How's this for a plot? There's this international conspiracy to acquire nuclear weapons and kill millions of Americans. The conspirators act with the aid of various governments, some of which pretend to be our friends. Some of these governments are ruled by medieval tyrants who keep many wives (and even more concubines), rule by fiat, and crush, behead, hang or otherwise mutilate dissidents, free-thinkers, Christians, Jews, homosexuals and other inconvenient souls. Other governments are ruled by fascist dictators who invade their neighbors, subvert democracy, fund terrorists, collude with Western powers in criminal schemes, illegally smuggle nuclear materials, and jail, starve, imprison and murder children while living high on the hog.
All the while, these conspirators commit countless grievous acts of cruelty and barbarism. Though they may be savages, they're not mindless ones. They hatch brilliantly audacious schemes to bring down skyscrapers with hijacked planes. They attack naval ships with speedboats. They manipulate the Internet, the international press and various Western governments.
Now, call me crazy, but somewhere in there I think there's enough material for Hollywood to "rip from the headlines" (as they say on "Law and Order") some plausible bad guys and pretty good plot ideas.
Apparently I'm missing something.
Consider, for example, the last big movie of August: "The Constant Gardener." Now, I haven't seen it yet, so I'm not offering a review of the movie. Besides, from what I hear it's a pretty good flick based on a pretty good novel by John LeCarre. The plot of both involves an elaborate conspiracy of Western governments and pharmaceutical companies that assassinate anyone who tries to uncover their fiendish plot to experiment on poor Africans for the benefit of rich Westerners. A trailer for the film declares that pharmaceutical companies are no better than arms dealers, preying on African poverty. The film's director told National Public Radio that the drug companies are the "perfect bad guys."
Now, notwithstanding the mistakes of major pharmaceutical companies, I think it's fair to say, without fear of contradiction, "Are you on crack?!"
Granted, the war on terror is a fairly controversial subject. I understand there are sensibilities involved, insofar as the terrorists claim to speaking for Islam, and therefore some care is necessary when dealing with the nature of the threat.
But come on - it's al-Qaida vs. Pfizer, and Pfizer wins the title of "perfect bad guy"?
The last major Hollywood film that dealt with a terrorist threat was "The Sum of All Fears," the 2002 film that started Ben Affleck's career on a downward glide-path to the center square on "Hollywood Squares." In the book, the bad guys were Islamic fundamentalists. But, thanks in large part to a campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the villains were changed to a secret cabal of ultra-sophisticated, super-wealthy neo-Nazis. Whereas in real life most neo-Nazis smash cans of beer against their heads while dancing in the woods, in Hollywood's vision they wear perfectly tailored suits and plot world domination from the highest corridors of power.
Capitulating to CAIR's campaign, the director of the film wrote to the organization, "I hope you will be reassured that I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims or Arabs, and I wish you the best in your continuing efforts to combat discrimination."
No doubt CAIR is working tirelessly to obtain similar letters from Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida and other groups dedicated to promoting negative images of Muslims and Arabs by actually murdering people, not merely pretending to do so on the big screen.
The weirdest irony is that in the 1990s, before the war on terror, several depictions of Arab and Muslim terrorism made it to the big screen. The only realistic depiction of suicide-bombing I can recall was in the 1996 film, "Executive Decision." Other 1990s films that apparently couldn't get made today include "The Siege," "The Peacemaker" and "True Lies."
Political correctness about ethnic sensibilities only explains part of Hollywood's silence. Other ideological factors no doubt play a role, too. The notion that big corporations are the root of all evil - even ones committed to curing disease, prolonging lives and eradicating male pattern baldness - has a pedigree that predates the current obsession with identity politics. The post-Vietnam conviction of the Oliver Stone crowd that America is most often the problem, not the solution, probably explains some of it as well.
And there are practical explanations, too. A realistic, pro-American flick on the war on terror is a risky proposition for studios that make much of their money from foreign markets. One of the downsides of globalization is that pro-American movies don't sell well when much of the global movie audience doesn't like America.
But none of this excuses the fact that Hollywood's silence is deafening. It's hard not to conclude that the entertainment industry really just thinks the war on terror is no big deal, at least not compared to the war on drug companies.