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Columbia University students
Leadership students

Columbia University students

The graduate students contributing here are members of "Leadership Development" at course at Teacher's College, Columbia University, taught by On Leadership panelist Todd Henshaw.

Our Iraq ambivalence

Q: 'The Hurt Locker,' Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war movie, won great reviews and the Oscar for best picture but has failed to draw large audiences, joining other 2009 critically acclaimed films such as 'The Messenger.' What are the challenges for artists who try to use their art to lead the public on a divisive political issue?

"The Hurt Locker" is not a film about a divisive issue. While its story is set in a war, the genesis of which is a divisive issue, the film does not ask the audience to take a stand about the war that is any more controversial than "War is hell."

The fact that the movie was not well attended quite likely reflects the US's ambivalence about the war. We want to put it behind us yet we know we have a responsibility as a nation to help build a country that has as little turmoil and violence as possible.

This is one of the central dilemmas of leadership: how to break through both individuals' and groups' ambivalence, their often competing desires to act towards different goals, or to take different strategies to act towards their goals, or to not act at all, (or all of the above!).

The artist can reside in that ambivalence because she or he is not held responsible for outcomes outside of the art world. The artist takes on the leader's dilemma but not the leader's responsibility for results. -- Peter DiCaprio


The lonely artist-leader

In fighting for their values, a leader must often stand alone. Same goes for an artist. I watch my own father struggle as a painter to be recognized by prestigious galleries. His point of view is bold -- perhaps too bold for some, with intense colors and an array of details -- but his pieces are unique. The more support he finds, or the more followers, the more confidence he has to put his artistic vision out there.

Just as it's near-impossible for any two people to have the same opinion of a painting, so we are unlikely to agree on difficult issues like the war in Iraq. We never know what side of the fence the other person stands on. A film like 'Hurt Locker' is a chance for us, the viewers, to discover how we do feel.-- Tanya Roth

By Columbia University students

 |  March 9, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Category:  Artistic leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Typical left wing anti-military stance. The "hero" in any military film must be portrayed as a loner, amoral, reckless, contemptuous of authority, undisciplined, or preferably all of the above.

Reminds one of the leftist slogan "We support the troops when they Frag their officers".

Posted by: screwjob11 | March 11, 2010 8:53 PM
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Did not see it, and do not intend to. Like most everyone else. Any and all rationalizations for this fiasco will not be supported by my attendance.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | March 11, 2010 5:58 PM
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I agree with DiCaprio that the movie is political only as far as saying "war is hell." Other than that, it shows the stress of war and how soldiers might cope with it. In my view, the central character survives the mental stress by playing war like a game. In that way, he is dettached from his reality and can act calmly and coolly, and be good at what he does (and stay alive). But once he becomes attached...to the boy for example, starts caring about him he loses his cool, tries to seek revenge for his death and gets paranoid.
The movie also shows the difficulties our soldiers encounter in an unconventional war where you cannot trust even a herd of goats (used to disguise a sniper) or old people (that drop an iied on an unsuspecting soldier). War is the perfect theater to explore human emotions. I liked the movie and think it deserved the Oscar...but people will read in it whatever suits their purpose.

Posted by: mbejar | March 11, 2010 5:12 PM
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As enforced by Bigelow's stream of pro-soldier comments at the Oscars, "The Hurt Locker" is "political" insofar as its erasure of Iraqi experience and perspective establishes the war as--once again--a field of strictly *American* interests. Accurate or over-idealized, mythifying or existentialist ... however one characterize the film's intentions or effects, we cannot evade the central national narcicissim in which the film indulges and to which it invites us. *That* is its appeal, especially to a Hollywood establishment anxious to establish its patriotic bona fides while affirming its (spurious) claims to "creativity."

Posted by: kbenston | March 11, 2010 4:10 PM
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Maybe the movie didn't draw people, because it wasn't very good. Good movies get known by word of mouth. So do bad movies. People who saw the movie obviously didn't tell their friends the next day how great the movie was. It's probably as simple as that.

Posted by: jfv123 | March 11, 2010 3:55 PM
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The movie didn't gross well because the US public is seeking upbeat escapism, not ugly reality.

We are surrounded by ugly reality, an 8 year Bush hangover with no end in sight.

Posted by: knutton | March 11, 2010 10:20 AM
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I'm the Mother of a soldier serving his 4th tour of duty and this is only one true story of many our troops have had to deal with and with no support from Law Makers or the American people. The US thinks putting a flag on the lawn and a bumber sticker on the car is all they have to do to support our troops. No Law Maker will let their child join the Military. No one likes to hear the truth but the fact is the USA under the Bush Administration committed War Crimes and even had some of our own soldier murdered. Yes Pat Tillman was murdered by order of the White House. Now deal with the truth because lies wont change it.

Posted by: qqbDEyZW | March 11, 2010 12:31 AM
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I wasn't expecting 100% accuracy. I didn't get it pretty obviously, and the movie does have some glaring flaws to it's narrative because of them.

That aside, I didn't find it to be very political, and I think people are reading more into the tea leaves than are there. There was an awful lot of the movie that was decidedly apolitical where it would have been easy for it to be politicized.

Before people go haring off about how they see politics in the movie, they ought to look for the places where they don't see it. Those places where it coulda/woulda been way too easy to throw in with some well positioned `conventional wisdom from those who hold N type of views about the war'. To a greater extent the accuracy of politics being completely sidelined to reality was one of the things I really _liked_ about the movie.

Yea there's technical screw ups and liberties they took that probably would have made for a better drama had they been more replicatively accurate, but they didn't quash the value of the work overall.

If you think about it, there is no end of political low hanging fruit they could have plucked and thrown in the basket to `create controversy' or whatever you want to call stirring up an argument to make money, but they didn't. Not just once, but over and over. There's some things that they say with the movie that grow from the 'war is hell' declaration, but those things slap around political extremists.

Posted by: Nymous | March 11, 2010 12:24 AM
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This movie makes no judgment on war one way or the other. There is this theory that ther is an adrelin high that comes with high stress jobs such as firemen, policemen emergency medical personel and some military jobs. The theory also says that the adrelin high can become addective.Maybe the movie was asking, what happens to thest folks when that job is no longer there. Remember that soldier could not stay with his wife and son. He went back and that wasen't his first time there.

Posted by: MaryK4 | March 11, 2010 12:13 AM
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The only political statement in The Hurt Locker is the one viewers bring to it. It's a good story well told. Period.

Like all people EOD techs are good and bad. That's what makes stories about people so interesting.

Posted by: arancia12 | March 11, 2010 12:03 AM
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The Hurt Locker is an intriguing film. It's storyline and production values held my attention through its end.

If it did not gross as much at the box office, that simply reflects the limits of the intellect and interests of the masses. Being mindless is what's in vogue.

Posted by: misterbumbles | March 10, 2010 9:05 PM
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The Oscars had another Olympia Dukakis moment with Hurt Locker, the usual Hollywood treacle and political posturing by "the creative community." No wonder no one goes to see the movie other than the Hollywood Mutual Masturbation Society.

Posted by: RichardHode | March 10, 2010 5:41 PM
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I think the general public "gets" how Hollywood feels about the war, and war in general.

It has been postulated that the lack of viewership may reflect an ambivalence towards the war, but the more likely explanation might be the ambivalence towards Hollywood's very predictable view of the war.

Like a painter who uses only one color, it might sometimes be interesting, but often is not.


Posted by: postfan1 | March 10, 2010 5:31 PM
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Just prior to the Oscars, some former military bomb experts were saying how unrealistic the movie was, primarily because this former bomb defuser was really upset about the ambivalence of the main character towards his teammates.

(I can't remember the characters or even the right job description. Apologies.)

This is, I think, the key to the political heart of the movie. The first bomb-defuser worked with his squad as both a member and leader of the team. He anticipated consequences, then proceeded with caution and thought.

The main character/second bomb-defuser went in recklessly with complete disregard for the team-process. He ignored advise. He had no concern for the lives of his teammates or the consequences of his impulsive actions.

Which one of these describes the Bush administrations approach to war, and which one describes the rest of the world's approach to war, post-Vietnam?

Posted by: KobayashiMaru | March 10, 2010 5:16 PM
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It's interesting to watch traditional print media flail about trying to adapt to its existential crisis. Publishing random graduate student essay assignments appears to be yet another attempt to adjust. Fail. Keep trying.

Posted by: djjd | March 10, 2010 4:30 PM
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