The night of March 10, 2003 the Dixie Chicks took to a stage in England for a concert. At one point lead singer Natalie Maines informed the members of their audience of the shame they collectively felt that George W. Bush was considered, despite the unfortunate fact that he was actually over a thousand miles away, to be from their home state of Texas. Immediately upon the end of Maines’ statement, another member of the Dixie Chick stepped up to proclaim that the band was united in 100% support of the troops in Iraq. The secondary addition to Maines’ original statement has still rarely been mentioned in any report on this controversial episode of American censorship. The warhawks in the media either working directly for the White House (like Fox News) or too chickenhearted themselves to have ever asked a single uncomfortable question of the President (like CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, Clear Channel, etc) jumped on the bandwagon and castigated the Dixie Chicks for engaging in two of the most patriotic and American actions we still have: freedom of speech and the exercise of dissent. Not surprisingly, the redneck rebel-flag waving, NASCAR-watching, beer-swilling, thinks-Jeff Foxworthy-is-funny inbred mongoloids who run country music radio in America immediately dropped the Dixie Chicks from their playlists. The Dixie Chicks incident hardly occurred in a vacuum.
Less well known than the Dixie Chicks run-in with the protectors of First Amendment rights as long as your speech glorifies Pres. Bush were actors ranging in celebrity from Sean Penn to David Clennon. Any celebrity who dared to speak open dissent against the Bush policy of pre-emptive unnecessary war discovered he was to become the target of not just virulently and criminally misinformed opinion pieces by such intellectual heavyweights as the Big Fat Idiot and Bill O’Really Not, and on down the sewer-drenched line to that special needs student who now has his own nightly show on CNN Headline News. (If anyone can look you in the eye and accuse CNN of having a liberal bias when they give a platform every night to Glenn Beck, you have my permission to poke those eyes out; they won’t miss them.) Not only that, but these people even received hate mail threatening to kill them or their loved ones. And all because they dared to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, the Bush administration had lied about the war. (Of course, none of them ever imagined that the number of lies would reach over 900, as was recently proven to be the case; yet John McCain still says the war was a good idea. Can you say dementia?) The wide-open public conspiracy to stifle good ol’ American dissent became a hidden agenda by the powers that be in Hollywood as they explicitly worked to censor references to terrorism or war (except for The Simpsons on several occasions, how many sitcoms can you name that have even appeared to recognize there is a war going on, much less to comment negatively upon it?), and even to negatively influence public opinion against movies that proposed there just possibly could be a complexity involved in the geopolitical situation in the Middle East that rises above the ability of people like Rudy “American policy has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism” Giuliani to grasp.
One of the most outspoken opponents of the war from the beginning was George Clooney, and he quickly became the face on the target poster from which the Fox News “reporters” aimed their flaccid guns and shot their impotent weapons. One Fox News “reporters” famously declared that due to his outspoken and idiotic opposition to the Glorious War of George W. Bush that George Clooney’s career was over. (I refer you to the 2006 and 2008 Academy Awards and the box office tallies of Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13.) While the personal attack upon Clooney by these cerebral snails were amusing in their hyperactive hysteria, Clooney was also at the center of one of the most subtle attacks against dissent and the call for intellectual enlargement of the American consciousness toward the threat of Islamic terrorism.
George Clooney was not just an actor in Syriana he was also heavily invested in it from a personal and intellectual point of view. Syriana is a thickly layered movie that places unexpected cognitive stress upon its audience; the stress was far too much for Roger Ebert and this may have been what broke his brain. The film bravely struggles to explain to audiences raised to expect the good versus the devil template of Titanic the geopolitical complications of the oil industry and how that most vital industry in the world today is formed and informed by politics, greed and religion. The hostile response against the film from conservative media bankrolled by conglomerates with their hands covered in oil was expected. The real censorship came not from the brain-damaged Far Right, however, but from the mainstream center critics. Syriana is without question an attack against the Bush administration’s dangerously misguided and fundamentally flawed policies in the Middle East. The establishment media used their soapbox to beat the drum for the administration and lies instead of the truth. The way they did this is an abject lesson in the art of propaganda; they refused to castigate the message of the movie and look like Bush butt buddies; instead they ignored the message of Syriana and focused on kissing up to the White House by running off likely moviegoers with the ridiculous claim that the movie was too tortuously confusing and senseless. Movie audiences habituated to straightforwardly digestible stories that spartanly separate the minions of good from evil such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the original Star Wars trilogy were quite effectively convinced to keep out of any theater airing Syriana because it would go over their heads and make them feel stupid. What this really accomplished was that the audience that most desperately needed to see the movie, those people unwavering in beliefs they share by Rudy Giuliani, stayed away.
The tale of Syriana is indicative of the entirely of Hollywood after the darkness of 9/11. The vast majority of movies and TV shows that have been produced since then have been even more reticent to include moral and ethical shades of gray than in the decades before. Hollywood instead chose to give the green light to a seemingly eternal catalogue of empty-headed special effects movies, moronic sex and romantic comedies and biographies that are safely detached from contemporary issues. Look at the recent Oscar nominations for 2008, in fact. A fairly entertaining, but otherwise not particularly outstanding animated film about a rat who becomes a chef is showered with nominations, whereas The Simpsons Movie, which contained several explicit and direct (and hilarious) pointed attacks about the current state of Bush-style politics could not even beat out a third-rate animated penguin flick for a nomination for Best Animated Feature. The past seven years have witnessed Hollywood ignoring the topical political realities like no other time before in its history. Moviegoers have been invited to step into worlds of pure imagination or back in time to eras of other political strife that aren’t allowed to raise any contemporary parallels. Television is even worse. The ascendance of the so-called reality show nightly presents the hysterical irony in which none of the alleged reality of these shows even comes close to recognizing the reality that exists outside their environs. The contestants on Survivor stand in absurd contrast to the very real stories of survival taking place in Iraq or even on American soil in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The disinclination to address the events of 9/11 directly was only an constituent part of Hollywood’s overall unwillingness to tackle the reality of the changes in America as a result of both the attacks of 9/11 themselves and, even more so, the government’s immoral response. Rather than embracing the war on terror as a suitable subject for cinematic analysis, Hollywood for the most part preferred to ignore reality.