Still Painful, September 11 Has Few Rewards for Hollywood

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – It was a disastrous attack that played out live on television 10 years ago, riveting a horrified nation for days.

But the thought-provoking films and TV shows that followed, depicting the fiery attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath, have mostly been shunned by American audiences who favored escapist movies and almost-reality TV while wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan in the decade that followed.

Culture watchers and media pundits say audiences are not yet ready to relive a memory that remains painful, and some experts note that this particular chapter of American history is still unfinished.
“Films about 9/11 run the risk of being exploitational because they deal with such an epic tragedy and they don’t have a resolution. One of the things Hollywood wants is a happy ending, and you are not going to get it,” said Wheeler Winston Dixon, author of “Film and Television after 9/11” and a professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Ten years on, the trauma of September 11 and the ongoing war against terrorism have left their mark on pop culture in subtle yet omnipresent ways. And perhaps surprisingly, Muslims have escaped the widespread demonization on screen that many feared when followers of Osama bin Laden crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
“After 9/11, I was terrified of the direction this country was going to go toward Muslims,” said Kamran Pasha, one of the few Muslim screenwriters in Hollywood.
“But in many ways, Hollywood is showing more sophistication and empathy toward the Muslim community than I think a lot of people in America are,” Pasha said.

BOX OFFICE FLOPS

Just two mainstream movies, “United 93” and “World Trade Center”, attempted to recreate the events of 9/11, both with strongly patriotic overtones. But the 2006 films together took in less than $250 million at global box offices — about the same as “Avatar” grossed on its opening weekend in 2009.

Stories dealing directly or indirectly with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fared even worse, despite sometimes boasting A-list stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Matt Damon and Reese Witherspoon.

Whether telling of heartbreak among troops and their families (“Brothers”, “Stop-Loss”), conspiracies and cover-ups (“Body of Lies”, “Rendition”) or politics (“Lions for Lambs”), Americans stayed away in droves. “Over There”, the first TV series to depict an ongoing war, was axed in 2005 after just four months.

“I don’t think audiences have wanted to relive one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s recent history. At least, not so soon,” said Claudia Puig, film critic for USA Today.

Even 2010 best picture Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker”, about a bomb disposal team in Iraq, brought in only $49 million at box offices worldwide — a decent sum for a low-budget picture but nowhere near blockbuster status.

Instead, one of Hollywood’s favorite genres, comic book flicks, soared with audiences in movies like “Iron Man”, “X-Men” and “Spider-Man”.

Television, with its quicker production times and lower budgets, was first off the mark on 9/11 with White House series “The West Wing” providing the perfect showcase in October 2001 for a discussion on terrorism, religion, race and intolerance.

Although created before September 11, counter terrorist agent Jack Bauer arrived in 2001 in TV thriller “24”. The series quickly embodied America’s post-September 11 state of mind, particularly in Bauer’s hard-hitting methods to get the bad guy and the show’s initially negative depiction of Muslims.

Yet “24” ended in 2010 with Bauer praying on his deathbed with a Muslim Imam. Pasha called that “a quantum leap from where the show started.”

WHO ARE THE BAD GUYS?

Screen villains have become more rounded and more diverse than pre-2001, when Arabs were already Hollywood’s go-to bad guys after the Middle Eastern plane hijackings of the 1980s.

Lawrence Wright, screenwriter for the 1998 movie “The Siege” about a radical Islamic group attack on New York, said that after September 11 “the world became a lot more complicated. It was indelicate to attack Muslims.”

Pasha said the 2005-06 Showtime TV drama “Sleeper Cell,” which he co-produced, was a “pivotal change” in the depiction of the Muslim community. It featured a Muslim American undercover agent who infiltrates a terrorist cell whose members include a white European woman, a gay Muslim and a Latino man.

“It tried to show the perspective of the al Qaeda guys, showing them as human beings and what could make them do these terrible things,” Pasha said.

Puig said Hollywood is now adapting its viewpoint, with villains in several recent movies being Russian or South American. “Some of that may be due to profiling concerns or political correctness, but it also reflects an expanded outlook on the terrorism genre in films,” she said.

Television also is moving forward.

New York firefighter drama “Rescue Me” began in 2004 and became the only long-running TV series to deal with the human toll of the attacks. The series ends on Sept 7, in what its co-creator and star Denis Leary calls a fitting conclusion.

Upcoming Showtime drama “Homeland” is a political thriller about a U.S. soldier who is suspected of having been turned militant by his captors in Iraq.

“Things have become deeper and more complex. And the heart of this show is really psychological — how America is dealing with the 10-year period post 9/11,” said “Homeland” executive producer Alex Gansa.

Yet, there remains at least one final look back. TV networks will revisit September 11 with numerous news specials and documentaries to mark the 10th anniversary.

Dixon doubts many Americans will be tuning in, even given the killing at U.S. hands in May of Osama bin Laden.

“I don’t think (the TV specials) are going to do well,” he said. “I lived through it once. I really don’t need to live through it again, because there is no happy ending in sight.”

(Additional reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and David Storey)

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Stand Up for Palestine

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Testimony of Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s Sister-in-law

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

susan
Lauren Booth speaks to her audience.

Newark, CA–August 14th–Ms. Lauren Booth of the United Kingdom came to this town in the Northeast Silicon Valley region of the South Bay just above San Jose to attend the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) Annual Ramadan Iftar Banquet.

Ms. Booth is amazing for many reasons; not the least of which, by any means, is her conversion and commitment to Islam.

Lauren Booth is an exceptional journalist and activist, and the poignancy of her conversion resides in the fact that she is the Sister-in-Law of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is presently a Special Envoy to the Quartet (of four non-Middle Eastern political entities plus the U.N.) who have an interest in settling the Arab-Israeli imbroglio.

Ms. Booth route to Islam and this Sunday night’s dais in Northern California at this well-touted San Francisco Bay Area Indo-Pakistani Restaurant, Chandani, were circuitous.  

Lauren Booth is mother to two, and sister to Cherrie Blair (the wife of the UK’s former Prime Minister); her brother in law also, has been quoted expressing pro-Palestinian views.

Lauren Booth is the sixth daughter of the actor Anthony (Tony) Booth and Pamela Smith (Cohen).  Although Booth had Jewish antecedents, she was not raised in that tradition.

She has a C.V. (Curriculum Vitae) which your resident journalist here on these pages can only look upon with jealousy.

She has worked on such prestigious English Newspapers as the New Statesman, The Mail on Sunday (for which she served on as a feature writer and columnist). 

Further, she has been a panelist on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC’s) “Have I got the News for You,” and is a broadcaster on other radio and television outlets.  Additionally, she is a regular reviewer of the U.K.  print news media on Sky, a satellite television network.

She remarked to our audience on the West Coast of the U.S.A. here that “The right-wing press has enabled my left-wing credentials!”  One of the most courageous stands she has taken was to publicly oppose the Iraq War while being a close relative by marriage of the architect of the British envolvement in that War, PM Tony Blair.

She began her speech by talking about the grave aggression by the Israelis in the Occupied Territories that she had beheld as a reporter.  “Something inside me [changed]… [when] I was sent to Palestine to cover the elections [there].”  An Israeli soldier from Brooklyn (Sic!) who examined her passport said, “Hey, a Brit, we love you!”  She realized something was askew in her country’s policies!

She came with what she described as Arabphobia, but she had to overcome a lifetime of propaganda within seventy-two hours. 

She was told “Don’t comfort the children because they won’t [can’t] cry…!”    She asked several Palestinian children what they would like to be as adults.  One young precocious girl replied, “I want to be a psychotherapist because we all are suffering [here].” 

The Israeli press undoes its photographic documentation [of the West Bank and Gaza] through its accompanying prose.

She told us about her first relief trip to Gaza, and how the citizens there were unaware of their arrival.

During Operation Cast Iron (the Israeli brutal assault on the mini-country during the last month of 2009 through the first month of 2010) the Israeli soldiers went as far as to loot the bodies of their Gazan victims!             
From reports directly from Gaza last month from doctors documenting abuses through their mobile phone cameras, she saw a boy wrapped by Israeli soldiers in barbed wire!  Also, a baby born with her intestines outside her body without the means for further emergency treatment!  She saw graphic images of Israeli mistreatment of the doctors themselves – even a M.D. being shot in the back!   There has been reported mass rape of Arab women, also.

She quotes a Palestinian boy replying to: “What did you do when they kicked you?  I got up, and I threw stones [at them]!”

She ended her comments in Newark (California) with “Thank you for listening.  Stand up for Palestine!”

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Australia Suspends Cattle Exports to Indonesia

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia said on Wednesday it was suspending cattle exports to Indonesia after an outcry over the inhumane treatment of cattle in its neighbor, as animal rights groups called for an outright ban on trade to other countries.

The minority Labor government has been under fierce pressure to suspend the A$320 million ($342 million) Indonesia live cattle business after television footage showed cattle being beaten, whipped and maimed prior to slaughter in some abattoirs.

Canberra would impose a six month initial suspension on Indonesia shipments, and the government would also review the live export trade to all overseas markets, including the Middle East, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said.

“Trade will not be able to be resumed until the government, community and industry are confident that we have safeguards in place to ensure appropriate animal welfare,” he told ABC radio.

“The Australian government is committed to reaching the best possible outcomes for our livestock, the industry and our important relationship with Indonesia,” Ludwig said.

Lyn White, who shot the graphic footage and is the campaign director for Animals Australia, welcomed the news of the suspension but said it should have come sooner.

“There has been an extraordinary outpouring of rage that our cattle have been treated like this and have been supplied for such treatment. So this is a first step,” White told Australian television.

Australia exports about 500,000 head of cattle a year to Indonesia, representing 60 percent of its live cattle trade.

The live trade to all countries is valued at A$730 million, with sheep exported to Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Israel, and cattle shipped to Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Jordan, Japan and Brunei.

“This industry over a period of time has shown that it can’t be trusted. We have no control over what happens to our animals in importing countries, and the only way to safeguard their welfare is to not supply them,” White said.

Australia’s cattle industry on Monday put forward a plan aimed at reducing the suffering of animals sent to Indonesia.

Industry group, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), said under its plan cattle would only be supplied to 25 accredited Indonesian slaughter houses currently meeting World Organization for Animal Health standards.

The conservative opposition, which has strong support from farmers, said the suspension was a blunt instrument that would hit all Indonesian abattoir workers, as well as risk trade and security retaliation from Australia’s fellow G20 member.

“We’ve made a statement also about our nearest neighbor Indonesia, who we are totally reliant on for other things like border control. I don’t think we have thought through the ramifications,” Nationals party Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce said.

The previous conservative government banned live cattle and sheep exports to Saudi Arabia between 1991 and 2000 after hundreds of animals died from heat stress en route to the Persian Gulf.

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Free Live Online TV Streams

December 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Free Live Online TV Streams

from TechCrunch by Nik Cubrilovic

onlinetvchannels

Most television studios have caught up with the web and made their shows available online, either with their own websites or with an aggregate effort such as Hulu. However most studios are still far away from offering live television online, leaving web users having to revert to an alternative means to source live TV web feeds. TVChannelsFree is a website that has aggregated live streaming video sources for almost 3,000 TV channels, and they can all be viewed with just a web browser.

Channels originate from over 80 different countries – from Eurosports through to local US governement programming. The site couldn’t be easier to use and access, and the performance of the streams is usually excellent. Some of the streams that are available originate from the stations own website, but in most cases the stream is either pirated, has bypassed geo restrictions or has bypassed a pay wall. Most streams are in Windows Media format, but there are others in Flash, Quicktime or SopCast.

In most cases it isn’t clear whos bandwidth you are using, but a quick look under the hood shows that the host servers range from being Akamai and Limelight, to network websites through to private servers. Technically this site, and others like it, are simply linking to the content (via a media embed) but as has been seen before this usually isn’t solid grounds for a defence when the copyright lawyers coming knocking. With the the big US networks imposing geo-restrictions on their web content, and thousands of other TV channels around the world without a web presence, the only choice at the moment for many is sites like TVChannelsFree.

If you are bored of the selection at TVChannelsFree or can’t find a particular channel, take a look at other similar sites such as ChannelChooser, wwwitv and beelinetv. They have a large number of channels in common (and seem to share the same sources) though some have categories of streams that others may not.

American TV Popular in the Middle East

March 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

friends There certainly is no love lost between most Middle East countries and the US, where peaceful coexistence is often stormier than two dogs fighting over a juicy bone.  Years of bias, perpetrated by American foreign policy, has left a bitter taste in the hearts and minds of the denizens of the Gulf that won’t easily be washed away by mere ‘sweet talk’ from the Obama administration. However, politics aside, there is a quiet love affair between the East and West that has only grown more intense over the past few years. Regardless of the innumerable ‘fatwas’ issued about the evils of the boob tube or outright condemnations by Muslim clerics, western television and cinema is the daily bread of many Gulf residents, and have  made an irrevocable mark on the social fabric of the region.

Talk-Diva Oprah Winfrey’s show is just as popular in Kuwait as it is in the suburbs of California. Dramas like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ have Gulf dwellers glued to their television screens, just like their American counterparts, on sofas in the UAE, Oman and Bahrain.  And even syndicated shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ still resonate with the Gulf audience. And while English is not the primary language spoken in the region, all the programming is made complete with Arabic subtitles at the bottom. A notable side effect of the translation crawler is that many Arab speakers are learning to speak English, courtesy of the western programming.

There are two primary satellite television stations situated in Saudi Arabia and Dubai that send out American programming 24/7 throughout the whole Gulf region.  The media giant of the Gulf is known as the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) and is completely financed by Saudi Arabia. The MBC Group has evolved over the years to include 5 separate channels including MBC3 which airs American cartoons dubbed in Arabic, MBC4 which airs American sitcoms and dramas, as well as the newest channel named MBCMax which airs the latest Hollywood blockbusters to grace the silver screen. The second biggest media giant in the Middle East is known as OneTV, which is owned and operated by the UAE. It combines the best of both worlds, to include western sitcoms and movies in its monthly repertoire.

Both media empires compete for viewers’ attention by offering the most sought-after shows without charging a single penny. Unlike the popular Showtime channel, which is the predominant pay channel in the Gulf, and rakes in billions of oil soaked dollars every year from their subscribers. However, thanks to cutthroat advertisers hocking everything from shampoo to cooking oil, the television business is becoming more lucrative in the Gulf  than the ‘black gold’ that lies beneath the land. Advertisers scoop airtime up as fast as it becomes available, much to the chagrin of viewers who have to wait between 4-5 minutes for the commercials to end, with each show having no less than 3 commercial breaks.

Surprisingly, the key to the success of satellite television in the Middle East is censorship, which keeps everyone happy. Scenes depicting intimacy or even a kiss are cut off. Programming dealing with things such as homosexuality or teenage pregnancy is usually not aired. It is really up to the code of morals followed by each country where the stations are based. For example, the MBC group based in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia almost never shows intimate situations, whereas OneTV based in liberal Dubai has been known to allow some kissing scenes to appear on its viewer’s screens. For the most part, there is not a lot of governmental regulation as to what is aired by either the stations airing the programming or the countries receiving the feed.

However, one country has gone to great lengths to block American television and cinema. Iran only allows a handful of approved American serials to be played on the state-run news station. As a result, young Iranians are downloading their favorite American serials from the Internet or purchasing them from video dealers.
With the Middle East region constantly feeling the strain of threat, whether from internally or from abroad, western television offers viewers in the Gulf a chance to forget their problems and indulge in a bit of escapism, resplendent in jaw dropping comedy and breathtaking stuntmanship that could only be concocted in Hollywood and exported to the rest of the world.

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