Leave Politics Out of It

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Some people are so obsessed with politics they see it everywhere and don’t understand that there are some places where it just doesn’t belong. The results often aren’t pretty. Consider what David Koepp, screenwriter for Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of the Worlds, said about his own script.

“And now, as we see American adventure abroad,� he [David Koepp] continues “in my mind it’s certainly back to it’s original meaning, which is that the Martians in our movie represent American military forces invading the Iraqis, and the futility of the occupation of a faraway land is again the subtext.�

There is no shortage of evidence in Koepp’s own script that shows this comparison is preposterous. For starters, the conflict is said to be not a war but an “extermination.� The description is precise. The Martian invasion was, indeed, genocidal. But that’s only the beginning. It was also an ecocide. Not only did the wicked machines massacre human beings everywhere, they also began “terraforming� the Earth with their own psychedelic red vegetation, apparently so their newly conquered planet would more closely resemble their home world.

Iraq ain’t Texas on the Tigris. And we certainly aren’t “exterminating” Iraqis. We demolished Saddam Hussein’s unelected fascist regime and are helping Iraqis build democratic institutions in its place. Saddam, not US soldiers, is guilty of both genocide and ecocide. He destroyed the marsh ecosystem in the south of the country – along with the people who lived there – and turned it into a desert. US soldiers (exterminator monsters in Koepp’s mental universe) helped the Iraqis restore this region.

Meanwhile, director Steven Spielberg says War of the Worlds is about “Americans fleeing for their lives in a 9/11-like situation.”

I appreciate that as a counterpoint to Koepp’s libelous nonsense. But it’s hardly any more accurate. There may be something genocidal in Al Qaeda’s declaration that all Americans are targets. And if Al Qaeda were miraculously able to get their hands on one of the dreaded Martian machines in the movie, well, I doubt they would hesitate to obliterate Washington and plenty of other cities around the world.

But that’s not what’s happening in the Terror War. Not at all. Al Qaeda isn’t an omnipotent and technologically superior invasion force. They’re a bunch of losers who can’t even manufacture a hubcap, let alone a nuclear weapon-proof death ray machine.

If I think about politics at all while watching a movie like War of the Worlds (which pretty much never happens) I’m inclined to think such a real-world disaster would instantly end politics everywhere. How could humans even think about fighting with each other (let alone bickering about minor details such as a government budget) when faced with imminent extinction at the hands of creatures from the stars that aren’t human at all? Intentions aside, War of the Worlds is as political as a giant asteroid smashing into Nebraska.

This kind of escapist entertainment is – or at least should be – the ne plus ultra of anti-politics. It’s the sort of thing everyone, regardless of their political views, ought to be able to see the same way. “Genocidal aliens are badâ€Â? isn’t liberal. “We must blow up the giant killer asteroidâ€Â? isn’t conservative.

Millions of Americans, perhaps the majority, think of Hollywood political culture as an elitist unreality bubble. It shouldn’t matter, though, not really. The overwhelming majority of Hollywood movies aren’t about politics. Politics rarely affects the end product.

Apparently, War of the Worlds was written for the screen by a leftist. Oh well. It could just as easily have been written by a conservative. The only reason we know it was written by a leftist is because he gave himself away in an interview. He may have tried to inject his hysterical politics into the story, but it didn’t take. It just couldn’t be done. His own script provides all the rebuttal material anyone needs.

Artists in general – whether they belong to the Hollywood film scene, the New York literary establishment, or a Peoria dance company – tend to be liberal or leftist. It’s just one of those things.

What artists should try to remember is that their peer group isn’t representative of Americans as a whole. Their audience often is, though. And it’s best not to gratuitously alienate and offend the audience. (I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that only conservatives are offended by saying Americans resemble exterminator monsters from outer space.) That doesn’t mean artists should stop being liberal or leftist. It means that unless they’re making a movie like The Assasination of Richard Nixon (which is terrific, by the way), it’s in their own self-interest to leave politics out of it.