Just Above Sunset
March 7, 2004 - How George Bush and Mel Gibson are connected in some way...
seen from Canada… As seen from the UK…
First, from Canada’s
Globe and Mail, perhaps one of the dullest newspapers published in North America, comes an item by Rick Salutin.
… Note that the film's stress is not on inflicting relentless pain; it is on passive, unresisting
endurance of it. That is the sense in which I think the film is also a moment
in the life of Mr. Bush's America. It
is the companion film to Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, in which he captures the deep tension, fear and anxiety
in the lives of many Americans, especially since 9/11, but also before: their endless expectation of danger and the lash about
to fall. You see it in myriad small ways: when people are on family holidays
at theme parks, looking warily around for terrorists, or drawing too frequently on the hose from the water bottle strapped
to mom's waist, lest they all dehydrate. Then it happened -- 9/11 -- everything
they anticipated and more. It swiftly became The Passion of America. It had meaning. It was not a disaster akin to other
disasters that strike humans all the time, and always will. Rather, as the authorities
constantly intoned: The world has changed forever. Not just the United States,
the world. You could say exactly that about the passion a la Gibson. In his film, one of the few things Jesus says, in contrast to the endless abuse he suffers, is, "I make
all things new."
Curious. It’s almost as if George Bush then is some messianic figure who will avenge those “world-changing”
attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon a few years ago. He is the soldier
of Christ, sort of, who, although born too late for the Crusades and that effort to win back Jerusalem, and who also seems
to have missed the Inquisition, and wasn’t around in the late fifteenth century to drive the Jews out of Spain (that
was curiously in 1492, the very year Columbus set sail to make our new world) still can order Iraq be flattened and remade
into what we think it should be. Praise the Lord!
Christian fundamentalists are also the core audience for this movie. They focus on the rewards of the Rapture and Second Coming, which will only occur due to the awful grimness
of the passion of Christ. Since, in this worldview, Christ took on the burden
of your sin, i.e. your essence, by his death, there is little to do but wait,
in unbearable tension, for his return, while gratefully recalling his sacrifice. A
passion play embodies this state, and this film is a cinematic passion play.
Well, these days we’re
not going to go out and kill some Jews to avenge the suffering of Christ – as many Jews do vote, and Israel is our ally. But there are always plenty of Muslims.
On the same day this Canadian
made his argument, Martin Woollacott across the pond in the UK decided the problems isn’t our fixation on our own noble
suffering and messianic duty to remake the world, its just we’re real good at holding grudges.
Trollope said that, after money in the bank, a grudge is the next best thing. His is an observation that is as true in international affairs as it is in personal life, and the United
States is a striking example of it. America rarely overlooks an insult, and never
closes the door entirely on a past defeat or humiliation unless the perpetrator has in the meantime been crushed. Thus the "axis of evil" made little sense in its grouping of three very different societies, and even less
in its implication that they were somehow allies. But it made eminent sense as
a grudge list.
Actually, I never thought
about these three troubling nations being just “unfinished business” but perhaps there is an element of that in
The American instinct for revenge, evident also in the treatment of Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua and,
for many years, China, is more marked than that of other powers. Perhaps America's
lack of the experience of defeat on its own continent made reverses in the wider world especially difficult to swallow when
they inevitably came.
Perhaps this is too harsh. Only Cuba now is a nation we regard is worthy of anything we can do to make life awful
America's historic reluctance to be satisfied with anything less than complete victory is now
being tested in Iraq, where it seems inevitable that the full conservative program will not be pushed through, although how
far it will fall short of the ambitions of men like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz has yet to be seen. If, for instance, America does not get the right to base substantial forces in that country indefinitely,
and Iraq wobbles off on a more or less independent path, the scene may well be set for another of those "Who lost the war?"
dramas that have punctuated American political life since the Chinese communists ousted their nationalist foes in the late
40s. That will be especially so if by that time President Kerry rather than President
Bush is in charge.
Gosh, it sound as if we’re
in a pickle. The choice is smash and grab – slam those who over the long
years made us look bad, but only if we can get away with it - and if we can get
[The Bush administration] may be prepared to soften its line on disobedient allies such as France
and Germany. But its reluctance to give Libya the benefit of the doubt, its closed
views on Cuba, its distaste for unavoidable co-operation with Iran, its view of China as a future rival and its crablike approach
to negotiations with North Korea, are all indications of how long-lived the American grudge can be.
I don’t think this guy likes us very much, or, at the very least, he doesn’t much like what our leaders do to get even with nations we remember as having done something really, really bad a long time ago.
He probably doesn’t “get” the Hatfield and McCoy business either. Some things you just never let go. Immature? Perhaps. But we have our pride.
At least the Canadian fellow only thinks we’re a bit daft on religion.
This issue updated and published on...
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