Much has been made over the moral ambiguity of Spielberg's latest film, "Munich":
Israelis blast message of Spielberg's "Munich"
Steven Spielberg's new film "Munich", about Israel's reprisals for the slaying of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, has not opened yet but already many Israelis are convinced that the world-famous creator of "Schindler's List" has missed the point.
Even the usually tight-lipped veterans of Israeli spy agency Mossad are among those up in arms at the thriller Spielberg calls his "prayer for peace", even though it won't screen in the United States until Dec. 23 and in Israel on Jan. 26.
Israeli critics say the 2-1/2 hour movie suggests wrongly that their decades-old fight with the Palestinians is as much a matter of score-settling as self defence and only perpetuates Middle East violence.
Spielberg: Sensitive to Mass Murderers
A terrorist mass murderer is whining that he’s afraid Steven Spielberg’s film about the Munich Olympics atrocity will portray him in a bad light.
Spielberg says not to worry; his film will be sensitive to all sides. (Hat tip: Ryan.)
Sensitive to the murderous savages of Black September?
Civil Liberties Under Siege!
(Incidentally, that reminds me: did you hear Chris Matthews say that he was for ruthlessly tracking down the terrorists and killing them, like PM Golda Meir did after the Munich massacre? Apparently, it's okay for the President to decide which "suspects" are to be liquidated in third countries without any other country's consent-that is consistent with international law-but Matthews draws the line at doing the same thing while not killing them and merely holding them instead. I'm not sure they want your support there, Chris.)
(Speaking of Munich, Steven Spielberg says he hopes his new film helps the peace process. The script is by Tony "I Wish Israel Had Never Been Born" Kushner. I just can't wait to see the depths that self-hating moral equivalency can plumb!)
Now I cannot know what Spielberg had in mind; I'm sure like most people out here in La-La Land, Spielberg's moral ambiguity on anything having to do with politics today will probably be supremely stupid. Personally, having lived in California all of my life and in Southern California for most of it, I can see how the sand, surf, beautiful shopping centers and beautiful people can cause you to live in a glass bubble where your effective I.Q. drops about a point or two per year. Many of the Southern California Elite are barely able to not drool on the carenthian leather that covers the dashboards of their Mercedes Benz convertables, much less talk coherently about world affairs.
However, I have to take issue with many commentators who look at movies like Munich made in the past couple of years and suggest that this is an example of Hollywood's anti-American bias. The reality is not that Hollywood suddenly has decided to weigh in with it's anti-Americanism after 9/11, and a bunch of movies are starting to surface which reflect this rooting for the bad guys.
The reality is that the types of stories Hollywood is telling have become increasingly morally ambiguous over the past four or five decades.
The start of this moral ambiguity can be traced back to almost the beginning of story telling. in Dante's Inferno and other similar stories, Lucifer is always a much more interesting story character than God. God, you see, is Perfect and Perfection in every way--and as such, becomes a very two-dimensional character. God will never have lapses of evil, or cases where He is in doubt; perfection means single-mindedness and single-purposeness in action.
God, in short, is boring.
Lucifer, on the other hand, is a much more interesting character because Lucifer is imperfect. And imperfect evil can often show flashes of indecision, doubt, and even have elements of good reflected in it's imperfections. Lucifer, in other words, becomes a much more interesting character because Lucifer is imperfect--and, so just about any modern discussion on the mechanics of story-telling goes, a much easier character to relate to.
In the 20th century, this sort of imperfect villain made villains much more interesting than the good guys. Disney's Wicked Witch was a far more interesting character than Snow White in part because she showed a darkness that we can all relate to at some level, and because she showed imperfection that most of us understand. Snow White is almost an enigma of perfection to us; innocent, beautiful, an ideal of perfection which is wronged in Disney's story--and a complete bitch to most of us who are sick to death of an image of perfection we will never be able to reach.
(Which, by the way, is one of the reasons why Disney made a killing selling women's tank-tops and sleepware with a small jeweled "Wicked" on the chest and the logo of the Wicked Witch from Snow White.)
This trend helped to create the "Anti-hero", the imperfect hero character who possesses the qualities traditionally assigned to the villain or outlaw. The retelling of Batman as the Dark Knight in movies such as Batman Begins touches on these themes: Batman as the villainous outlaw who fights crime out of misguided vengence over his parents' death; this is just the latest incarnation. Looking back we get the hijinks of the imperfect heros in M*A*S*H, the suicidal drug-addicted detective in From Hell, the suicidal warrior who finds redemption in Dances with Wolves, the anti-heroic storyteller Antonio Saleri in Amadeus, the narcissistic failures in Ordinary People...
The list goes on.
We like our heros imperfect. We cheer when our anti-hero gets enraged and murders the bad guys. We expect our anti-heros to engage us with their flaws, even when their flaws didn't exist in the real world. We want to be entertained.
So we tell stories where we elevate an evil but imperfect Lilith into a superhero. Tortured and evil half-vampires become superheros in their own right. Hell, one author made evil sexy and cool, describing draining the blood of an innocent and murdering that innocent child into a highly erotically charged story.
So when folks complain about Munich and Syriana and their moral ambiguity, just remember: the last time we told stories that were not morally ambiguous was with movies such as The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady--movies that seem almost childish and naive to a modern audience raised on Dirty Harry and The French Connection.