WTF Friday 1/13/11

I must have been asleep for the past few weeks because Angelina Jolie’s movie that I thought was about a woman falling in love with the man who raped her but seems to have a slightly different (though still pretty disconcerting) angle has come out to mixed reviews. Spoiler alert: “In the film, a Bosnian Muslim woman and a Serbian Christian man find their carefree date interrupted by the outbreak of the war. Cut to: a Serbian prison camp where Muslim women are held in sexual bondage. He is the jailor and she the captive. A relationship develops — ‘consensual’ is not the right word since Danijel’s offer to make Ajla ‘his’ mistress saves her from the systematic rape of his comrades…Ajla’s physical survival is connected to her ability to sexually please Danijel…His emotional survival is linked to Ajla’s perceived redeeming love for him.” Not exactly what I expected but still feeling pretty weird about it.

Yo are you forreal with this article? It’s not all bad but I’m definitely gonna need some bullet points for this one:

  • “Haiti: Miserable, but it photographs well”
  • “The West’s eternal basket case…”
  • “The Haitians outdid the stereotypical Israeli in pushing, shoving and trampling.”
  • “A few of them wanted very much to help me with my suitcase but when I aimed the camera at them, two of them pulled a finger across their throats in a gesture that seemed to need no translation.”
  • “Photographers say that the suffering and misery in these areas photographs wonderfully.”
  • “Poverty, ignorance, disease are rampant.”
  • “Life has a different value here.”
  • “The entire country looks like one big slum”
  • “It is impossible to leave this beautiful, sad country without attending a voodoo ceremony.”
  • “…a few young men and many old black women wearing colorful dresses and red ribbons in their hair, who looked as though they had been taken from a slavery history museum…”

On a brighter note, hat tip to the FT for the pun of the week. Congrats. I’m sure it means a lot to you guys.

Thomas Lubanga Looks at Angelina Jolie, Media Feels Strongly That This Is News

I moved back to New York this weekend (yay!), thereby missing the Most Exciting Thing Ever to Happen in The Hague: Angelina Jolie’s visit to the ICC on Tuesday.

(Actually, I probably got out just in time. You know how it goes: First Angelina Jolie shows up, then the gay men, and before you know it, the place will be full of trust fund kids in ironic t-shirts. And I’ll be grumbling to anyone who will listen that I lived there before gentrification, back when it was real. Just war criminals and Dutch families, some of whom didn’t even speak English.)

Jolie stopped by on her way to Cannes to observe the trial of Thomas Lubanga. As we’ve discussed previously, Lubanga is charged with using child soldiers during Congo’s Ituri conflict. Prosecution of the use of child soldiers is of tremendous personal importance to Jolie, who is slowly assembling her own child army. Or she was there in her capacity as UNHCR goodwill ambassador. Whichever.

She sat in on proceedings in the Lubanga case and later met with ICC prosecutor/international man of mystery Luis Moreno-Ocampo. But OMG, while she was in the trial chamber, Lubanga totally looked directly at her! This was apparently significant enough that one media outlet titled their coverage “Angelina Jolie Faces Congo Warlord at Hague Trial.”

Jolie managed to bring it all back to the children, though, noting that Lubanga scared the crap out of her and imagining “how difficult it must be for all the brave young children who have come to testify against him.” Too bad she wasn’t on hand to point that out when the first witness for the prosecution freaked out and recanted his testimony after being subjected to Lubanga’s death stare for a couple of hours…

*Picture of Jolie with Moreno-Ocampo is from People Magazine, taken by Kim Vermaat.

Wanted: When Your Constitution is a Suicide Pact With Angelina Jolie

I saw Wanted over the weekend, and I liked it. I accept that it was a bad, bad movie, but it’s a bad movie that turned out more awesome than it had any right to, and was super fun. I like actionish movies, and superheroish movies, and this fit the bill.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Wanted stars James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson, a 20-something guy with a horrible office job, mean boss, whiny cheating girlfriend, a best friend/coworker who is banging said girlfriend, and fourteen dollars in his checking account. Until, that is, he is kidnapped by Angelina Jolie and informed that he’s descended from The Fraternity, an ancient order of super-assassins who can curve bullets, leap between the tops of skyscrapers with ease, and whose bodies produce so much adrenaline that their hearts beat 400 times a minute. One of their members has gone rogue and murdered Wesley’s long-lost dad, and Wesley is the only one who can avenge his death. Wesley joins them, is trained, and learns about the Loom of Fate: a massive room-sized loom that delivers instructions on who the Fraternity must kill via a binary code. The Loom’s orders are interpreted and delivered by Chief Assassin Sloan, played by a dapper Morgan Freeman.

Lest we be squeamish about protagonists who just roam around using their superpowers to murder people in cold blood, Angelina Jolie’s character gives us a nice piece of plot exposition about the power and importance of the Loom of Fate. She tells Wesley a story of how “a little girl” was tied up and forced to watch as a mobster tied up her father -a hard-hitting federal judge- and burned him alive. The mobster then took a coat hanger, heated it in the fire he’d set, and branded his initials into the little girl’s neck. When Angelina joined the assassins, she discovered that the mobster’s name had come up on the loom several weeks before the girl’s father was killed, but that a fraternity member had failed to take him out. (Then, her hair swings back -wait, are those initials? OMG, could the “little girl” have been her? What a shocker!) The message is clear: if the Fraternity doesn’t do its job, unspeakable things will happen. To tiny Angelina Jolie! Wesley can’t let that happen.

All regular readerati know that my thoughts tend, in any situation, to turn to law. (LOVE law. Love it.) This being no exception, I got to thinking about Loom of Fate, which is not so much fate as -wait for it- law! It governs the Fraternity’s actions, but not through force. Its instructions are interpreted by Sloan and carried out by the individuals who are governed by it: the Fraternity members. Just like law! So exciting!

(WARNING: Spoilers ahead. Spoily Spoily Spoilers. Do not continue reading if you don’t want to know what happens in the movie. Seriously. I am going to reveal the big twist. I am not kidding.)

So, in the final third of the movie, we learn that Wesley has been cruelly manipulated. The Fraternity did not send him to hunt and kill his father’s assassin, they sent him to kill his father. Which he does, and only realizes his mistake when it is already too late. And then Angelina Jolie slinks in and shoots at him, and he falls into an Italian gorge and wakes up in a magical bathtub in Chicago.

As it turns out, the entire belief system in which the Fraternity operates has been hijacked by Sloan for personal gain. Sloan, Wesley discovers, has been ignoring the Loom of Fate and assassinating for fun and profit instead. The other Fraternity members relied on Sloan to decipher the Loom’s code and give them their orders, so were unable to discover the duplicity for themselves. All, that is, except Wesley’s father. He, for reasons unknown, had begun to second-guess Sloan’s interpretation of the Loom of Fate’s orders. After discovering Sloan’s duplicity, he set out to shut down the Fraternity, at which point Sloan recruited Wesley and sent him to kill his dad, because he knew that Wesley was the only person who his father wouldn’t kill.

When Wesley discovers this, he also finds one more key piece of information: a piece of cloth in which the Loom of Fate orders Sloan’s death. Gasp! He knows what he has to do: use explosive peanut butter rats to bring down the whole Fraternity. He and the rats get to work, exploding and fighting and generally kicking ass, until finally Wesley is trapped inside a ring of Fraternity assassins. He tells them what has been going on, and then Sloan comes in with a handfull of scraps from the Loom of Fate. And, OMG, each one has the name of one of the Fraternity members woven into it! The Loom of Fate ordered them all killed!

So, now the assassins have a dilemma. They can kill Wesley, abandon the code of the Fraternity and stop living by the Loom’s orders. Or they can continue to live by the Loom’s orders, which won’t last long because the Loom has ordered them all to die. (The third option -checking the pieces of cloth to see if Sloan was telling the truth- seems not to have occurred to anyone.) They choose option B, or rather Angelina Jolie’s character does, curving bullets around the room to kill every assassin, and then herself.

Now, I can’t help but think that this is the worst possible outcome. The assassins are all dead, so it’s bad for them. That leaves Sloan unprotected, which is bad for him (Wesley later kills him). Wesley never gets to kiss Angelina Jolie again, which is bad for him. And now all of the known Fraternity members are dead, presumably leaving chaos to reign unchecked, which must be bad for the Loom of Fate itself.

I think there is a lesson here, folks. And that lesson is that legal formalism leads to death and suffering, and should be avoided.

Let me explain. Assume that The Fraternity is a society, and that the Loom of Fate is its constitution. It certainly serves a constitutional role: it is the Fraternity’s central document (in cloth form), providing both the foundational theory for the group and guidance for its actions. The group has pre-committed to follow the Loom’s requirements, even if the practical effect is upsetting to them.

However, the document is not enough. There must also be a method of interpreting it, and this is where the Fraternity went wrong. Their interpretive methods were rigidly formalistic: whatever the loom said was taken absolutely literally. Worse, the means by which it was interpreted -Sloan cuts out a square of the cloth, translates the binary code, and informs the other Fraternity members of the Loom’s orders- contained no reasoned elaboration! There was no way for the other Fraternity members to second-guess or reinterpret the orders, because they were never given an explanation of Sloan’s reasoning. This, we know, led to big trouble for moose and squirrel: the assassins were duped into killing the wrong targets.

But then, presented with a situation in which departure from the Constitution has led to problems, but following it leads to greater ones, the members of The Fraternity do not question the validity of the document itself. No character ever asks whether the Loom of Fate could have been wrong, nor do they consider whether Sloan might be lying to them about the Loom ordering their deaths. They remain rigidly compliant with their pre-commitment to follow the loom’s orders, and they continue to accept Sloan’s interpretation as valid, despite proof that it, well, isn’t. This is stupid. It makes me think that they deserved to die, but also that the Loom of Fate shouldn’t have selected such dopes as its minions.

I think that the lesson here is clear, folks. If approached in your cubicle by a gang of superhero assassins, make sure to have your attorney look over any Loom of Fate clauses very carefully. Demand published, reasoned elaboration of all Loom of Fate decisions.

And, if you find yourself in a tough situation, remember this: the Loom of Fate is not a suicide pact. Sometimes you need a little legal realism. And if things get really tough, whip out your Critical Loom Theory. There is no weaving, only politics.

And if that doesn’t work, then remember the first rule of the Pirate Code: it’s more like guidelines, really.