Monday, November 15, 2004

Wrong Move

I enjoy long, gloomy, mid-1970s German films as much as the next guy but I take exception to Wim Wenders’ embarrassing, pre-election, hand-wringing session on the Sabine Christiansen talk show on the German television channel ARD.

The director of dark art such as Alice in the Cities, The American Friend and The State of Things – as well as utterly forgettable big budget sell outs like Wings of Desire and The Million Dollar Hotel -- reveals himself to be as perceptive as Barbara Streisand when it comes to George Bush.

The Transatlantic Intelligencer reports that according to Wenders, America is turning into a fascist state under the boot heel of the Bush Administration.

“They (the Bush Administration) have made this country into an evil mixture [ein ganz böses Amalgam] of big business, petty bourgeoisie, and right-wing religion…. I still live there, but four more years of Bush I won’t live there, I won’t survive it. And the whole country won’t survive four more years of Bush. Before the end of these four years the country will implode like a giant balloon. . . .

. . . his (Bush’s) biggest triumph: his fanatic fundamentalist politics [sic.] has driven this free country to become also a fundamentalist totalitarian state....

Is anyone else troubled by how casually Europeans throw around words like “totalitarian” and “fascist”? I know they have far more experience with fascism than Americans do but it seems like they’ve learned nothing from the experience. In fact, saying the Americans are fascists conveniently devalues the entire concept of fascism and makes Europe’s Original Sin seem a bit more palatable for its heirs.

For that matter, claiming that Christianity and organized religion is “fundamentalism” also allows post-war Euros off the hook since that eliminates yet another of those pesky institutions with the moral authority to assign blame for human history’s most barbaric chapter.

The left doesn’t like all this talk about Good and Evil because they know they were once on the side of jackbooted evil but they can’t admit it because the greatest sin in the Progressive Canon is hypocrisy.

The thing about humanity, though, is that all of us are capable of evil. We have a choice and recognizing our mistakes is not hypocrisy . . . it’s penitence. And penitence requires humility, a resource in short supply in Europe -- particularly among cinemists.

Wenders should know more about the United States than most Europeans. He lives here after all. But he lives in one of the most parochial backwaters of the country (West Los Angeles) and seems to have absorbed a great deal of the local culture. But Wenders makes a mistake common among Europeans – he mistakes familiarity with insight.

Wenders has always been ambivalent about America. In his films it appears as a bleakly foreign land, an inscrutable vaguely malevolent force. “The Amis have even colonized our thoughts,” says one character in his film "Kings of the Road" after he can’t get an Elvis tune out of his head. It’s an intriguing place, but not one that Wenders really wants to know about. The flashing lights and strange colors are enough for him.

To gain a deeper insight into America, Wenders would have to venture into those places he would rather not understand. After all, it’s easier to say someone who is at ease with religion is a fundamentalist than it is to explore the reasons why that person feels such ease.

Maybe this deliberate ignorance is necessary.

I suspect those who are attracted to the group therapy aspects of leftist politics are afraid of getting too close to organized religion because they know they are inherently receptive to that sort of seduction. Look too closely and they’ll be sucked in. If you believe in nothing, you’ll believe in anything.

If Wenders held his nose long enough to comprehend the role religion played in American history and role it continues to play in contemporary culture and perhaps actually showed compassion for those he doesn’t understand rather than contempt, he might actually have the basis of a pretty good screenplay.

Too bad his career ended once he became popular. The opposite seems to be true of America.

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