Saturday, March 03, 2007

Documentaries are the new black

Last night, I went to the opening of "An Unreasonable Man", a documentary about Ralph Nader. Now, let me just say a few things about documentaries...

In the past half-decade, I'm amazed how willing I've been to see documentaries in theaters or lining up my netflix queue with them. As a teenager, documentaries were on public TV or what we had to watch in school. They had the distinction of being rather boring. But an amazing thing happened in the 21st century. For one thing, documentarians learned how to punch up their documentaries with cool music, interesting special effects, and timely subject matter. While Ken Burns remains the master of the long-series documentary form (think of his Civil War masterpiece), who would've thought that I and people like me would line up theaters and pay money to see a documentary? That brings up my second point...I think we owe it to corporate owned media for the birth in documentary features in movie theaters. Because we aren't getting the straight news as we should, it's up to alternative media to get the word out with investigative pieces or awareness raising. I see this as a positive development and hope it continues. If the media can't be straight with the American people, others with a video camera and passion can.

Let's's some of the documentaries I've seen in just the past five years..."Bowling for Columbine" (the cartoon history of the USA is a classic!), "Fahrenheit 9/11", "Why We Fight", "Supersize Me" (I haven't eaten at McDonald's since I've seen it in January), the one about Enron, "An Inconvenient Truth", "March of the Penguins", "Gunner", "Jesus Camp", and the two most recent that I want to comment on: "American Blackout" and "An Unreasonable Man".

"American Blackout" made some good points, as it is about how Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was targeted by Republicans for her statements implying that Bush knew in advance about 9/11 or that he had benefitted financially from 9/11. Now, one must watch the documentary with a large dose of salt. I know Cynthia McKinney. She has been my member of Congress from 1996 through 2002. In 1996, the courts threw out the racial gerrymandered districts in which Cynthia McKinney had represented since 1992. It was a snake-like sliver from the eastern suburbs of Atlanta down to Savannah, several hundreds of miles away. The purpose was to give African Americans a majority population in which to elect someone of their own race. When the district lines were redrawn, Dekalb County (where I lived) incorporated most of the 4th Congressional District. Since I lived there in 1988, we've had a swindling Republican congressman named Pat Swindoll who was indicted for something sleazy. Our next Congressman was Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" on "The Dukes of Hazzard." In 1994, it was a battle against Comer Yates, an Emory University Law professor (he taught ethics), and the Christian Coalition backed John Linder. Since that was the year of the infamous "Republican Revolution", all Democrats had a difficult time winning. Linder won by painting Yates as a liberal. Two years later, when there was an open primary for the newly configured 4th District, I urged Comer Yates to run again. His was the first campaign I volunteered for. I so wanted to see him become Congressman and thought he ran a good campaign to be proud of.

In 1996, Cynthia accused him of being a conservative, white, racist holdover of the old South. She ran a nasty campaign of personal attacks. The more I learned about her, the more I disliked. She has a history of using personal attacks against anyone who runs against her. If you're a white opponent, you're racist; if you're a black opponent, you're an Uncle Tom shilling for some white man. One of the flyers she had sent out to voters in the 4th district said: "Did you know that it has been said that Yates has received corporate money..." No facts, just the gossip tinged "it has been said..." It has been said by WHOM? She never gave details, only allegations. The end result was that she had defeated her three white male opponents in the Democratic primary and faced a white Republican male in the general election. Because of her slash and burn tactics, she burned a bridge with me, a fellow liberal. Comer Yates was a decent man, honorable, and would've made an outstanding member of Congress. Her attacks were unnecessary. Thus, because of what I saw in the 1996 primary campaign season, she made me an enemy forever. I casted a vote for the Republican candidate in the fall. Not because I liked him, but because I couldn't stand her.

In 2000, on my last day of my internship, when I walked through the bowels of the U.S. Capitol to get to one of the House office buildings, I passed by Cynthia McKinney in the hallway and she smiled at me. It was a nice gesture, and I wondered what she might have thought of me if she knew I was one of Comer Yates people and that because of her personal attacks against him, caused me to vote Republican against her in election after election. Somehow, I got on her mailing list and her office sent me a nice calendar for a couple years. And in 2000, I reconsidered whether or not to go ahead and vote for her...but then she started attacking Al Gore for some reason. Not another one of my candidates! So, that only encouraged me to vote for the Republican opponent that fall. Yet, she always won.

But then the world changed. She had outraged so many people with her comments post 9/11 that many Republicans crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary. Finally, she was defeated. Her documentary, "American Blackout" wants everyone to think she's the saintly victim of the vicious Republican slime machine. But, what goes around, comes around. She made a lot of enemies, on the left and the right. I actually celebrated her defeat in 2002. Finally, I got vengeance for her vicious attacks on Yates in 1996.

So, watch that documentary with a huge dose of salt. It says some interesting things about our political climate of fear post 9/11. However, Cynthia McKinney is not some innocent saint like she likes people to think she is. There is no reason why anyone should campaign for office the way she does. She's a dirty politician and in my mind, she's in the same mold as Karl Rove, the mastermind behind a lot of the dirty tricks during Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Now, about that Ralph Nader documentary. It's interesting in that I learned a lot about Nader and what an impressive track record he has built a career and reputation on. The meat of the documentary, though, concerns the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. Though I'm not one of those Democrats who blame Nader for Gore's loss (I attribute that event to the lying and thieving Republican smear machine), I also believed that Nader had a personal vendetta against Clinton/Gore and wanted Bush to win...not only for payback (since Clinton and Gore never allowed him in the White House during the 1990s), but also because Nader believes that the only way Americans will wake up to the power corporations have on our society and government is by having the biggest corporate whore for president. Bush's disaster of a presidency has been Nader's wet dream since the 1990s. Though I rate this fawning documentary very highly, I also don't believe Nader is the saint he thinks he is. While in the bigger picture, Americans waking up to the fact that our government no longer cares for the vast majority of Americans is good for elections in the future, in the short term, we have squandered a surplus, turned allies into enemies, emboldened our real enemies, made enemies our allies, and basically sacrificed human lives in Iraq. So, is that really necessary? Nader's legacy is tarnished somewhat. While the last part of the documentary talks about how Democrats have shunned him, stopped donating to his organizations, and trashed his reputation, I'm hardly sympathetic. He should've been honest about his motives...which was to affect the 2000 election to punish Gore and allow the biggest corporate whore to lead America to the verge of financial, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy. It's the equivalent of "burning the village to save it." In the end, you get a place not worth living in and harder to improve upon.

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