Monday, 21 March 2011

Wider Reading | Why The West Is Not, Contrary To Popular Belief, A Character From The Film 'Taken'

"Don't worry, Jack. He's just mad because you destroyed more of the city than usual."
Danny from Last Action Hero*

I may have written here before that I don't care for the Luc Besson movie Taken. An exploitative, scaremongering take on the horrors of sex slavery (the majority of victims of said industry are apparently not impoverished girls from impoverished backgrounds in impoverished countries, duped into a terrible lifestyle of dependency, abuse and violence, but rather wealthy all-American blonde girls who get snatched up by an international, omnipotent syndicate at great expense, just so the fat and lustful Turk can get his sweaty hands on some white women. We never actually see him twirl his greasy foreign moustache while crooning about the 'innocent pale-faced infidel beauty' or some such, but it probably ended up in the deleted scenes), it's also completely humourless. Let's face it, if I wanted to watch a racially-tinged, ultra-violent Papa Bear story, I'd pick one with some sense of irony and self-awareness, like Commando, or Titus Andronicus.

What Taken does - and its immediate predecessor, Man On Fire - by refusing to even smile at the absurdity of the whole thing, is to indicate that an emotively-resonant purpose excuses illegal, berserk and unilateral behaviour on the part of the Papa Bear hero. He blows up some poor henchman, having (somewhat unnecessarily) shoved explosives up his rectum? THEY TOOK HIS DAUGHTER! He endangers the French police force, which somehow cannot be relied upon to help him find an American citizen? THEY TOOK HIS DAUGHTER! See, it answers everything. And I don't think it can be denied that this image of the 'maverick' (read, 'unilateral renegade') who ignores the laws (I ain't no fancy-schmancy lawyer, so I don't know about 'legal'. But I can tell you what's 'right'), usually killing evil foreigners and causing havoc along the way, in order to get his single emotive aim achieved, has permeated the American action-movie consciousness as a true-blue hero...and that this archetype has some twisted relevance to aspects of US foreign policy in the past.

The thought arises simply because the stereotype of the USA as the self-righteous grizzly that romps into harm's way, ignoring the pleas of the sensible and rational-minded and causing mass slaughter wherever it goes in single-minded pursuit of one goal...well, it's a stereotype which has been raised in quite a few places in the past few days concerning Libya. And, in spite of Barack Obama pretty much turning to the camera and saying, 'We are not invading. We are not being gung-ho. It's not us. It's actually, er, Europe. And the Arab League. We're not even involved. Please don't see this as an act of Western imperialism', I have read commentators arguing any and all of the following;

1) The West is only attacking its sometime ally who up until now was providing them with oil so that it can get its hands on all the oil!!

2) If the West is bombing Gaddafi, why isn't it bombing Bahrain and Zimbabwe and China and Russia and every other country that oppresses, murders, and tortures, INCLUDING EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WEST? It clearly isn't the case that global politics, being deeply factional, generally results in the status quo being observed unless a ruler's actions and words put him so clearly beyond the pale that some kind of consensus can be reached. It's - (deep breath, shrilly) - HYPOCRISY!!!**

3) In 1986 Norman Tebbit said we shouldn't feel any sympathy for Libyan civilians. WHY HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR TUNE NOW, TORIES????

4) (with scathing sarcasm) Thank God, we're going to stop the Brutal Dictator(TM) and save the Brave Democracy-Loving People (TM) because Right Is On Our Side (TM).***

And, most acrobatically of all,

5) The West knows the bombing will not be enough to stop Gaddafi. Don't you fools realise? It's all part of their counter-revolutionary plan to bring down the revolution by pretending to support it!

Which is more than a little irritating. Firstly, because I don't like to subscribe to the view that quite so many articulate people can be utterly demented. And secondly because real concerns about the problems of international intervention (when are the intervening forces deemed to have done 'enough'? If intervention becomes the rule, where will the line be drawn in future? Can our governments be trusted not to take advantage of the political vacuum after a tyrant's removal, and to accept the possible rise of a democratically-elected administration which doesn't necessarily like them all that much? Can our nations afford, financially speaking, to bear the responsibility of foreign intervention? Is it even legal to interfere in another nation's internal affairs if they don't threaten our own...if not, isn't that deeply selfish and apathetic? If so, isn't that blatantly open to abuse?) are being stifled by some quarters who want to play the 'this is Iraq all over again' card even when the comparison is patently idiotic and the US policy is being dictated partly by their massive wobbly that this might be perceived by other governments as being 'another Iraq'.

We see, for example, Vladimir Putin putting all of our Evil Cynical Oil-Loving Money-Obsessed Gun-Trading Overlords(TM) to shame by first refusing to veto the coalition's actions, then by condemning them publicly today, bringing up the emotively charged C-word in a sentence where it really had no place. Care to explain precisely how that resolution passed in order to save Arabs' lives from systematic genocide equates to the actions of the Crusades, Mr Putin(TM)? Oh, right, you'd rather have me dragged away by your bare-chested, polonium-snorting thugs, wouldn't you?

For all the evils that our governments do, for everything they fuck up, it's saddening to see their motives reduced to those of the villains in Taken - materialist baddies who want to snatch up the blushing, virginal young girl for their own nefarious purposes. The UK is not a cunning, manipulative and ill-intentioned supervillain in the mould of those sex slavers. If anything, we're more like Commando's Bennett - an over-energetic bloke in a bizarre, clearly outdated chainmail suit and a moustache, who talks a lot of smack talk but actually lacks the ability to get a great deal done, and who really, really needs to let off some steam.

* A film that fails to deconstruct Arnie's actual action persona nearly so much as Commando, in spite of an excellent Hamlet skit and the great Charles Dance being in it. Look at the above picture of Charles Dance. Isn't it soothing? Don't you wish he was typecast less?

** Good logic there, Michael Moore.

*** 'Trademarks' are the new 'Sceptical Bunny Finger Inverted Commas', it 'appears'.

(Flippant use of action movie plots as polemic material regarding real-life crises and tragedies is appalling, I know. But I do think it's relevant. Partly. Sort of.)

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