Mark Steyn

Wishful thinking

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The first thing to be said is that, if you object to swearing, copious fecal matter and vigorously inventive explicit sex between consenting and non-consenting puppets, then Team America: World Police is not for you. The climactic address to the UN, a paean to ‘pussies’, ‘dicks’ and ‘assholes’ and the interaction between the three as a model for geopolitical relations, is a tour de force and makes more sense than any of the hogwash peddled within that benighted organisation. But, if you don’t dig the naughty words, it’s best to skip it and have a glum time at Closer.

The second thing to be said is that, if I were a leftie, I’d be a wee bit worried by the long-term implications of this film. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the creators of South Park, TV’s animated filth fest, and I would imagine that on most issues they’d be conventional showbiz Democrats. When it comes to fornication and profanity, they’re definitely ‘blue-staters’. But the plonkingly solemn sanctimonious self-importance of Hollywood’s limousine liberals is just too inviting a target not to take a whack at it. And so they do. When the cool kids start mocking the A-list icons as buffoons, that’s potentially perilous for the Democratic party. In contrast to the Right’s various bases — the God squad, the gun nuts, etc. — the Left has only one thing going for it: its residual grip on the culture, the fact that the movies and all the rest are one big blue state of mind. The humourlessness of the American Left may yet prove its Achilles’ heel: the earnest cynicism of a Sean Penn is immensely vulnerable to gleeful cynicism. In declining to respect progressive pieties, this film reminds us that the notion the pro-Bush pro-war forces are all uptight Christian fundamentalists is, like so much leftie analysis, wishful thinking.

In fairness to Parker and Stone, they mock the other side, too. Team America is a topical satire hung around a loose pastiche of Thunderbirds — and, indeed, it’s a better tribute to Gerry Anderson and Supermarionation than the vapid live-action remake Working Title released last year. Like Anderson’s wobble-heads on Tracy Island, the five puppet heroes — three boys, two girls — keep their jets and rockets inside Mount Rushmore and blast forth to defend the free world from the scourge of terrorists. Defending the free world is a bit hit and miss: in Paris, Team America manage to miss most of the Middle Eastern bad guys and destroy the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower; in Egypt, it’s the Sphinx and the Pyramids. My colleague Max Hastings, whose main beef with Washington is that next to old-school British imperialists the Yanks are coarse and blundering and insensitive to other cultures, should get a kick out of these scenes, if not much else.

The Team has learnt of a terrorist conspiracy being hatched in ‘a bar in Cairo’. So they decide to infiltrate the evildoers by hiring Gary, an actor currently appearing in a Broadway musical called Lease, where he gets to sing the big number ‘Everyone Has Aids’. However, because he’s an actor, they figure he can pass for Middle Eastern. The plan calls for him to stroll into the Cairo bar and go, ‘Whazzup?’ This, too, is a not inaccurate portrayal of the sophistication of CIA human intelligence.

But, if you want a film savaging the warmongers, better stick with Michael Moore. This one reserves most of its best moments for the other side — the real-life celebrities committed to ‘peace’: Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, all identified on screen by his or her name, followed by ‘FAG’ — to indicate membership in the Film Actors’ Guild. This is merely the first stage in the ever lesser lèse-majesté the movie accords Hollywood royalty.

Is there a point, other than all the FAG jokes? I think so. The film’s distinction is between those who act, like Sean Penn, and those who act, like President Bush. Most Western leaders are not men of action, but men of actin’, indulging in a post-modern simulacrum of great power — M. Chirac, Herr Schröder, etc. All they do is sit around advertising their superiority, like Penn and Alec Baldwin. ‘That is the FAG way,’ as Gary observes. But someone has to act in the old-fashioned sense. When he’s first pitched the gig, Gary demands to know, ‘Why is it my responsibility to fight terrorism?’

‘Because,’ comes the reply, ‘you have the power.’ And, as we know from Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. This theme recurs at a later point in the movie and, as these are rare lines not played for comic effect, one assumes the authors mean them. Either that or it’s a mega-ironic parody of pre-ironic pop culture.

Whatever. After several songs and after tangling with Kim Jong-Il, who has the advantage of already looking like a Thunderbirds puppet, Gary winds up addressing the assembled leaders of the world and giving them the benefit of his insight into geopolitical affairs: ‘We’re reckless arrogant stupid dicks and the FAGs are pussies.’ This mighty peroration contains more truth than most of the real debate around the Security Council table. And it is, in more ways than one, a bottom-line rationale. Dicks or pussies: when the going gets tough, who ya gonna call?