Thursday, April 17, 2003

Ben and Jen Crap on Casablanca: Who Cares?

More pragmatic people may wonder why protesting an ill-conceived remake of a Hollywood classic is worthwhile when there are so many other things to be outraged about. Surely we are fueling the argument that leftists just have to be outraged by something no matter how trivial. And in examining my own feelings on the subject I have to wonder at my own vehemence. On the subject of Casablanca I really don’t have much to say. I’ve seen the movie exactly once and enjoyed it for the most part, but felt that it’s been so over-referenced and satirized that it no longer seems original. On the whole Ben and Jen media-whore-fest, I’m disgusted and for them to make a video like “Jenny from the Block” and then even attempt to approach classic Hollywood is enough to make blood come shooting out of my nose. But my outrage is mostly my own fault. Nobody’s forcing me to pay attention to their comings and goings. It’s like a car accident: I’m simultaneously horrified and transfixed. So it could be simple celebrity hatred.

But I believe it’s more complex than that. Browsing the comments on the petition two things jump out at me. The first is how scandalized people are, even people who don’t hate the two offending actors, people who respect the integrity of the film too much to see it “improved upon.” The second is that people are using antiwar rhetoric (albeit tongue in cheek) to sum up the depth of their feeling on the subject i.e. “Not In My Name,” “The Terrorists Have Won,” etc. And whenever I try to reexamine the possibility of a Casablanca remake with any kind of perspective I still can’t seem rid myself of a sense of the world having betrayed me at some fundamental level; a feeling that is very closely echoed by my feelings on the war.

(At this point I feel that I’m about to lose a bunch of you, left and right alike, so I can only plead with you to bear with me, and hope as I do that I end up making sense.)

At this very moment the art and history world is up in arms over the looting and burning of Iraqi museums and libraries, their anger and disbelief fueled by the oh-welling of Donald Rumsfield who saw fit to protect the Oil Ministry while letting 7,000 years worth of history disappear. I am more sickened than shocked by this, because it reaffirms everything that I believe about this administration, namely that they have no respect for history or art, and see the world in terms of power and money. One couldn’t even begin to explain to them the scope of how wrong this is.

The really sad thing is that it’s not just the administration. How many people care about this? In fact those of us that do care are being flamed for being more concerned about artifacts than Iraqi lives. Talk to people about the burning of the great Library in Alexandria, and feel your soul shrivel and your head throb at the blank stares you get. It’s an old story but no less depressing. Arts groups scramble for funds, the NEA loses more and more money, museums struggle to attract more patrons, and libraries can’t order more books. Meanwhile, somebody found the money necessary to finance a remake of Casablanca starring Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, because what’s the world-weary scowling visage of Humphrey Bogart compared to the Ben’s shiny cream-cheese mug. And how can the luminosity of Ingrid Bergman compete with the Jen’s ‘bout-it booty?

The line between the Casablanca remake, the antiwar sentiment, and the loss of Iraqi artifacts isn’t direct. I hesitate to make the comparison because the things are anything but equal. But they are part of the same animal; what is history when compared to money and power? What’s worth preserving and respecting if it can’t be bought or sold? The outrage against both is part of that same sense that nothing is sacred, not art, nor history, nor human life. If those aren’t sacred why should a little thing like Classic Hollywood be any different?

[Thanks to James and Jenn for the links.]

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