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Babel, Challenges Facing the United States

Babel is a Golden Globe- and Academy Award-winning 2006 film, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga. It stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barraza, Kôji Yakusho, and Gael García Bernal. It won the Golden Glob Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. It was nominated for save Academy Award, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won one for Best Original Score. The present paper tries to explore the challenges that the United States is facing today and claims to do it through the analysis of this film.

Produced in 2006 and starring Brad Pitt, The movie starts with the wilderness in morocco. The country is a Muslim country; so it is no strange that most visitors of the film begin seeing it as an Islam phobic one. In fact, if one looks at the film in this way, the film has so much to invoke the anger of bias in the Muslim visitor, as I saw in my friends and classmates. The movie can be read in bits different layers of meaning. It one of the powerful points of a production to have potentiality to be read by different people with different backgrounds, and have meaning for all of them. it depends, however , on the intention of the producer, as to who is the real audience of the production. I, as a graduate student, will try to reproduce the film as it is read by the academic and alert part of the audiences, maybe with undeniable differences among those in different countries, and regarding the issue of the challenges the United States faces in the present era.

The film begins with the scene of a wilderness in morocco, Muslim country. The remoteness of the area is well depicted by appropriate motion pictures and the excellent music of the film. A bus crossing the road, nearby the orchard in which the two young Arab Muslim children are looking after their sheep, and at which the frivolous youth shoots, relates the story to the American scene of the tourists’ house. It contains both the US and the Mexican context, as the nanny of the kids living in their house is a Mexican woman who has been in the United States as an illegal immigrant. Then it makes another shift to the Japanese setting. There, in the Far East, the Japanese are shown far from the world’s agonies. The girls playing volleyball display a more happy sense until the story turns, and the young, rebellious girl highlights herself by protesting the referee of the game. The scenes that have shifted so far seem hardly to have any correlation with each other. But, little by little, it is revealed that how strongly they are woven and how different parts of the world are affected by a concept that is called modernity. This is the point, at which the film is interpreted as a container of the American challenges in the new era. (The film is produced in 2006.)


There is little doubt on America’s being the milestone of modernity. Baudrillard.J in his America explains this idea very attractively. He displays the modern elements in the United States that are the symbols of modernity and modernity itself. : In his America jean Baudrillard.J recommends the readers who want to really know America to travel there and see its highways. For him the highways in America are emblematic of its whole entity. They are the modern sense of communication (versus its post-modern). They show the desire to embrace the endless deserts and landscape.” America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version. America ducks the question of origins; it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth….it has no ancestral territory. … [Yet]America has no identity problem. In the future, power will belong to those peoples with no origins and no authenticity who know how to exploit that situation to the full.”(Baudrillard.J, 1986) the search of power can be the best excuse for American politicians in modernizing the world, and exploitation, is at the same time the virtue of America and of modernity. In the movie the trace of modernity is searchable according to its historical development in the world. The rifle by which the Arab boy shoots at the American woman is the production of modern culture, policy and industry that has been introduced and through the Japanese, the pioneer of modernity in the Asian context and in the orient. It is the fault and the frivolousness of the modern sense that is revealed through the film in the best manner and to make the dangerous and selfish side of the matter understood to the American audience too, the gun is shut at one of them. on the other hand, it is the Americans who are accusing the every dick and jack of terrorizing the world, and terrorizing the American citizens of the terror of the world. It makes a bitter humorous irony to chase back the trace of terror to America, the main country who has always accused others of producing it.

In his other book, Democracy in America, he further explains the situation by posing the situation of the United States and Russia separate from other nations. It is as if the History in his view is like a spring; the more stretch the history of a people is, the more stretch and tired that people are, and the more need by them to rest. On the other hand, the shorter it is, the more energetic and potential its people to move and to spring to the moon; hence the idea of restless nation.

” He [America] was among the first to concede to technology a place in higher education.” The passion for gadget shows itself in the invention of the cotton gin, telegraph, telephone, steamboat, internet, the hydrogen bomb, and so many others. When compared to the inventions made by all other countries, combined, you may realize the great share held by America in this respect.

One of the concepts that are created along with the American manifest destiny and the duty to convert the savages to Christianity was the idea of conforming them to their own codes of morality and civilization. Everyone, like the Negroes who couldn’t adapt this civilization, or like the Indians who resisted against it was condemned to barbarism and useless for the world. (De Tocqueville. A) That is why they, the whites, managed, so easily, to upset whatever deformed to their own norms. If you look at history you will see multiple examples of such sense of duty by Americans toward others. The most famous sermon in American history, is advocating this ideology (the city upon a hill.). The Monroe’s doctrine of non-interference, also, advocates the American privilege to help the other nations, while nobody is allowed to interfere with them. And down to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ”Good Neighbor Policy”, this means a playing-well-with-others approach which tells the same story that almost all presidents of the United States tell. In this way, the whole American foreign policy and its literal policies, here and there, directed their attempts in dealing with this problem. To be the police of the world, to send missionaries to the Far East, to Vietnam, to Korea, Persian Gulf, to Kuwait, Afghanistan and to Iraq, all are indicators of the attempt to civilize the world, and to play their self-developed ways of life in every latitude of the world. This is the process known as standardization. It is part of American destiny, and it is very interesting that it has been there for the life of the American identity. In confrontation with communism,, during the terror period and the public panic, known as Maccartism, the propaganda against soviet union and communism was thus: ”in fact, communism is not a political party. It is a way of life, an evil way of life. It creates a condition like illness that spreads epidemically. For preventing the nations from being infected by it, it should be quarantined.”(Isaacs and Downing, 1998) it shows that what the United States tried to communicate to the world was a special way of life, of course the American way of life versus any other replica. The Muslim fundamentalists and the jihadists, the Muslims who are the agents of some suicide attacks, are the Muslims that have been introduced to the modern culture and industry in Europe or in the European colonies. The choice to attack and terror the western culture arises from this devilish acquaintance and the inability of them to accord a healthy and true ideology. This is the problem of identity for them. it is discussed there that the Muslims in the western culture are facing a dilemma. While they can not abandon their own Islamic culture and traditions, and adopt the new one, they are alienated from their own and left high and dry there.

The Japanese girls are the other victims of this vicious circle. The Japanese girls playing volleyball in the first scene in Japan seem to enjoy a quite better life and situation than the Arab boys. There seems to be no reason for them to play any role in the problematic international terrorism. But it seems that the hierarchy of honorable modernity is held vise versa for the scan delouses terrorism. That is after the America is distinguish as the source of modernity, hence terror, the second grade countries in the degree and the turn of adopting modern way of life, are to be analyzed regarding their role in shaking the human right by what is agreeably called terrorism. Japan was the first Asian country who received the badge of courage in embracing the western way of life. That is modernity. In the first and second world wars, Japan has enjoyed a good military situation and the sole reason they entered the war was this. Because, you know, the economic and cultural conditions of this country was very weak after the feign of the last empire there. After the Second World War, it was the only country that suffered the great destruction of the nuclear explosion by the American military!

After the war, the country flourished from the ashes of the late generations’ and arose to high technology, comparable to the western modern one. But it is stupid to see this ongoing rise, only as the outcome Japanese toil. The politicians of the country have correctly understood the double situation of the nation in that historical period. So it turned its policy to the successful nations of the time that is the western countries especially the most successful one that is the United States. Only in the e minor issues of politics, for example, the issues of green house gases and the formal meeting regarding peace for all, etc, the country held its autonomy. So it is obvious that Japan has followed the policies dictated to it by America, to sustain its economic advancement among other Asian countries.

What about culture in Japan? The western version of Japanese culture soon mushroomed its tyranny in the country, too. Among many revelations of this western cultural hegemony, sex has a special place. In fact it is the characteristic of sex that elbows its way in the modern spheres. The complex situation, the alienation that happened to the Arab boys, shows itself more colored here. The poor girl who is deaf and has lost her mother recently, wants more affections and attentions of her father, but doesn’t receive it due to the fact that her father is a successful and busy businessman. In the attempt to fulfill this emotional need, she finds her sex as a means of attracting others’ attention. This is what happens in al similar situations, when the order of life is replaced by chaos and disfulfilment.

The movie tries to show the hidden collapse of culture in the country that claims the possession of the best educational, economic, and human condition in at least Asia. The active panorama of the cities in this film, are disguising the reality. Near the end of the film, the audience is acknowledged that the father is bankrupted and is wanted by police. Even The economic condition of Japan in shackled by learning that. And the same man is h person who has given the rifle to the Moroccan guide, instead of thanks and his wage for guiding them as tourists in morocco. The symbol plays its role here to connect the role of Japan in introducing the western hegemony, culture and industry to the third world countries like morocco.

What is the problem that the western countries don’t have such a problem with each other, but they have it wit the third world countries? The answer can be given in two parts; 1) whether modernity is introduced incomplete, improper and inappropriate to the other parts of the world( recall the standardization and the manifest destiny), 2) or the west, the united states is trying to make evil terrorists out of whatever country except for itself and its allies. In the movie you see that the boy is neglectly shooting at the bus and quite by chance, it hits the most pessimist person in there. It is not an intentional and consciously terrorist act, in spite of the western propaganda. However the fact is that some American is wounded by an Arab Muslim. The chasing of this problem is helpful for many reasons. The improper introduction of modernity seems to provide the best alternative here. The bus and the gun are the only two symbols of modernity in that remoteness, and the only two which produce, maybe better told, reproduce the story of problem, the myth of east being the cradle of evil and terror. Yes, in that sense, modernity interfering with the every day life, culture, and religion of every latitude of the universe, there would be a problem of some sort, for example, terrorism, or anger of alienation, it is not important. The important point is who is the source of evil? (Recall the issue of alienation and intruders.)

The Mexican context is another context that is related to the theme by the Mexican nanny of the American family, whose parents are taking tour in morocco, and whose mother is shot at.

The two kids of the family are taken to a Mexican border city without the consent and the acknowledgment of their parents for the wedding ceremony of the nanny’s son. The scenes depicted from Mexico in the film are revealing the bad condition of the country, economically and culturally. Here I would appreciate the idea of those who disgust the film because they see it as contempting other nation cultures. Taking symbolically, the film has put the desires and enjoys of the simple Mexican people, parallel o the enjoys and desires of the American children. One scene is derived that shows the niece of the nanny, who is an anxious youth, beheading a hen before the children, and causing their hate and terror. The scene of tuning back home reveals the humility, and therefore, the anxiety the niece feels toward the American policemen who are asking for his certificates. The anxious and rebellious reaction of the young Mexican is given to them as a result of this action of hegemony. The problem of Mexican-American border is presented here to, and the issue of the illegal immigrants of Mexico in the United States. Recently the United States has begun its plan of retreating Mexican illegal immigrants from the United States and making a more serious border in between. Mexico and the United States have an older shared history and affinity than any other country and the United States. The exploitation of the Mexican soil b the young colonizer, the United States, has begun from the beginning of American settlement in the new areas that is the expansion plan. The exploitation of a neighbor country, centuries ago and presently ongoing, has created a haphazard situation for the United States.

The rebellious nature of the colonized and the usurped shows itself dangerous here, when the usurped county is at the earshot of the colonizer. Maybe it seems that the United States has the hegemony over its neighbor, but the reality is that it suffers the every day rising problems of Mexico. The children of the American tourists in morocco are left at home in the hope of the Mexican nanny’s protection, and this is while they are wandering in the deserts and not at home. This because of the old started problems of immigration and settlement in a developed country and enjoying the least advantages it provides for the immigrants of another race. This is the condition that one can ask about the resource and the reason. Isn’t it that they are seeking what they have lost and that has been stolen by their young neighbor country? Mexicans are among those cultures who denied the new-coming culture of the west. It is out of their laziness or bias, they refused and after losing the game in defeating the new comers militarily, this country sank and lost its identity.

As far as it is read from the context of the movie, it is neither fair nor wise to accuse it of being an Islam phobic production. It deals wit the issues of modernity in different nations, and how these nations, respectively have adopted it according to their main national and cultural factors. In morocco, it shows itself as the ignorance toward the international problems. The young boy who shoots at the bus doesn’t know the problematic condition of his country and the contacts morocco has in that point o history with the united state. Not only the boy, his parents and the other adults of that remote region are ignorant about these too. Quite contrary to the usual and ordinary understanding of most westerners and even some Muslims, and as mentioned previously from Wallerstein, the more distant the Muslims or the more barbar they are, the less motivation they would have in enemying the western cultures. Maybe the Moroccan government can have problems with the united states in the international or regional terms, but the unawareness of its barbarian people does not go so far to reach that point to struggle with it I a guerrilla way. The story goes even funnier when you see the Moroccan police way of treating with its citizens.

In Japan the structure of the family is being shacked out of over estimated economic activities. Under such a circumstance, the shaping of a youth culture after the western secular one has been easier contracted. Even the economy itself is not the thing that it should be. This is out of that ill-adapted modernity that ids the gift of the west.

In Mexico, however, it is the misery of the people that make them illegally migrate to the United States and produce so any problems for this country, without solving anything out of their own.

In all the cases, each of which is generalizable to a great number of other countries equivalent in situation, the problem, regardless of what it bears on the shoulders of those countries (basically it is merely a problem for and not by them) goes directly to the producer of it. The source of modernity is the United States. Maybe if it wasn’t the attempts of the united state to standardize other regions according to its own norms of modernity, modernity wasn’t vicious in nature.

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