Sunday, May 01, 2005

# Posted 3:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BAND OF (POLITICALLY CORRECT) BROTHERS: Band of Brothers was a superb cinematic acheivement. But it wasn't perfect. Even though I loved it, I noticed a few unusual things about its politics. First and foremost, in ten hours of action and dialogue, there isn't a single negative remark made about blacks or homosexuals.

In the first couple of episodes, BoB makes a big deal about the tensions caused by a very specific set of ethnic and religious differences. Instead of Irish and Italians, we hear about micks and wops. On the boat over to England, a vaguely anti-Semitic remark gets one Jewish soldier mad enough to throw a punch.

But after that, everything is just peachy. This Band of Brothers has to learned to transcend the petty differences that divide our nation. The US army has become not just the liberator of Europe, but yet another great American melting pot. It almost makes you forget that the army was still segregated at the end of WWII.
So what's going on here? Aren't Hollywood liberals like Spielberg and Hanks supposed to be reminding us of the dark side of American history, of our betrayal of our own democratic ideals? In general, yes. But not when the subject of discussion is The Greatest Generation. Because they are perfect. Because they live in a timeless land that has never heard of partisan politics.

World War II was the good war, so even Hollywood liberals tend to forget all of things they don't like about America circa 1945. Moreover, liberals need a good war to praise in order to demonstrate that their opposition to all those other wars reflects a nuanced political philosophy rather than just dovish naivete.

When liberals want to remind us of all the bad things America has done, they make films about Vietnam. Thus, if Hollywood history is to be trusted, one might infer that Americans were far more racist in 1968 than they were in 1945.

Now some of you may be thinking, "So what? Why should anyone care if Hollywood occasionally forgets to be hypercritical about American history?" Well, I can think of three reasons. The first is simply that precise thinking about history is always better than mythologizing the past. That principle applies even more to a film like BoB, which is based on a work of non-fiction by a professional scholar and has been widely praised for its "realistic" portrayal of the past.

The second reason has to do with anti-Semitism. BoB may simply ignore racism and homophobia, but it deliriously pretends that if Jews and gentiles go to war together, suddenly there's no more prejudice. Since BoB devotes almost an entire episode to Easy Company's liberation of a concentration camp, you'd hope it could deal with American anti-Semitism in a more forthright manner.

Now, it should go without saying that American anti-Semitism was the palest shadow not just of the vicious Nazi faith, but of the anti-Semitism that prevailed throughout Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Nonetheless, American anti-Semitism was part and parcel of the same Western tradition from which European anti-Semitism derived. When that point is forgotten, it becomes too easy to pretend that anti-Semitism is a thing of a past.

Third of all, I've had it up to here with The Greatest Generation. Not because it wasn't great or didn't make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our nation. But because it represents a sort of unthinking nostalgia that makes it very hard to think about the present in a realistic manner. In the same way that our glorification of the Founding Fathers makes us lament the intense partisanship of today, our glorification of The Greatest Generation does the same. Yet like the Founding Fathers, The Greatest Generation often found itself riven by partisan and ideological conflicts.

I don't know if the early 21st century will some day be considered a landmark period of triumph in American history, but I am fairly confident that even bitter deliberations are vital to the success of our democracy today, no less than they were in 1776 or 1945.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Oh my gosh... you are a moron. And a destructive, petty, self-absorbed one at that. Why don't you have a little sit-down with my father? He can tell you how freeing a camp full of starving, tortured people tends to make trivial biases within your own ranks seem pointless. Idiot!!
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