Last night, while many of you were watching what Badass Digest writer Devin Faraci, invoking The Simpsons, aptly characterized as "Old Man Yells At Chair," I was succumbing to what I can only call a morbid curiousity and checking out 2016: Obama's America, the documentary that made box office news last weekend by taking in sufficient millions of dollars that prior skeptics were compelled to sit up and take notice. I wish I had read a little more about the movie before I gave in to that curiousity; had I known that it's essentially Dinesh D'Souza pressing harder on the pedal to get more mileage out of the fumes of his 2010 Forbes article "How Obama Thinks" and its offshoot book The Roots of Obama's Rage, I could've saved myself twelve bucks.
"Obama's rage," I love that. During what appeared to be an ad-libbed section of his speech at the Republican National Convention last night, Clint Eastwood said to a chair that was supposed to represent the President, "don't tell me to shut up." The general equanimity of Obama's public bearing may confound Eastwood into seeing things, but it doesn't in any way fool D'Souza, who finds much in Obama's memoir Dreams from my Father with which to damn his subject, including a passage in which Obama describes teaching himself how to be "nice." This is, indeed, a frank admission that a to-the-bone-politician would be too too savvy to make—that is, admitting that one learned how to be a politician. For the crime of having deigned to attempt something like literature, Barack has earned the most malevolent interpreter/deconstructor possible. Certain conservatives tend to sneer or smirk at psychological models used to explain behavior or inclination, but for the screen version of his thesis D'Souza applies a sort-of inverted Ordinary People/Good Will Hunting model and enlists a psychologist to explain how a largely ABSENT father can be an even stronger influence on a child than one who regularly participates in his child's upbringing.
I gotta tell you: aside from being somewhat ill-qualified to speak with absolute authority about some of the policy wonkery in this movie, I also have to admit that 2016: Obama's America really filled me in on some things about Obama's background. For one thing, I had NO IDEA that Barack's dad got around so much. On a journey to Kenya, D'Souza seeks out an Obama grandmother, or rather not REALLY an Obama grandmother: "just one of [Obama's] grandfather's five wives." As Dave Weigel astutely points out in his account of the film for Slate, D'Souza's thesis deftly avoids such obvious traps as going full birther. This doesn't mean it's not ridiculous, though.
Of course, with production value courtesy, at least in part, of Schindler's List co-producer Gerald Molen, D'Souza knits the various threads of ridiculousness together rather deftly. After an introductory section in which conservative pundit D'Souza limns all of the personal similarities between himself and Obama—it's like that whole Constantine angel-devil thing I guess—he starts in on naming all of the horrible things the anti-colonialist Obama is doing to transform Our Great Nation into an America So Weakened That It Cannot Lead. And his first item of busines is...wait for it...that stupid crap about Obama returning a bust of Winston Churchill to Great Britain. Talk about these-guys-are-from-England-and-who-gives-a-shit, literally! (See Jake Tapper's amusing unraveling of this bogus controversy here.) But wait. Did you know that Obama's also on Argentina's side in the conflict over the Falklands? And that he once sang "Shipbuilding" at a karaoke bar? (Okay, I made that last bit up, but it coulda happened.) Cinema allows co-director D'Souza to make connections in a more uniquely immediate fashion than print does, and in this section he takes advantage of this capability by inserting a soundbite from Obama describing one of his grandparents as "a domestic servant to the British." THOSE FUCKING LIMEYS I'LL SHOW THEM. No, D'Souza doesn't extrapolate EXACTLY that from his researches, but it's pretty close. Just as his depiction of Hawaii spares no rhetorical turn to paint that state as so mired in its own native "oppression studies" so as not to be a part of the U.S. of A. at all.
I gotta hand it to D'Souza: his dog whistle is a really finely tuned instrument. Speaking of the relationship between Obama's mother and his stepfather Lolo Soetero, he says, "What attracted Ann to Lolo was that he was a Third World man, like [Barack Sr.]," which, let's face it, is much nicer than saying, for instance, that she had jungle fever. (Or saying something else, for that matter.) When interviewing Obama's half-brother George, D'Souza, who mostly comports himself throughout in a soft-spoken, civil, considered manner, lets the mask drop a bit, coming on like a real condescending prick as he presses the blissed-out-looking Kenyan about how things really WERE better under colonialism. The phrase "White man's burden" is not uttered, and even if it had been, D'Souza has what he considers an automatic out: "I'm the same color as Obama" he demonstrates in a side-by-side forearm comparison.
The elephant in the room, if you'll excuse the phrase, is the fact that the radical Obama has not, as his first term approaches its close, transformed the country into some kind of Stalinist-Sharia mashup. BUT THAT IS ONLY BECAUSE HE NEEDS MORE TIME. After invoking "the card-carrying Communist" Frank Marshall Davis, Edward Said, Jeremiah Wright, and Bill Ayers, and after Shelby Steele tells D'Souza via cell-phone conversation (you know shit's getting real in this movie when it cross-cuts between D'Souza and his interview subject speaking via phone) that Obama "was naturally born to bargaining" (just like, again, most competent politicians might be, only with Kenya-boy it's SINISTER), D'Souza explains that the problem is he needs more TIME. He then drags out arched-eyebrow pundit Daniel Pipes to complain that, sure, Obama DID commit more troops to the war in Afghanistan, but he wasn't SUFFICIENTLY ENTHUSIASTIC about doing so. The movie cuts away from the intense Pipes before he can discuss the fact that he saw an Islamist peeping out of his wife's blouse.
The movie was showing in a theater in the rafters of a 25-house Times Square multiplex, number 23 it was; I think 24 and 25 were showing Kansas City Bomber and Trog respectively. Going down one of the fifty or so escalators to the street exit, I heard a short, buff bulletheaded man in his 30s explaining to his howitzer-busted Euro date that the movie's most salient point was that Obama got himself elected "while nobody was looking." For better or worse, I myself recall the dustups involving Obama's associations with Wright and Ayers playing out in a fair amount of detail prior to Obama's winning the 2008 election and/or taking office. Just like the closing of that GM plant in Jamestown Janesville did.