Apocalypse Now, Dispatches, Michael Herr, and Shooting War

OK, I think some clarification is in order.

Yes, Apocalypse Now is based on Heart of Darkness, but! the screenplay for that movie–as well as Full Metal Jacket–is co-authored by none other than Michael Herr. Herr wrote a non-fiction account of his time as an embedded journalist in Vietnam–complete with his accounts of actually accompanying troops into the shit, his dealings with Generals clearly lying about the situation in Vietnam, etc. The point I wanted to make in class is that Apocalypse Now is, in fact, based heavily upon Herr’s experience in Vietnam. The story follows Heart of Darkness but some of the things that happen are based on the very real scenes in Dispatches–this is how Herr makes both Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket so damned realistic–he was there. The cover of Shooting War quotes Forbes magazine: “A winner…The Apocalypse Now of the War on Terrorism.” My question/point had to do with whether the authors knew about Dispatches or not. If they did, then this is a great example of their view on the media. Forbes didn’t say it was the Dispatches, but referenced a movie–much more popular culture. This is just like the media going sensational/getting everything wrong in Shooting War and not really presenting both sides/doing their homework. The real Shooting War of Vietnam is Michael Herr’s book, DispatchesApocalypse Now references the book frequently. Scenes from both of those movies pull from Herr’s book, which does a lot of the same things Shooting War does, just without the graphical element. Since we just left last class, I doubt many people will read this–but now I feel vindicated. This is my rant/revenge post since I lost that point so quickly in class. I feel better now, but will concede that I didn’t vehemently back up that point because I wasn’t sure if it was Full Metal and Platoon or Full Metal and Apocalypse that Herr co-wrote. Dispatches is an amazing read for anyone interested in what it was like to be a journalist during that fight, or anyone just looking for an excellent read. For those familiar with Full Metal Jacket, that line about shooting women and children (easy, just don’t lead them so much) is something a real heli-gunner said to Herr. Yeah, it’s that kind of book. Just thought I’d finish the thought I didn’t finish in class because I lost faith in my reference. That’s what I get for saying “based on” instead of “partially based upon” :-)

Good luck on your papers and read Dispatches!

Dispatches

Apacolypse Now–right there in the top paragraph–“drawing elements from…Dispatches.” Ha! (not that Wikipedia is scholarly or anything, but…)

Can’t Stop the Signal

I was puzzled by some of the posts I read talking about the graphic novel form as comical or simplistic – I never carried those expectations, so to me what “Shooting War” felt most like was pulp fiction or even young adult fiction. While the content was adult and somewhat explicit, the style of writing was hackneyed and the characterization and narrative were rushed and incomplete. I heard that the authors were asked to expand this novel from the first two chapters, and if so, that accounts for what I felt as a confused narrative arc with an ending that I can only call… pasted on. (Also, wow, I hope those blog posts were meant to be whiny and annoying …because they were.) Not only was Jimmy’s redemption unbelievable in terms of his previous actions (With so much previous introspection there was surprisingly little immediate insight into what made him upload those clips.), it was unbelievable in terms of the world he lived in. With such a media splash with those Youtube clips, there’s no way he would be allowed to be freelance and not get snapped up again! Maybe I just wasn’t reading closely, but does anyone know what happened to his people at Global? And what was up with the sanctification of Yoda Rather? Is he some kind of hero to the Left that I don’t know about? I felt in general like I was watching a made-for-TV movie with cut and paste bildungsroman characters.

The art style, however, was arresting and very effective at conveying the aesthetic message, I thought. I particularly enjoyed the skull and cross that formed the maskfaces of the soldiers. Talk about anti-religion! Overall, while the story gave a good framework for the art’s scope, I didn’t feel like each carried the other to its full potential or to a true marriage.

I did fully enjoy the alternate universe aspects of the novel, however, as science fiction works best when it is scarily plausible. McCain and the eminent domain struck a chord in me, as some have pointed out in their posts, but I still don’t see what the solution to fight back against the Evil Oppresors is. I suppose we should all become vloggers and keep information flowing constantly?

“In the Shadow of No Towers,” on the other hand, was very charming and effective. I was a bit taken aback by the extreme leftist views of the text. No matter if I share those views, it’s disorienting and strange when literature and propaganda/advertising explicitly overlap. Of course I was charmed by his references to his own work when the mouse appeared. I liked the image of his family running away from the disaster paralleling his own running away temporally to the old comics. It’s strange how influential these comics were but how we don’t typically read them either as part of the canon or as popular ad-packaged entertainment. The traces of their influence on pop culture and literature is all that’s left, so that’s one reason that I was excited to see some of the original works (especially Little Nemo and Upside-Downs).

Corporations and Flat Characters

Some of you have commented on the parts of Shooting War that seemed flat (the characters) or gimmicky (the ending).  I agree with those comments, but I also think that the book gives us a very real sense of the fine line between our current way of life and a full blown dystopia.  As Don DeLillo points out in “The Guardian,” corporations have become a fatally important part of our society, deemphasizing the power of our own government.  Our current market is run according to the idea of exponential growth.  Corporations go uncontrolled, wreaking havoc on the environment and the economy. 

One of the first things we hear about in Shooting War is “eminent domain.”  In the dystopic America that Burns lives in, the government has the ability take private property and redistribute it to the corporations who can promise the most revenue.  Although we don’t see this idea fully fleshed out, it is easy to imagine the horrors that would accompany this law. 

In this scenerio, the government doesn’t work for the people anymore, but for the big corporations.  Lappe shows how the government is not only ineffective, but actually harmful.  All the government actions we see, such as the masacre of citizens, culminates to the final action in the book.  The last thing we hear about the government is that McCain will not run for another term, a sign that our government has failed.

Getting back to the idea that the characters were flat, what did people think of Abu?  Like most of the characters, I felt like he wasn’t very developed.  The psychological underpinnings of a terrorist just weren’t there.  I was hoping for more complexity from that character, but instead I got things like “of course I may die, but this isn’t about me.”  His dialougue often seemed cheesy and oversimplified. 

But to be fair, Burns and Crash are not very complex characters either, so perhaps its just a flaw of the medium. I have to admit, I’m not an avid comic reader, so I’m not sure how the medium may stifle some the psychological development of characters.  Unlike the terrorists in Shooting War, DeLillo gives an eery look at terrorism: “He builds a plot around his anger and our indifference. He lives a certain kind of apartness, hard and tight. This is not the self-watcher, the soft white dangling boy who shoots someone to keep from disappearing into himself. The terrorist shares a secret and a self. At a certain point he and his brothers may begin to feel less motivated by politics and personal hatred than by brotherhood itself. They share the codes and protocols of their mission here and something deeper, a vision of judgment and devastation.”

I think this passage does a better job getting at the psyche of the terrorist.  DeLillo shows the terrorists’ intense sense of separation from the rest of the world.  In one passage he discusses the lifestyle of the terrorist, their vision, their motiviation, and their sense of self, which is more than we see out of Abu.

Starbucks in the Middle East

It’s interesting how many McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks signs we see in the Iraqi streets in Shooting War.  This focus on American food outlets says something about economic globalization and “international integration” in the Middle East.  I won’t delve into this much, but a quick note on the attitudes towards globalization the Middle East: although some Middle Eastern intellectuals welcome the idea and note the benefits of economic globalization for its offering better job opportunities, others have expressed negative attitudes toward globalization in general, and cultural globalization in particular.  It’s been considered an equivalent to “Westernization” and also as a form of imperialism, since the ideas, cultures and institutions that are being spread around the globe are largely originated in the western part of the world.

Starbucks has large presence in Shooting War (after all, it is the “Frappucino” note that saves the day). The story opens with an explosion inside Starbucks in Brooklyn city by a Syrian named Al-Taheri.  Golden seems to have made a deliberate choice of making Starbucks the target of the bombing, considering the demonstrations against Starbucks coffee company held in some Middle Eastern countries.

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I remember a few summers ago in Beirut, I was walking back to my hotel as I bumped into an Iraqi/Kurdish girl that I’ve gotten to know during my stay.  When she saw what was a tall Caramel Frappacino in my hand she was infuriated and went on a long rant about Starbucks supporting Israel and donating a part of its profit to US troops in Iraq, and explained that by merely buying this Frappucino I was contributing in the killing of innocent civilians.  That was when I learned about the campaign against Starbucks that called for boycotting its products. It was a reaction to what Starbucks chairman Howard Schulz had said to a crowd of American Jews on Seattle’s Capitol Hill that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is fueled by anti-Semitism:

“What is going on in the Middle East is not an isolated part of the world. The rise of anti-Semitism is at an all time high since the 1930’s,” “The Palestinians aren’t doing their job they’re not stopping terrorism.”

This was the response of Yousef Al-Yousef, chairman of Global Peace:

“We are concerned that his [Schultz’s] statements exude Islamophobia and only seek to maintain the myth that the Palestinian struggle is against the Jewish people as opposed to being against an illegal occupation of land and an onslaught of aggression.”

http://www.muslimtents.com/aminahsworld/boycott_starbucks.htm

After sales dropped in Arab countries because of its pro-Israel rep, all six outlets in Israel were closed in April of 2003, while it continued to operate in other Middle Eastern countries. Starbucks spokesperson states that the decision was due to “operational challenges” and was not for political reasons.  This is the link to the full Starbucks article:

http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/pressdesc.asp?id=976

The Frequency is Courage!

Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War was humorous, entertaining, but also informative and politically charged.  The graphic novel seems to revolve around the issue of media manipulation.  At the center, Jimmy Burns finds himself blogging politically charged journalism,  field reporting, and dodging rocket-propelled grenades all at once.  Initially seen as a maverick of sorts capable of penetrating the political agendas, Jimmy Burns and his camera become tools of manipulation for various ‘parties’: terrorists and the sensationalist American media.  Shooting War seems to be commenting on the dangerous powers of instant media outlets.  The graphic novel brings to mind Don DeLillo’s Mao II and the manipulative power of images.  It is suggested that Brita’s photography might be turned into a political tool used by Bill Gray (or at least he initially intended to use his photograph) and Abu Rashid, but Brita demonstrates that the image can be used by any person or party (she ‘claims’ the child terrorist by removing of his hood and taking his picture).  In Shooting War, we see a similar trend: Jimmy Burns is used by both terrorists and media outlets like CNN.

Visually, Shooting War is equally intriguing, mixing drawings and real photography.  I think one of the most interesting illustrations done by Dan Goldman is the convoy ambush scene (sorry, no page numbers).  We enter the point-of-view of an American soldier through his tactical mask.  If you have ever played a ‘first-person shooter’ video game, the layout is very similar.  Later, we see another connection between video games and warfare with the mobile robot guns controlled by ‘gamers’ of the ’10th Infantry Division, Remote Battlefield Operations’.

Side Note:

I thought the inclusion of Dan Rather was hilarious, and apparently, “The frequency is courage” is a reference to a 1986 mugging of Rather by a man who said to him “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” which has become somewhat of an inside joke for pop culture.

On a completely unrelated note, I was watching an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” [#2.18, Up the Long Ladder] (…Yes, I’m a dork…), and I found quite a postmodern twist in the episode: Picard and his crew come across a planet with two near-extinct societies (Bringloidi and Mariposan).  The Bringloidi are a pre-modern, agricultural community, and the Mariposans are a technologically superior society who have stricken sexual reproduction from their way of life; they have survived only through generational cloning.  They are nearing extinction, however, due to ‘replicative fading’, which reminded me of the essay we read from Jean Baudrillard (‘Simulacra and Simulation’) earlier this semester.  The colony’s clonal replication has become reductive: each subsequent copy of a copy becoming less defined, more incomplete, and eventually fatal.  The solution was to merge the pre-modern Bringloidi with the Mariposans to ‘replenish’ the DNA pool.