March 26, 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005); Witch Hunts for Dummies

I finally caught George Clooney’s much-acclaimed send-up of Edward R. Murrow and his journalistic attacks on Senator Joe McCarthy. Good Night, and Good Luck is quite good. David Strathairn was outstanding. I love the time period of the film and the music set the reflective tone of the movie nicely.

McCarthyism - From Reality to Metaphor
What struck me most about the film was the legacy of the witch hunt. In the 50’s, Arthur Miller's The Crucible metaphorically skewered McCarthyism by portraying the witch hunts of the late 17th century Salem, MA. And here, 50 years later, Clooney and company are using McCarthyism as an indictment on the removal of civil liberties for purposes of National security. In GN&GL, not hard to imagine the words Homeland Security Council in the place of the Unamerican Activities Council and the word “terrorist” substituted for the word “communist.” And regardless of one’s political views on the current administration, it strikes me that where McCarthyism was once the reality behind the metaphor, now it is the metaphor. Who knows, perhaps one day someone will make a film about the Patriot Act that’s actually a not-so-veiled indictment on, say, the presidential administration of 2064.

Origins in Truth
Witch hunts, group think and mass hysteria are funny animals. They are certainly easy targets, because once we are all out of a certain frame of mind it is easy to condemn that state of mind. The part of these periods that I find most interesting, and the hardest to talk about however, are their roots in legitimacy. Since, we’re in the midst of it, its easy to see, even for ACLU members, why the current lust for National Security runs so high. Looking back to McCarthyism, it’s a bit harder, but still possible, to believe that in the beginning of the movement McCarthy might have been on to something. There might have been a commies or two poking around in the government. And hardest to swallow, there might have been a few Puritans sniffing around satanic activity way back in the 1690’s.

But here’s where things get interesting. After the ball gets rolling, once an evil is identified and steps are taken to prevent it…. SATAN SWITCHES TEAMS!! He’s a clever little devil. He realizes that Zeal is a hair from Self-righteousness; and that Self-righteousness is a neighbor to Blind Retaliation. When we're shooting bling, Satan is happy.

How Witch hunts Happen to Good People

It also occurs to me that very few people are willing to portray the Witch Hunters in three dimensions. Like it or not, George Bush and his like-minded friends are not evil
men who hate freedom, McCarthy really did want to make America a better place, and the Puritans were not bored, sex-starved illiterates who were driven to hangings to satisfy their lust for entertainment.

Perhaps what frightens us most about witch hunters is how normal, well-intentioned and sometimes, intelligent they are. For if people who fit those descriptors can become so misguided, could not any of us?

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