War Machine, the new Netflix original movie starring Brad Pitt playing a disturbingly over-confident General based on Stanley McChrystal, is controversial for all the wrong reasons.
First there was the kerfuffle at Cannes, where Netflix was booed for breaking tradition by submitting films that would be released on laptops instead of theaters. Then there was the casting of Brad Pitt, which some categorized as a colossal misstep. Variety said that the almost surreal comic role should “have gone to John Goodman, or some comparably gifted character actor.” And then there’s the focus of the film itself. Is it an “irrelevant and brash” alpha-male misfire? Or an “assured and nervy black satire” that tries to have it both ways by mocking the war even as it sympathizes too heavily with the officers who wage it?
What gets ignored in all of these various reactions is the reality of the ongoing war itself and how this film relates to it. Sure, it’s novel and interesting that online streaming companies are producing original films. And of course the wisdom of casting a Peter Pan hunk like Brad Pitt as an American general is up for debate. But isn’t the real scandal that there’s an ongoing occupation to critique at all? If the film comes off as brash, it’s because it conveys an irreverent confidence that almost seems to anticipate the media missing the forest for the trees. A major theme of the film is, after all, how mass media fails us on a moral level, always transforming events that require somber moral reflection into superficial sleaze. And so I can’t help but wonder if reviews of War Machine have been so uniformly unfavorable because of the disconnect between the ongoing war and popular culture, and how the film implicates the media in sustaining that rift.
Leave it to Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse to be the voice of reason.
While President Trump is intent on ramping up the caustic rhetoric towards the media, cooler heads, like that of Sasse, are stepping forward and speaking real truth.
“I mean there’s an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage, and the right that citizens have to argue about that and complain about that, and trying to weaponize distrust,” Sasse told host Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“And it’s not helpful to call the press ‘the enemy of the American people,’” Sasse added, referring to a past comment by the president. Sasse warned such rhetoric could lead to a new form of “tribalism.”
He’s absolutely right.
Donald Trump is not the first president to get bad coverage from the media. He’s the first to dissolve into a ranting puddle of crazy over it, though.
But 2017 poses the question: Could the same thing happen on the left?
It’s a prospect that deserves more serious attention and debate than it’s gotten this year. The Trump era has given rise to a vast alternative left-wing media infrastructure that operates largely out of the view of casual news consumers, but commands a massive audience and growing influence in liberal America. There are polemical podcasters and partisan click farms; wild-eyed conspiracists and cynical fabulists. Some traffic heavily in rumor and wage campaigns of misinformation; others are merely aggregators and commentators who have carved out a corner of the web for themselves. But taken together, they form a media universe where partisan hysteria is too easily stoked, and fake news can travel at the speed of light.
What follows is an attempt to map the topography of the left’s modern alternative media landscape. It is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully it provides a useful start to the kind of exploration and anthropology that’s needed.
Jaisal Noor speaks with historian Gerald Horne about Trump’s latest attack on the media and an alarming new NRA recruitment video. (The Real News)