Issue 248: 2020 09 24: Make-Believe

24 September 2020

Make-Believe and Reality

Spot the difference.

By Neil Tidmarsh

Last week we had reality intruding into the movies, with reports that parts of Hollywood’s latest would-be blockbuster – the live-action remake of Mulan – were filmed in Xinjiang province in sight of the Uighur ‘re-education’ camps.  Some commentators have suggested that this renders the movie-makers complicit in the mass detention of the Uighur Muslims (the end credits apparently thank the province’s government) and Joshua Wong has said that viewers of the movie would be complicit too.  There have been calls for a boycott.  Beijing has closed down the topic in China by ordering media silence about anything to do with the film. This week, however, we had the movies intruding into reality.  A few days ago the Chinese air force released a video of military exercises featuring an attack by its H-6 bombers on an island target (looking somewhat like the US bases on Diego Garcia and Guam).  But its value as propaganda was rather undermined by the apparent inclusion of footage allegedly nicked from the Hollywood movies The Rock and The Hurt Locker and Transformers; Revenge of the Fallen.  (No doubt its value as entertainment was significantly enhanced, however, so we shouldn’t complain.  Swings and roundabouts.  Yin and yang.) The USA responded to this challenge in true Super-Power Rivalry form.  Not to be outdone by these examples of China’s mastery of the confusing make-believe/reality mash-up, Uncle Sam put on a darn’ good show in Wichita, Kansas.  At least thirty people witnessed a gun-battle between police-officers and gangsters there.  But wait – all the police were wearing antique-looking uniforms and all the gangsters were dressed as Twenties bootleggers.  Yes, it was a re-enactment, a show – Coppers Raiding the Bootleggers at Trappers Cabin – put on at the Old Cowtown Museum.  And a very realistic one at that – the audience gasped as one of the gangsters was shot as he leapt onto a truck to make a getaway with his comrades.  The blood, the screams – hard to believe it was all pretend.  But wait – it wasn’t all pretend.  The blood and the screams were real.  Somehow one of the re-enactors had fired a live round.  The fallen bootlegger was taken to hospital with an authentic slug of lead in his guts and the police (the real police, that is, from the Wichita police department) are currently investigating the incident. Ok, it was hardly the hard-core new-cold-war clash-of-super-powers response which President Trump seemed to be promising at the UN this week.  “Our weapons are at an advanced level, like we’ve never had before, like frankly we’ve never thought of having before” he warned Beijing in a seven-minute recorded speech at the general assembly.  “And I only pray to God we never have to use them.”  But it was kinda cute and folksy and all-American (savour the rugged frontier poetry of the words ‘Wichita’, ‘Kansas’, ‘the Old Cowtown Museum’ and ‘Bootleggers at Trappers Cabin’).  And questions of appearance and make-believe (‘your news is fake news!’ ‘no, your news is fake news!’) have become so confused under the current president of the USA that a common response to his claims may well be a sceptical “Oh yes?  Where are those weapons, then?” Mind you, the existence or non-existence of weapons and the search for them has also been a bit of a theme in recent weeks.  Somebody said that somebody else had ‘put a gun on the table’ during long-drawn out negotiations somewhere, but a protracted search failed to discover an actual firearm.  And a gun carried by a police protection officer travelling with foreign secretary Dominic Raab apparently disappeared from his possession during a flight from Washington DC to London.  After an urgent and extensive search it was found by the police – sorry, no, it was found by a cleaner on board the United Airlines jet at Heathrow sometime after it had landed.  Well, some firearms are very difficult to find – when US police recently arrested a young man in the town of Golden Meadow, Louisiana (ah, savour that poetry!), they suspected him of carrying a weapon but couldn’t find one until they undertook an intimate strip-search – and there it was, nestled between the man’s buttocks, a fully loaded .25 calibre Titan pistol with a 4 inch barrel.  Butt-cheeks (as they say in America) cheek-to-cheek with the pistol-butt. But back to this week’s make-believe/reality theme.  Europe, with its constant and endearing ambition to be up there with the big-boy Super Powers, wasn’t going to let the Chinese and American efforts go unchallenged.  The president of Normandy and former defence minister of France, Hervé Morin, is planning to open an 85-acre ‘immersive’ memorial park on the Normandy coast to commemorate the D-Day Allied landings.  The project is privately funded (estimated cost; €100 million) and backed by the regional council.  M Morin is hoping that it will open in 2024 for the 80th anniversary of the Landings.  It will be called ‘Homage to the Heroes’ and will involve re-enactments which its promoters predict will attract more than half a million visitors a year.  The spectacle “will have mobile grandstands to carry visitors through battle scenes staged by actors and stunt performers” (The Times).  And there’s the rub.  Locals and veterans and their families are appealing against the project.  Thousands of people have signed a petition objecting to what they say is a ‘Disneyfication’ of a chapter of history which deserves particular respect and honour; they insist that the serious and desperate story of shedding blood in the fight for freedom against tyranny – within living memory – shouldn’t be exploited as a source of popular entertainment.  A leader of a local association said “War is butchery.  The idea that you can turn it into a tourist attraction… is absolutely sickening.”  But M Morin, the council, the expert military historians involved (including Sir Anthony Beevor) and the project’s supporters and promoters promise that it will not be a theme park but a serious and ethical treatment of an important subject which will respect the historical truth.  And it will be a boon for employment and the local economy. Make-believe v reality.  It’s all very confusing.  It’s as mind-blowing and mind-boggling as a Christopher Nolan movie.  And no, I haven’t seen Tenet yet.  I was planning to see it last weekend but copped out at the last minute.  Pubs and restaurants, yes, ok, but cinemas?  Hmmm, not yet, I fear.  Besides, living though this dreadful science fiction horror movie of a pandemic is unsettling and nightmarish enough, even without a genius movie-director further messing with your sense of reality.    
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