Since Sept. 11, mainstream media from Time to Ted Koppel have been grappling with the question, "Why do they hate us?" Often the attempts have been noble, but more often than not, analyses of U.S. foreign policy have generally fallen short of producing a satisfying answer.
But that's not stopping Rene Broussard, director of the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center (1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.), from answering the call for a closer examination. His 12-day documentary series, "Why They Hate U.S.!," starting Tuesday, Jan. 15, offers 30 different works that explore a wide range of policy approaches that may begin to explain why the rest of the world feels the way it does toward what one documentary calls the "last empire."
Not that Broussard and Zeitgeist are strangers to alternative viewpoints -- the mission statement is "something for and against everyone" -- but this is the first time he has focused a series on one particular political theme. He, like so many others after Sept. 11, was moved to take action.
"What upset me most was when (President) George W. Bush said that any nation that feeds, harbors or aids terrorists is basically our enemy," explains Broussard, who last year celebrated Zeitgeist's 15th anniversary. "I believe it's very hypocritical for the United States to be using this label of terrorists when it's really what we've been doing as foreign policy for the last three decades.
"There's a total lack of recognition that we're the ones who trained Osama bin Laden, we trained (Iraq's) Saddam Hussein. We trained (Panama's) Manuel Noriega. It's always 'the enemy of our enemy is our friend,' and we forget that we fed, harbored and trained these terrorists."
While the series is disappointingly absent of documentaries on Afghanistan or another hot spot, Somalia, there's plenty of analysis elsewhere. The series begins Tuesday with two films that lay a foundation for study of America's military approach at home. JROTC: The Military in America's High Schools: Developing Citizens or Soldiers? probes the growing impact the military has on our educational systems, while Between Men examines the concept of masculinity in the military and how men are "processed into fighting machines."
The series heats up the next day with three short films. Arms for the Poor looks at the United States' controversial weapons-export business; Banking on Life and Debt makes the link between lending practices of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and poverty in such developing countries as Ghana; and Last Empire provides a history-at-a-glance of our government's intervention policies, especially in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East.
With the United States pondering expanding the "war on terror" into Iraq and a return gig against Saddam Hussein, Friday's Behind the Flag should be another highlight. The film argues that the federal government used propaganda to make the Gulf War look more like a "liberation" of Kuwait and not a war solely meant to protect our petroleum interests in the region. Saturday's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq argues that the effects of U.S.-imposed economic sanctions have led to the death of as many as a half-million Iraqi children over the past decade.
Other topics include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in East Timor, varying approaches to the treatment of Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, and even the protests in 2000 at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle.
Broussard offers a buyer-beware caveat that he snagged all the films sight unseen, but is used to showing plenty of stuff he disagrees with. And while there won't be any "experts" on hand for epilogue analysis, he'll lead any post-viewing discussions audience members might generate.
Though he's naturally concerned about a potential public backlash to the program, Broussard takes comfort with the overall objective as well being used to stirring things up at Zeitgeist. He's says he's not being unpatriotic; he's generating debate and a free exchange of ideas. How American is that? "One of the main problems I see with American society is intolerance," he says. "The whole series is not designed to attack the United States. I'm an American. What I'm attacking is the notion that a government can act on my behalf without my knowledge or consent, and act often in ways that are covert and directly hidden from the public that is funding it and is inevitably responsible for the problems that occur."
So far, the reaction to the series has been positive. But Broussard says he's used to catching hell, particularly after appearing in Gambit Weekly lying on a couch nude with a wedding dress draped over him. "I got death threats just from being a gay filmmaker," he says, "people calling me up and telling me that they hope I die of AIDS."
But Broussard can point to an exhibition at next-door neighbor Barrister's Gallery, Sextablos, featuring religious paintings about sex. "We had a painting of Christ on the crucifix getting a blowjob," he says. "Not a complaint. It goes to every other city like Houston -- mass protests. Nobody in New Orleans cares. You can't do anything to shock people in this town."
CORRECTION: Last week's cover photo and the inside photo accompanying the cover story "No Choice" were incorrectly attributed; both photos were taken by Tracie Morris/Donn Young Studio. Gambit Weekly regrets the error.