Hollywood knows how to handle the truth

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This Is the Truth
  • Goya
  • "This Is the Truth"
While bedbound for a couple of days, I watched chunks of movies I'd never heard of. One was a quickie 2005 version of War of the Worlds that resolves the crisis in humanity’s favor when the aliens all die of rabies. The others had big Hollywood budgets and plots ripped from the headlines, which is to say they were paranoid Washington thrillers.

Safe House finds a senior CIA official played by Sam Shepard hinting to his idealistic young minion (Ryan Reynolds) that the missing File That Would Reveal Everything should just stay missing: "People don't want the truth anymore, Matt. It's too messy. It keeps them up nights."

And in Absolute Power, Clint Eastwood corners the Billionaire Behind the President (E.G. Marshall) and asks him if he has the stomach to hear the truth about what really happened the night his beautiful young second wife met a grisly death. (Rough sex with the priapic president (Gene Hackman) led to her fighting back and the Secret Service shooting her dead.) I wasn’t quick enough to write down the dialogue for that one.

These big scenes hark back to 1992's A Few Good Men and Jack Nicholson’s famous line: "You can’t handle the truth!" In Hollywood’s idea of a happy ending, the people can and do, and the truth is all it takes. Manly Ryan Reynolds leaks the file to the usual media, and we know public fury was overwhelming because the next thing we see is the familiar montage of political titans in $10,000 suits in major Western capitals (always Washington, always London, usually Paris, and one other of the director’s choice) being frog-marched into ebony squadrols as flashbulbs go wild. And of course the billionaire has the stomach, and when he knows what he needs to know he goes straightaway to the White House and a couple of hours later America has a new president.

Real life seems to work a little differently. Edward Snowden must have figured that a pretty good equivalent of the File That Reveals Everything was his disclosure to the usual media that the United States loves to spy on everybody all the time, including its European allies. Indignation was duly expressed in the appropriate places. But the New York Times said on Tuesday: "Many intelligence experts dismissed as posturing the expressions of shock and disappointment among Europe’s leaders. . . . European allies themselves spy on the European Union and have been happy to collaborate with the United States on intelligence gathering and even rendition, [former British intelligence officer Richard Aldrich] said, 'so long as everything remains secret.'"

Apparently our choice of responses to Snowden’s ongoing revelations boils down to: don't care, or be square. This is the New Entitlement—fostered, perhaps, by too many John Le Carré novels and Bourne movies. It's the license our leaders enjoy to do whatever they please because if the truth comes out the people will shrug. Not because they can't handle the truth; because they don't want to look like the only saps in town who didn't already assume it.

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