As we attempt to slide slowly back into some perverted new version of our regular lives, as we search for comfort in our leaders, our suddenly careful late night comedy shows and our community flagwaving contests, there is a danger, in my opinion, of not learning jack shit. And to see something like this happen, in our own country this time, and to not learn jack shit, is just plain stupid.
Or maybe we are learning. If you’re watching the news or reading the newspaper, you get one picture of what’s going on in people’s minds across the country and around the world. But talking to actual human beings in daily life and checking my e-mail, I get an entirely different one.
Thanks, everybody, for reading, tolerating, and in some cases even appreciating my long rant of a column last month. I got many supportive e-mails, interesting forwards and links. I heard from people on the west coast and east coast, from England and from New Zealand. You might be surprised that almost every single person who Wrote to me actually agreed with my anti-war, anti-US government stance. The one guy who disagreed was very supportive of my work and fair in his criticisms. I didn’t even once want to Write back that he should fuck off.
In this column I’m gonna explore the issues a little further connecting them to movies – both of the documentary and the action-adventure type variety – that I have been watching lately. You know, taking little baby steps back into what I now realize is an important role of Cinematic analytical type Writing, or whatever, that my sight fulfills.
So I started Writing this damn column, I’m not even halfway done and the next thing you know the fuckers start bombing Afghanistan. Well I think you know how I feel about that. It’s a damn shame but my column will be even more relevant now. These are movies that bring up issues and feelings that I think are important for americans to consider right now.
In a time like this we turn to our culture for comfort, but I think we can turn to it for more than that. If you want escapist movies I don’t blame you. But when you grow a set of balls then please join me in watching the following movies.
(Just kidding ladies, don’t grow any balls, at least not on my account. But if you want to this is america, you can do what you damn please. At least until some cataclysmic event or something causes us to decide it would be safer to take away the constitution, etc. But that’s never gonna happen.)
(No seriously though, if there’s any crazy shit you want to grow, whether its balls or anything, and you’re in the US – do it FAST. The days of individuality, diversity and debate are over. America’s not about that shit anymore. Now it’s “unity” and “divided we fall.” Sure you have the FREEDOM to believe and say what you want, but with freedom comes responsibility – the responsibility to not believe and say THAT.)
So, Writing to you from right here in this UNITED country, where we stand TOGETHER, and nobody at all disagrees with the idea that terrorism is bad but war is different, somehow, I’m pretty sure, I bring you:
VERN’S TOP NINE MOVIES TO
WATCH IN THESE
1. THE PANAMA DECEPTION
2. COVERUP: BEHIND THE IRAN CONTRA AFFAIR
both directed by BARBARA TRENT
I, like many americans, am an ignorant motherfucker. I mean seriously, I’m even worse than alot of people out there. And if I want to learn a little more about what’s going on here I’m not gonna be able to read every book on the topic. I mean I still haven’t even finished Mama Black Widow yet and I LOVE Iceberg Slim.
But I figured at the very least I could pick up some documentaries from the “Politics” section at my local independent video store. I decided to fill myself in on some of the nasty shit that our government has been involved in in the past few years. Like, since 1980. I didn’t realize until I watched them all that three of the videos I picked up, COVERUP: BEHIND THE IRAN CONTRA AFFAIR, DESTINATION NICARAGUA and PANAMA DECEPTION were all from the same director, Barbara Trent.
This is not a director I would follow because of her unique cinematism. There is a tendency for corny music and when she interviews people in foreign languages, she dubs them instead of subtitling them. (What is this, Miramax?) But what’s important about her as a director is her urge to peel behind our government’s carefully constructed PR and get at what they are really doing in other countries, through eye witness testimony and footage of the carnage left behind. And it is always chilling to see this very convincing evidence contrasted with news anchors, military spokesmen and presidents of the united states giving their official versions of what happened.
If you think the invasion of Panama was a clean little justified military action, you NEED to see Panama Deception. Honestly, I think ALL Americans owe it to themselves and to the world to see this movie. It should be required viewing in high schools, and anyone who mouths off about invading whatever country is the bad guy this year should have to watch it again, just to remind them what they’re talking about when they say invade.
This movie is almost more relevant now than it even was then. You see Noriega’s background with the CIA (think bin Laden), George Bush’s nonsensical, crowd-pleasing speeches about freedom and democracy (think George Bush), the questionable but unquestioned events which allowed us to enter the war, the complete media blackout (with american soldiers actually taking cameras away from journalists, exposing film, even executing one photographer), and the corporate media’s complete willingness to go along with the government’s fairy tale of a bloodless war to stop a drug trafficker (which we see was actually a brutal massacre to install a different, more america friendly drug trafficking government).
Even more ominous, when compared to current events, is Coverup: Behind the Iran Contra Affair. This one goes a little more into the background of the CIA’s terrorist activities and assassinations in South America. Then it explores Bush and Reagan’s deal with Iran: delay the release of hostages until after the election, and we’ll give you many, many, many weapons of mass destruction. They, of course, won the election by a landslide, the hostages were released the day after the inauguration, and Iran got their weapons. Twenty years later, George Bush Part 2 was elected president by a minority of the small percentage of americans who vote, under extremely questionable and undemocratic circumstances. But that’s totally a coincidence.
Then of course the movie explores that great secret war, Nicaragua. Please watch the movie, but let me sum this up for my younger readers. There was a revolution in Nicaragua, but the CIA didn’t like the new government. So they funded a terrorist army called the Contras and trained them to torture and terrorize civilians, and also helped them traffic their drugs into america.
Yes, remember that fact. The contras were terrorists, trained by the United States. They deliberately targeted civilian populations in order to spread fear. Notoriously, they had “torture manuals” printed up for them by the good ol’ U.S. of A.
To stop communism, though, so it was all completely justified.
Most disturbingly relevant is the section talking about Rex 84, the plan to use a terrorist attack to suspend the constitution and round up perceived enemies of the government. During the hearings one congressman asked Oliver North if this really was planned, and the chairman immediately demanded a secret session in the name of national security.
But that was a long time ago, they wouldn’t try that again. Don’t worry.
And now, Vern goes into some seriously paranoid, conspiracy theory type shit.
Let me tell you what I think is gonna happen here. Some ways down the line, it will come out that the plane that was headed for the White House and crashed in Pennsylvania was actually shot down by US fighter jets. Ah, so that’s why on the 11th there was no footage of that plane for hours and all we knew was that it crashed “in an undisclosed location.” And why we never heard anything about what they learned from the black box they recovered.
It was a tough decision, but if they had to shoot it down they had to shoot it down, right? So why would they hide this? And then some day it will come out that the CIA and the Bush administration knew about the hijackings in advance. (So that explains why known terrorists were able to take classes at military flight schools. And how a dozen known associates of America’s #1 terrorist enemy – one of them on the FBI’s most wanted list – were able to buy plane tickets for the same time, in their own names, on four different planes that happened to be mostly empty.)
So they let these guys go through with their plot, until one of the planes was going to crash into the White House, and then they took over from there.
But that’s so preposterous! Just because George Bush’s dad, during his tenure as head of the secret police, vice president and president, orchestrated numerous well documented assassinations, covert wars, coverups, coups, drug trafficking operations, the complete destruction of entire cities, and the violent deaths of literally hundreds of thousands of civilians around the world– I mean, it doesn’t mean anything. I’m sure he’s very different from his dad.
And really Vern, think about it. What could this kind of thing accomplish? Okay, so the deadlock in congress was instantly eliminated, and the “anti-terrorism” measures right wingers have been pushing for for years will get passed in, what, a month? And they were able to create an entire new department with powerful positions for their friends. (They get their own CIA!) And they have already announced a “war on terrorism” which gives them an open ended reason to attack any country, overthrow any government, arrest or spy on any person, and smash any domestic political group, now or any time before the abstract concept of terrorism has been completely eradicated from the planet, if they say there is terrorism involved. And they don’t even have to present evidence, because of the ol’ national security.
And okay, so we’re already in debt again, setting the stage for the banks to bail the country out again in exchange for kickbacks, like Bush’s brother did before. And the weapons industry is probaly in pretty healthy shape now. And the american people are so scared they might even stand behind that ridiculous missile defense system that reagan used to push for, and Bush Part 2 pushes for now, but nobody has ever taken seriously, that used to be called Star Wars but now I guess will either be The Matrix or Lord of the Rings.
And Bush, who a few months ago was still struggling to make the public think he was at some point elected as president, is now wildly popular. He was even able to stand up in front of Congress and refer to himself as “democratically elected” without so much as a stifled snort in the room. Alleged lefties all across the country are so scared they are asking people to stand behind the president and not voice any legitimate concerns or criticisms at this time. Some sort of etiquette thing.
But other than those few small things, what on earth would Bush and the CIA possibly have to gain from doing something so horrible?
I know probaly none of my readers will agree with me on this. And I hope you’re all right. I hope this is an actual terrorist attack which just happened to set up Mr. Bush and friends for their wildest, horniest fantasies of world domination and power.
But let’s look at this. Even if I’m completely wrong, I think it is clear that Bush and friends are not making a sincere attempt to stop terrorism, but are instead out to take full advantage of this, uh, completely unexpected terrorist attack.
Because if you are legitimately trying to get the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, going in and bombing is not a logical reaction at all. Going in and negotiating is.
You don’t go on tv and make an ultimatum like The Joker or some villain on WWF wrestling. You, or your ambassadors, go try to figure out what in the hell it would take to make them see your way.
This is not simple incompetence and lack of common sense on the part of Bush. And it is not just macho warmongering. It is a deliberate move to take advantage of the situation for warmaking purposes.
Ah shit. I’m sorry fellas. I’m on a rampage again. Let’s lighten things up. Let’s watch a cartoon or something. How ’bout…
3. GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES
This is a japanese cartoon movie from the studio (but not director) that did the princess mononoke. But this one is about a boy and his baby sister surviving bombings during world war 2. Seeing their parents getting killed, trying to survive with no food. Living in a city where death is so commonplace that people blandly exchange tips for disposing of corpses like they’re giving somebody directions at the gas station.
This is the saddest damn cartoon I’ve ever seen. Completely realistic and dramatic. It does not concern itself with the politics of war, it just looks at it as a primal force, from the perspective of these two poor kids caught in the middle of it all. They don’t have anything to do with this shit, fer cryin out loud!
Don’t watch this unless you’re prepared to cry. But at the same time it makes you feel good to know there’s at least one war movie out there that tells this story, the story of the innocent people caught in the middle of it all. Because even if this war really is necessary, then we shouldn’t be enjoying it. We should be honoring the people of Afghanistan who are facing their own grave of the fireflies, for our safety, like virgins being thrown into a volcano.
4. BILLY JACK
5. THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK
6. BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON
I got buddies that tell me Vern, Billy Jack is hippie shit. How can you like that hippie shit?
Let me tell you what Billy Jack is. Billy Jack is OUR version of Rambo. I’ve always liked the Snake Plisskens and the Roddy Piper in They Lives, and the different action heroes who stand up against the establishment and the government but also happen to kick alot of ass (and chew bubble gum).
I admit Billy Jack movies got alot of corny shit in ’em. Alot of scenes of kids strummin guitars, singin folk songs and then you see Billy Jack in the audience, crying.
I’m not gonna lie. That’s in there.
But I’m willing to take all the guitar strummin in the world in exchange for what we get here, which is an action hero who stands for all the values that the other action heroes oughta stand up for anyway. This is not only a guy who is on the side of the Indians, he’s on their side NOW, exposing the corrupt politicians and cops that TO THIS DAY are fucking them over. How many movies even acknowledge that natives still EXIST, let alone stand up for their issues?
Then you got the cops. Cops in Billy Jack movies are not heroes, and when they’re violent they’re not cool. THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK is all about Kent State and other similar, lesser known shootings on college campuses. Police are violent, they hate hippies, they hate indians, they set people up, they beat people up, they enforce the law selectively.
The corruption in these movies goes as deep as it does in real life. My favorite is BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON which is actually a remake of that Capra picture, DUNSTON CHECKS IN or whatever it was called. In this one Billy Jack becomes a senator, and at first really believes in the process, trying to be a good, progressive politician that stands up for the people.
But every fucking politician is a lying scumbag in this movie, and the system is set up in their advantage. Like in real life, there’s not a glimmer of hope anywhere in Washington. Every single one of these fuckers is the head of or the property of big business (in this case the nuclear industry). Everything they do is to fuck over the people and make money in the process. Even the ones who seem like idealists sold out years ago.
There’s not any guitar strummin in this movie. Mostly just straight up political expose. But Senator Billy Jack is sure to have an action scene in there, where he gets to take his boots off and do karate on the CIA street fighting team who try to rape his daughter and blame it on black street gangs.
Tom Laughlin, who plays Billy Jack, also directs and writes the movies under pseudonyms. He joins the ranks of Takeshi Kitano and Clint Eastwood as great Badass Laureates in the films of Cinema. Although his films are perhaps not as accomplished as Kitano’s and Eastwood’s, I feel that his works have a spirit that our cinemas are crying out for in this time of war and fear. We’re probaly just gonna get more flagwaving fuckwads castrating arabs for uncle sam (the FBI is already going to hollywood filmmakers, including Spike Jonze and David Fincher, to help dream up possible terrorist plots to look out for. How much you want to bet these meetings are really about encouraging pro-american propaganda and discouraging movies that raise difficult questions?)
I want more asskickers who question violence, search for spiritual peace, and defy the man. And sometimes do karate. I want more Billy Jacks.
7. SECRETS OF THE CIA
I’m sure there are many good videos out there about the CIA, and many with a more comprehensive look than this at the group’s history and specific deeds. But I think this basic, mainstream tv special, released by Warner Brothers Home Video, makes it pretty clear that that shit ain’t right.
The show is made up of interviews with several former CIA operatives, and even a secretary. They seem like regular, friendly people – the type of people who would not be able to stomach the sickening deeds of the CIA. They talk about what brought them to the CIA, what they expected, and the harsh realities of what they got.
This is not something you’re gonna see playing on the discovery channel again any time soon, because right in the introduction they refer to the CIA as a terrorist organization. It is hard not to think of bin Laden’s training camps while listening to stories of CIA tricks: sabotaging food trucks in Cuba to hurt the economy, blowing up civilian bridges, torturing, assassinating, framing, propagandizing. There is even a story about a heart-attack-causing poison, frozen into a dart and used for nearly undetectable assassinations.
I mean, that’s what the CIA does. They interfere in other countries without the hassle of carpet bombing. They fund rebellions (often by drug dealers) in countries, then install their own puppet leaders. They have bombed leaders and journalists. Remember when they overthrew the democratically elected leader of Chile and replaced him with Pinochet, who turned out to be only slightly more cuddly than Hitler? Yeah, that was wrong, in my opinion.
I mean okay, go ahead, support the war on terrorism. But if you do then you MUST demand that terrorism by Americans is stopped along with the terrorism on Americans.
The CIA taking part in a “War on Terrorism” is like the Mafia putting a hit on organized crime. Put that on a baseball cap, why don’tchya? Yes, let’s go ahead and stomp this “evil” from the world, but we can’t stop before we’ve erased it from our own country as well.
Because if we don’t, and if there’s justice in the world, somebody’s gonna come in for us some day. As many have pointed out recently, Chile could quite reasonably want Henry Kissinger’s “head on a platter” for his criminal participation in the shameful events in their country. And can you even imagine how many war crimes George H.W. Bush could be tried for between his CIA days, Nicaragua, Panama and Iraq?
And then, if our government refused to give them up, god help those who live near whatever cave they hide in. Or by the CIA headquarters which, by the way, is named after George Bush.
We are only attacking military and Bush-related targets. Collateral damage has been kept to a minimum. Although we have no way of backing this up, we believe American claims of civilian casualties are inflated. The bombing of the shopping mall was accidental.
8. SCHOOL OF ASSASSINS
I got a good one for you. Ever heard of the School of the Americas? It is an actual training facility, located in Georgia, where our tax dollars are used to train South American troops to fight dirty. Manuel Noriega was one distinguished graduate. Many infamous dictators, death squads and human rights abusers were trained at this school, and many of them even have their pictures hanging in the “Wall of Fame.”
Like I said, I’m an ignorant motherfucker. I never even HEARD of this before. And I’m hoping most other people haven’t either because if so, how could they let this go on?
There’s a group called School of the Americas Watch (I believe www.soaw.org is the web address) which could tell you more about it than I could. Please read up. I think you will agree that Georgia might as well be the next bombing target in the War on Terrorism.
School of Assassins is a short documentary about the topic, narrated by Susan Sarandon. If you know of a better movie about it please let me know. I would like to see somebody exploit it crassly in an action movie so it can enter the popular culture. But I haven’t figured out yet how to get Bruce or Jet taking on South American troops in Georgia without it seeming ridiculous.
9. MANUFACTURING CONSENT
I want to apologize for throwing so many political documentaries at you at once, but until Steve Seagal or somebody starts making pictures that deal with this issues this is all I can suggest. That’s why the Billy Jack pictures mean so much to me – they are as close as we’ve come so far to combining these two forces.
MANUFACTURING CONSENT is a documentary about Noam Chomsky. And what the fuck do I care about some linguist? I can’t even speak english. Well in this movie Noam Chomsky discusses his theories about the mass media and how they, in cahoots with the government and the corporations who own them, shape individuals’s perception of world events. Not just through what they cover and don’t cover, but also by limiting the debate – for example, by the time I turned on the tv on September 11th it had already been decided that we were at war and had to retaliate, and the debate was about HOW we would retaliate, and how we would pick somebody to retaliate against. Get involved in this debate and you might forget that wait a minute, isn’t there some other option to weigh against retaliation? Oh well, I guess they must’ve ruled that out before I woke up.
The movie is pretty balanced, often showing interviews with people from the New York Times and other companies that seem to simplify Chomsky’s ideas into conspiracy theory, but they make good points. Still it is hard not to notice how exactly Chomsky’s theories apply to television today. There is a little about the Gulf War and how the major newspapers all rallied behind Bush’s refusal to negotiate with “the aggressor” Saddam Hussein, without anyone pointing out the obvious hypocrisy of this argument coming from the dude that invaded Panama.
No, this isn’t a vast media conspiracy. But could it really be that everyone in the media is a fucking moron and doesn’t notice these things? I doubt it. It is in the best interest of these corporations to leave out certain stories that go against the official story. I heard a story today on the NPR about how AOL/Time/Warner and other corporations who own cable news stations are actually losing money by reporting extensively on the war, and how they are expected to bring this up at a later date to convince the government to be more lenient about their mergers.
Gee, does that sound like a climate that will lead to fair and accurate reporting? Do you think any of these corporations are going to look the other way while their stations report stories that are unfavorable toward US military action? Or are they going to continue tossing out whatever garbage Bush and friends want them to, like good little boys and girls? He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
The most powerful section in MANUFACTURING CONSENT is a comparison of the media coverage of two similar, genocidal atrocities that were going on at the same time: the one in Cambodia and the one in East Timor. The Cambodian one, of course, was communist, while the East Timor one was backed by the US, using mostly US weapons. And while the american media bent over backwards to show their outrage at Cambodia, there was little coverage of East Timor. This is illustrated dramatically when the filmmakers unroll the 70 inches of New York Times column space devoted to East Timor next to the 1,175 devoted to Cambodia.
The government and the media are not content to talk to us honestly, as adults. They have to paint these things into good guys and bad guys, and they never play fair. Well fuck man, of course I hate Osama bin Laden. I’m not on his side. But being on the side of the US military is not the other option. The world trade center attacks were bad because they KILLED NEARLY 6,000 PEOPLE. I don’t care if they were done for a legitimate cause. And I feel exactly the same way about US military bombings, burnings, assassinations, etc. Yes, stopping terrorism would be a good cause. But it would not legitimize killing all these people in Afghanistan. How in fuck’s name is terrorism bad and militarism okay? Militarism is just terrorism on a bigger budget.
Maybe you don’t agree with me. So we should debate it. This is a topic that should be considered. I haven’t seen it mentioned on tv, on the radio, in the major newspapers, or the major news web sights. Have you? You’d think there was no one out there who had considered that a WAR on TERRORISM might be a little bit hypocritical.
But I must be the only one, otherwise it would be on tv.
– – –
In these troubled times, it is important for us NOT to turn our back on Badass Cinema. At the same time, I think it is a good time for us to consider raising the standards for political content in a Badass picture. I hope we don’t see any more action movies that read like government press releases about war. It is not impossible for a movie to kick ass and provoke thought at the same time. And a real Badass is willing to take on not just enemies with guns, but huge, crushing ideas. And I never thought I’d say this but it really can be braver to go in and talk then to just run in and kick a guy in the balls.
I mean, can you imagine something more Badass than an American ambassador strolling in and TALKING to the Taliban? Would that not show the world that AMERICA HAS ENORMOUS BALLS?
I don’t know what all went on there but I gotta admire Jesse Jackson. Naturally since the man has run for president in cahoots with a major political party, I don’t trust him any more than his wife does. But I admire a man who can go in and piss off the US government by talking people into freeing hostages. (And he was already an enemy of Bush, since he was the loudest voice about the illegitimacy of Bush’s “election.” Notice that the story about Jackson’s love child broke right before the inauguration? Not a coincidence.)
I mean, what could possibly be more threatening to the Man than saving lives with conversation? Not one explosion, rape or throat slitting was used in his previous hostage negoations, from what I’ve heard. So our military government can’t even make heads or tales of it. If he was going in there like Bruce and picking them off one by one, that would be one thing. Very different from our military’s tactic of burning down houses, burying people alive etc., but at least it involves killing. This negotiation business is new.
Of course the corporate media is going to look down on this. The man is going outside the Bush adminstration to solve things in a more peaceful manner. So he is portrayed as just grandstanding. Trying to get attention.
Who the fuck cares? If the man can stop a world war, give him all the attention he wants. Give him his own sitcom, I don’t care. Go get ’em, Jesse.
Talk about ungrateful, jesus. In the comical books you nerds read, do they do that to Superman? He comes in and saves a bunch of people from a volcano eruption or something, and everybody gets all pissed and says he’s interfering? That would be stupid.
Notice that Jesse wanted the Taliban to hand over bin Laden not to the US, but to the World Court? This makes Bush uncomfortable because every war his dad has been in has violated numerous international laws. American Presidents feel about World Court the same way the rest of us feel about cops. They feel about the Geneva convention the way many feel about having to piss in a jar.
If Bush really wanted to be fair, this would be the deal: you hand over bin Laden to the World Court, we’ll hand over my dad. He’s getting old, what does he care? I’ll try to convince him to spill the beans on everything they did in his CIA days, during the secret war in nicaragua, the invasion of Panama and the Gulf War.
Anyway the most brilliant thing Jesse Jackson came up with was saying that a War on Terrorism must also be a War on Hunger and Poverty. Because it is economic conditions that breed terrorists. They don’t just magically sprout up waiting to be blown up.
This is an obvious point that any level headed individual already knows. But Jesse’s unique twist was to call efforts to relieve poverty a War. Because maybe if the American people are told there is a War on Hunger and Poverty, they’ll be more interested. Make us a logo, a little theme music. Get Bush on there making threats and ultimatums against poverty. Pretend that at any second, we might kill thousands of people in their homes in order to stop hunger and poverty. This way the congress, the news outlets and sports fans around the country will get behind the cause. The World Wrestling Federation will certainly take advantage of it if there is potential bloodshed involved.
America loves War!
So come enlist in my War On War. Let me know what you think of the movies I’ve recommended above. And please let me know of any movies that you think are important, appropriate, or comforting pictures to watch at this time. Pictures that take on a new meaning or urgency in light of recent events. Or especially any pictures that belong on the shelf next to that sweet Billy Jack dvd box set.
As always, but even more than usual, thanks for listening, friends. Be safe, and don’t be afraid to speak your mind.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.