Thursday, February 02, 2006

Safe Inside My Hollywood Sized Dalet Amot

In the comments at KesherTalk saxcriminal wrote:
Spielberg says that "Jewish fundamentalists" are attacking him. Wow, he's really crossed a line.
Just to point out, I added some commentary to this story a bit further down the page.

Yes, it is amazing that Spielberg complains that Jewish "fundamentalists" are attacking him.

His basic position appears to be - discuss among yourselves - as long as no one disagrees too much with me. Outside of my dalet amot everyone else is insane. [dalet amot means 4 cubits (of land) and is the rabbinic calculation for one's personal space.] While simultaneously he considers himself extremely broadminded.

While the contradiction has its amusing angle, the naivete of the man is astounding. He makes a film that deals with a nexus of issues that includes the most thorny and untractable issues of our times - the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, plus how to manage terrorism successfully to defuse it - questions which really don't have answers at all - and he's actually surprised by the strength of the reaction. And is in so much denial about it all and unaware of the limitations of his own perspective that all he can do is insult everyone who disagrees both to the right and the left. It's fairly mindboggling. Except that it seems typical for Hollywood.

But then Spielberg meant well. So let's all sing kumbaya, pay tribute to Spielberg's great genius and humanity, and go home.

But it's an odd interview, isn't it. Spielberg and Clooney come across as these huge narcissists with colossal egos - well, Clooney is even worse than Spielberg. That's unsurprising, really. Whereas I find a lot less narcissism in the comments of Ang Lee and Paul Haggis, both of whose past work I've admired a great deal in the past. Though I have yet to see either Crash and Brokeback Mountain.

Evan Coyne Maloney discusses the the self assumed bravery of big Hollywood machers like Spielberg and Clooney patting themselves on the back for having the courage to produce films that spout what everyone they know already agrees with. And the ones that don't agree presumably shut up about their politics, at least, in public.

Interestingly, if the Jerusalem Post has it correct, much of the Israeli audience of Munich is simply bored.

Finally, Gabriel Schoenfeld, writing in Commentary, reviews Munich. And not in a positive way. Of course, Commentary is a far right fundamentalist magazine run by neo-cons, so that is to be expected.
Occasionally these scenes descend into cartoonish banality. Verbal cliches direct from The Joys of Yiddish - including many 'mazal tovs' and jokes about brisket - are supplemented by, in the words of Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, visual cliches 'direct from your travel agent: Eiffel Tower for Paris, bicycles for Holland, and feast-laden tables for Israelis, wherever they are.'
The first stylistic quirk, by the way, reeks of Tony Kushner, with his penchant for establishing his Jewish creds with yiddishisms and matzah ball humor.
Never once in all this does any Israeli present us with a reasoned argument for striking back against terrorists who have hit once and - wandering around Europe virtually unmolested by European governments - may be planning to hit again. National security? Self-defense? Deterrence? Justified retribution? None of these considerations is invoked in all the film's talk and debate. On the contrary, what Israel is proposing to undertake is made to seem a departure from justice, and especially a departure from traditional Jewish values - even in the eyes of the Israelis themselves. 'People say we can’t afford to be civilized,' says the prime minister. 'I've always resisted such people. . . . Today, I am hearing with new ears.' In a line perhaps intended as the moral touchstone of the film, she declares wanly, 'every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.'

This discreditable rationale is, furthermore, the loftiest offered for what Israel intends to do; others, lower and uglier, are on display as well. Avner's mother, a refugee from Hitler's Europe (and hence also trapped by the past), insists that absolutely anything is permissible in Israel's name: "Whatever it took; whatever it takes." Steve, the South African driver on the team, argues for the mission in terms even cruder in form ("Don’t f-- with the Jews") or nakedly racist ("The only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood"). And there the whole issue is allowed to rest.


One begins to wonder whether these people understand the ideas of people other than themselves at all - elsewise how to explain why they end up portraying these other Jews, who are plainly their ideological enemies, in such reductionalist terms? As if the only place where complexity can exist is among people who represent their POV. This is no surprise to anyone who grew up or passed adult years not belonging to the tribe of liberals, with all their received conventional wisdom. Still. What a very paucity of artistic imagination that entails.

The only good Jews are liberal Jews who agree with me. Thus sayeth the film makers. And ultimately they relate better to their conventional enemies - the complex Palestinian thinker-terrorists - than to the morally simplistic Jews who disagree with the stance they grow into.

Thus, it is no surprise to find this:
By the end of the movie, Avner himself demands that his Mossad controller "show me the evidence." But no evidence is ever forthcoming. We are led to conclude that, in a perfect counterpoint to the Arab massacre of innocent Jews at Munich, there has been a systematic killing by Jews of innocent Arabs.

In the meantime, evidence of a very different sort is given a thorough hearing. At various junctures, Palestinians press the case both for their methods and for their larger national goals, and in terms that contrast invidiously with the case that is made, or rather not made, for Israeli nationhood. The Palestinian cause is made to seem reasonable and historically grounded; the establishment of a Jewish state gets scarcely a positive word...

...The difference between the two sides is drawn as well in the nature of the violence they employ. Palestinian deeds may be ferocious, but they are also passionately felt, an upwelling of the persecuted weak against the implacably strong. Israeli violence, though no less brutal, is heartless and methodical - not the expression of individuals willingly sacrificing themselves for a just cause but the coldly mechanical and calculated product of the intelligence apparatus of an aggressive state....

...In Munich, Israel's response to the Olympic massacre is made to seem not only futile but the root cause from which an entire wave of Palestinian terrorism will spring.
Not surprisingly, Schoenfeld excoriates Munich. It's well worth a read. But I'm fairly sure, that tucked safe within his dalet amot in Hollywood, Spielberg will dismiss all of its contentions as more right wing babble and never seriously address any of its points in his mind.
The movie deserves an Oscar in one category only: most hypocritical film of the year.
Now wouldn't that be a sight to see!

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