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.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Frank Clemente
The GOP Tax Bill is Creating Jobs…But Not in the United States
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail