In 2012, when conservative author Dinesh D’Souza lost his job as President of The King’s College, an evangelical Christian school based in Manhattan, I didn’t think it likely that he’d ever have another of his ridiculous “documentaries” made. But I guess Neocons, for all of their talk of family values, don’t really give a fuck if someone gets busted, like the married D’Souza did, taking his mistress with him to an event on Christian values. Apparently, if you can crank out effective “Liberals are killing America” propaganda, folks on the right with money are willing to look the other way. And this is especially true if, like D’Souza, you are a man of color who can effectively present himself as being an unbiased academic, just following the facts wherever they might lead… whether it might be to the shocking discovery that Obama inherited a hatred of America from his father or the realization that protesters in Ferguson are like the terrorists of ISIS.
I remember someone commenting, many years ago, that Newt Gingrich’s popularity could be attributed to the fact that he could talk in a way that sounded smart to dumb people. And my sense is that any popularity that D’Souza may still enjoy can be similarly explained. For people who have never met an academic, I think he comes across as scholarly.
And, for this reason… in spite of the fact that he was just recently indicted in New York for “routing illegal donations to an unnamed Senate candidate“… D’Souza is back at it again, with a new film, titled America: Imagine a World without Her, which is apparently all about those evil folks, like Noam Chomsky, who have the audacity to suggest that America may be flawed… Here’s a taste.
Still longing for more?
Well, as it happens, our friend Thom Elliott offered to sit through a screening so that we wouldn’t have to… Here’s his report, which I found shoved under my front door this morning.
“Fragment on Postmodern American Propaganda; A Deconstructive Film Review of Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘America’
As I told the reedy Caucasian man in his late fifties with a closely-cropped mustache and thinning, blow-dried, auburn pompadour, “My friend is coming back to sit near me,” I had the dawning realization that this antique movie-theater (contrary to my expectations) was actually filling up. I knew I didn’t want this guy to be right next to me to hear my inevitable gasps, incredulous laughter, exasperation, and bursts of hushed methodical real-time deconstruction of Dinesh D’Souza’s latest propaganda film “America; What Would the World Be Without Her”. I then felt a sense of danger at the awareness of what I had done. My colleague and I were surely in the presence of my fleshy, human, ideological enemies, and the notion that I could be harassed, or even violently assaulted, became a living possibility. In the contemporary U.S., people get a double-tap to the head for far less than just being a French-style postmodern communist out for an amusing night of propaganda film. As I surreptitiously scanned the portly, unkempt lunch-ladies in over-stretched souvenir tee-shirts and yoga pants, the scattered, oddly dressed, wiry elderly couples from another world, and the red-faced, stocky, middle-aged white men in their requisite shorts/Hawaiian-shirt/ragged sneaker uniforms, I could palpably feel my alienation, and a momentary impulse of ‘fight-or-flight’.
As the theater darkened and the opening sequence began to roll, I knew I was in for a slog. The film begins with a made-for-cable-TV montage of scenes of dappled horses stampeding over open prairies, mountain ranges infested with colorful skiers, helicopter fly-over shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, Manhattan, Mount Rushmore, lighthouses in Maine etc., intercut with all the oddly familiar, vaguely unsettling, David Lynch-esq creepy American stock-footage simulacrum you can think of i.e.; dreamy black and white shots of children holding plastic flags running along crowded thoroughfares at small-town July 4th parades, broad-faced firemen waving thick hands as the fire truck lazily passes, celebratory explosions of flaming copper and aluminum launched into our atmosphere etc. Various shots of Americans at play, looking remarkably less-than-evil, their white faces expanding affably to better accommodate filling their oral cavities with so-called ‘hotdog’ material etc., all set to the latest commercial FM-radio feel-good audio sedative. The first few minutes of the film is entirely composed of images specifically hand-selected by D’Souza to by-pass the spectator’s rational intelligence, and attempt to speak directly to the unconscious. D’Souza clearly attempts to appeal to the same subliminal forces that advertisering executives do when they want to sell you an ‘invented need’ like the latest consumer electronics object (or jingoistic American political planners do for their latest imperialistic war of choice). Then an (unbearably corny) extended introduction sequence in the style of the (ironically titled) History Channel’s “The Men Who Made America” series, depicting a rustic, white, iron-smith proletarian, forging the letters of the signifier “AMERICA” to some Kid Rock-esq, ersatz-masculine phony hard-ass techno-rock pabulum. Finally the actual credit sequence rolls, showing American innovation/skyscrapers etc., since the beginning of the 20th century, in an animated blue-print motif (like Ayn Rand’s the Fountainhead for kids) which is the actual overall underlying thrust of D’Souza’s piece, that American technological innovation/modernism/capitalism outweigh all of the U.S.’s faults, absolves it in perpetuity, and categorically differentiates the U.S. from any other nation for all time (the rest of whom were conquering-oriented barbarians).
The film finally introduces our humble narrator, Dinesh D’Souza, as a solemn, utterly assimilated, nebbish Indian-American immigrant, clad in head-to-toe in Eddie Bauer. D’Souza is flushed with mush-mouthed introspection as he stalks the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall at night, mulling over his overt Cassandra Complex. D’Souza has found out, much to his melodramatic chagrin, that all the predictions he made in his 1st major propaganda film “2016” all have come true (of course). He warned the misguided liberals that they were making this huge mistake voting for the allegedly ‘liberal’ choice for POTUS (or temporary figurehead of 21st century American plutocratic oligarchy). For the film “America” however, D’Souza is wrestling with the notion that there could possibly be people living in his country of choice, who (as bizarre as it may sound) are seriously displeased with how plutocratic Americanism/global capitalism has played out in our era of Late Capital. D’Souza struggles with the idea that there are people who could hold principled objections to our cynical version of virtual ‘democracy’ with its grotesque bourgeois popularity contests called ‘elections’ (which philosopher Alain Badiou referred to as ‘spectacles for idiots’). To D’Souza, people who could actually want to see the U.S. radically altered are just ill-informed by nefarious Leftists who have infiltrated society, and any attempt to change our plutocratic oligarchy would be tantamount to its annihilation. This sequence introduces more overt propaganda images, images which would surely make Leni Riefenstahl chuckle with recognition (and let’s be honest, also at just how poorly executed contemporary propaganda films are as pieces of cinema [certainly in comparison to Riefenstahl’s unrivaled cinematic propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will]).
After curiously lingering on the statue of Lincoln leaning on the great marble fasces, the film introduces a thoroughly fictionalized account of George Washington. D’Souza shows us a virtual Washington complete with a full set of off-white teeth the historical Washington would have sorely envied, and would have also insisted upon for the film (where he aware of it). Washington of course being a prescient propagandist himself would stuff his mouth with cotton (for portraiture and so on) to fill out his slack jaw-line and to hide the rotten black tooth-stumps that held his torturous wooden bridge-work. Virtual Washington is variously seen romantically leaving for battle (with an obvious African slave boy in-tow), charging sword-drawn into battle (intercut with momentary flashes of the Tea Party-appropriated Gadsden flag, random shots of a mechanically folded contemporary American flag flying, and a burnt American flag banner), and yelling in slow-motion “Hold the line boys! Hold the line!” Supposedly ‘gritty’ recycled images of large-scale Revolutionary War re-enactments play with a voice-over of an idealistic private writing to his mother of how inspiring this mythologized military commander is etc…then Washington gets unceremoniously iced by a British sniper…and the body of America’s Romulus is nonchalantly rolled into a wet ditch as people step over it, unaware of the world-shattering quantum cataclysm that just occurred. Cheap, dated CGI begins to unmake Mt. Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, and the statue of the soldiers hoisting the flag at Iwo-Jima (because of course the U.S. wouldn’t have existed without a single mythologized personality, but somehow everything else about the 20th century happened without America’s existence, including the rise of Adolf Hitler [who would presumably rule the world along with Imperial Japan?]). D’Souza then lays out the ‘legal’ indictments against the simulated America of his ideology by the Left over the last hundred years.
Similar to the documentary film The Corporation (which takes the claim that ‘corporations are people’ seriously and uses the DSM-IV to demonstrate that ‘if corporations are people then they are clinically sociopathic’) D’Souza (astonishingly) lays out five legal indictments allegedly made by the Left. He does this by presenting some of the actual scholarship of his main intellectual enemies (a few of whom he manages to briefly interview). D’Souza’s bête noir in this film is clearly Howard Zinn, but his other major targets (apart from Democrats now in office) include Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky, and Saul Alinsky. This sequence starts with POTUS Obama’s now infamous ‘you didn’t build that’ speech, then the audio of Senator Warren giving the similar argument (which is an obviously rationally uncontroversial notion that no single human being builds international corporations, and that tax-payer funded elements go into that process) over-layered onto images of pipe-fitters working on oil derricks, etc., which elicited loud sardonic laughter from two or three of the red-faced men in the audience. In order to show how these evil Leftists evidently took control of the U.S., D’Souza gives short shrift to a picture of actual history of the U.S., which is detailed in books like A People’s History of the United States. The charges against America start with the havoc waged against the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere by the Spanish colonialists, including the genocidal destruction of the Taino by notorious slaver Christopher Columbus (which D’Souza completely blames the Spanish for, strangely disconnecting Columbus historically from the U.S. while retaining his value as patriotic simulacrum). The film’s other charges against America include the theft of Mexico in the Mexican-American War (which D’Souza later interviews amateur revisionist-historian Senator Ted Cruz about), the theft of the wealth created by the institution of slavery from the blacks who literally built the infrastructure of America, the theft from the American people of the American Dream™ (which is not to my knowledge a Leftist problem, viewing the so-called American Dream™ as the corporate consumerist invention it always was), and the contemporary endless war for resources that sustains the (actually demonstrably finite) endless growth of global capitalism.
These interviews with Leftists, brief as they are, are priceless; D’Souza’s noticeable discomfort as he speaks to the radical Reconquista Chicano theorist Professor Charles Truxillo from the University of New Mexico alone makes the film worth the price of admission. In a few amazing moments Prof. Truxillo speaks about atavistic Mexican religious/ethnic nationalism rooted in reclaiming their historical territory, the categorical rejection of Anglo-American cultural hegemony, and some Third-Position ideology (a political notion somewhere between communism and fascism, allegedly beyond Left and Right). D’Souza speaks to a female Native American activist (whose name I unfortunately missed) who openly laments Mt. Rushmore’s existence as an oppressive symbol mocking her ancestral homeland. She also indicates to D’Souza that even the signifier ‘America’ makes her ‘sad’ because of the stolen land and wreckage of lost/destroyed cultures (which D’Souza goes on to say wasn’t theft at all because Native Americans ‘stole’ land from each other in internecine wars). D’Souza manages to get five minutes of Prof. Chomsky’s time to talk about the well-documented U.S. imperialistic aggression, extra-judicial murders/assassinations, and overt terrorism during the 20th century (in places like Grenada, Brazil, and Iran etc.). D’Souza also speaks with the ominous Professor Ward Churchill at his home, and gets him to say (through some finagling) that if it would be morally correct to destroy Nazi Germany with an atomic bomb (because it was an obviously evil society), then by the same logic plutocratic America should be also be destroyed with an atomic bomb (then showing nothing else from their interview). D’Souza notes that these people are not crack-pots off the street who hold these kinds of hateful views, but university professors who promote what he calls Howard Zinn’s ‘shame narrative’ of American history, which D’Souza laments. For the rest of the film D’Souza sets out to rectify each of the indictments he introduced as an attempt to ‘set the record straight’ against the ‘shame narrative’, and never addresses the major question which is the subtitle of the film.
In order to re-materialize the mythologized Washington back into existence in a sequence at the end of the film, D’Souza sets out to systematically white-wash and downplay each of the allegedly Leftist indictments. In doing so, he is obliged to categorically apologize for white cultural supremacy, slavery, the disastrous nature of the idea/praxis of endless capitalistic expansion, and institutional racism. To do this he introduces a few little-known historical figures, like a cruel black slave owner (to show that slavery was just an aspect of the Southern state’s economy, which 3K some odd blacks were just as guilty of profiting from). A single, black, remarkably Oprah-esq woman, who became a hair-care product magnate in the 19th century (to show that institutional racism doesn’t exist, and that any black woman could be like Oprah if they just want to work and not be paid welfare to have babies [which Starr Jones asserts during this sequence in the film]). D’Souza then discusses Irish ‘indentured servants’ (otherwise known as ‘slaves’ who were similarly kidnapped off the street and sold) in order to demonstrate that slavery happened to whites as well (failing to mention that Irish were absolutely not considered white at the time, but had to lobby for whiteness by being even more cruel to the blacks than the nativist U.S. racists). This portion of the film is a disjointed collection of speeches given by a fictional Lincoln with the corollary of painting contemporary Democrats as the ‘real racists’, disparate interviews with Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, a Mexican-American law school student whose father owns a manufacturing business (called upon specifically to repudiate Prof. Truxillo’s views, but not an academic) and Zionist attorney/Chomsky frenemy Alan Dershowitz. A masterful (if scatological) presentation of the persecution-complex of the far Right ensues (during which D’Souza manages to add his own federal prosecution and conviction for his role in campaign finance fraud [which he pled guilty to]). This segment goes out of its way to conform to, without explicitly referencing, the ahistorical American Christianist ‘history’ of notorious revisionist ‘historian’/unalloyed liar David Barton, a digression into the work of Alexis de Tocqueville as though it had anything to do with the arrangement of postmodern oligarchic U.S., and a sprinkling of some justified fears of contemporary problems any cogent person would share (i.e. NSA spying, executive over-reach, the ‘panopticon’ of technological modernity etc.)… but attributes these noxious moments of technological modernity in the U.S. as exclusively tied to the unceasing Leftist agenda of Cultural Marxism ™. The film then covers the major talking points of your average Right-Wing radio host with several more interviews which fade into a tedious blur, but includes linking people like POTUS Obama, and Hillary Rodham-Clinton with ‘radical’ (anti-communist) social democrat, ‘take no bullshit’ community organizer Saul Alinsky.
Nearly the entire rest of the film (apart from the predictable closing montage of propaganda images of how great America is) becomes a bio of Alinsky, a personage who I didn’t know very well (other than from personal experience of the conspiratorial ranting of the fringe of the far Right), but came to really admire by the end of D’Souza’s attempted take-down. I even went out and picked up copy of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” for my library as a result of watching the film, which became a sort-of perverse, hilarious advert for Alinsky. D’Souza describes Alinsky’s rather ruthless but effective method of organizing (quoting Alinsky amusingly comparing himself with Lucifer), showing some amazing candid footage of his laconic humor/brash rhetoric, and some sinister actor portrayals (showing him smoking a lot, waiting in cars, having meeting with lots of other smokers in dimly lit rooms, smoking with frog-faced Catholic priests etc.). D’Souza implausibly links POTUS Obama with Alinsky (who died of a massive heart attack while Obama was a toddler) who himself said that he ‘got far more out of community organizing then anyone else he was working for did’. Many in the so-called ‘conservative’ audience are well aware of the ridiculous claim that POTUS Obama is somehow a Marxist Muslim and so on, so D’Souza wastes little time in asserting this in almost a throw away fashion. D’Souza spends more time however linking Hillary Rodham-Clinton to Alinsky (who surely D’Souza predicts will be the next president) by talking about how Rodham-Clinton met Alinsky as an idealistic grad student, and how she wrote a thesis on the Alinsky organizational method. D’Souza uses one of the great tools of contemporary Right wing propaganda and insinuates that while Rodham-Clinton disagrees with Alinsky’s over-all style of community organizing (she doubts that any enduring change could be brought about outside the political system, and chooses instead to become a mainstream politician) she never-the-less took Alinsky’s (not so) radical Leftism with her into American polity (a claim prima facie absurd). Of course because any position left of fascism is communism to fascists, there is no such thing as being a ‘social democrat’ without being a communist to the Right (despite Alinsky historically being an anti-communist). Utilizing ‘guilt via association’, D’Souza paints Rodham-Clinton as being a hell-bent ‘radical’ communist intent to destroy D’Souza’s ideological simulation of America from the inside-out when she inevitably becomes POTUS (which sounds much more like the stated intention of neo-liberal fascist Grover Norquist to shrink the government to the size where one could ‘drown it in a bathtub’).
Apart from the sheer exercise in deconstructive criticism, what makes this film so interesting to me was the near seamlessness of the presentation of this disturbing Weltanschauung. If you were not prepared for the way this film attempts to infiltrate your subconscious in order to twist your conscious thinking into the shape of this bizarre ideology, you would quite possibly succumb to this seductive world-picture of siege-mentality faux-populism. Perhaps if you were totally unfamiliar with the work of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Berenays (inventor of ‘public relations’ and the ‘focus group’, introducer of psychoanalysis to the U.S., and the father of modern advertising) this information would pass easily into your subconscious. If you already occupied a place on the fringe of the Right (primed to entertain and unquestioningly accept an alternative universe so long as it was formally anti-intellectual, xenophobic, and jingoistic), you might actually come out of that theater chanting ‘god bless the U.S.A.’ as one elderly white woman did to some half-hearted applause from two or three angry white men. That this film will go out into the so-called ‘conservative’ echo-chamber and presented as gospel I have no doubt, cycling around forever in the endless, techno-permanent screaming matches in the comment sections of Facebook/weblogs. D’Souza’s work is assured its immortal place as the inevitable YouTube video posted by the ranting Internet ‘conservative’ to show ‘libtards’ the Truth™. D’Souza’s film shows just how possible it is to never know how trapped within the labyrinthine propaganda of plutocratic white cultural hegemony you and I are, your own cognitive subjection to the rule of capital as translucent to you as water is to fish.