Two films I saw this weekend: Shrek 2, in my opinion, pushed the point too much about the connection between the Bushes, the Bin Ladens and the persistently mispronounced “Sawdies”. It was great to see the big green guy stopping senators in the street asking them to sign their children up for the war in Iraq but the film falls into the trap of being as partisan as some of the Republican nuts it portrays. It leaves one wondering whether Noam Chomsky on watching it would be impressed by Shrek’s antics or slap his head and wonder why he bothers: complicated theories are squeezed into what is ultimately a feature-length entertainment package aimed at popcorn munchers with an MTV attention span. As Shrek himself might ask: “Will the masses really walk out more enlightened?” “Will I go down as the film-maker’s Ché?” History will decide.
Shrek certainly does what one might expect of all one-sided reportage: it strips its target of any real voice and leaves even the most converted panging for John Pilger’s sober objectivity. George W. Bush having accomplished the difficult task of actually making us feel sorry for Saddam is now matched by his own self-styled nemesis succeeding at painting him, in his fumbling idiocy, as cute, cuddly and likeable. Why? Because he is caricatured to a point that defies any notion of balanced reporting – one at which even a butcher like Ariel Sharon would look like a teddy bear. While bias works for the cartoonist, a documentary film-maker, even a satirical one, is expected to offer a modicum of balance.
There also remains the question of Shrek’s own personality. He, after all, is one of the characters in the film. Jor-El, Superman’s father, I remember, instructed him never to intefere with the course of human history. He had overlooked the fact the mere existence of a flying caped hunk would already have altered things beyond repair, but his message was clear: “Do all your superhero stuff, but don’t mess with the mortals.”
One scene in Shrek 2 shows our “capped crusader” giving a speech and boasting of having upset the White House in a curiously presidential pose. The subtext: get Kerry elected and who knows, Shrek himself might succeed him one day. It’s worth noting that some months ago Shrek had endorsed General Wesley Clark – who oversaw that neat little war for Nato in the Balkans in1999 – to become the Democrat’s Presidential candidate. The same Wesley Clark Peter J. Boyer profiled in The New Yorker (“General Clark’s Battles”, 17 November 2003):
“When Milosevic refused to fold after just a few days of bombing, the Nato bombers quickly ran out of approved targets, and were failing to destroy, or even to seriously erode, the Serb force inside Kosovo. The bombing seemed to have accelerated the very ethnic cleansing that it was supposed to have prevented; after a month of bombing, nearly a million Kosovars had been displaced. Worse, the long-distance attacks inevitably caused collateral damage. A refugee convoy was mistaken for a Serb armored formation, and was hit by a Nato bombing; a passenger train was hit as it crossed a bridge; several hundred civilians were killed, and the images of unintended carnage were broadcast by the international news media. It began to look as if nato, outlasted by a canny and determined foe, might actually lose its only war. Clark decided that Nato had to intensify the bombing and to prepare for a ground invasion of Kosovo.”
Shrek is by implication a Democrat himself but it is not the job of a satirist – if that is what he is – to determine policy or for whom we vote. The role is simple: attack power with the wit of your words but listen to Jor-El’s advice and keep your distance. The sensationalist “Shame on you Mr Bush” speech at the Oscars last year – if noble in intent – lacked a certain lyricism and thus power to persuade. The same is true of Shrek 2.
But who can complain: the US media is so right-wing that any mainstream dissent is welcome. Chomsky would surely approve. Quite what he would think of Farenheit 9/11, however, is anyone’s guess. This is a charming fairytale with a classic Hollywood ending. Here Michael Moore – the hugable animatronics ogre – is back with his belle, a beautiful princess who has agreed to turn green and have trumpets for ears out of love for him. So what if it’s another ten dollars to a big Hollywood company and the ogre ends up supporting the bourgeois state apparatus despite his humble beginnings. It is a wonderful film aimed at children with enough charm and wisecracks to keep parents enthused too.