Friday, November 04, 2005

What GWB Has to Offer

I saw "A History of Violence" the other evening. It's a very powerful movie, probably the best that Mr. Cronenberg has made (and that's saying something from the man who brought you "Dead Ringers"). There's a simplicity to this movie that is really haunting. And yes, there is violence. But it's not gratuitous. You see the before, the during, and the after. And the after is where the film really hits you. You see how violence is nothing more than poison, pure and simple. Yes, sometimes it can be necessary when you have no other option. But it is a poison.

Yesterday, I was pondering a discussion that folks were having about our current President. Considering that is approval ratings are hitting historic lows, it may be a good time to ask why this President was so popular for so long. And, considering his popularity (particularly post-September 11), why so many people are changing their minds. And last night, the answer hit me.

First, I'd like to say that I was wrong. I suspect most people don't care about "leadership" in the same way that I do. And since most people only see the President on TV for a few minutes an evening, there is scant opportunity to evaluate those qualities.

But I do think that they care about something else: getting even.

There is a scene in "A History of Violence" that disturbed me greatly. I am going to spoil it for you, but it won't damage your experience with the film (if you choose to go see it). The protagonist's teenage son is being picked on by the school bully. And then he gets even. Explosively. Violently. In public. The ferocity that this seemingly gentle teenager exhibits is nothing short of terrifying. And it was particularly terrifying to me because I saw myself up on that screen. I was that kid once. But I never got the chance to attack my tormenters and shove them to the ground and beat on them until the blood and snot ran out of their noses in equal amounts. I never got the chance to stand over their bleeding bodies and taunt them the way they taunted me ("How do you like that you fuckin' faggot!?! C'mon motherfucker! Get up and take it like a man you pussy!!!"). I never got the chance to make them feel as bad as they made me feel.

And when the scene shifts back to home, we see the teenager trying to shrug off his suspension from school and failing. He knows, you see. He has learned that violence is poison. And now he is poisoned. Now he is changed. And he doesn't like what he has become.

I think that's what GWB sold to America: the chance to get even with the bully they never got even with in school. For a while, people bought it gladly and fervently. Because who doesn't want to get even with the bully? And now, five years later, it seems that many people don't like what they (and their country) have become.

Do I think this marks some great change in the political landscape? I dunno. But there is something in the wind, isn't there? I can almost taste the tang of buyer's remorse and regret.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head in a lot of ways. As someone who was also that kid, it's tempting to blame everything on the bullies - even things that aren't their fault. And that's a mighty powerful touchstone.

But there's also a literal level. How do we get "even" with a bully who killed 4,000 people in one day? What the hell would "even" mean?

How do we stand up to him when we can't even find him?

Honestly, I think some violence is necessary to accomplish justice in this case. (I will defend the use of force in Afghanistan.) But justice is different - perhaps the opposite - of vengeance. And I will argue that Iraq was all about vengeance.

Has the landscape changed, or are people just tired of being so angry all the time? I don't know. I have a suspicion... but I can hope it's wrong.