TODAY'S GO-TO VILLAINS.

Via Steve Clemons, a good short doc on Hollywood's vilification of Arabs.

Among the many offensive images and representations in the program, the clip from Back to the Future is particularly ridiculous. The year was 1985, Muammar Khaddafi was being sold to us as the new Hitler, (this was several new Hitlers ago; since then we've had Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein again, with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad acting as the current new Hitler) and thus "Libyans" was offered as perfunctory shorthand for "villains." So as not to draw attention to themselves, the "Libyans" drive around wearing army fatigues and kaffiyehs. (You'll notice, or maybe you won't, that one of the clever "Libyans" is wearing a red-checked Jordanian kaffiyeh; is this intended as a disguise?) And then, of course, the "Libyans" are driving a VW bus, well known as preferred conveyance of your flag-burning, apple pie abjuring, third world liberation sympathizing hippie. And thus we have the marriage of two of the iconic signifiers of the betes noires of Reaganite Middle America. Unfortunately, the scene where the terrorists are reading Pravda had to be cut.

While it's tempting to dismiss this sort of thing as "just a movie," it's important to understand how this sort of casual slander, the use of cultural signifiers to indicate "bad guy," can prepare a population to believe the worst about another people or culture, and to support disastrous and destructive policies towards them.

--Matthew Duss

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