Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Did Tarantino prime us for Cheney? Part II

Sometimes, it seems, a culture writes its own critique before a critic can even get to it. Despite the screams from several vapid bloggers over my bringing up the parallel between Quentin Tarantino and Dick Cheney, some on the far right are already making much the same point - only this time approvingly. Over at Big Hollywood, an offshoot of Andrew Beitbart's bizarre quasi-fascist new media empire, someone named Chuck Devore, a California State Assemblyman and candidate for U.S. Senate, is already wondering, "What if Tarantino had the 'Basterds' take Taliban scalps?"

And I have to hand it to Devore - he may not be a professional critic, but he immediately perceives the political subtext of Tarantino's new opus:

It is interesting indeed to see those who applaud Tarantino’s latest, admittedly excellent work, revel in the unbridled revenge against Nazis who get what’s coming to them. Many of whom, without batting an eye, view al-Qaeda killers as deserving of respect, protection, and the benefit of civilian law. Since all that separates al-Qaeda from the Nazis is the means - industrial power, modern education, and an organized national base - one wonders why a certain amount of cognitive dissonance wouldn’t kick in after a liberal enjoyed screening “Basterds.”

Devore goes on to point out the obvious parallel between Cheney's arguments and Tarantino's dramaturgy:

To the point, what would a liberal think of the scene where Lt. Raine interrogates a captured German sergeant, demanding the location of a German outpost and its supporting artillery? As the German NCO refuses to talk, Raine orders one of his men to kill the prisoner with a baseball bat. When the two remaining German prisoners see this, one runs in horror and is shot down, while the other is brought over and threatened with the same deadly treatment. He talks, saving the lives of the American commandos. For the prisoner’s troubles, Raines carves a swastika into his forehead. By comparison, the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during interrogation seems rather pedestrian.

There's more, much more, about the Hague and Geneva Conventions, etc., etc. Go read the whole disgusting thing. And at least admit to yourself, Tarantino fans, that Devore is right - Inglourious Basterds is nothing if not a brief for the kind of abuses Cheney and the CIA got away with at Guantánamo and black sites around the world.

So I suppose the ball is now in 99seats' and Isaac Butler's court - if only either one knew how to swing a racquet! As for me, I'm not sure I even have to write a whole series on Tarantino anymore - I feel as if Devore's done the work for me . . .


  1. What's interesting to me as this unfolds is that some right-wingers attacked Michael Dukakis' presidential bid in 1988 by posing a hypothetical rape and murder of his wife and then asking how he could be a defender of due process instead of an advocate of vengeance. Now they are angry that liberals don't want to waterboard terrorist suspects.

    I haven't seen Ingloureous Basterds but I have to question, does enjoying a revenge fantasy implicate me in a government policy that bears a strong semblance to that revenge fantasy?

    Can a public that enjoys a Batman story and an artist that creates said Batman story, avoid being implicated in real-life vigilantism?

    Can we entertain sadistic fantasies in our entertainment and still be sincere advocates of liberal humanism?

  2. Devore's argument supports the notion that Cheney primed Tarantino, not the other way round.

  3. re: your comment on Mr. Butler

    What a cowardly, ball-less thing to say. As much as I may and do often disagree with Mr. Butler, insulting his ability to have a dialogue is just plain stupid. If you were well acquainted with his opinions and writings you would know....I have observed your responses as you insulted my friend James, my boyfriend Abe, and Isaac, all of your words attacks rather than than attempts at dialogue.

    You, sir, are an unfortunate side effect of the Blog culture: a dirty poster, always hitting below the belt. If you were an athlete you would be barred from your sport, because you do not fight fair, nor do you seek to elevate your sport. You, my non-friend, need to learn how to play skillfully rather than for blood.

    Mme. Rosebud

  4. To Ian: to be honest, I think the short answer is "no," although I'm not about to haul some Quentin Tarantino fan into court over Guantanamo. But we're faced by the simple fact that a leading film director, indeed, the oft-proclaimed avatar of his generation, is obsessed with torture and vigilantism, and we have had up until very recently a government that played on precisely those two cultural ideas. I don't believe in coincidences of that scale and order, and at any rate, the Tarantino-Cheney connection is a cultural parallel all but screaming for analysis.

    To Troubador: your argument would be stronger if "Inglourious Basterds" marked some sort of departure for Tarantino, but rather obviously it does not; it is part and parcel with the rest of his oeuvre. And at any rate, my argument is that Tarantino primed us for Cheney.

  5. And to Madame Renee Rosebud: please shove that stupid comment up your ass - which, judging from the photo, is your best feature. (Far enough below the belt for you?)

  6. Thomas, the notion that "Tarantino primed Cheney" is your argument. Devore's argument is that Cheney primed Tarantino. They are not the same argument so it makes little sense to use Devore to validate your position.

    Also, the interrogation techniques used in Abu Ghraib were not invented by Cheney. They had been used by American military and secret service operatives in Viet Nam in the sixties and Latin America in the eighties. The world simply became more aware of them after 9/11. And if anything primed America to "embrace torture", it was the Bush administration's exploitation of 9/11 and the fear engendered by a horrific mass murder. The actions of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were the crucial factor. Tarantino was irrelevant.

  7. I'm afraid, Troubador, that I have to insist my argument is not "Tarantino primed Cheney," whatever you may say. The fact is that you've simply misread my thesis, even though it's right up up there in the ongoing title of the posts, which reads: "Did Tarantino prime us for Cheney?" Note the "us." Of course Cheney was an evil slug before Tarantino was even born, and of course evil slugs have been torturing people since time began. But Tarantino is definitely relevant to the culture at large, and the culture at large is relevant to our acceptance of the Bush administration's "exploitation of 9/11." I sense this obvious point troubles you in some way, so I suggest you keep an open mind as you read my further posts.

  8. Perhaps I may have read more into it than you intended. Though you say "of course evil slugs have been torturing people since time began", you write as if it only started with the Bush administration. So when you said in your initial post that there was a link between Tarantino and the political culture, I interpreted the political culture to include government agencies that sanction torture, not just the general population.

    However, even if I'm wrong in that interpretation, my original point, that Devore's piece doesn't support your argument that "Tarantino primed us for Cheney" stands, and I'd like to see you address it.

    And even if I accepted your interpretation of the meaning of Tarantino's work, I'm still utterly unconvinced that he had any significant influence on the public's attitude to torture. If films had that power then Bush would've been thrown out of office after Michael Moore's Fahreheit 911, a movie that did comparable box office to Pulp Fiction and tore the Bush administration to shreds. Instead he won a second term.

  9. Okay, so you take "political culture" to mean specific government agencies, getting memos or what-have-you. Whatevah, as they say. At least you admit you're not willing to yield on the issue, I suppose. As for Michael Moore - actually, I think Michael Moore HAS had an effect on the left-liberal political culture, for good, and perhaps a little ill.