February 20, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

You don’t need a wind sock…to know which way the wind blows

The US film industry is definitely becoming more socially and politically aware. In the past few years movies have tackled issues including the drug trade (Traffic), international arms dealing (God of War), the impotence of international help in the face of genocide (Hotel Rwanda), racism in the US (Crash), the dark underbelly of the diamond industry (Blood Diamond) and of course terrorism (Syriana, Black Hawk Down, Three Kings, etc).
All of these were main stream movies, not sure how they all did in the box office, or even if they were all of US origin, the film industry being so global. But they showed a willingness to look beneath the facade of patriotism that infects so much US culture.
Lions for Lambs has the attraction of featuring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise. All of them are wonderful actors, all of them give terrific performances, as does Michael Pena, who also did a sterling job in Crash.
The movie has relatively little ‘action’ as we understand it these days, and is almost philosophical, with 3 interwoven scenarios, a now common technique. It explores the role of the media (Streep), the responsibilities of privilege (Redford and the young students) and the stumblings of government (Cruise). And yet, I found myself wondering why Redford gave it his support, as much of it was embarassingly simplistic.
So I squirm a bit and think that maybe this level of analysis is all the public can handle, and maybe that is where the US primary contests also find their level. Yet the movie was not as soppy as Saving Private Ryan, which sidestepped any issues deeper than tribal and family loyalties.
The arrogant, affluent student reminded me of my youngest son, who knows all yet does not act. But the idealists in the movie were squandering their talents, too. I don’t want to give away the story totally, which is predictable but still moderately interesting. My own idealism is of the sort that wishes no one would ever join an army or pick up weapons, and therefore other means of dispute resolution would have to prevail.
Of course, like so much of my blather, this is ridiculous and unrealistic. But consider: I have managed to get to this stage in life without ever experiencing real violence in my life. Not at home, not at work, not on the street, not even as a wanton hippie in foreign cultures. And I have never hurt anyone physically. (Unless you count the small yapping dog I kicked long ago when it was stupid enough to come after me on a day when I’d had bad news about car repairs I couldn’t afford.)
Many readers will also attest that it is possible to live without resort to violence. This is not because I am a Good Person or have led an exemplary life. (Au contraire, my own nature is quite ferocious, and flickers erratically between manic and rage.) Rather it is a result of social consciousness, adequate and equitable standards of living, the rule of law, etc.
Most young people today are mellow and maybe soft, but that’s the trade off. As a secondary teacher, I saw little teasing or sexism in the students, and much kindness.
Back to the movie, which does try to ask the questions about how and why the US got itself into such a bind in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even mentions the money going to Saudi princes. But the answers, as in real life, are glossed over.
Like a party where the one drunk is being jollied along, the necessary questions about the violent nature of US foreign policy can’t surface. It is just too tough, because the US economy is far too dependent on the war machine.
The ‘wind sock’, which the Cruise character accuses the media of being, just fills with air and tosses about. My son thinks Obama is much more than a populist, and is just the man to take the US away from its war-mongering. After all, Obama didn’t vote for the war. Hilary, on the other hand, while generally liberal, is still another ‘wind sock’ because she will cater to the vested interests who support her. Certainly the US public seems desperate for change, and Hilary is tainted with dynastic connections.
Violence infiltrates much of US culture, at least psychologically. On visits to NY or LA, I have seen hints and warnings, but not real danger. My rellies there don’t own guns. After yet another fatal shooting in the US on campus, a Professor Kellner from UCLA identifies an ‘out of control gun culture and male rage hieightened by hypermasculinity and violence in the media.’
Kellner recommends ‘stricter gun control laws; improved campus and workplace security; better guidance and mental health care on campuses and in communities; a reconstruction of education to promote programs advocating peace and social justice; and projecting new and more constructive images of masculinity.’
This is all laudable, sensible and to me, bleedin’ obvious. What also needs saying, and the Redford character in the movie comes close but doesn’t quite say it, is that the ultra violent, Roman role of the US internationally is also a source of this rage. Several articles have highlighted the violence committed by troops after they return home. Serving in Iraq would certainly tip me over the edge.
The wind sock is blowing back towards the US. The poison it delivers abroad will continue to pollute their society, and eventually they will simply go broke.
But perhaps my son is right, and Obama can really bring about meaningful change. What do you think?
PS I forgot to hit ‘publish’ on Thursday, apologies.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 2:39 pm | Comments (2) |


  1. i believe no fundamental change is possible. national character is less maleable than any individual, and the history of the usa has set them on the path of empire.
    empire has it’s own charcter, which infects the nation as well as the colonies.
    that said, there are caligulas, and marcus aureliuses. obama might soften the aggression, toward foreigners and the poor. instead of running to meet disaster, perhaps they will merely creep for a while.

    Comment by al loomis — February 23, 2008 @ 3:00 pm

  2. you are probably correct, the events of history are bigger than individuals, and reflect a broader zeitgeist.

    Comment by ronda jambe — February 23, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

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