Monday, November 10, 2003

But Who Will Save Our Souls?

Call me a cynic. Call me unpatriotic. But I would not, just could not, bring myself to watch the Jessica Lynch story on TV yesterday.

Maybe it was all the hype. Maybe it was the fact that others in Jessica's unit, who had suffered the same fate or worse, were being totally ignored. Maybe it was the announcer telling me it was the show "All America had been waiting for." Maybe it was that annoyingly commercial sounding patriotic tune they kept playing in the promos. Whatever it was, whenever the trailer came on, I cringed.

I thought maybe it was just me, but then I saw an online poll and it seemed there were quite a few folks who, like me, had had about enough of the excessive marketing of Jessica's and Elizabeth Smart's story. My mother was in town over the weekend and we were sitting on the couch watching TV when another one of those annoying trailers started in on us. The announcer said the show would be airing in one hour. My mother groaned and made reference to the fact that we should remember to switch stations before the hour was up. I indeed was not alone.

I suppose that years of being a public relations professional, where you quickly learn the effects of "spin" and become adept at spotting it everywhere has made me a bit cynical. But even without these acquired skills, I know a propaganda tool when I see one. And this one wasn't even subtle. Heck, even Jessica Lynch herself is calling foul. She has stated that she feels the government is using her. And maybe that's why this whole thing just never sat too well with me.

How many nameless and faceless innocent Iraqi men, women and children are being killed on a daily basis? We waged war on a country that may or may not be connected to the terrorists who supposedly started this whole we care about the Iraqi soldiers who our soldiers are no doubt killing and torturing? What about the American male soldiers? Where's their movie? How many Pulitzer prize winning authors were clamoring to write the tales of Vietnam vets?

I watched Chris Rock's "Head of State" over the weekend and while I found it pretty buffoonish, there was this one funny line they kept repeating. At the end of every speech, the vice president who ran against Chris Rock's character would state, "God bless America...and no place else."

It was quite comical and obviously a slap at our "patriotic" statement of "God bless America." As though no place else deserves to be blessed. As though the American people are the only people who matter in the world. As though only perky American women have a story worth telling or are worthy of our empathy.

I listened to the words of Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi attorney who notified the U.S. military about Jessica's presence in the hospital, and once again I found myself being a bit skeptical. According to our government, Iraqi women are treated atrociously. Yet it was American Jessica's plight that, in his own words, "changed his life"?? Whatever.

I think this man saw and seized an opportunity and I think the U.S. saw and seized an opportunity to make some money off of American citizens in the form of advertising and book sales. I don't begrudge Mohammed for doing what was best to create an opportunity for his family. But shame on the U.S. military and TV execs who exploited this situation. "Jessica shot until she ran out of bullets." "Jessica's gun was jammed, she says she could not defend herself." "Jessica was slapped." "Jessica says she was so not slapped."

I in no way mean to be insensitive to American troops; I mean to be insensitive to hypocrisy. I'm also insensitive to being set up.

'All America' is not "waiting" for the next good, real life war story to be turned into a TV show. The majority of Americans are waiting for the war stories to end. This war is going to cost more lives and more money than anybody can afford. All the good ol' fashioned patriotic propaganda movies in the world can't slap a perky picture on that.

The full version of this article can be found at The Somewhat Heroic Adventures of SWEET.

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