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Morality Play
May 22, 2004
By grl2watch

The theatres of the Second World War, caught in still frames, depict a colossal spectacle. Roosevelt and Churchill are portrayed in epic struggle against the most advanced, efficient, and evil war machine ever unleashed. Exemplars of heroism and determination, from Britain to Bataan, are brought to life in gray and faded brown. Evil is utterly cast down, and amid bells and cheers, the final V for Victory fades from the screen.

The scope and sweep of this narrative are such that a Homeric age, an era of lays and sagas, is brought to mind, and old poems assume new meaning and life. Nevertheless, the stills are the swan song of a passing age. Churchill sees it, the protagonists see it, and the players move on to create the modern age of ambiguity, nuance, and shades of gray.

Neo-conservatives do not wear shades, as they are not cool, but cold. For them, the world is still locked in Ragnarok battles, on a Manichean plane of shining good and murky evil. While the neo-cons hold forth in symbolic verse, literally rendered, their plot line again sets Good against Evil, a proven formula for their target audience.

The evil genius has different guises. Terrorist. Dictator. Mullah. The name and face of the avatar change, but his role remains the same: he alone is the most dangerous threat to peace, freedom, and American values. Oddly enough, an unknown actor, a bit player, most often lands this marquee role.

But what of the hero, the one who preserves the cornucopia of coveted American blessings? This hero also has different guises, but the all-knowing father/protector/savior icon now depicts a Texas cowboy with an English sidekick.

The curtain rises. A man in a white Stetson calls out a skulking varmint in a black beret. They square off on a dusty road near a Basra waterhole, and draw. The bad guy topples, the locals cheer, and the man in the Stetson vanishes into an aircraft carrier, mission accomplished. The curtain falls.

This morality play presents the law of the West for all the world to see. The law is simple in its execution. Ride in, shake things up, straighten things out, set things right. Yes, it involves violence and killing. But recall how evil the villain is, with those newfangled shooting irons, cowpox, and sheik oil. Virtuous ends justify violent means.

But in this power play, high epic becomes spaghetti western. What's wrong with the plot? The hero is never attacked by the evil villain, never even threatened. He undergoes no trials, recognizes no flaws, and realizes no guilt. With no inner or outer conflict, the whole production looks phony, cheap, and wooden. Thus, the high lines of epic become buffoonery and farce when recited by a puppet.

While this stagecraft does not uplift, it does entertain. The audience, as its heart of darkness is portrayed as righteousness, gives the thumbs up, as the polls attest.

Wait, you say. The play's not over. There have been casualties after the finale. Bombings and assassination are rampant. Desert mirages evoke southeast Asian swamps, teeming with lies. The hero can't just walk away. This is war, a real war, with no end in sight, no trophy to hoist, and no pictures to show, aside from souvenirs from a prison party. What's next? What is he going to do?

These questions reflect the confusion and blindness which make for great tragedy.

Roosevelt and Churchill conducted a war. Bush and Blair played out a farce. Until we understand the difference, we will stare with gaping mouths at an empty stage, waiting for a scene which was never scripted.

grl2watch thinks the ticket price was too high, and wants her $50B back, with an apology.

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