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February 20, 2010

Realities of War As Seen Through "The Hurt Locker"

Politicians who want to make the world safe for democracy by sending in the US military should remember a simple truth: most of the English-speaking countries in the world are already democracies. That means the barrel of a gun is the only form of communication between the vast majority of military personnel and the people they are "protecting."

Apparently, making a statement as overt as the above is too political for today's movie-making climate. And the UN is just a place for terrorists to place bombs. It's truly fascinating to me that more people are willing to watch, in slow motion, excruciatingly boring detail, the tour of a bomb squad than are willing to understand the nuance of diplomacy and cross-cultural communication.

At this point, I don't care what you think about the Iraq War. I think it's a travesty that instead of trying to better understand Iraqis, today's war movies can only accomplish one thing: increase our empathy for American soldiers.

Compare The Hurt Locker to Three Kings: in this year's biggest Oscar bait flick, the most extensive Iraqi part goes to a kid hocking pirated DVDs. On the other hand, the fictitious depiction of the first Iraq War provided a look at both the terror inflicted by Saddam's regime and the cruelty of the "American liberators" (in that they abandoned their Iraqi cohorts rather than working to overthrow Hussein).

Oh - but there, I've done it. I must be a crazy left-wing nut to want my war movies to have a point, a plot, and a reason to care about the characters.

This post is not about how I think the US should have handled its relationship with the country of Iraq. This is about the depiction of war in the US: the rejection of nuance; the refusal to portray any non-Western character as more than 2-dimensional, and the ridiculous Scarlet A attached to any film that dares to make you think about the consequences of war.

I just don't know why I'm so surprised.

Posted by cj at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

February 7, 2010

Cause Marketing and Drug Addiction: Two Gifts the US Gives to the Americas

This weekend, I was desperate for a massage. In addition to my chronic pain, I returned to the gym this week and my entire body has been screaming at me ever since.The receptionist at my neighborhood spa said "10% of our proceeds on Sunday go to Haiti relief."

I didn't try--at any point--to express my opinion on retail fundraising. First of all, where exactly is this 10% going? (They never did give me a nonprofit name for their contribution.) Second, if I really cared about giving money to Haiti wouldn't it be more effective for me to give the money directly to a nonprofit? I rarely contribute to anything besides WILPF, but when the earthquake hit, I did donate to Partners In Health. But I don't make spa appointments based on my desire to help out the world. Mostly, I make them for personal reasons: like every muscle in my body being tight and the pain in my back and forearms being overwhelming.

The commodification of nonprofits demoralizes me. The insistence that for-profit models ("social entrepreneurship") is how we should all move forward towards a better world. And the way businesses use cause marketing to enhance their brand cache (and bring customers in on a slow Super Bowl Sunday) is just ridiculous.

But these are my problems with the system in general. I don't hold it against my local spa that they chose to jump on the bandwagon. Mostly, I've been plagued by the questions that family members raised: how can we be sure the money doesn't line the pockets of corrupt politicians (or greedy NGOs)? The answer to that is simple - give to Partners In Health. But to the larger question - how has Haiti persistently stayed the poorest country in the hemisphere? To that, I don't have the clearest answer.

I know some things in general terms: US governments backed coups. US corporations supported corrupt governments that suppressed the people of Haiti. US agriculture dumped food stuffs on Haiti that US consumers don't want to eat (all those chicken breasts we clamor for? They're attached to animals full of the other, other white meat. As in dark meat. As in the food we dump on developing countries at prices far lower than it would take to raise a chicken and slaughter it in the country.) While based on the experience of Jamaica, the documentary film Life and Debt can give insight into these issues.

But ultimately, and this I should have realized before reading an op-ed in the NYT, it comes down to a simple equation: US drug addicts fuel violence, instability, and class chasms throughout Latin America. I think it's a bit of a stretch to link a crack pipe in NYC to a terrorist cell in Yemen. But it's a much easier link between that crack pipe and the social/economic/political problems of Haiti and many other Latin American countries.

Ben Fountain details the connection in his brilliant op-ed, "Addicted to Haiti." If we want to give Haiti a fighting chance of recovering, instead of trying to adopt its orphaned citizens, we should start caring for the US'ians who are addicted to cocaine. We should start treating US addiction as the public health crisis it is, rather than continuing this nonsense about wars and czars. Black and white, law-based reaction to addiction has failed. Not just for Haiti. But for the survivors of never-ceasing blood baths in Juarez, Mexico. And the survivors of the never-ending civil war in Colombia. And every family who has struggled to put the pieces back together after a loved one diminishes his brain capacity by filling it with toxic substances. And for the addicts who struggle to stay sober; and the ones who don't make it.

Let's stop texting the Red Cross. Trust me, they'll keep going without you. Let's get real about regional development and start working to decrease demand, increase the availability of rehabilitation, de-criminalize addiction, increase social and economic opportunities so fewer kids seek out gangs for community identification / monetary gain. What do you say? What do we have to lose?

Posted by cj at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)