During the last week of May 2001, my best friend Allegra and I fell in love with the same boy.
It was May, it was Paris. It was warm and he was hot.
He was the son of a British barber, trying to prove himself in the tooth and claw world of competitive hairdressing. His name was Brian Allen.
At least in the movie.
This summer we became obsessed with Josh Hartnett, a supporting character in the British yet-to-be-if-ever released in the United States film “Blow Dry.”
Ne”er since my 10th grade Prince William days had I fallen so hard for a celebrity. And believe me, I was floored.
So naturally my interest was piqued when I saw pictures of Hartnett, featured in July”s Vanity Fair, posing in the crowded street of a Moroccan market. He was in northwest Africa filming the film adaptation of Mark Bowden”s instant “military classic” (according to The Washington Times) “Black Hawk Down,” under the direction of Ridley Scott.
I like war books and I like war movies. This fondness, however, usually grapples with my instinctual distrust of American military intervention. I had no reservations about seeing Josh Hartnett acting macho and giving the “We don”t come out here to be heroes. But sometimes it just happens” spiel on the big screen. But I had serious reservations about “Black Hawk Down.”
The American-slash-United Nations humanitarian-cum-military invasion of Somalia in the early “90s was and still is a piece of history so far removed from my scope of understanding that I make no claim of getting it. But I know enough and have read enough since I saw that movie to confirm my gut and know that my reservations had some substance.
And although I”ve now read a lot of accounts of what happened between “91 and “93, I still come from no background where I can offer or even feel that I have deciphered any sort of truth about what happened. For me to think for a second that I could would be ridiculous.
But I still know that there was something wrong with that movie and something wrong with the praise that it”s been getting. And I think that it has more than something to do with what happened on Sept. 11, and what seems pretty likely to happen in the near future.
It”s clear that Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley Scott did not produce “Black Hawk Down” on a three month timeline in a brilliant conspiracy geared at dulling the reactions of the American public to an anti-terrorist military strike on Somalia.
But perhaps they may as well have.
“Black Hawk Down” is a montage of American blood and guts. A clear delineation exists between the “good” Somalis (the women and children suffering at the hands of warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, then cheering on the soldiers in artistically masterful opening and closing sequences respectively) and the “bad” Somalis: Ruthless, heartless expendable killers.
Nineteen Americans died on Oct. 3, 1993, the final text on the movie screen tells us. Next: 1,000 Somalis did too.
The picture that Scott and Screenwriter Ken Nolan seem to have deduced from Bowden”s book or created by themselves is a caricature of the same distorted picture that top ranking George Bush (Sr.) officials, most notably United Nations ambassador Madeline Albright, used to propagate the most vicious brand of humanitarian intervention imaginable.
Read: Aidid is the Hitler of Somalia. Like Noriega in Guatemala. Milosevic in Yugoslavia. Qadaffi in Libya. He intercepts U.N. shipments of grain and laughs meniacly to himself. The laugh echoes and thunder rolls.
I”ve read the whole spectrum of leftist interpretation of Somalia, too. The would-be Chomsky proteges have predictably screamed oil. The American embassy is in Conoco”s Somalia headquarters Aidid was not partial to American investigative drilling in the Somali countryside. Mohamed Siad Barre, the dictator overthrown by Aidid, may or may not have been depending on whether he liked the United States or Russia better that week.
Maybe oil has something to do with it. I think there”s enough out there, though, to show what a bungled job the U.N. and U.S. did without extrapolating tired hypotheses of corporate greed. For once.
What”s scary is what the film chooses to show. An inhuman enemy that above all else is ungrateful for all the generosity of the West.
The New York Times too has recently turned its attention to Somalia, most recently with “Touring Somalia,” a feature piece that reduces the Somalians to qat- (an amphetamine) chewing druglords.
Maybe movies and articles like this will help the American public sleep better at night when we”ve finished taking our promised swipe through the “Axis of Evil” and turned the daisy cutters and cluster bombs to Africa. This isn”t the first time that Somalia”s fate has swung from the tenuous thread of the American conscience.
When courting public opinion for the “93 mission to Islamic Somalia, Bush argued “After all, no one should go hungry at Christmas time.” Read: No Americans should have to feel bad about hungry people at Christmas time.
Johanna Hanink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.