Saturday, March 22, 2008

First World, Third World

Set aside slick camerawork and an overwrought sweeping score and Tony Kaye’s (Tony Kaye?? The same guy who helmed the trite and tedious “American History X”?) 15-years-in-the-making doc “Lake of Fire,” about the abortion debate in America, is remarkably smart filmmaking (so much so that I even was able to forgive “artsy” indulgences like the names of the talking heads appearing onscreen upside-down before reversing to readable format). “Lake of Fire” works because it takes the issue of abortion as its starting point – a way into the larger context of ideology and dogma in America, suggesting that our thinking on the subject is woefully narrow. As famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz puts it early on, the divisive debate reminds him of the story of the rabbi who had to decide between two conflicting sides in a divorce. After hearing the husband’s version he declared, “You’re right.” Upon hearing the wife’s he pronounced, “You’re right.” When a confused rabbinical student said, “But Rabbi, they can’t both be right,” the rabbi replied, “You’re right!” Which can only lead to the conclusion that the wrong question is being asked.

Bioethicist Peter Singer suggests that we’ve sidestepped the real issue – when is it O.K. to kill? (As opposed to killing as a black-and-white moral concept.) Pro-lifers frame the women’s (the individual’s) rights versus the unborn babies’ (humanity’s) rights as a case of narcissism versus the greater good of society. But these people that rail against the “slaughtering of innocents” (like Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry who also rails against homosexuals – and has a gay son, by the way, though he comes across as a closet queen himself in the film) are the very same people who will go out and eat burgers after a rally. Is it not narcissistic to think your life is superior to these other innocents that have been slaughtered? It all comes down to the idea of drawing lines – a wholly personal issue, not one of right and wrong.

While we pat ourselves on the back for having a black man and a woman as potential presidents, Liberia has become a post-war country run by black women (not only the president, but the ministers of Finance, Justice and Commerce, along with the chief of police). The fascinating documentary “Iron Ladies of Liberia,” by Daniel Junge and Siatta Scott Johnson, follows Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in her first year as the first elected female head of state in Africa. (Which is the first-world country again?)

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