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Peace fictions from America

That the Orwellian paradise called United States of America has a massive public relations machine called Hollywood is nothing new, but the collusion has touched a new high since the world’s greatest film industry found an ambassador in none other than president Barack Obama, who, incidentally, also happens to be the poster boy of ‘global peace’, whatever that means.

When the US elected Obama to lead the country in 2008, the Norwegian Nobel committee was so stunned and stupefied by the development that it decided to present Obama the Peace Prize in 2009, barely one year into his presidency, for not what he had achieved, but what he stood for! It was a great victory of the sign over the signified and was the perfect postmodern gift to the simulacrum of a ‘pacifist US president,’ with Hollywood hailing it as the onset of a brave new world of international harmony. It is obviously irrelevant that 115 years back, Alfred Nobel, the testator-turned-peacemaker, had instituted the award as a recognition for those struggling to replace militarism with an international order based on law and ‘abolition’ of national military forces, to substitute the law of power with power of the law. However, since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the Norwegian parliament has been delegating the appointment of the Nobel committee to parties that auction the coveted seats to people who replaced the discourse of peace with that of ‘national security.’ In the process, they collectively usurped the aspiration for global peace and gradual demilitarisation with a regime of escalated militarisation.

How peace prizes morph into war accolades was effectively demonstrated by Obama’s acceptance speech, titled ‘A Just and Lasting Peace.’ It was a ceremonial on necessary conflicts and their moral imperatives. Obama’s favourite icons and ‘peace beacons’, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., were alluded to, of course, but only to be buried under the rubble of reluctant war arguments. The supreme poser, Obama’s speech was not a homily for world accord, but a barely disguised courtship swan-song to his bitter political opponents, the Republican hawks and arms-crazy neoconservatives, who didn’t have qualms about openly calling the neophyte president a relative of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.

Instead of evoking God to defend the ‘inherently just wars’ of the US, as had his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama reintellectualised the urgings for the NATO-driven regiment of security, terming it ‘enlightened self-interest of humanitarian intervention,’ a ‘last resort in self-defence,’ with ‘proportional use of force’ and precision in order to ‘spare the civilians’ and target the terrorists. There couldn’t have been a better feelgood president than the first African-American in White House.

With Hollywood biggies like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio firmly behind them, the First Couple sprang back to power in the hotly contested 2012 presidential elections. By now, Michelle Obama was a greater celebrity than her husband — her flawless grasp on the televisual grammar catapulting her to the ethereal peak of fickle media love. Together, the First Family became both the symbol and hope for the sprawling multitudes, churning out myths of the church-going happy family of individual super-achievers.

The mind-numbing whirr sounded by Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, nevertheless, has a sparkling parallel in the recent slew of Hollywood films tackling serious subjects and going all out political. Movies such as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Dirty (both by Katherine Bigelow) floored the film critics, much to the consternation of peace activists who detected, and staunchly opposed, the in-your-face advertisements for banal and arrogant militarism of the US. Incidentally, much like previous presidential pacifists, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, Obama’s neck-deep immersion in protracted, multi-fronted wars is seen by Hollywood as an unfortunate but necessary predicament.

Yet, the quick-to-adapt Hollywood also realised that it too needs to reflect adequately what Obama stands for — a kind of bloodless execution, a painless surgery suitably anaesthetised to boost liberal America’s guilty conscience. In comes Argo, a Hollywood rendition of the 1989 Iran hostage crisis, a flick directed by a bearded, ‘pretty boy turned ruggedly handsome’ Ben Affleck, and produced by the Obamaphile Clooney.

Argo
has reconfigured Hollywood-style militarism from a gore-infested, full contact blood sport into a self-referential calisthenics of mind wars. The film is about how a CIA man Tony Mendez posed as a science fiction movie producer and orchestrated a rescue mission of six Americans trapped in post-revolutionary Tehran without anyone noticing during the 1989 hostage crisis. Displaying the historical revisionism of the worst kind,
Argo’s
Mendez (played by Affleck himself) is not only a cerebral superhero of Central Intelligence Agency, but also a quiet and loving family man, in other words the quintessential American resembling the president in every way but his skin colour.

Argo’s
rehabilitation of the disastrous mishmash of failed liberal policies of the Jimmy Carter era is actually a laughable attempt at salvaging the growing criticism of the Obama administration itself. Picking the hostage crisis incident at a time when US Iran nuclear standoff has taken a new direction, and portraying the Iranians as crazy religious fanatics baying for American blood, serves as great propaganda for not only the NATO, CIA and the US government, but also acts as a pat on its own back for Hollywood itself, with the film’s hero Mendez posing as Hollywood honcho out to hunt exotic locations with a ‘Middle-Eastern tenor’ for his
Planet of the Apes
inspired sci-fi movie.

The circle of entanglement and complicity was completed with the inclusion of Michelle Obama, when she, surrounded by military personnel, presented from White House the Oscar for Best Motion Picture to Argo, as proverbial drums rolled and camera-friendly American innocence-cum-benevolence was reiterated, even reducing the Canadian contribution to mere cosmetic assistance.

Because Hollywood’s extreme distaste for George W Bush has been substituted by extreme love for Obama, the mutual appreciation society has clearly the potential to wreak havoc on global resistance to militarism. To quote  late Chinua Achebe, ‘until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.’ Hollywood is such a storyteller, a distortion apparatus.

The author is assistant editor at Millennium Post
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