Dodgier and Dodgier
12.13.12 4:17 PM ET
Zero Dark Thirty and the Senators
So now we have a bipartisan collection of senators saying that Zero Dark Thirty has it wrong, and torture had nothing to do with getting bin Laden. Check out this rather eyebrow-lifting paragraph from the HuffPo's report:
"I would argue that it's not waterboarding that led to bin Laden's demise," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee. "It was a lot of good intelligence-gathering from the Obama and Bush administrations, continuity of effort, holding people at Gitmo, putting the puzzle together over a long period of time -- not torture."
John McCain weighed in similarly. And while Idaho Republican Jim Risch is not perhaps one of your better-known senators, look at this quote:
"The issue isn't does torture work or not. The issue is, is torture right, or is torture wrong?" Risch said. "And the answer to that is torture is wrong. It shouldn't even be a question as to whether it works or not. ... All the stuff I've looked at -- and I've looked at lots and lots and lots of stuff -- I don't think any reasonable person could reach a conclusion based on that, that torture works or it doesn't work."
Now, these people aren't being movie critics, and they're certainly not talking about censoring (or censuring) the film in an official way, so stay thy hand if you're about to type out censorship. They're just giving information about some facts they happen to know about, facts about which the movie is apparently telling a lie, and a rather monstrous one.
My bet would be that Bigelow and her partner honestly think they made a non-ideological movie, in the same way that a number of mainstream political reporters think that they are "just reporting" and producing copy that is utterly free of ideology. Sometimes they succeed at doing that, but often they fail, and when they fail, they may not even be aware of the ways in which their copy apes either liberal biases and presumptions or conservative ones. Most "straight reporting" in high-end publications reflects the biases of the class of people who read and purchase advertising in high-end publications, and it is therefore quite ideological in its way, even when by all appearances completely neutral.
It sounds the same here with Bigelow. Maybe she just didn't even think it was ideological. Maybe she's just so deeply immersed in that world that she doesn't know how it's affected her thinking, the way a fish may not know it's living in water. I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt here on the one hand. On the other, I suppose I'm suggesting that she's maybe not too bright, which would seem a surprise but really, just because someone directs good action films doesn't mean she's an intellectual.
I will say this again. The torture scene, and opening the film with real-life sound from 9-11...Those are very conscious decisions on the part of the filmmaker. Including them serves no educational or instructive purpose. Everyone going to see this film knows about those things. So if they serve no informational purpose, one must then ask, what purpose do they serve? The answer that they may serve a propagandistic one is scarcely an unreasonable answer (I stipulate that I still haven't seen it and will probably get to it over the holidays--I have a little kid and don't get to the movies much).
At the very least, they constitute, as my pal Julie Mason said to me yesterday while I was on her most excellent radio show on Sirius-XM to which you should listen, "terror porn."
But the bottom line is that it if the movie suggests that torture helped snare bin Laden, it is engaged in an abominable lie. I know Emily Bazelon wrote yesterday that she didn't quite think so, and while I hold Bazelon in generally very high regard, that particularly piece read a bit like one of those classic Slate counterintuitive, let's-not-be-predictable-liberals kind of pieces.