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Laramie Movie Scope:
The aught decade in review

Films and media trends 2000-2010

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 13, 2010 -- I have never done a decade film roundup before, but I was asked to do one this time and I had some thoughts about how to make it into something more cohesive than just a “best of” list, but I'll throw in a best of list too, since I was asked to do that as well. This decade is known as the aught decade (as in “aught 6” for the year 2006, and so on). It might just as well have been called the naught decade, as in we'd have been a lot better off if it hadn't happened at all (more on that below).

We'll start with a “best of” list and then get into the related subjects of which film best exemplifies the decade (“Inglourious Basterds”) and which had the biggest impact on the decade (the TV show “24”). I also have a couple of brief notes on the most influential Youtube videos of the decade. The current decade doesn't end until the end of this year, just like the last century didn't end until the year 2000 ended, but we'll ignore that for the purposes of this article, because most other people do.

The decade's best films, by year

The year 2000: Requiem for a Dream[4 stars]
2001: In the Bedroom[4 stars]
2002: Road to Perdition[4 stars]
2003: Seabiscuit[4 stars]
2004: Kinsey[4 stars]
2005: Crash[4 stars]
2006: United 93[4 stars]
2007: The Lookout[4 stars]
2008: The Visitor[4 stars]
2009: The Hurt Locker[4 stars]

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The film that best sums up the decade

Quentin Tarantino's much-ballyhooed film Inglourious Basterds is a film which reflects the decade of 2000-2010 better than any other. That is one of the reasons I didn't like this film as much as many critics did. It reminded me too much of a decade I would just as soon forget. It was a decade in which the horrible 9/11 attacks happened, and that was one of the worst days of my life. It was a decade in which it was revealed the United States government condoned practices which resulted in kidnapping, murder and torture. This was the decade in which America screwed up its best chance to catch Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and wasted trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in a misbegotten war in Iraq. It was a decade in which the housing bubble burst and the entire world's economy nearly toppled because strange financial dealings in things called credit default swaps and derivatives, allowed by recent banking deregulation, overturning rules put in place after the great depression 60 years earlier. It was decade in which the U.S. government went from a budget surplus into deep debt. A near depression was caused by deficit spending, financial deregulation, wars and tax cuts. Naturally, some politicians now propose more war, more tax cuts and more deregulation to get us out of the mess they got us into in the first place.

“Inglourious Basterds” fits right into this decade. It shows us that murdering and torturing prisoners of war is not only entertaining, but it is an effective way to get information and win wars, either that, or it is a clever satire on what U.S. forces did to prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also rewrites history, showing us a version of World War II in which the Allies win the war years before they really did by the clever tactic of murdering prisoners of war, civilians, and torture. They also win with the help of a high-ranking German officer who betrays his own leaders. This is not the only time history has been re-written. There are those who say the U.S. would have won the war in Vietnam, if not for the American news media. This has led to increasingly strict military control over the media in subsequent wars. There are those who say that the depression of the 1930s and the current recession would (or will) go away on their own without any government intervention. They say that deregulation and tax cuts did not cause the collapse of our financial system, or the huge deficits we face. They say it would all just fix itself if left alone because that is the way capitalism works. It fixes everything by itself in its own magical mysterious ways, including, presumably, health care. It's like Stevie Wonder once sang, “When you believe in things you don't understand ... ” that's just superstition.

History is continually being re-written. If history is, in fact, merely an “agreed-upon fiction,” then Mr. Tarantino's account of World War II is as good as any other, and some do view history that way. However, that isn't what happened. The war went on for years after the time in which the movie was set. The United States did not sanction the death and torture of prisoners of war. They had rules against that, and those rules stayed in effect until the Administration of George W. Bush re-wrote the rules in an attempt to legalize torture. This was done despite the fact that torture is known to produce unreliable, sometimes disastrously wrong, information. So why was it done? More on that in the article below.

“Inglourious Basterds” not only celebrates American torture and murder, it is a nightmare for the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations trying to hold down the rising tide of anti-Semitism in America and elsewhere. In re-writing history, “Inglourious Basterds” casts Jews in the role of aggressors, as well as victims. This depiction of Jewish aggression pours gasoline on the flames of anti-Semitism both here and abroad. The film reflects the view of Jews held by many in the Muslim world. The film has also been seized upon by anti-Semitic factions on both extremes of the political spectrum to further stir up more hatred against the Jews. When I remarked to a friend that I didn't like the fact that “Inglourious Basterds” makes Americans look worse than the Nazis, my friend replied, “Those weren't Americans, those were Jews.”

The anti-Semitic interpretation of the film fits right in with certain Neo-Nazi views about Jews, fueled by the so-called “Christian Identity” theology (more on that in this essay about the Christian Identity movement and how it has been adopted by elements of the violent radical far right). It also fits in with views of Jews among some elements of the far left wing, the so called “9/11 Truthers” who hold that the attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job” by the U.S. Government, aided or orchestrated by Israel. Like the film itself, this conspiracy theory is a re-imagining of history, which is becoming increasingly popular. Alternate histories are being created and supported by new media, particularly the Internet, and even in traditional media, where objectivity in reporting guidelines are being relaxed in favor of shaping the news so audiences won't be upset by facts that upset their increasingly limited and rigid world views. Abraham H. Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, said 2009 was the worst year for global anti-Semitism he's ever seen in his 40+ years in the organization. Here is a link to a deconstruction of the film along anti-Semitic lines. This is not how I viewed the film when I saw it, but it seems to be a film which lends itself to this interpretation for those who are anti-Semitic.

When America was attacked on 9/11, Americans wanted revenge, and the nation lashed out. People who looked like Muslims (including a Sikh) were murdered by revenge seekers. “Inglourious Basterds” is a movie all about hatred and revenge. One woman in the movie locks an entire crowd of moviegoers into a theater and then sets fire to the theater in revenge for the Nazis killing her family. The squad of soldiers in the film, composed mostly of American Jews, with one anti-Nazi German soldier added, celebrate revenge by killing Germans, scalping the corpses and bashing German soldiers' heads in with a baseball bat and carving swastikas into their foreheads.

Revenge movies are nothing new. There is the “Death Wish” series of films, the “Dirty Harry” series and many, many more. More recently, there was “Taken” and now there is “Edge of Darkness.” People are angry in this country. When President Obama was elected, there was a huge increase in gun sales. The membership in hate groups increased greatly at the same time. The so-called “Tea Party” movement is brimming with hatred at bankers and some politicians. Some radio and TV talk show hosts have made a fortune by stirring up anger. Many people are angry at President Obama, and the vast majority of those who are the angriest are white people. There are lots of angry people in this country who want revenge for what they have lost and “Inglourious Basterds” dishes it out. The aught years, 2000 through 2009, were very dark years in America and this film reflects that darkness.

The most influential drama of the decade

The most influential drama of the decade was the TV dramatic action series “24,” broadcast on the Fox network. This is one of my favorite TV shows, but it also helped to make torture of prisoners acceptable to many people, including people in the federal government.

In this TV series each episode maintains an exhausting level of tension and each episode ends with a cliffhanger, sometimes there is even a cliffhanger for commercial breaks. Agent Jack Bauer, played by Kieffer Sutherland, is confronted by a seemingly endless series of ticking bomb scenarios. He always has a matter of minutes to get a key piece of information, or else an atom bomb goes off in Los Angeles, or nerve gas rockets hit Washington, or some other terrible thing will happen, killing many people. The only way he can stop this terrorism and save the people is to torture captives until they give him the information he needs. And it works, time after time after time, year after year. This TV series, which ran nearly the whole decade, 2001 to present, more than any other, legitimized torture as a valid means of fighting terrorism, not just for viewers, but the government as well.

According to Jane Mayer's book, “The Dark Side” (a term used by Dick Cheney to describe “enhanced interrogation techniques” among other things) and Philippe Sands' book, “The Torture Team,” the lawyers designing interrogation policy for the Bush Administration during the decade “cited Jack Bauer more frequently than the Constitution,” as summarized in a Slate article by Dahlia Lithwick. Another Slate article, The Jack Bauer Decade by John McQuaid, recounts the extent to which the TV series influenced and how it reflects this lost decade of 2000 to 2010.

The TV show has so saturated the culture, that even United States Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia stood up to defend Jack Bauer's tactics at a 2008 Ottawa conference of international jurists and national security officials. After a Canadian judge said, “Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra ‘What would Jack Bauer do?’” Scalia said, in a widely-quoted statement, “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Scalia said. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer? ... I don’t think so. So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.” Maybe it was just a little joke about ignoring absolutes like right and wrong but Jack Bauer is no joke to millions of people who agree with some of his extreme methods, which includes the occasional execution-style murder.

It is probably no coincidence that “24” is broadcast on the Fox network, a sister network to the right wing Fox News network. This network supported the Bush Administration as fiercely as it now attacks the Obama Administration. It has just hired Sarah Palin as a news commentator. Maybe Jack Bauer's methods were meant to support the Bush Administration's torture policies. Then again, maybe Bauer invented the Bush Administration's policies. It is a bit like the chicken and egg riddle. Whichever came first, Bauer and Vice President Cheney seem to be on the same torture wavelength. Even after Bush and Cheney left office, Jack Bauer's influence can still be felt in a number of government anti-terrorism policies and practices.

In addition to aiding and abetting American torture policies of the decade, “24” also fosters an unrealistic can-do attitude when it comes to American anti-terrorism efforts. We always win. Just as Rambo re-wrote the Vietnam war. Jack Bauer re-wrote the war on terror and it is very satisfying the way he kicks terrorist butt. The TV show popularizes the illusion that American intelligence knows all and is on top of every plot, at least when Jack Bauer is on the job. In reality, there have been a series of colossal failures by the intelligence community dating back many years and continuing right up to the underwear bomber. “24” makes it hard for people to believe these failures are just accident, adding fuel to certain conspiracy theories to explain away these failures. Such theories turn failure into victory, of a kind. In order to believe some of these theories, the government would have to hire thousands of people as capable as Jack Bauer.

I've already got my VCR set to this season's worth of “24” episodes. I've watched just about every episode that has aired. My favorite season so far is when Jack Bauer saves Los Angeles from an atomic bomb. It is a very good action show. It certainly has revived Keiffer Sutherland's career, even landing him Jack Bauer-type movie roles as in The Sentinel. Just remember that “24” is only a show, not reality, and you jokers in the government should not base national security policy on it any more than you would base childhood education policy on Pee Wee's Playhouse.

The most influential Youtube videos of the decade

The Last Lecture

Randolph Frederick “Randy” Pausch, who died July 25, 2008 at the age of 47 was an American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. He became suddenly famous in 2007 because of a Youtube video of his last lecture, titled, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” This led to him finally achieving all his childhood dreams before he died. Because of his Youtube fame, he became a best selling author, and also landed a speaking role in the “Star Trek” movie (another dream). A college lecture, which became a Youtube phenonemon made Pausch a hero and an inspiration to many people, including myself. I couldn't happen to a nicer guy. You can find Randy's last lecture and other material at this link.

Susan Boyle achieves her dream

It seemed like a spontaneous event, but it was probably scripted to a certain extent. It came off as the most powerful theatrical moment of the decade. Susan Magdalane Boyle, 47, an unknown singer from a small town in Scotland, appeared on the British TV show “Britain's Got Talent.” She was a hefty, plain-looking woman who seemed clownish, but confident when introduced. She seemed to be the very sort of person who would not do well under pressure. Many before her had folded and turned in terrible singing performances on this same show in the same kind of situation. Since there is an audition process to get on the show, Boyle's talents must have been known to the panelists, including harsh critic Simon Cowell, before the show, but the panelists feigned ignorance.

When Boyle had finished awkwardly answering the questions put to her. She launched into singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical version of Les Misérables. In part, because her performance was so unexpected by the audience, she brought the house down with a very powerful rendition of the song. She showed a substantial vocal range, coupled with some subtlety, theatricality and an assured stage presence. She absolutely blew the audience away. See her performance here at this link. Personally, I think she had enough confidence in her ability that she was craftily sandbagging the audience and the panel prior to the song. She sprung her trap and then lowered the boom on the panel and audience alike. It was the most unexpected performance on the show since an awkward little phone salesman with bad teeth from Wales named Paul Potts two years earlier had belted out the aria “Nessun dorma” from Puccini's “Turandot” with such stunning power he brought the house down. See his performance at this link. Both Potts and Boyle went on to have success in the music recording business.

All three of these videos, Pausch's, Boyle's and Potts' are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. All three show us that we should never abandon our dreams and that even late in life, those dreams can still come true. In a dark decade, these three videos are a testament to the power of YouTube, and the spirit of all three of these people are beacons that show the way to a more positive future.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie or TV show in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)