In December of 2003, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) got a tip through Arab-American actors in Hollywood that a new version of the 1962 movie classic, “The Manchurian Candidate”, was being produced.
They were told that, although the Communist Chinese were the villains in the first movie and they brainwashed American soldiers serving in the Korean War of the 1950s, the new villains in the 2004 version were to be “Arabs and Muslims” who would do the brainwashing of American troops.
ADC together with The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote a letter to the CEO of Paramount Pictures, Sherry Lansing, who was doing the film, with a copy to Jonathan Demme, the director of the movie questioning this issue, and asking that Arabs and Muslims not be further stereotyped in this manner.
They never received a written reply, but were later called by a publicity person for Paramount and assured that though the backdrop for the film was the first Gulf War in Kuwait and Iraq, the villain was to be “a large multinational corporation” which didn’t have Arabs and Muslims involved.
That movie has now come out and the overt villain is, in fact, a large multinational corporation named “Manchurian Global”, However, Jonathan Demme was recently quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as stating that the paranoia central to the plot is not about the Communists but,” the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, touch-screen voting,” etc. We are being “brainwashed” in a movie about “brainwashing”.
The Manchurian Candidate is now one of the top grossing movies in the United States and being seen by millions of Americans. During the movie, in the background of the main dialogue are a series of talk radio shows, flashy news graphics and news crawls coming across the bottom of television screens.
And the background chatter being conveyed through these subliminal messages usually is about dastardly acts by Palestinians, Saudi Arabia and any other Arab/Muslim bad guy that can be depicted. Though “Manchurian Global” might be the explicit villain in the film, Saudi Arabia and its Arab/Muslim collaborators are implicitly the real villains. Jonathan Demme said it very well.
This film caused a recall of another very effective movie made in 1976 titled, “Network”, which garnered 10 Academy Award nominations and 4 Oscars. Network gave us the famous saying, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” uttered by newscaster Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch who won a posthumous Academy Award for his performance. Beale made this statement in the movie when he learned that his fictional network, UBS, was about to be purchased by “Saudi Arabia” and a consortium of banks owned by Saudi Arabia.
That was very explicit in Network but implicitly, there were TV news shows telling stories about Saudi Arabia gauging the rest of the world with their high oil prices and the Palestinians inflicting cowardly driven harm on innocent Israelis. Both “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Network” seemed to use subliminal background messages very effectively to appeal to the subconscious mind of the viewer. One wonders whether Paddy Chayefsky, Network’s writer, and Sidney Lumet, its director, didn’t have a profound effect on Sherry Lansing and Jonathan Demme.
In the world of popular culture, it is very easy to stereotype. Arabs and Muslims have so often been the victims of vicious stereotyping in movies and the media. Only recently has it come to light that specific countries have also been the targets of this stereotyping. Saudi Arabia is certainly one of those countries. And it is often popular culture that sets the stage for notorious Saudi bashers such as Sen. Charles Schumer of New York to easily convince the general public that the Saudis are the bad guys no matter what they do.
When the price of oil/gasoline is high, Schumer blames the Saudis and says that the Saudis are using their “obscene” profits from oil to further fund terrorism. And when Saudi Arabia puts more oil on the market, Schumer states that the Saudis are doing this to “buy the election” for President Bush. No one sees the apparent contradictions in his arguments when Saudis are already perceived in popular culture as some collective Mafia-type group trying to control the world through improper and immoral activities and deeds.
It our current world many of us tend to confuse what happens in the real world to what happens in the movies and on television. How often do we hear people say of the Sept. 11 catastrophe that it was “something like what we see in the movies”. So what is fact and what is fiction? With popular culture as pervasive as it is today, it is often very hard to separate fact from fiction. Watch Fox News sometime and then go back and view the movie “Network”. There are many uncanny similarities.
Let’s go back to the explicit villain, the global multinational corporation, in the new movie “The Manchurian Candidate” for a moment. In the movie “Network”, one of the most powerful scenes is when the character Arthur Jensen, the corporate CEO of the parent company of the fictional network UBS, played brilliantly by actor Ned Beatty, lectures Beale. Jensen says amongst other things, “It is the international system of currency which determines the vitality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature!
And you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little 21-inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.”
– Dr. Michael Saba is the author of “The Armageddon Network” and is an international relations consultant.
Michael Saba, Arab News