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Scott Mendelson

Scott Mendelson
Woodland Hills, California, United States
April 02
A ten-year Salon reader, Mendelson also has a film and politics blog/column at Mendelon's Memos: located at: He is also a free lance voice over artist and occasionally contributes film reviews for

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MARCH 17, 2010 12:10PM

When right vs. wrong becomes tagged as liberal propaganda.

Rate: 9 Flag

Last Friday saw the long-delayed opening of Paul Greengrass's Iraq-war thriller The Green Zone. Why it did not open this Friday, which is the seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq campaign, I do not know. As expected, Paul Greengrass uses his Bourne-tricks to craft a thrill-infused version of just what went down during the earliest days of 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. For those who want the same discourse without the somewhat generic thriller elements, just rent the fantastic documentary No End In Sight, which deals (as objectively as possible) with the hopelessly bungled occupation which led to the protracted post-invasion conflict. Or, if you've got five hours to kill, rent the PBS/Frontline documentary Bush's War.

But is The Green Zone a true liberal screed? Not really. Like a lot of recent films that are tagged as liberal, the film deals with moral absolutes and is tagged as left-wing by those who would disagree with the scenarios at play. When it comes to normal fiction entertainments, mainstream movie-making is relatively apolitical. Conservative commentators love to claim for their own various films (Groundhog Day, The Incredibles, A Simple Plan, etc) that merely espouse mainstream values of good vs. evil, self-defense, family loyalty, monogamous relationships, and personal responsibility, as if liberals actively oppose these bedrock tenants of our current society. Ironically, many of those 'American values' derived from the character of Superman, who started his days as a pro-FDR, pro-press muckraker who was in favor of joining the war in Europe and regulating business when many on the political right were opposed.

Many conservative pundits also presume that just because characters in a film act in a way with (Knocked Up) or against (Million Dollar Baby) their values means that the film and the filmmakers are firmly on the side of their characters. Just because Juno decided against having an abortion does not mean that Jason Reitman and/or Diablo Cody are anti-choice. While there are certain mainstream entertainments that could be classified as solidly conservative (Phone Booth, Bad Boys 2, The Devil's Advocate, or The Eighth Day), most mainstream entertainments are just about characters making life choices and moral decisions ignorant or uncaring about which side of the political spectrum those choices might fall under at a given time.

And we liberals love to claim for our own films like Avatar. Sure the picture may contain swipes at the Iraq war and its propaganda and the film is certainly liberal when it comes to environmental concerns. But at least where it concerns issues of war and peace, the James Cameron opus merely states that land-theft and murder is not a nice way to operate, and that an indigenous populace has the right to fight back against aggressors. Do mainstream conservatives really want to claim that being anti-genocide is somehow left-wing? Most movies classified as 'liberal' are thrillers that deal with faceless corporations using their unchecked power to engage in various sorts of skulduggery (think The Constant Gardener, State of Play, or Edge of Darkness). Sure, the GOP has allowed themselves to get tagged as the party of corporations, but aren't these movies merely stating, as a hard moral bedrock of free enterprise, that giant corporations shouldn't kill people or commit treason as a matter of public policy? At what point did 'business shouldn't poison/murder people' become a left-wing idea?

Remember ten years ago, when it was the liberals who were being tagged as the party of 'oh, there's an excuse/mitigating circumstance for everything' and the conservatives who preached hard morality and the rule of law regardless of circumstance? I'd argue that one of the unfortunate effects of post-9/11 discourse is to render seemingly mainstream views regarding a whole host of issues, such as torture (no), preemptive invasion (no), the rule of law and due process (yes), and constitutional rights (yes) into amoral gray zones for political discourse. Of course, that's what The Dark Knight is really about, which is why it hit such a nerve in audiences of all political stripes (it was certainly no neocon fantasy). Believing in 'the right thing' is meaningless if you don't stick to those principles in times of great strife, which used to be a pretty mainstream philosophy.

On the surface, the fact that we are discussing a movie like The Green Zone as left-wing at all is a little disconcerting. The film surprisingly goes out of its way to avoid partisan name-calling, as the film basically faults a single fictional corrupt Bush administration official (played by Greg Kinnear) with using a single overeager reporter ('not Judith Miller', played by Amy Ryan) in order to sell the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. For those so politically-inclined, this is the biggest problem with the picture as it basically lets the Bush administration, the mainstream media, and the American public off the hook by holding up mustache-twirling figureheads as the culprits (the finale also fatally plunges the picture into wish-fulfillment fantasy). In the end, The Green Zone simply argues that the people who lie and deceive a populace into waging war against a nation under false pretenses are the bad guys. And the people who fail to adequately plan for various contingencies associated with that war, a failure that results in years of protracted slaughter and loss of national blood and treasure, should not be commended. It was wrong when Lyndon B. Johnson did it and it was wrong when George W. Bush did it. The fact that such an opinion is now viewed as a politically partisan one and movies that espouse it are considered liberal screeds is a troubling sign of how far down the rabbit hole we've plunged since the second week in September of 2001.

Scott Mendelson

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The conservatives claim The Incredibles despite the fact that one of the themes is when you corral those who prevent crimes you end up with corrupt insurance companies that are no better than street thugs? I think they might want to rewatch the film.
Thank you for your wise comments. I am often at a loss when people call liberals anti-American. You are certainly right about conservatives with their many shades of legal- wire tapping, deceit, and lets not forget torture are now considered necessary in their minds. They also have very selective memories of a perfect past, often idealized in movies. Movies should stir people to think, not placate morons.
Avatar was liberal propoganda. I shall have to see Green Zone.
What's hilarious is that National Review movie list at the link you provided. They could have drilled for oil with the spin in that one.
Very very good post.
My brother Andy was killed in Baghdad on May 3, 2007, when the Humvee he was driving hit an IED. Talk about whether or not something is "liberal propaganda" infuriates me and makes me believe that anyone who spouts an unthinking catchphrase like that has never watched their brother be unloaded from an airplane in his coffin, with Old Glory draped on top.

I wrote about Andy's funeral in my piece "The Last Time For Laura, Jane, And Andy." You can read it here at Open Salon.
I wish there WAS liberal propaganda out there.

The media is dominated by the right, and what in the past was regarded as the mushy "center" is now declared to be "liberal."

Meanwhile liberals -- in panicked flight from the word thanks to its demonization by the right, call themselves "Progressives."

Me? I'm an Anarcho-Syndicalist.
Don Rich (Avatar was liberal propoganda.) agrees with you completely. If a movie goer takes from "District 9" and "Avatar," the idea that aliens have a strong sense of community and high moral fibre, and resist oppression with the kind of admirable vigor Americans remember from their revolutionary days, then a liberal is a person who completely supports the Declaration of Independence and is a freedom fighter. A liberal, in short. Wait. Am I confused, or is Don?
Scott, I've never seen these issues addressed in anything like the sustained and cogent manner your post displays. Makes me think about the ongoing debate over Ms. Bigelow's movies. A really good film like The Hurt Locker evokes a variety of contradictory responses, emotional and intellectual. Thanks for bringing some sanity to the table.
Thank you for a breath of fresh air. Excellent post.
There's nothing new here -- Hollywood gets the same false rap as the "liberal" media. Does anybody wanna seriously make the argument that Louie Mayer or Cecille B. Demille or Jack Warner were raging liberals?

For the most part, Hollywood could give a shit about politics one way or another as long as the movie sells. The proof of that assertion is that on those rare occasions when a movie ventures into the overtly political in creates such a furor.

Most younger folks have no idea High Noon was once widely reviled as communist propaganda or that Gary Cooper took a ration of shit for his portrayal of the ambivalent sheriff in the movie. Spartacus was another film that created a stink, especially since blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo was involved with it. In fact, The Sixties were the high-water mark for anti-war, anti-establishment movies like Johnny Got His Gun and Easy Rider.

Given the cost of making and distributing a film these days, we will likely not see the like of that era again. But that won't stop rtwingnuts from claiming The Hurt Locker was an anti-war movie.
Laura linger. We meet again. I have one question for you. Why is it that when you talk about Dru you never talk about the amazing life he lived? Only his death. He was way more then a man who died so you can run your trap to people that don't like you and you try to get pitty from this free country that he, we, I fought for.

You talk about him and this war, and have no idea what it means, what its like or how it went down.

I know for a fact that you did NOT see him get off the airplane, You DON'T have that memory because you could not even show up on time and left early because of whatever reason.

Its just something that I find funny. You have no clue of any of this but just wont shut up about it. Sad