FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras

Still from “Risk.”

A few nights ago, I went to see Risk, Laura Poitras’ portrait—if you can really call it that—of Julian Assange.

I must say that I have been a huge admirer of Laura Poitras’ work, running from My Country, My Country  (2006), through a number of shorts, to the much-acclaimed Citizen Four (2014). My admiration for these superb and probing documentaries was only enhanced by a knowledge of the fortitude she demonstrated in the face of years of harassment by the US government, a story worthy of a brave documentary in and of itself.

I guess this is why my sense of disappointment with Risk feels so enormous.  It is everything that Poitras’ work has not—fortunately—been all about up until this time: self-involved, reachingly melodramatic and filled with unfounded innuendo.

In the film she plays upon—but without ever demonstrating the courage to fully explain, or for that matter, fully embrace—all the personalizing memes that the US government and its domesticated corporate media have used to undercut the legitimacy of Assange’s status, along with Snowden and Manning, as the greatest truth-teller of our time.

You know the story line: he’s an egotist, control-freak, and sexual predator mostly interested in fame and notoriety.

For example, she treats us to an excruciatingly long scene of Assange sitting with the unfathomably stupid Lady Ga-Ga in the Ecuadorian embassy that adds nothing to our understanding of the Australian dissident…..except, of course  to suggest that, the egoist that he is, he will always take time out of his “important work” to be adored by unfathomably stupid celebrities.

There’s another scene where he rails in a politically incorrect fashion against the women who, after willingly having sex with him in Sweden and sharing pleasant post-coital texts with him about it, decide, under intense police and prosecutorial pressure, to reframe it all as a matter of sexual predation.

Gee, imagine being angry and voicing un-P.C thought crimes about something like that!   No way you or I would ever let something like that get under our skin.

No, if you or I had been framed in a similar way, resulting in several years of life spent cooped up in a tiny room, we, of course, would always talk about the useful idiots who made it possible with cool equanimity.  Right?

Then there’s the attempt to slyly conflate these insinuations about Assange’s insensitivity and inappropriateness (has the world ever been treated to a comparably endemic deployment of two more weaselly rhetorical placeholders?) on such matters to the apparent temper issues that his sometime collaborator Jacob Applebaum appears to have with the women he sleeps with, one of whom just happens to be named Laura Poitras.

So, the implied reasoning goes, if Laura and other women had nasty break-ups with Jake where he was “abusive” (whatever the hell that actually means in educated/progressive circles in 2017), and Jake works with Julian, and both, as the film clearly demonstrates, have an extraordinary sense of intellectual and moral self-confidence, then the best thing to do is to be fundamentally distrustful of Julian.

And so it goes in this 91-minute train of poorly structured subjective mush.

What you realize in the end is that it is precisely Assange’s lack of a need to please people in conventional ways that most unnerves others, including Laura Poitras.

For a population now taught to believe, through Facebook and other social media, that getting “likes” is the be all and end all of human existence, someone who frontally eschews all that in the service of what he considers much loftier goals can indeed be quite confounding.

Does this probably make the guy a lot less fun and cuddly than the mass of other human beings serially seeking approval? No doubt about it.

But, so friggin’ what?

By all reports, Gandhi could be a pretty callous guy on the personal level. But what would moral progress in the 20th century without him?

It is a good thing social media, that hall of impressionistic and simplistically personalizing mirrors, was not around then to shadow the Indian leader and render its snap judgments about his essential humanity.

If, however, it had existed then, you can be quite sure that that the British colonial spymasters would have availed themselves of material produced within its confines by those with a compulsive need to nitpick his personal habits to spread memes aimed at undermining his work and moral example.

More articles by:

Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released  Livin’ la Vida Barroca: American Culture in a Time of Imperial Orthodoxies.

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail