Killing Politicians and Other Guilty Pleasures

In the leftist pile-on blaming the Tucson shootings on the right, the collective voice of Hollywood was muted.  Some, like Jane Fonda and Michael Moore, were among the notable exceptions, but most, including many normally outspoken liberals, were silent.  Hollywood's instinct for self-preservation makes many wary of anything that resembles the issue of whether John Hinckley's attempted assassination of President Reagan was in any way related to Hinckley's obsession with Martin Scorsese's movie Taxi Driver.

Even after it became abundantly clear that the shooter was mentally disturbed rather than politically motivated, leftist politicians, pundits, and bloggers proclaimed that things like crosshairs on a campaign map of political districts and militaristic metaphors like "don't retreat, reload" were subliminal calls to violence and political killings by even the apolitical among the deranged.  It's a matter of "climate," they claimed.

Were these people expressing sincere conviction or betraying a despicably ghoulish opportunism?  If they truly believe their claims and that the purveyors of this language and imagery must be held accountable and act responsibly, why aren't they confronting Hollywood for presenting the killing of politicians in a favorable light?  The answer is that such principles don't apply to their political allies!

I am not referring to the British faux-documentary Death of a President (2006) that has been mentioned by some this last week, in which President George W. Bush is assassinated. I am writing of two American-made films in which characters presented as right-wing elected officials were killed, by either the hero of the movie (Shooter) or by one of the right-wing politician's own minions in a scene intended to be humorous (Machete).  In both films, the killing of the elected official was meant to be enjoyed by the audience, and for many on the left, that was precisely the case.

Shooter (2007)

Ned Beatty plays evil Senator Charles Meachum, a character who resembles Dick Cheney.  The senator is linked to the massacre of Ethiopian villagers in the interests of his "big oil" consortium.  The hero, a former military sniper played by Mark Wahlberg, kills the senator.

Try to imagine the reaction to a movie with an elected official shown as corrupt but who is also presented as being liberal on various positions (e.g., supports unions, subsidizing clean energy companies, auto industry bailouts) and is made to resemble Senator John Kerry or Vice President Biden.  Imagine the reaction if this character were killed by the movie's hero.

Thomas de Zengotita, contributing editor at Harper's Magazine, wrote this at the Huffington Post:

A really smart bit of left wing (I'm for it!) propaganda aimed at the Bush administration, the Iraq War and, especially, Dick Cheney...see the movie and tell me that Ned Beatty, as Montana Senator Charles F. Meachum, isn't doing an SNL version of Dick Cheney. Then reflect on what happens to him in the movie...We are all entitled to fantasies of vengeance.

Jamie Russell reviewed the movie for the properly left BBC, finding it all good fun.  Russell also likes crosshairs placed over political enemies, but in this imagery, triggers were pulled:

Mark Wahlberg has the neo-cons in his crosshairs in Shooter..."There ain't no Sunnis and Shia, no Democrats or Republicans," thunders Ned Beatty's corrupt senator (doing a fair Dick Cheney impersonation). "There's just haves and have-nots".

David Edelstein, film critic for NPR's Fresh Air and CBS Sunday Morning, wrote in New York Magazine:

Lefty peaceniks who object to the red-meat vigilante action genre on moral and political grounds but down deep wonder if they'd enjoy watching evil right-wing war criminals get their heads blown off should check out Shooter.

Writing of the film's sniper hero who kills the Cheney lookalike Senator, Edelstein says he "doesn't need subpoena power to do a little government housecleaning."

Machete (2010)

In Machete, directed by Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez, Robert De Niro plays the evil right-wing Senator McLaughlin, who campaigns on securing the southern border while warning of an impending invasion of Mexican illegals.  In what is intended to be a humorous scene, the senator is killed during a battle on the border when his murderous anti-immigrant vigilante allies mistake him for a border-crossing Mexican.

Marshall Fine has written and reviewed films for USA Today, the LA Times, the New York Daily News, and the Huffington Post.  His review finds the movie entertaining, and note how he describes the murderous vigilante "types" that get their violent comeuppance at the end:

( ... [Rodriguez] does point out the hypocrisy, hyperbole and fear-mongering of the right wing.) It's mostly a backdrop and plot device to build to a massive final battle between Mexican-Americans and Tea Party types ... Yes, there will be those who dismiss "Machete" ... But that would be to deny both the wit and imagination that Rodriguez brings to this extravagantly entertaining movie.

While the NY Times has been at the forefront in blame-gaming the Tucson shootings, its review found nothing objectionable in this movie that had a senator killed.  Quite the opposite, in fact!  Here the Times has nothing but disdain and contempt for anyone who might find such objectionable:

McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a Texas senator who campaigns on a rabid anti-immigration platform and whom Mr. De Niro plays as a crinkly-eyed, hate-spewing hybrid of Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush; one campaign commercial compares illegal immigrants to cockroaches ... The only viewers it is likely to upset are the same kind of people who once claimed that the purple Tinky Winky in "Teletubbies" promoted a gay agenda.

At the Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas and writer after writer blamed the Tucson shootings on the right, and in particular Sarah Palin.  Oddly enough, some months ago, a Kos diarist named Dartagnan wrote about his concerns that Machete could possibly lead to violence, and as a result, he was accused in the comments of thinking like a fascist.  Dartagnan then made specific his concern that the movie will "glorify the killing of a U.S. Senator to avenge the treatment of illegal aliens[.]"

For that, Dartagnan was accused of racism and pandering to the right because he didn't write of the same concern about the movie Shooter, in which the hero was white and not Latino (as in Machete!)  In another diary, the writer had seen Machete and called it a "Guilty Pleasure" because racist white males got their due.  In short, concern that a movie showing the killing of a senator could possibly lead to real violence against elected officials was in short supply at Daily Kos.

It is now widely recognized that Jared Lee Loughner is mentally ill, and probably schizophrenic.  It is also widely recognized that a large number of homeless persons suffer from mental illness.  Later this month, a movie called Hobo With a Shotgun, starring Rutger Hauer, will premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.  As the title implies, a homeless man becomes a vigilante with a shotgun who blows away or otherwise dispatches lots of bad folks and thereby becomes a hero.  Mr. Krugman, Congressman Clyburn, Senator Durbin...anything to say to Hollywood?  Anything at all?