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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

team america: world police

I saw the subject movie last year and thought it was hilarious. I pre-ordered the DVD from Amazon.com, got it last week and watched it again for the first time. It was just as funny as I remember it. Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to do their best work on full-length movies as opposed to the half-hour format they are normally stuck with on weekly episodes of "South Park".

The movie is first and foremost a parody of big budget action movies like "Pearl Harbor" and also slams the culture of celebrity pretty hard as well. Although film critic Roger Ebert gave it a thumbs down and accused the film makers of nihilism, I think he's quite wrong. Whether intentional or not, "Team America" does make some cogent points about American foreign policy.

First, the movie starts off with an action sequence set in Paris, where our heroes are protecting the French from WMD-armed Arabic terrorists. The heroes' actions however are so destructive that they end up destroying the Eiffel Tower and other famous French landmarks. The Parisians are clearly shown to be horrified at this result, even as Team America is patting itself on the back. It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is a critique of American interventionism, well-intentioned, but causing severe unintended damage.

Another interesting sequence occurs when Team America recruits an actor to infiltrate a terrorist group. The actor does so by convincing the terrorists that he too has suffered greatly at the hands of the US. I found this to be astonishing the first time I saw the movie. Perhaps this movie was too insignificant to take note of, but I wondered where was the conservative outrage that Hollywood would dare suggest that American foreign policy could create terrorists?

The last point is made near the end of the movie, when the aforementioned actor has to convince an audience of international diplomats that the now disgraced Team America is justified in its actions so that they can stop a tyrant. Although the obscenity-filled rant is hawkish, to say the least, it still manages to be more nuanced and restrained than current neoconservative warmongering.

So Ebert is wrong to make accusations of nihilism. Parker/Stone, perhaps inadvertantly, do a decent job of showing what might be wrong with America's actions abroad and why some of it might be defensible and manage to do so in a extremely funny, puppet-based spoof.

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