In a country where freedom of the press is nearly absolute, it's always funny to see media figures act as if their speech is under threat by the mere fact that a Republican occupies the White House, as if by sheer force of his presence in a position of power, George W. Bush by thought alone (amazing considering his tremendous alleged stupidity), can see to it that all contrary speech is snuffed out of existence.
One media figure has enough of a tendency to do this alone but get a room full of them together and the paranoia and political naivete are thick enough to cut with a knife. Newsweek obtained such a result a few days ago when it got several Oscar nominated directors together for a chat. George Clooney and Steven Spielberg provided the bilge to go along with the coffee:
PAUL HAGGIS ("Crash"): The worst thing you can do to a filmmaker is to walk out of his film and go, "That was a nice movie." But if you can cause people to walk out and then argue about the film on the sidewalk ... I think we're all seeking dissension, and we love to affect an audience. George, I remember walking out of your movie--
BENNETT MILLER ("Capote"): --in the middle --[Laughter]
GEORGE CLOONEY ("Good Night and Good Luck"): He's getting me back for that hair comment.
HAGGIS: But you walk out of 'Good Night, and Good Luck,' and you want to go have coffee with your friends and discuss it. All these films were troubling and asked important questions.
CLOONEY: From the end of the first wave of the civil-rights movement, all the way through Watergate, people were constantly talking about what was going on in the country. Now it seems that's happening again. You can sit in a room and have people talk about politics—in Los Angeles, of all places.
ANG LEE ("Brokeback Mountain"): There seems to be a collective social consciousness.
STEVEN SPIELBERG ("Munich"): I think we all have been given our marching orders ... Maybe I shouldn't get into this. [Pause] I just feel that filmmakers are much more proactive since the second Bush administration. I think that everybody is trying to declare their independence and state their case for the things that we believe in. No one is really representing us, so we're now representing our own feelings, and we're trying to strike back.
QUESTION: So Bush has been good for film?
SPIELBERG: I wouldn't just say Bush. The whole neo-conservative movement.
CLOONEY: Because it's polarizing. I'm not going to sit up and say, 'This is how you should think.' But let's at least acknowledge that there should be an open debate, and not be told that it's unpatriotic to ask questions.
Truth be told, there is a value in a film "seeking dissension," as Haggis puts it, since no one wants to see a film as boring as real life usually is. A good movie will have you talking about it for a while afterwards.
What's disappointing, though, is that none of the directors seemed to realize that every president beginning with Richard Nixon has been polarizing. One also has to wonder whether it's ever entered any of the participants' minds that they might encourage "open debate" by making a movie that rejects a common liberal sentiment or idea. Such a film would doubtless take more courage than making nonsensical denouncements of the nefarious neoconservatives.