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Zero Dark Thirty and a Killing Spree in Southern California

Bitter Vengeance in La-La Land

by PETER LEE

The Los Angeles Times delivers the news, and the post-modernist goods.

First, Zero Dark Thirty

We’re in the final weeks of Oscar voting, which means that the Los Angeles Times—home paper for most members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—is able to fatten its bottom line by running ads touting the various Oscar contenders.

On Thursdays, there’s the insert “The Envelope”—a supplement that runs during awards season and features puff pieces and human interest stories on the various nominees nestled in ads placed by the movie studios to tout their Oscar offerings.

However, Hollywood types don’t necessarily have the 7-days-a-week subscription.  Many of them only take the weekend package, which includes the crucial Friday Calendar (i.e. Arts and Entertainment) section.  Crucial because most movies open on Fridays, and that’s when the reviews run.

Since we’re in the Oscar home stretch, the Friday Calendar section is stuffed with full-page and three quarter page color ads for the Best Picture Oscar nominees.

On my way past the ads to the comics, I was brought up short by the full page ad for Zero Dark Thirty.

As should be evident to anyone with a forebrain, the studio and creative team is fighting back mightily against the “torture lover” stigma that has apparently crimped ZDT’s Best Picture hopes.

Kathryn Bigelow got to make her case in a cover story for Time; screenwriter Mark Boal took to the LA Times and almost every other media outlet to advertise his abhorrence of torture and his concerns about the McCarthyesque tinge to Senate calls to investigate the movie’s depiction of torture in the hunt for bin Laden (a hot button issue for Hollywood, with its bitter and shameful memories of the House Un-American Activities Committees investigation of movie industry leftists in the 1950s, and the subsequent blacklist).

Anyway, for the Friday Calendar section, somebody decided to pull out all the stops in order to wrench the focus away from the people getting tortured in the movie to the…Passion of Maya!

Under the usual tombstone listing of critic encomia, there is a black and white picture of Jessica Chastain looking vulnerable and sorrowful…with an apparently Photo-shopped tear trickling down her cheek…all the way to her jawline!

Available only in the print edition!  Because, as you can see from the left, the tear, though clearly visible on the full page ad, doesn’t lend itself well to digital reproduction.  Accident…or design?

Now, one of the best and bracing parts of the movie, to my mind, was that Jessica Chastain tear2xChastain didn’t cry.  She was an unapologetic, vengeful, vindictive hardass when it came to hunting bin Laden, with an intensity that was unsettling, unnerving, and rang true to my idea of the kind of person who is 110% gungho on a career of hunting humans on behalf of the government.

Well, if this desperate piece of overreach sinks ZDT’s Oscar campaign, I guess this ad might be remembered as The Bitter Tear of Kathryn Bigelow.

The other fascinating story in today’s print edition of the LA Times could be found on the front page, albeit obscured by a full-page wrap promoting Argo for Best Picture.

The Southland (as we refer to Los Angeles and its environs stretching south to Orange County and west to the Nevada border) is transfixed by the horrific story of a killing rampage allegedly carried out by one Christopher Dorner.

Dorner is African-American, so for the purposes of the yahoos who populate Yahoo! News comments, I suppose he can be slotted into the Scary Black Man With a Gun or SBMWAG category.

Since he served in the military, we could amend the classification to SBMWAG  And Advanced Weapons Training or SMBWAGAAWT.

However, the most interesting and disturbing part of the story is that Dorner is an ex-cop allegedly targeting cops and their families because of his resentment at getting kicked off the force four years ago.  Make it SBMWAGAAWT Shooting Cops or SBMWAGAAWTSC.

He allegedly shot the daughter of the police captain who defended him (unsuccessfully) at his hearing, and her husband, as they sat in a parked car in Irvine down in Orange County.  Then he apparently turned up almost a hundred miles away and wounded two cops and killed another in two shootouts in Riverside County.

The response of the police has been an understandable combination of anger and fear as they have combed the southern reaches of the state searching for Dorner, and stationed units to protect the families of officers possibly targeted.

Dorner appears to have abandoned his vehicle—a blue Nissan Titan pickup truck—and is testing his survivalist skills in the hilly terrain of the national forest around Big Bear Lake.

The pickup truck was featured in a couple paragraphs deep in the story:

As news of the shootings crackled across police radios before dawn, the hunt for Dorner’s Nissan Titan pickup truck intensified.

About 5:20 a.m. in Torrance, two women were delivering the Los Angeles Times from their blue pickup when LAPD officers spotted the truck.

The police apparently mistook the truck for Dorner’s and riddled it with bullets. The women, a mother and daughter team, were rushed to a hospital.

The mother, who is in her 70s, was shot in the shoulder. She was listed in stable condition. Her daughter was injured by shattered glass.

Hours later, the truck — perforated by numerous bullet holes — sat on the street near the home of an LAPD official who was cited in the manifesto and was under LAPD protection. Beck said the department was investigating the circumstances of the shooting.

“Tragically, we believe this is a case of mistaken identity,” he said.

About 25 minutes after that shooting, Torrance police opened fire after spotting another truck similar to Dorner’s at Flagler Lane and Beryl Street. No one was reported hurt.

“If I had a [Nissan] Titan, I would park it today,” said Walter Howe, 60, at a Torrance Starbucks.

The LA Times thoughtfully declined to splash photos of the bullet-riddled pickup truck driven by its delivery folk on the front page.

But the actions of the Torrance Police Department, motivated by an undefinable combination of murderous panic and homicidal rage, brought home the idea that, in certain circumstances, the veneer of control, competence, and fairness that reconciles many Americans to the activities of the security state can be stripped away in a matter of hours.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.