew up a for-Christing hospital, set off a bomb in a police station, and admitted to personally killing a policeman himself? What kind of fair and balanced reporting do you need on a sociopath like that?

    I also take issue with your argumtn that only one man can't hurt everyone everywhere. That is very true. But until the time comes when someone liek the Joker or Bin Laden or whoever starts publishing schedules and lists of targets, how is it unreasonable that "just one man" can create widespread fear under the right set of circumstances.

    Dude, I love you to death, and I really wish that I could share your optimism and idealism, howeverthat's a luxury I no longer have, no matter how much I miss it and wish i could have it back...

  3. Joey B Jr.

    Why are you even opening up that can of worms?

    Listen: the explicit subject of this post was the last eight years and entertainment in the Bush administration. How about holding him accountable for his time in office?

    Why should Clinton, who left in 2000, even be up for debate?

    What law says I must mention Clinton when I talk about the last eight years and Bush?

    I thought Republicans were against the fairness doctrine. :)

    I didn't mention Clinton because his departure occurred EIGHT YEARS AGO and is off-topic!

    I will be focusing on the Age of Clinton -- good and bad -- in Horror Films of the 1990s, but that's just not the subject of this post.

    And how weird -- the best defense a conservative can muster of Bush was that Clinton was just as bad?

    Do you REALLY believe the first World Trade Center attack and the second one are equivalents in terms of casualties, importance, response and aftermath?

    Do you really believe the dot com bubble bursting and the state of the economy today are equivalent?

    Do you really believe the unemployment rate now and in 2000 are equivalent?

    Do you really think the surplus then and the deficit now are equivalent?

    I thought Republicans were supposed to be the party of personal responsibility. All they can do is look at the last eight years and whine that Clinton was a bad president.

    Maybe he was. But that was eight years ago. We're judging Bush now, the man who was just there and had the chance to steer the country in the direction he wanted.

    Where did he take us, and what does that direction have to do with Clinton?

    And here's an important fact about the widespread nature of terrorism: more people die every year in America in traffic accidents or from heart disease than they do from terror attacks.

    But by all means, elevate Bin Laden (who pre-911 had 250 followers worldwide) to the level of Ultimate Bogeyman and then ask yourself why Bush -- such a great president, I guess - in eight years, couldn't catch him?

    Nice attempt to change the subject.

    Bush was in charge. Bush was a Republican. Bush was a conservative.

    And Bush was the worst president in American history.

    Deal with the reality of what YOUR GUY did, and stop obsessing on a man who left office eight long years ago.

    You'll feel better. That's what I'm trying to do with Bush here ...who left office two days ago.

    I sure hope if I'm still complaining about Bush eight years from now there will be someone sane -- like you, perhaps? -- to tell me to get over it and hold Obama to account for his missteps.

    Or do you plan to give Obama a pass on all his decisions? Does he get an eight year pass like you've given Bush here?

    Every time you complain abuot Obama, shall I bring up Bush? Is that fair?

    Or is there such a thing as being responsible for one's own behavior, and actions?

    Or does that only apply to liberals?

    -in respect,

  4. joey_bishop_jr.11:43 AM

    Uh.....wow. Didn't think you'd get so riled up!

    I did call to congratulate you Obama won, right? And just to clear the air, Bush ISN'T "my guy". I'm primarily a conservative Libertarian, John. Not an elephant, as I feel that the Republicans deserted a lot of my personal principles years ago.

    Oh, trust me, I am all about personal responsibility. I also said that I had no love lost for Bush, and I was glad to see him go. He didn't get my vote the second go 'round. Some of his spending policies were absolutely ridiculous to me, and I was pretty much aghast at his policies on stem cell research, as well as his immigration policies. And trust me, as as someone who has friends in the sandbox right now, this war has been totally bungled, and we should have either implemented a comprehensive plan for victory a long time ago or pulled out and ended the body count then.

    Again, while I agree with some of the points you made in your post, I just felt that some of the things you mentioned can only tangentially be laid at Bush's doorstep, and I wanted to post a similar list of offenses of someone I know you respect and admire to kind of point out how hard it is to blame someone for EVERYTHING just because you don't like them.

    I'll give you that Bush can't run a war. I'll give you that Bush made bad appointments to certain offices, and that some misused and even abused their power, or were just tragicallly incompetent, and should be held accountable. The rest, maybe not so easy. For example, I find it hard to link low ranking servicemen and their actions in Abu Ghraib to the highest corridors of power.

    I also wantred to let you know that on Inauguration Day, I sat and watched the entire Obama speech, as I did on Election Night when he won, and I have told numerous people with no shame that we need to give him a chance, and at the very least he can't do much worse than what we've dealt with the past several years. I found his speech pretty inspiring, and it obviously shows that he has a grasp of history, which is always a good sign in a leader.

    Hell, I don't even care for Rush Limbaugh as I find him a shamelss apologist for the Republicans, even when he needs to hold their feet to the fire. I won't accept blind allegiance, and Rush's arrogance and pomposity actually kind of offend me- every time when I hear some of his show, I KNOW he's talking to his $100,000 and up a year base- I don't feel at all like part of his audience, and I'm ctually kind of proud of that.

    I detest rich, privileged, entitled folks who think that they're better than everyone based on a portfolio or their last name more than almost anythign else...

    So..................there it is. Any thoughts on my statement about the Joker?

  5. Joey:

    Round two, eh? :

    My issue with your initial statement is that many right-wingers often claim not to be about moral equivalencies.

    Yet the subtext of your initial message is clearly "Bush may be bad" but "Clinton was just as bad." It creates a false equivalency.

    When there is no equivalency.

    Clinton's personal behavior was certainly reprehensible but it's impossible to argue that - as a commander in chief - he left the country in a state anywhere in the ballpark as catastrophic as we find ourselves today, in Bush's wake.

    I mean, why did you focus only on Clinton?

    If you were simply pointing out that there have been another scandal-ridden administrations, why didn't you comment on Reagan's tenure?

    What about the terrorist bombing in Lebanon that killed 200+ brave U.S. marines on his watch? And his inept response...invading Grenada two-or-three days later?

    Or to pick a democrat, how about LBJ and the false Gulf of Tonkin incident?

    You could have well made that general point and I would have happily conceded it. I do concede it.

    But your comment was pointedly about creating equivalency between Bush and Clinton. Blaming Clinton, actually, but not holding Bush to that same high standard. (Which, admittedly you absolutely did in your second comment. Thank you.)

    So far as the Joker is concerned --I am a man of basic but high-minded principle: his capture and punishment should fall within the boundaries of the letter of the law, pure and simple.

    It is the (difficult) job of law enforcement officials to apprehend suspects, and to do so while maintaining the letter of the law...or there can be no justice.

    We know Joker committed egregious crimes because the movie showed us him doing it. In real life, things are rarely that simple. We don't get to see crimes committed in close-up.

    And that is why we have law enforcement and a judicial system, to aid us in accurately determining guilt or innocence.

    For instance, the FBI has NEVER charged Osama Bin Laden for the 9/11 attacks. Why?

    Because no "legal" case has ever been constructed against him. No evidence has ever been brought to trial. (And god, how I wish it would be...)

    He should be apprehended, tried with all the evidence we have, and then legally punished if found guilty.

    Because if we try him within the boundaries of the law and he is found guilty, we then have the moral authority to dispatch him in a manner fitting his crime (including execution).

    But if we don't try him? If we don't gather evidence? If we just kill him? If we just assume his guilt because it seems like the best answer?

    Then, I submit, we have lost our moral authority.

    And part of our national soul.

    Really, this is about us; who we are, as a people -- not about him.

    We have an obligation to live our ideals. That's what separates America from the terrorists.

    If we just pluck "suspicious" people off the streets, accuse them of being terrorists and lock them up without trial, without evidence...we're no better than the dictators, the tyrants or the terrorists.

    And that's one reason I despise Bush. When you fight a horrible, vicious enemy, you don't lower yourself -- and your country -- to that enemy's level. We didn't do it in World War II. We didn't do it in Gulf War I.

    No, in those most difficult of moments, we cling harder to the very thing we fight to preserve: our ideals.

    I submit Bush failed to live up to that great American standard. By spying illegally. By torturing illegally. By invading the wrong country.

    In TDK, Gordon and Batman similarly had the obligation to apprehend the Joker within the boundaries of the law.

    Just like they had the obligation not to protect the reputation of "one of their own" (Dent) when he behaved as badly as the Joker did.

    They didn't live up to their moral and legal obligation.

    Therefore they are not heroes.

    They're dangerous. They broke the law.

    Joker is a monster. Who deserves to be punished. But he "wins" if he turns us into monsters.

    That, my friend, is my point.