31 January 2004

Flash propaganda

There's another well-done bit of anti-Bush propaganda from Bushflash.com that's been making the rounds, entitled Thanks for the Memories. It's a good introduction to Eric Blumrich's work: clever and beautifully executed animation, making digestible the complex story of how Saddam Hussein's rise in Iraq in fact involved significant American complicity and even aid. Check it out.

On the other hand, it also demonstrates some of Blumrich's weaknesses as a vigorous lefty propagandist, as in a few places the piece overreaches in attributing American responsibility for events in the last decade and a half. Certainly I believe in some American culpability for supporting the Ba'ath party for a long time, but the first US-Iraq war under Bush the Elder (and its aftermath) represented misjudgement, events spinning out of control, and opportunism on both sides, not clever manipulation by the CIA as Blumrich implies.

Of the almost two dozen animations on his website, all of them demonstrate impressive formal mastery -- artful use of text, photographs, and music to tell a story with impact -- but too many of them are too smug and angry. Quite few are just name-calling exercises. In other places, Blumrich juxtaposes vague triumphalist rhetoric by Bush and his administration with vague triumphalist rhetoric by Hitler and other Nazis -- it's an irresponsible propagandist's cheat that could make Gandhi look like a fascist.

Even at his best he often poisons the well, as in Mission Accomplished. In that animation, he juxtaposes the Bush administration's hestiancy to honor fallen American service men and women in Iraq with a litany of statistics about the bloodiness of the Iraq conflict, punctuated by the names of our war dead flashing quickly over the screen. It's very powerful -- until he accuses the Bush administration of shedding this blood for the benefit of corporations like Haliburton. Sure, a lefty like me finds it gratifying to say that, but the piece doesn't make a case for the connection at all, which means that it will only alienate anyone who is not already convinced. To an ordinary American, that animation looks like a cheap attempt to capitalize on heroic soliders' sacrifice to push anti-corporate conspiracy theories.

When he's explicitly raising questions about a conspiracy, Blumrich is often actually better. Top Gun? juxtaposes Bush's flight suit photo op with his failure to serve even his undemanding duty in the National Guard. Grand Theft America tells the story of Katherine Harris' purging of voter rolls to disenfranchise black voters in Florida. Even Buddy Buddy, which hazily accuses the government of complicity in the 9/11 attack, a very strong accusation which is not supported by correspondingly strong evidence, makes enough of a case that it's not easily dismissed.

It is frustrating to me that so many of our most talented lefty propagandists like Blumrich and Michael Moore are so often rhetorically irresponsible. Yeah, I know, it doesn't compare to the stuff you hear from their counterparts on the right, but that still doesn't make it okay.

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