The Spirit of America
By Goedart Palm
[This article published in the cyber journal Telepolis, December 20, 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web.
Hollywood Celebrates the American Soul with a Three-minute Film Run for Immediate Consumption
National virtues form an historically sensitive chapter of self-glorification. They objectify supposedly typical qualities of the national soul up to the uninhibited chauvinism of being the people chosen by God. The ideological rearmament of the American war society was from the start the top theme of Operation "Enduring Freedom". On one hand, the semantic of war propaganda individualizes victims with countless pictures of emotional shock and on the other hand conjures the never weary American fighting spirit.
Now director Chuck Workman in his epochal three-minute film run "The Spirit of America" comes up with the essence of the American soul and thus of American existence in all its glory. Workman has cut together clips from 110 American films, including shots from undying works like "Citizen Kane", "High Noon", "Some Like It Hot" and "Singing in the Rain" as well as the standard patriotic program "Pearl Harbor", "The Patriot" and "True Grit". The cast of thousands of the best known film heroes who should inspire millions of American movie-goers is a gigantic Who's Who of American film history.
What sounds like subliminal propaganda when Hollywood's praetorian guard is packaged in a time lapse clip should be the most visible contribution of the cultural war effort. The White House has not paid for the celluloid soul of America. Still Karl Rove, President Bush's chief advisor, is satisfied with the work after he earlier in the presidential commission pressed the film- and television industry to come up with ideas that both promote homeland morality and upgrade the ambivalent image of the US beyond its borders.
In 1986, clip maker Workman received the Oscar for his short film "Precious Images" on cinema history. According to the copy- and paste director, many of the shredded films offer hesitant, reluctant heroes, the true symbol of the present role of the US in the war against terrorism. According to the vigorous statements of President Bush, Defense secretary Rumsfeld and their representative Wolfowitz, the American supreme commanders demonstrate everything but self-image problems in the choice of their weapons. Bush signed a law that declared September 11 as the "day of the patriots". With his elite troop which also included "Easy Rider", Workman marched on the politically correct line capturing the American freedom panorama on the wide screen format.
The old complacency or smugness, the national narcissism putting other nations in their place coupled with the hegemonial global power of god's own country could appear too short-winded to the most pious. Therefore Workman wanted to show the American soul in its whole diversity. He emphasized resistance against the patriotic united front from yesterday and today. In his micro-opus, power and money are not central. Rather diverse anti-heroes and outcasts are revived like "Malcolm X" or the Vietnam veteran in "Born on the Fourth of July" who became the war adversary. Such fractures of the American self-image don't play any more when America is the supposed "melting pot" of pluralist freedoms, a trans-ethnic super-system that absorbs all ideologies at least cinematically. As Howard Beale says in "Network", "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!"
This reflects the deeply moving saying in "The Grapes of Wrath": "Wherever there is a struggle that hungry people can eat, I will be there"., thus in Afghanistan or Somalia. War times are times of brotherly sacrifice. We experience the epoch of global communitarianism for a shaken world - at least to serve the goals of the anti-terrorist war.
Workman emphasizes the exciting nature of the American character about which other nations can only dream: "changing, enduring and endlessly interesting". The struggle for independence should be continuous after the brief prologue in Afghanistan. Thus America is the great land of opposites but reconciles and ennobles them in the clip of the clips to a carbonated water advertisement: "Everything is in Afri-Cola." Whoever likes James Stewart must also somehow like George W. Bush.
According to producer Michael R. Rhodes, tribute should be paid to the tough-minded American spirit so people in America can feel good again. For the president of the other NATO (National Association of Theater Owners), John Fithian, what was central was the American way of life without taking refuge in despicable propaganda: "Americans look, think and act differently but we all meet in a common spirit."
This is nothing but propaganda from the slightly antiquated department "St. Michael versus Satan". This new mega-feeling of the many feelings under the star-spangled banner is communicated convincingly according to Fithian. Thus diversity in unity, faithful to the hard dollar saying "e pluribus unum", pluralist monism, prevails as long as no one questions too closely.
The clips are framed into the super-clip by scenes of the enduring western "The Searchers" (John Ford, 1956), a classic epic of the undying law-and-order- and gunpowder hero John Wayne who pursues the inhuman redskins who killed his brother and his pregnant wife and kidnapped his daughter. "The Searchers" glorify the search which is successful after endless stress and strain. Undoubtedly Usama bin Ladin is non the evil savage, a diabolical aborigine, a wild chieftain beyond civilization who must be decapitated so everything will be good. Thus the films are blinded about real events. Merged with them, reality is intoxicated in the fictional. What a pity that Sam Peckinpah's "Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974) is missing. What is underscored is the most direct form of justice that would have spared the arduous ride of the "Searchers".
Hollywood's love service for the "White House" is a mutual affair. Politics relies on good "war-tainment" and Hollywood speculates on the recurring gratitude of the government to prevail in its global business without restrictions. There is still much to do since the rest of the world beyond the US should be excited by Hollywood's film message. Since John Wayne could be too broad for this saddle, the western "Wagon Song of the Death Blow" (Soldier Blue, 1969) which summarized the historical care for the Indians was offered instead for the international "All Time Greats" list.
The credits for the non-American version of "Enduring Entertainment" could have been spoken by the Suquamish chief Seattle: "People make their gods according to their conceptions. Brothers come from the same spirit. Therefore your God is not our God and you are not our brothers. We are two different races with different origins and different fates. There is nothing common between us" (1853).