Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cowboys and Arabs

Our criteria for what makes a movie worth watching are as diverse as the cultures to whom this blog is intended. Some consider a film worthwhile only if it has a happy ending (a particularly American syndrome).

One of my criteria for a worthwhile film is whether it makes me think. My wife and I went to see “Body of Lies” the other night, and I came away thinking.

Without having read David Ignatius’ book, I can only take the film at face value. Was the Ed Hoffman character (played by Russell Crow) an intentional caricature of the stereotypical American cowboy with some very sophisticated toys he’s not afraid to use on people he’s never taken the time to understand? (It irks my Mississippi-born wife to no end that these characters always have southern accents.) Are we to extrapolate and believe that everyone in the U.S. intelligence community is cut from the same cloth? Whether or not that’s the case (and I still dare to hope it’s not), Hoffman’s line toward the end of the film (“After all, what is to like about this place?”) reflects an undeniable fact: many of us simply don’t see anything to like about, in this case, “these Arabs.” You could replace the word “Arabs” with countless other names, depending on what culture you live in and who your traditional enemies are.

I once had a voice student in Switzerland whose example left an indelible impression on me. She was from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, a relatively small area and unfortunately susceptible to the traditional French prejudice toward Germans and German speakers. Aware of this prejudice in her own heart, this lady actually sought out a job in Zurich, the largest city in the larger German-speaking area of Switzerland –- simply to find something to like about those German speakers! Needless to say, she was not disappointed, and to this day has maintained several close friendships there.

Enough said. Or perhaps not.

Welcome to Water Cooler Wednesday.

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