Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 19, 2004
POP CULTURE: American Puppets
I saw the movie, which is entirely filmed with puppets, yesterday and admit to having laughed a lot. The film is completely offensive to just about everyone, of course. What strikes me as interesting is that a lot of people seem to see this as a revolutionary right-wing movie for basically arguing that America often causes more damage than its enemies in the War on Terror, but that we are still right to fight it. That this is considered a daring statement from a Hollywood film says more about modern-day Hollywood and what we have come to expect of it than it does about this particular movie. During World War II, theaters were consistently jammed with movies about the righteousness of fighting against German and Japanese fascism. Today, almost 3,000 Americans were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania and this may be the first major studio movie to come out which is even somewhat in favor of fighting back.
A few other comments:
* One shouldn’t get too carried away reading political messages into this film. It’s largely just a spoof of violent Jerry Bruckheimer-style movies…starring puppets.
* That said, I’d be very leery of having this film shown overseas. It is a very amusing spoof of American foreign policy and its dissenters, but is a little irresponsible too. In particular, do we really want Kim Jong Il thinking that America feels that it has to invade his country? Mightn’t the maniacal, singing and cursing version of the Dear Leader here seem like hate-filled American state propaganda to a regime that knows no other kind of expression? These concerns may be unwarranted, but they tempered my ability to freely laugh in certain places.
* I did, however, have to laugh at the Middle Eastern “cantina” scene and at the slow-witted I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E super-computer which keeps sending “Team America” barreling into the wrong countries.
* I bet Hans Blix never thought there would be a puppet version of him appearing in a major Hollywood movie.
* As you might guess, I sympathize with ridiculing Hollywood celebrities (led, of course, by Alec Baldwin), but, as a satirical device, I’m not sure if dispatching so many of them violently was the best way to make fun of their views, such as they are. Doing so is, like much of the film, pretty juvenile. In fact, the various violent fates of the enemies of “Team America” (most of whom are based on real people) makes me wonder, again, if this is more of a spoof of violent movies and less one of politics.
* In terms of making fun of Hollywood conventions, my favorite part was when the main characters engaged, in a typical action movie scene, in an oblivious argument about their personal relationships in the middle of a dogfight with the North Korean air force. Similarly, the casual approach to collateral damage doesn’t strike me as a particularly fair criticism of the U.S. military, but it certainly rings true for Hollywood action movies.
* It may be my old-fashioned instincts, but the profanity and juvenile humor, while admittedly funny, undermined the potential impact of this film. Unlike the “South Park” movie, profanity was not the point of the movie here. This film could’ve been more meaningful with more satire and less cheap jokes, but, I guess, what else exactly would one expect from these filmmakers?
Anyway, if you have an interest in the Global War on Terrorism, a willingness to laugh at your own political views, a high tolerance for extremely profane humor and your name isn’t, among many others, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay or Matt Damon, “Team America” is probably worth checking out.