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Business as usual?


George Dubya and his Merry Men want us to get back to life as we once knew it. They say the terrorists hate our democratic way of life, our freedoms. As if our habits of exploiting and damaging the planet have nothing to do with it. As if we could now go on exporting violence (both real and cinematic) to the rest of the world without a thought to the karmic consequences.

More than one commentator has remarked on the unbearable irony of watching Hollywood action blockbusters (symphonies of shattering glass, awesome fireballs and last-second rescues in Die Hard, The Siege, etc.) for the foreseeable future. Anthony Lane, in “This is Not a Movie” in the Sept. 24 New Yorker, writes, “What happened on the morning of September 11th was that imaginations that had been schooled in the comedy of apocalypse were forced to reconsider the same evidence as tragic. It was hard to make the switch …”

Ray Greene, in the Sept. 24 Los Angeles Times, takes the argument a little further: “In the past 15 years or so, thanks in part to the computer-effects revolution but mostly to the desire of our movie producers to appeal to their own degraded notions of teenage boys and the insatiable foreign action market, our culture has marinated in mindless, epic violence … including the idea that there is good violence and bad violence. And that here in America, our violence is good violence because it has come from us.”

In a word, we’re fascinated by the theater of cruelty (think about how many times you’ve seen the Titanic go down). But, Lane and Greene suggest, the movie industry will surely pause to rethink its production of more lethal weapons for the big screen. Somehow, I don’t think so. Oh, sure, the releases of some titles have been postponed, and the scripts of others quickly altered. But count on Hollywood to get back to violence ASAP. Like all the businesses falling over themselves to make patriotic statements and turn collective pain into private gain, the movie industry will get back to what sells.

And why not? After all, nobody’s asking Warner Bros. to come up with a ground zero-view of our Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-bombings. Who wants to munch popcorn to that? What’s heroic or entertaining about one of the most shameful acts in human history?

And will there be a World Trade Center movie sometime soon? It all depends on if we carpet-bomb Afganistan, thus destabilizing Pakistan and the entire region, thus generating more new terrorists than we can shake a cruise missile at. For anyone alive during the Vietnam debacle, it all starts to sound horribly familiar.

Take, for instance, this note from Claudine, a friend from Paris, where they’ve got a large appetite for movies and American flicks in particular:

I don’t know if you know how much people in France feel touched by what has happened. You’ve heard the saying: “what you do to one person, you do to all of humanity.” I have never seen a better proof of it than now. At the same time, we are also reflecting on the exploitation of riches from the Third World by the USA and the arrogance in its commercial politics which continually surfaces. Somewhere, people are also happy (I understand that this might be difficult to hear) that these symbols of that arrogance were targeted.

On the one hand, there is empathy: One puts oneself in the place of the victims in the towers and, of course, one is revolted by this blind violence. On the other hand, one gathers one’s thoughts and says, “but what about the pillage of Africa, of Latin America, the watering of the fields in Vietnam with napalm bombs, the massacre of villagers with flame-throwers …” It’s as if the djihadi came to avenge all of that at once, even though we know that these guys are insane.

As Gangaji (a superbly intelligent woman living in California) says:

“In the midst of this tragedy and all of the tragedies that occur in the world, there is the space to sit together in peace, and love, and silence.”

For me these attacks are a powerful invitation to welcome this proffered peace and to stop wanting it to be anything else — simply let the body breathe, let the thoughts come and go. The terrorists have shown us that which horrifies us: the contempt for life. From this point of view, I say thank you to them. It behooves me to notice, in my everyday life, whenever I do the same. And I confess, there’s work to be done.

Hot & Bothered was written and edited by George Tysh. E-mail him at

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