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Jewish World Review April 4, 2003 / 1 Nisan, 5763

Julia Gorin

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BUT I WANNA BE POPULARRRRR! | Ever more Americans have been expressing dismay over our international standing since George W. Bush's election to office. Exasperated statements like "Ever since this guy took office, everyone has turned against us!"; "We're alienating the rest of the world!"; "Even our allies hate us!" grace the national dialogue regularly.

Paraphrased in a whiney tone, that is to say: "Ohmygod! Everyone hates us! No one else is doing it! This is not the way to be popularrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"

Kids sounding like this usually get smacked. In Hollywood, they get applauded.

Here is where Tinseltown and its co-ideologists should take a page from, well, Tinseltown. Great cinema, just as great literature and theater, is constructed around the plight of a single protagonist, usually someone pushing sand against the tide. A hero, in other words. And heroes take a stand--the way the United States is doing right now. Is art inspired by and devoted to the masses and the establishment riding the tide--or to an individual who proves the masses and establishment wrong?

Usually the protagonist wins, but sometimes he loses, as in "On the Waterfront." Regardless, the protagonist is the inspiring force. In the case of "On the Waterfront," directed by Elia Kazan, his audiences knew who was right in the film, but couldn't apply its lessons to the experiences of the man behind it when judging him for standing up against friend, foe and the Hollywood establishment for what he believed was right.

Why is heroism so difficult to recognize when it is real, when it is not spoon-fed to the public through a script or novel? When the public plays audience to a film, play or book, it knows to sympathize with the outnumbered underdog; viewers know he is right from the first, as the story has been meticulously set up for them. The similar disconnect maintained by the story makers between drama and real-life drama of serious consequence is shameful, coming from those whose very art is inspired by the same themes that face the United States right now.

One does not take a stand by pleasing others. Even the most rudimentary self-help books tell us not to strive to please others, that doing so is counterproductive and will backfire.

Oscar-winning mockumentary filmmaker Michael Moore's recent quip that George Bush is less popular with the world than Saddam Hussein is a good reminder that millions of Europeans once thought Adolf Hitler was the cat's meow and that Jews and homosexuals were sub-human. Come to think of it, the people Moore often lionizes continue to hold this view, which goes to show how despicable popular opinion can be.

As for America's dwindling and broken "alliances," notice how quickly they snapped--proving themselves brittle from the start. In which case, isn't it better to know? Granted, the benevolent character of the American people prefers to be kept in the dark about bad intentions in the world. Many here have a tendency to view the outside world through rose-colored glasses while casting an overly critical eye on their own country. This partially explains the complacency of the Clinton era, when for eight years Americans lived blissfully in a gray zone where they had no distinct "enemies" and plenty of assumed alliances--when the security strategy was to simply blur the line between friend and foe. Then, international opinion was courted and terror attacks were swept under the rug.

In contrast, today "everyone is against us." Which means it is a safe bet that we're probably doing something right. The day America jumps on some international bandwagon is the day to get worried.

America is a nerd--a mensch--and mensches do the right thing.

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JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and comedienne residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2003, Julia Gorin