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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Good Night, and Good Riddance

Spiked-online's Brendan O'Neill doesn't think much of George Clooney's evocation of McCarthyism in Good Night, and Good Luck. He notes what many American commentators (but few film critics) have observed: the heroic portrayal and sole focus on Edward Murrow skews the historical record, where resistance to McCarthy was more multifaceted (and across partisan lines more than assumed). O'Neill especially targets Clooney's efforts at contemporary application, where McCarthyism presumably lurks in the widespread timidity of the media to confront the Bush Administration over Middle East policy:

This is the stuff of fantasy. Where, in the early days at least, standing up to McCarthy was a seriously risky business for media workers and political figures, having a pop at Bush is almost de rigeur. Attacking Bush and his tactics will not earn you a black mark against your name or cost you your job or reputation; rather, it is likely to win you a big fat book contract (see Michael Moore) or a TV spot viewed by millions in America and around the world (see Jon Stewart). Indeed, Bush-bashing can be seen as a new form of conformism; often it is driven less by a serious political reading of and challenge to Bush and his cronies than it is by a kneejerk reaction against what are perceived to be stupid Bible-bashing voters who, despite being warned not to, had the temerity to return the Republicans to the White House for a second term. And it is those who step outside of this Bush-whacking consensus - for example Mel Gibson with his overtly Catholic film The Passion of the Christ - who, while not quite blacklisted, are treated suspiciously in Hollywood circles. Standing up to McCarthy took guts in the early Fifties; standing up to Bush today has become an easy and lazy posture rather than an engaging political endeavour.

Yeah, I haven't seen a dearth in Bush criticism--plenty of it deserved. McCarthy's actions were disgraceful. He had his conservative opponents at the time, mind you, but his defenders included the esteemed William F. Buckley. These defenders tolerated an imperfect messenger due to a sincere concern over communism. That's too bad: the ends don't justify the means, and all that. McCarthy was an abuser of power, not just an imperfect messenger. Of course, communism was more prevalent than Hollywood elites acknowledge. I sometimes wonder if Tony Kushner has been told yet about documents released after the Cold War, which confirm the guilt of the Rosenbergs. The academic record is beginning to be set straight (no thanks to Ann Coulter's rather overextensive rehabilitation of the Wisconsin senator). I'm just ready to move on, but instead we keep, in the immortal words of R.E.M., "exhuming McCarthy."

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