Blockbuster n., slang, 1.) a 500-lb bomb, so designated in World War II for its ability to reduce an entire city block to rubble. 2.) a Hollywood movie that is a "hit" in terms of producing large box-office receipts.
e swore we were watching a movie. Everyone thought it, said it, or agreed to it during the entire week since the September 11 World Trade Center massacre. And not just the spectatorseven one professional newscameraman confessed, "I felt like I was shooting a film."
The question that remains unanswered of course, is, which movie we were watching. In New York, a lot of folks thought they were watching Die Hard, Independence Day, or maybe even Armageddon. Still others claimed it was more like the ending of Fight Club. Older moviegoers remembered seeing The Towering Inferno. The really old thought they were witnessing the attack on Pearl Harbor, while the really young thought they were witnessing the attack on audiences known as Pearl Harbor. In Washington, a few thought they were watching Air Force One. The event struck one observer as a cynical but failsafe marketing campaign to resurrect Arnold Schwarzeneggers flagging career as Americas symbolic superman. His next film, now postponed, was to be Collateral Damage, a rendition of American bombing victims at Oklahoma City and an unwitting requiem for Timothy McVeigh.
Unfortunately, the tragic reality of the World Trade Center attack was not portrayed in any one of these movies. The movie you were watching all week long was, in fact, the 1998 action-adventure drama, The Siege. Underrated at the time for having a lackluster script and competing against such tyrants as Jerry Bruckheimers Enemy of the State, The Siege suffered from a dense script, which, in retrospect, turns out be merely an accurately detailed assessment of the geopolitical situation.
Heres the plot summary: After the abduction by the U.S. military of a Muslim leader, New York City becomes the target of escalating terrorist attacks. Anthony Hubbard, the head of the FBI/NYPD Terrorism Task Force, teams up with CIA operative Elise Kraft to capture the organization responsible for the terror in NYC. As bomb attacks go on, the U.S. government decides to send the army into the NYC streets, led by the General Devereaux, who declares martial law.
But throughout the film, eerily familiar details come out that make you wonder, as one imdb.com writer did, whether this isnt another Wag the Dog scenario: a U.S. military operation scripted along the lines of a movie. Wag the Dog was actually based on Larry Beinhardts novel American Hero, in which the hero was George Bush, Sr. Now, as Neal Gabler points out in the Sunday New York Times, Americans are almost incapable of seeing reality through any frame of reference other than cinema, so why shouldnt the U.S. military package our political conflicts as high-stakes entertainment? In one sense, its really the only way they can get us to believe any of it is real.
Here are just a few of the eerily familiar details.
If The Siege is a Hollywood prescription that the American military pharmacy is now dispensing, then we are currently swallowing a brand name war whose target marketing was delivered three years ago. Whether The Siege is the template for Americas reaction or whether its the inspiration for bored fanatics who decide to commit copycat terrorism instead of something truly original, is anyones guess. First, a random series of attacks. Then, a crackdown on Muslims and a declaration of war. Finally, the presidents invocation of the War Powers Act to declare martial law in the streets.
If the conspiracy theorists are right in their insistence on the numerology of eleven in this whole thing, then this should happen on November 5, because it would follow the pattern of something significant happening every eleven days after 9/11. Please dont freak out. I say this not because I espouse any conspiracy theory, but because all conspiracy theories are easily dismissed that only have retroactive explanatory power. A good conspiracy theory is one that has some predictive power, and I want to give these guys a chance before I start laughing at them.
The irony of some tragedy on November 5 that would trigger a declaration of martial law the day after, is twofold: First, its the day before election day. Second, if martial law (or some simulacrum thereof) is instituted on election day, then the tagline of The Siege will be more than a little chilling in its prophecy: "On November 6, our freedom is history."
Among those currently in favor of destroying our liberties in the name of defending them are those who are not bothered by the, um, law, so long as they can have the comfort of continuity in keeping Rudy Giuliani as Mayor of New York. As Denzel Washington says in the film, "Maybe what they really want is for us to bend the law a little, shred the Constitution, and if that happens, then theyve already won." So, if this does happen, you saw it here first. If it doesnt happen, well, thank God it didnt.
Of course, it wouldnt be the first time the Constitutions been temporarily suspended in our history. As of September 27, 2001, the National Guard has the job of policing American airports, and you can bet your student ID that after October 3, when the Croatian man in Tennessee slashed the drivers throat with a boxcutter (copycat? coincidence?), anonymous travel in this country is officially over. Bring your passport next time you want to ride the new improved Blue-and-Greyhound bus line. (So what if fewer than 10 percent of Americans even have a passport? Just bring your Social Security card. Its not supposed to be used for identification, but we wont tell.)
And conspiracy theory or not, the government is now, as of October 8, soliciting terrorist scenarios from top Hollywood directors and writers to come up with possible clues as to what they might expect next.
To make a really long story a little bit shorter, the point is this: now that two-and-a-half out of three of the films prophecies have come true, perhaps The Siege really is the best text you can see to catch yourself up on everything you may have been able to ignore for the last thirty years. In fact, in the wake of September 11, The Siege is so strange and yet so familiar youll swear youre watching television.
As to why watching television has become so much like reading a tabloid in recent weeks, well, thats another story altogether.