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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


Axis of evil

I was finally able to watch this documentary last night. I thought it was good - and it relied on a lot of local experts, which was interesting. It had the most powerful and gorgeous opening credits I've seen, and relied heavily on an art project that created stamps in the theme of "Axis of evil" (after Bush's infamous "Axis of evil" speech).

But one thing that confused me, and that dampened my enthusiasm for it was that it seemed to be 2 discrete films, with little to no connection between them. The beginning of the film had several experts (including the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who I thought was really cool, and a very sweaty historian from almostivy) talking about what evil is. I appreciated that many of them rejected that term as artificially dichotomizing things into evil or not - whereas there is more of a continuum there than we like to admit.

They then went into racism as one manifestation of evil. I thought this was a lovely linkage and it led me to expect, unfortunately, that they would talk about other more ubiquitous evils that maybe we don't associate with evil. I really liked that one of my old professors was interviewed (she was considered to be a terrorist herself for many years - due to her relation to a fringe group that bombed buildings to protest US policy and racism), as she did some nice linkages to evil, racism, and how we treat children and deal with poverty.

But, instead they seemed to leap to terrorism and the Iraq war. Although I found that interesting too, I failed to see how it was linked to issues of racism within that film - with one exception. One of the experts noted that during WWII, soldiers would often take "souvenirs" when they killed Japanese soldiers, which they did not do with Nazi soldiers. The expert related this to the racism in the training of the American soldiers. Although I think that is interesting, I have a hunch that there was a lot of otherizing of the Nazis (like calling them krauts), and that the attitudes may well have been more negative towards them. I think I would have liked more of a discussion of racism vis a vis the Iraq war and the extremely negative views many Americans have toward Iraqis, Arabs, and Muslims.

Part of that too is related to another film I saw recently called "Brothers and others" which detailed how the US has misused the Patriot Act to investigate and incarcerate (and torture) Muslim-Americans (and anyone who appears to be Muslim). I'd like to see them link that to our racism and the propaganda we have been subjected to post 9.11. I did, however , like that they noted that we are calling "insurgents" in Iraq "terrorists" and I also appreciated their criticisms of how the major news outlets are handling the coverage of the war, and the absolute disneyfication of the news, and how (with the exception of the horrific Fox) each major network basically covers everything in exactly the same way.

I was left with a few criticisms of the film:

1. If they were trying to do some sort of survey of institutionalized evils, I don't know why they completely ignored sexism and violence against women. It felt like a huge misstep to me, and made me aware (yet again) of how marginalized that area is and how loath people are to address it.

2. To some extent, the discussions of war and terrorism were a bit dated. The film was made in 2004, and things have changed drastically (apparently they were interviewed just when things were starting to heat up in Fallujah). What kind of stunned me when I was thinking about this later is that the landscape of the war has shifted pretty dramatically in the past 3 years making that part of the film less current. However, the landscape of racism has not changed at all, making that part of the film just as timely today as it was then.

3. They barely touched on the linkages between the atrocities in the VietNam war, and those we have seen in Iraq. I felt confused that it seemed as though they were called "atrocities" in VietNam, but were seen as just behaviors resultant from a difficult war in Iraq. I wish they had made the links more explicit, and had talked more about the conditions under which one is more or less likely to engage in "evil" behaviors.

4. They relied too much on talking heads.

5. I also didn't really like that the discussion of racism focused on men. Indeed, men of color (perhaps particularly black men) face significant deleterious effects of racism in terms of educational opportunities, jobs, biases, and unfair and unjust imprisonment and the application of the death penalty. But, what about women of color? What about unplanned pregancies and inequal access to birth control and abortion? What about economic issues and access to jobs that provide a living wage and affordable childcare? What about issues related to welfare and our racist beliefs undergirding TANF and forcing poor women to take crappy jobs just to get them "off the dole"? What about violence and the rates of HIV/AIDS? What about the sexual abuse of girls? What about girls and education?


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