I saw the new version of The Manchurian Candidate the other day. Some of you may be aware that there's a bit of a controversy over the character played by Meryl Streep -- there are right-wingers saying that she's modeled on Hillary Clinton, even though the actress herself says the performance was inspired, if that's the word, more by Peggy Noonan and Dick Cheney.
Walking in knowing this, the most interesting thing to me was how little there is in the movie to refute either interpretation. There are, at best, brief allusions to her political positions. She apparently favors a strong America that's willing to defend itself. Just like George W. Bush... and John Kerry. And her son, with whom she apparently disagrees on some matters, is worried about unnecessarily clamping down on civil liberties. A partisan Democrat might say that... but so might John Ashcroft (who would quickly go on to explain that he has done no such thing). There is certainly conspiracy mongering in the film, but you can find that on both sides of the political divide.
In short, while you can divine the filmmakers' own intentions in the (easily ignored) lyrics of the "Fortunate Son" cover that plays over the credits, the film itself is a Rohrschach blot. You see in it the faces of whoever in politics you hate.
What's interesting is how some politically active folks seem to be giving the same treatment even to pictures which, you'd think, would be a little more clear. As in the candidates' service during the Vietnam war. It is at this point, firmly established that George W. Bush missed a mandatory flight physical and five months of mandatory drills that were scheduled after that -- the remaining controversy is over whether he ever made up the drills he missed. And there are some folks around who dismiss complaints about this as carping cavils because, well, he did show up for... at least however long he did. And maybe you could buy that... if the same folks weren't casting aspersions on the valor of Dubya's opponent, whose multiple medals prove, at the very least, that he was in fact in Vietnam. There are no Rohrschach blots here -- both pictures are clear, at least until someone tries to bury them in ink.
And the same is true of more current events. I've met people who will positively beam at you about the great things that are happening in Iraq, and will start showing up in the news, well... any day now. And meanwhile, the news itself just keeps getting worse -- open rebellion in the Shiite areas, the decampment of the moderate Ayatollah Sistani for reasons that are still somewhat mysterious but can't really be good.
Likewise, Dubya is seen as being the one who's "serious" about the "war on terror", even though his administration outed a Pakistani double agent last week; the latest report on that is that the mere mention of the guy's name in the papers apparently sent his former colleagures running. So they've saved us from the scourge of al-Qaeda terrorists in custody; they're so much better on the loose.
But that's what I see. Maybe the reporters and the people who have spent years studying the people and the culture are all just making things up.