Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Just Wondering

For the record, I don't think this warrants the attention of Steve Benen (even if he does write more posts in a day than should be physically achievable), but I too couldn't help notice that whilst Transformers suggests George Bush is something of a slobbish goomber, Revenge Of The Fallen depicts President Obama cowering in a secret bunker whilst negotiating with alien terrorists over the life of a US citizen, having shut down the only fighting force in the world that could defend America. I would like to think people have enough sense to differentiate between fiction and reality, but no-one ever lost money assuming people were irredeemable idiots (see Road To 9/11, though fiction dressed up as political history is far more damaging than massive robots twatting each other, obviously). It's also interesting that this portrayal of Obama plays directly into well-established and pernicious Conservative memes about the 44th President, but I would call coincidence on that (especially since any negative portrayal of Obama would hit a wingnut meme somewhere; the film could imply he was a cross-dressing vampire and it would transpire the Washington Times had run a feature on that exact possibility). It's not exactly uncommon for American films to portray authority figures as incompetent cowards so the heroes can have some extra antagonists, though this is as far as I know the high water-mark of that tendency.

Anyways, I don't want to sound like a hysterical conspiracy theorist (not in this post, at least). I'm not accusing Bay of deliberate political commentary (though if he were to try it, it would be exactly as ham-fisted as this is), at most he's hoping that the seriousness of defamation is is inversely proportional to the ludicrousness of its delivery system (which he would probably be right about). I mainly just find this an interesting development. Have any other democratically elected major political characters been so badly portrayed during their time in office? Have we moved beyond the days of "generic President"? Or has this been going on for a while and I've just not noticed?

Update: Several posts in Benen's comments section point out that decrying film-makers for including political messages (however implied or benign) is exactly what liberals tend to mock conservatives for doing. It's a good point, but whilst hypersensitivity to these issues may be equally ridiculous from either side of the political spectrum, it's worth noting that the specific objections from each side are not entirely equivalent. Specifically, and this is just a general sense having been doing this for four years, it seems that liberals complain when liberals are seen to have been badly served. Conservatives complain about the same thing from their end (see The West Wing), but what really gets them going is when liberals are served well, or worse, when liberalism itself comes up smelling of roses. One possible interpretation of this is simply that so many people in film and TV are liberal you come across positive portrayals of the attendant philosophies far more often, but even my ever-growing conviction that far too many conservatives can only define themselves in terms of what they're against, it's an interesting trend to note.

Update II: Oh, and whilst we're back on Revenge Of The Fallen, this made me laugh pretty hard.

4 comments:

Senior Spielbergo said...

I noticed the Obama bits when I saw it the other day but didn’t think it worth mentioning (actually thought of you though as the Obama negativness came up and wondered if a blog post would result).

What it is actually indicative of is both Michael Bay’s and Jerry Bruckheimer’s view of “sticking it to the man”. If you look at both of their film credits you will find a long running theme of the heroes going against the rules / the authority figures and winning through because of it. Bad Boys I & II – two cops going against superiors to take down the Bad guys, The Island - the clones striking back against the big Mega corporation. Beverley Hills Cop – See Bad Boys. Top Gun – The guy is even called Maverick. Blah blah, blah. The President / Government are of course the ultimate personification of “The Man”.

So I don’t think this is in any way a politicised thing (the fact that they created the Obama references in post production is important). His name was used purely to make it contemporary, i.e. happening right here, right now (you just don’t know about it because they are in disguise). If McCain had won he would have been used as well, and it’s not as though they could have gone back and reshot the thing so the civilian oversight was actually all fluffy and nice.

Basically it just so happens that as he has been elected, Obama is now “The Man”. It is therefore important that we stick it to him. At least when it comes to defeating Evil Transforming Robots.

SpaceSquid said...

I think in general I agree entirely. The thing is though, if they had referenced McCain instead, that wouldn't make it OK. I'd have laughed a lot harder, of course, because I'm only human, but on an intellectual level I'm uncomfortable about the idea. Though oddly had it been a comedy film I would be entirely OK, which is a contradiction I will have to think about a bit.

Gooder said...

I think you are reading quite a lot into it (and Dan seems to have it pretty muchs pot on I'd say). The NSa guy (who whoever he was) was shown to be a bit of tool, but the president was only mentioned when being taken to a bunker which is exactly what would happen in the event or, er, massivie attacks by aliens.

And surely you would have to consider the one for many possibility - anyone sensible surely would.

To me the first film shows a caricature of Bush as an idiot (he's not named) was in the 2nd was just a quick reference to the new guy - so if there is any leaning here it's clearly down on W.

As for deoections of leaders in films which are negative you'll find plenty - you can start as far back as 1940 with The Great Dictator (and before anyone says it Hitler was elected)

SpaceSquid said...

"The NSa guy (who whoever he was) was shown to be a bit of tool, but the president was only mentioned when being taken to a bunker which is exactly what would happen in the event or, er, massivie attacks by aliens."

Nope, it was clearly stated that the President had ordered the disbanding of the joint human Autobot taskforce, and it was heavily implied that he was planning on negotiating with the Decepticons.

"And surely you would have to consider the one for many possibility - anyone sensible surely would."

Except that the States (along with plenty of other countries) have a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. The fact that these terrorists are giant machines shouldn't make any difference. Offering up one of your citizens to a hostile foreign power despite having the largest military in the world without even a shot fired (and whilst knowing you have giant robot allies who have an excellent track record in beating down these particular aggressors) isn't a "sensible" idea at all.

"To me the first film shows a caricature of Bush as an idiot (he's not named) was in the 2nd was just a quick reference to the new guy - so if there is any leaning here it's clearly down on W."

Sure, as long as you ignore the other references (see above), and you mistake the total time a character is discussed for the seriousness of the character traits implied.

You're right (as I recall) that Bush isn't named, though the impression the actor puts on doesn't leave much room for doubt.

"As for deoections of leaders in films which are negative you'll find plenty - you can start as far back as 1940 with The Great Dictator (and before anyone says it Hitler was elected)"

I did think about The Great Dictator, but I left it out because by 1940 Hitler had been an unassailable dictator for six years, making the fact that he was democratically elected a semantic distinction not worth making for the purposes of this discussion. Got anything else?