Archive for April, 2009

Apr 22 2009

“Waltz with Bashir” in Many Shades of Grey

 

waltzwithbashir

I found Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir extraordinary, but I have no idea what it means to anyone but me. It’s an animated documentary about the Sabra and Shatila massacre, told from the point of view of the young Israeli soldiers who allowed outraged Phalangist militia to enter the Arab refugee camps and slaughter thousands. And it has a great soundtrack.

I rocked out, I cried, I was stunned by the sodium-yellow beauty of the dream sequences. It’s a beautiful piece of art, but it’s a piece of art about the complicity of Israelis in the massacre of Arab refugees. It is also a piece with reach: it won a Golden Globe and got nominated for an Oscar, and people all over the world saw it. This makes the film an opportunity for propaganda, or truth. So what is being said, and to whom? 

I don’t know! I lack the context to even guess at the answers.

For me, personally, the film reads as an apology. I find it very tempting to see this as Israel coming to grips with what it did, and I think that perhaps this is something the world needs, a brave and necessary step in curtailing the cycle of war. But the film was screened in Israel too, in theaters full of Zionists. Did the audience cry with the weeping Muslims in the film’s final moments, or did they walk out, swearing George Bush-style that any film-maker not with us must surely be against us? And what did Arabs in Beirut think of the film, those who were allowed to see it at all?

It’s questions like this that make me realize I don’t understand anything about the people behind the Israeli-Arab conflict.  

Just to prove my ignorance, I had guessed that the Israeli government would not be impressed, but it has actually been very supportive. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has been promoting the film, with the Israeli consul for media and public affairs in New York saying,

One of the challenges is that people in the world see Israel as responsible for what happened in Sabra and Shatila, and this movie shows that it was Lebanese who killed Palestinians.

Yeah. It also shows that it was the Israeli generals who engineered it, who allowed it to happen, who ordered flares fired during the night so that the Phalangists could see what they were doing.  

But a government is not a people, and people differ widely. There had to be more than one reaction even among only “Israelis” or only “Arabs”, just as different Americans felt different things when they saw Fahrenheit 9/11.  Traveling in Morocco, in Oman, in Indonesia and elsewhere I had to explain many times that America is not a uniform mass, that its people don’t necessarily agree with its government or even with each other. Yet our stereotypes are so ingrained that Waltz with Bashir immediately made me wonder what “the Israeli reaction” and “the Arab reaction” were.  I had to stop myself from thinking in such fictional terms; lumping millions of people together implies a consensus that may not exist.

It is exactly these fictions of identity that allow a conflict to be perpetuated. 

And so I want to know what this film meant to people alone in the theatre. I want to know what it meant to individual Israelis, Arabs, and others, confronted with something violent and sad. I want to know what they felt and thought before they turned to their neighbor to speak, before they read the reviews, before they listened to the official comments. The filmmaker wanted to say something, and it must start as a private conversation.

In principle I don’t believe movies can change the world, but I’m a great believer in their ability to form small bridges. (Ari Folman)

 

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Apr 15 2009

Nobody Actually Likes Advertising

ihatebillboards

(graphic from ihatebillboards.com)

You raved about advertising last night, and it was so easy to believe that you were wrong. Now I see that we were standing in the only spot where I could win. Next to a life-size replica of the mousetrap game, you told me that no one works for free. You said Wikipedia is going to fail because experts will never donate their time. Silhouetted in the apocalyptic glow of home-made fire art, you were preaching, saying advertising is the only option we have, saying commerce is the only real thing.

Sure, I said, deadpan. We all gotta eat. 

I was smirking, but today is Monday. At rush hour, I know I’m going against the tide. I spend a lot of time with very busy people who, economically speaking, don’t produce shit. The work I sometimes do has the cachet of underground. You have to know the right warehouses. It’s exclusive, but mostly it’s exclusive because you have to be willing to put your excess wealth into making your own culture. But what we do, it never put up skyscrapers. It has no market. It never built Rome, or railroads. You know better. You put such power into logos that the Khoasan Road bootleggers label their shoes “Nike” and the first hamburger place in Cambodia uses McDonanld’s colors. 

But this isn’t about globalization. It’s about you.

Back when we met, click-through was a means, not an end. We sat on the B-school lawn and told ourselves that the older generation were fools, that they had no idea what was good in life. We would only put our creative energies into projects we believed in, even if we weren’t quite sure what those might be. We were never going to work in a cubicle. We would never pitch a campaign to make insurance sexy. Then you got the offer you couldn’t refuse, and every new offer was a hard line pushed out a little bit further. You began to eat well, to afford health insurance, to think about having a family. The shine came off poverty, the outlines of reality shifted, and with them, the possible.

Now you sit in meetings where people say “monetize” without irony.  

You take in the company meeting and nod your head to the stock price. You tell me that open source is ridiculous, because actually Google funds Firefox and Ubuntu funds Linux. And Web 2.0 is for connecting with people — the people you want money from. And Facebook is for demographics, and viral marketing is culture, and when you did edit Wikipedia, you wrote:

A lifestyle brand provides a powerful supplement to the core identity of the customer.

When I read that, I knew the final person you’d convinced was yourself. You think you’re doing a good thing. And you’re probably right. The world really does work this way, because everywhere I’ve ever been, aspiration means money. And money means getting people to buy.

But you’re safe here, tonight. No one is watching. They don’t care if you believe, only if you deliver. So have another drink and let’s say it out loud, together, cut through and admit it: nobody actually likes advertising.

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