Green Room

2016: Effective, well done, a caveat or two

posted at 1:07 pm on August 25, 2012 by

I was surprised to discover that Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America opened in my little town on Friday.  I wasn’t expecting that, given the limited release and our off-the-beaten-track charm.  But there it was, so I went to the very first showing at 12:30 PM.

The effectiveness of 2016 comes from its use of imagery to overlay the narrative.  It’s one thing to read D’Souza’s thesis on Barack Obama (Jr. and Sr.).  It’s another thing to see images conveying its elements.

D’Souza starts the narrative with himself, which is a questionable composition choice.  I know one of his chief themes is contrasting Obama’s biography with his, since they were born in the same year and both came from a background steeped in anti-colonialism.  But it might have been more powerful to begin by painting Obama, and then bring in the contrast with D’Souza.

The sequence comes off like D’Souza presenting his life as the ordinary standard from which Obama, Jr. deviates.  I believe what he means to convey is that it is possible – and in fact better – to overcome your philosophical roots in anti-colonialism: look what Dinesh D’Souza did, as opposed to Obama, Jr.  That’s a valid point, but it could be made more explicitly.  The passage with the brown hands – D’Souza observing that he and Obama, Jr. are the same color – comes off unfortunately like a cheap, throw-away impression.  If it had been paired with an outright statement that “brown people” don’t have to obsess over race and a history of colonialism that is now 50 years in the rearview mirror, it would, for me, have been more effective.

D’Souza’s thesis is basically the narrow one that Obama, Jr. is an anti-colonialist like Obama, Sr.:  that that is the “dream” from the president’s father, and it animates whatever Obama, Jr. does in politics.  The film is very good at putting the viewer in the milieu of Jakarta or Nairobi, which continue to feel “different” enough to engage the American viewer’s sense of distance and wonder.  Conveying the difference of Obama, Jr.’s childhood and his idea of cultural roots – the difference from American life – is the movie’s most effective accomplishment.

Insofar as he makes his own point about Obama, Jr. and anti-colonialism, D’Souza does it well.  I think it would have been useful to develop the idea of “anti-colonialism” more, so that it was clearer how it relates to the president’s current policies.  An important point is also begging to be made, and isn’t in the movie: that anti-colonialism is a dead idea, like all the others Obama and his advisors work from.  It is an antique, like Marxism, with its spirit gone and nothing left but a deformed death mask: suitable for museums but not for modern use.

Not only was anti-colonialism never usefully descriptive of reality – it doesn’t even matter anymore.  The fight against colonialism was won half a century ago, and two generations have emerged that never knew it.  As with the themes about “war on women” and “racism” and other rhetorical campaigns waged by Team Obama in the language of 1960s radicalism, anti-colonialism is a dead letter.   It is pathetic and sad to think that policy for America today might be made on the premise of it.

Imagine carrying the elaborate grudge inside yourself for 40-odd years, as reality forges ahead around you, making it ridiculous.  Obama is surrounded by practitioners who have made a set of outdated grudges their life’s work, and they are still battening on the people with their financially costly themes of anger and vengeance – none of them updated from ca. 1968.

The film predicts, in broad strokes, what America will look like in 2016 if Obama is reelected.  The pattern of “grudge-holding battening” will simply drive up the national debt.  2016 suggests a figure of $20 trillion, which is perfectly reasonable.  The film makes the point that if America’s monetary solvency collapses, there is nowhere else in the world to go: no refuge from the chaos.  That’s true, and it’s why even our enemies are sticking with the dollar and waiting to position themselves better for the aftermath.

D’Souza’s other major prediction is that a “United States of Islam” will emerge across North Africa and the Middle East by 2016.  With this, I do not agree.  The emerging Islamist governments of Egypt, Turkey, and Iran will continue to compete with each other for primacy.  Saudi Arabia will remain on her path of sclerotic “leadership.”  Other Muslim nations will coalesce around them and loose “blocs” will form and fall apart.  The prominent Islamist nations will profess friendship and unity on a regular basis, but that won’t be the governing dynamic at the deck-plate level.  To unite a caliphate, you need a caliph, and there won’t be one by 2016.  There will still be several aspiring to the job.

That won’t make the Middle East less volatile or potentially threatening.  If Obama is reelected, the issue of state-Islamism will indeed be at the top of our concerns in 2016.

There is a personal element to D’Souza’s treatment of the Obama story that is both endearing and the basis for a caveat.  D’Souza is right, I think, that the personal approach – the comparison of two lives that started in 1961; two “brown” lives steeped in foreign culture and ideas – is compelling.  It will get and hold moviegoers’ attention.

It may also blind D’Souza to an analytical point that I, for one, would like to see developed.  D’Souza has overlaid the narrative in Dreams from My Father on the story of Obama, Jr.s life, looking for the consequences of a son’s search for his father – an engrossing theme for any man.

But Obama, Jr. created a narrative about his father.  He lived with his mother, and was heavily influenced by her.  He lived with his grandparents in Hawaii.  He was taught by teachers at his Indonesian madrassa, at the Punahou School on Oahu, and by professors in college.  He didn’t create the influence of these people on his life; their influence created him.   None of these people left the political record Obama, Sr. did, but they are the ones I want to know more about.


Bonus material from the same theater visit:  Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom) is out there making an over-the-top mess of Gatsby even as I type, and I can tell it’s gonna hurt.  I’m as down as the next person with the “Redford can’t act” criticism of the big, slow-paced 1970s treatment with Mia Farrow, but come on: Leonardo DiCaprio?  He did an interesting turn as Howard Hughes, but he – and Howard Hughes – are the anti-Gatsby.

The pulsating frenzy depicted in the trailer – glitz, shvitz, wild glamour, sexual innuendo (and a hilarious, sophomoric “diversity” vibe) – is all Moulin Rouge, with no F. Scott Fitzgerald in sight.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

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Thanks J.E. for your review. I was wondering what those who have seen this movie felt about it.

The bottom line for our home, we knew who/what bho was the last time he ran and voted against him on his/mo’s plans for the US that they told us what they wanted to do. Things could not have been worse in my mind what bho/team have been able to do in less than four years to our Republic! If bho is re-elected, I fear the US as we know it will be sol?

Please vote against bho people if you care about our nation! Please don’t stay home or vote third, WE can not have bho again!

letget on August 25, 2012 at 1:21 PM

This Gatsby is suppose to be in 3-D. Figure that one out.

rickv404 on August 25, 2012 at 1:25 PM

I’m not sure why Dinesh felt it necessary to inject himself into the narrative, but I do find that disappointing and a bit narcissistic. I’ve also found Dinseh very combative when receiving criticism, so I guess we’ll see how he handles that too…given that he’s injected himself into the story and he’ll face increasing criticism with the increasing popularity of the movie.

newtopia on August 25, 2012 at 1:49 PM

newtopia on August 25, 2012 at 1:49 PM

I didn’t get a narcissistic vibe, but I thought opening with his own story watered down the main thesis. If you don’t already sympathize with the thesis, or at least some elements of it, I think you’ll end up having to forage for the point.

It’s just good rhetorical practice to affirm your point clearly at the beginning, and THEN build the case for it.

J.E. Dyer on August 25, 2012 at 1:56 PM

I thought it was pretty good, opened my eyes to the anti-colonialism that seemed dominate in his rearing…
what blew me away was that his mother left her 2nd husband because he was digging capitalism and making something of himself…she wanted to stay back in the 3rd world…

cmsinaz on August 25, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Going with friends tonight. Looking forward to the discussion afterward.

WitchDoctor on August 25, 2012 at 2:52 PM

The “brown hands” comparison was used as a debate he had with Jesse Jackson. He didn’t use that as a comparison with Obama, unlike the comparisons of being born and getting married the same year.

Bitter Clinger on August 25, 2012 at 2:53 PM

I feel constantly frustrated that a simple documentary about Obama’s leftism and, as part of it, a synoptic history of leftism around the world and in this country, can’t be made. This documentary feels off the point and too recondite. But it’s doing well, so it’s probably better than nothing.

I wouldn’t dismiss Gatsby yet. DiCaprio is a fine actor who does especially well in roles requiring ambiguity and pathos. I don’t see why he couldn’t perform a career-making turn here. Trailers can be (often intentionally) misleading.

rrpjr on August 25, 2012 at 3:02 PM

Save your time and money. I was very skeptical about this film when I learned that the big theater chains which openly support Obama were showing it and I was right.

We just got back from seeing it and weren’t the only ones who were bitterly disappointed. Walking out people were shaking their heads in amazement.

Most of it was about Obama’s African relatives and D’Souza’s theory that Obama’s politics are a continuation of his father’s dream. Even if true, who cares? The problem is here and now and with all the stuff out in the open begging to be exposed, not a single dot was connected.

The film actually made Obama look sympathetic and a lot of time was given over to his early speeches showing the rapt expressions on the listeners’ faces and children singing about him. Like Maraniss’ latest book, it told just a very little to distract people from what’s really going on.

The big revelation at the end was an “expert” predicting the deficit would be 20 trillion by 2016.

Now I’m in a blue funk because I really think he will be re-elected and this film will help.

erp on August 25, 2012 at 5:20 PM

erp on August 25, 2012 at 5:20 PM

Thanks for your review. I was considering seeing this but have been afraid that it is meandering weaksauce that doesn’t connect the right dots. Looks like I’ll be saving my money.

Kataklysmic on August 25, 2012 at 6:22 PM

erp on August 25, 2012 at 5:20 PM

Don’t know what movie you were watching. Connected plenty of dots for me. The “early speeches showing the rapt expressions on the listeners’ faces and children singing about him” made those people look like foolish sycophants. This movie does NOT reflect well on Obama.

Bitter Clinger on August 26, 2012 at 2:14 AM

I will agree with J.E. on one point: not enough attention is paid to the influence of his mother and maternal grandparents. Though it didn’t take much to realize they were a bunch of leftist kooks.

Bitter Clinger on August 26, 2012 at 2:16 AM

I have not seen the film yet.

But the content of the film is starting to sound like the background research Dinesh should have conducted before making the film about

not enough attention is paid to the influence of his mother and maternal grandparents. Though it didn’t take much to realize they were a bunch of leftist kooks.

Bitter Clinger on August 26, 2012 at 2:16 AM


Difficultas_Est_Imperium on August 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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