Yet another anti-war film has bombed at the box-office. This time it's the Abercrombie & Fitch ad turned agitprop flick Stop Loss to do a few spins around the toilet bowl before swirling into unprofitable oblivion. It joins the other failed flicks Rendition, Redacted, In The Valley of Elah, Lions For Lambs, The Road to Guantanamo*, and Xenu knows how many other films that have come out on an almost monthly basis since Saddam Hussein's statue and regime tumbled into the dust.
Now various media outlets are wondering why these films fail. They cite various theories saying that the American people don't want to talk about the war, that the war is unpopular, and that people can't accept someone "speaking truth to power," and such and such...
But they're all wrong.
The biggest problem with these films is in their choice of villain. No matter how unpopular a war may be, or how low the President's approval ratings get, the American people will not pay money to see a film that says that they are The Bad Guy.
Most average Americans, otherwise known as The Paying Audience, have friends, family members, in the military, or know someone who does. They see America's soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen as brave and heroic men and women. Ordinary people who bravely face the horrible situation of war with courage and sacrifice.
They don't see them the way these movies present them, either at best as under-educated emotionally crippled, psychological basket cases manipulated into senseless wars by secret cabals of warmongering chicken-hawk businessmen and politicians, or at worst as bloodthirsty, bigoted, rapists, perverts, mass murderers, and sadistic torturers, who revel in brutal atrocity the way studio-executives revel in big summer opening weekends.
This is not a uniquely American phenomenon. The Liberal Party of Canada ruled the country for about 10 years, and wanted to paint rival Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper as a maniacal war-monger to distract attention from a major corruption scandal. The Liberal Party made an ad that was briefly released on the internet that took Harper's plan to have military units posted near major cities to handle disaster relief and presented it, complete with sinister music, as a plan to "put soldiers on our streets." Stephen Harper is now the Prime Minister of Canada, do the math.
No sensible ordinary person considers the Army reservist who manages the hardware store, coaches Little League, throws 4th of July barbecues for his neighbours, and whose wife sings in the church choir, a threat to democracy and human decency, quite the opposite. And they think those who do see them that way are either foolish, or deranged.
And they certainly are not going to pay money to see that on the big screen, no matter how pretty the actors starring in it are, or how many awards it gets nominated for.
You're probably asking yourself: "If these films box-office poison, why does Hollywood keep making them?"
Well, some say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, thinking that this time the outcome will be different.
Well, this time, they want the outcome to be the same. They want these films to fail.
There are two fundamental drives in Hollywood, the Money Drive, and the Ego Drive. Popular films are made via the money drive because their worth is derived from their success at appealing to the general audience.
Films based on the Ego Drive are not geared for the general audience. In fact, they are geared against the audience. They are designed to transform the films makers and stars from unusually coddled, isolated, denizens of the Beverly Hills/Malibu/Hollywood Axis of Ego into "heroic," "courageous," "martyrs," who "stand up against oppression" to "speak truth to power," without actually risking anything but other people's money.
You see, really speaking out against real and violent oppression can get you murdered. Just look at the life and death of Theo Van Gogh.
However, no American filmmaker has ever been arrested, imprisoned, murdered, or even threatened with a nasty atomic wedgie by the Bush Administration. So there's no real danger in criticizing it, and since 95%+ of Hollywood are dyed in the wool Democrats who think Bush is the war mongering, election stealing, font of all evil, you will be blindly praised for anything that makes the Bush Administration look bad.
And when your film fails, you will hailed as a martyr, get nominated for awards, land bigger deals for more money, and be praised as the most brilliant artist since the last guy who made an anti-war film.
George Clooney's built his career on it, since he hasn't carried a real commercial hit solo in a long, long, time. Tom Cruise and Robert Redford's film Lions for Lambs, was nothing more than a cynical ploy to win back the hearts of Hollywood after a string of public embarrassments and the failure of M:I3 to make a profit because of its bloated budget hurt Cruise's career.
It's also a license for cinematic laziness. Most objective critics cite that many of these films, are just plain poorly made. Populated with cardboard stereotypes for characters, weak implausible plots that set political bloggers off into a fact-checking flurry, and preachy, often whiny, scripts.
It's a perfect storm for filmmakers.
All you have to do is slap together something that fits the personal and political prejudices of the Hollywood elite, and suddenly, you're number one with a film that sinking like number two and signing a big new multi-million dollar contract. It doesn't have to be any good, in fact, making it bad is even better. Because nothing ruins a perfectly good martyrdom like success.
That's my 2 cents.
*Which did not star Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, which I discovered much to my chagrin.