January 29, 2013 by bmcconnelluwo
“The hotbed of American cinema has always been very much preoccupied with things American, particularly when it has addressed global issues.” — Hamid Dabashi
I recently read an article in the opinion section of Al Jazeera English’s website called “Hollywood loses the plot” by a professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University named Hamid Dabashi.
In the article he puts forward the idea that modern American films drop the story-telling ball when it comes to accurate, unbiased historical accounts of world events. Dabashi targets two films nominated for Academy Awards this year – Zero Dark Thirty and Argo.
Dabashi views themes films as having failed in their obligation to present accurate, full accounts of Osama Bin Laden’s killing and the 1979-1980 American Hostage Crisis respectively. He says each film fails to take into account wider political and global trends that were taking place at the time of these crises and, additionally, says that they fail to break out of an American-centric and even propagandistic account.
This is the article in a nutshell – I recommend anyone who is interested in this kind of thing to read it.
The first thing I thought when reading Dabashi’s opinion piece was “well, obviously”. American films are being sold primarily to their largest demographic – Americans – so of course they are going to be framed with an American bias.
Now as anyone who has ever read anything about the global film market can tell you American films are by far the dominant forms of cinematic expression throughout the world. So, if America-centric films such as Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are giving biased and propagandistic accounts of their respective historical events, the result is a transmitted imposition of these views and ideals onto people who a) might not agree b) might know they are being misled or c) not realize and take the account as truth.
Whichever is the case for the individual, it’s a problem in my eyes.
But this isn’t exactly new. The United States and other countries have been making nationalistic and biased films for years.
The problem that I see now when films like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are released as examples of “historic story-telling” is that it’s not just cinema that’s not allowing their audiences an informed account of the world.
There is a distinct failure by so many newsrooms in the United States who value ratings-driven stories over stories that people should and need to know about. By this I mean stories that broaden their understanding of the world, the people in it and what is happening to them.
Let me give you an example that was handed nicely to me today by my television professor.
Remember back when Paris Hilton was arrested for whatever it is she did that time to warrant having her arrested [I personally think she should be permanently jailed but that’s just me]?
Do you remember the media coverage of her release from jail? If you answered no to either of these questions then don’t worry – I either didn’t care enough at the time to know it [very likely] or was so disturbed by it that I forcibly removed it from my brain with a fork [even more likely].
For those of you who, like me, used the fork method, Hilton was released to a media circus that would have put coverage of the Million Man March to shame. Helicopters, relentless cycled coverage, “expert” panels and a regular army reserve of reporters swooped in on the “starlet” to cover her release after a well-deserved jail term and systematically neglected to tell anyone why the hell we should care about what they were covering.
Again, with credit to my television professor, this coverage – that saw its peak on CNN and made Anderson Cooper look like he was massaging his eyeballs with a hot poker – was deemed more important than any other domestic or international events that happened that day. Most notably was a devastating suicide attack in Iraq that killed over 200 people.
Paris Hilton, whose fame cannot be logically explained apart from she’s famous for being rich and an idiot bumped the mass killing of over 200 people in one of the most controversial wars in American history.
My point with this is that yes, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are prime examples of the American mainstream media’s propensity for the biased, American-centric and sometimes downright idiotic but there is a far greater problem than what the entertainment-driven Hollywood movie industry is doing.
Mainstream American news organizations such as Fox News, MSNBC and CNN who focus more on ratings and, in the case of the first two, political interest are robbing their viewers of informed coverage of events and issues that, in my opinion, ought to be considered important.
Take a look at the front pages of FoxNews.com compared to AlJazeera.com and tell me that the American organization here is giving their readers an informed and unbiased account of the world outside their own political and geographic bubble.
Maybe I myself am biased because of my status as a journalism student but I like to think that giving your readers and viewers an educated and unbiased accounts of both domestic and foreign
stories and weighing them on the scale of not how they affect one country but how they affect the world is a far more important thing that what Paris Hilton is doing or not doing with her life.
And watch the CNN coverage of her release – Anderson Cooper knows this.