Bush & the “Good Ol’ Iraqi Shoe!”


The Iraqi reporter who hurled a show at president Bush a couple of days ago reminded me of a political satire released by Hollywood back in 1997 – one of my most favorite movies.

Dubbed “Wag the Dog,” the movie starred Dustin Hoffman (a creative Hollywood director and special effects specialist) and Robert De Niro (playing the role of a shrewd media spin doctor and save-the-day type of PR consultant to the American president).

The movie starts with this fictional president getting himself involved with a Monica Lewinsky kind of scandal. De Niro is summoned in by the media department at the White House-slash-CIA since he’s the only one who can come up with a media and PR plan to cover up the presidential PR disaster.

De Niro & Hoffman decide it was time to fabricate a War in some country God knows where to remove the American citizens’ attention from the Monica the President was sleeping with, and indulge them in the excitement of “freeing” a suppressed nation somewhere Russia-like.

The spin doctors come up with all kinds of news items from the battlefield of the non-existent war, all manufactured and fabricated within the Blue Rooms of Hollywood and its studios. They even bring back 303 empty coffins of non-existent soldiers who have “died in honor of their country” and the President (whose wise leadership is hailed by all American news agencies taking the bate) attends their most heart wrenching funeral.

The empty contents of the coffins were no secret to the public, De Niro worked around this little detail by creating a yet more interesting PR cover up: Media anchors around the country informed the American viewers that the soldiers were torched in “that” country by barbaric so-called freedom fighters. The poor 303 soldiers were attempting to defend the liberty of “that” nation, they all came back in coffins except for that one missing soldier who left his brown shoe behind! (The last time I watched the movie was 3 years ago, my imagination might be playing around with the plot, so take this with a pinch of salt).

Shoes, patriotism and symbolism…

De Niro’s character succeeds in making brown shoes resemble freedom, the American self-righteous quest for saving other nations from themselves, the American dream/individual lost in some barbaric wasteland! To engage the American people with the patriotic sentiments this pseudo war was all about, Di Nero ventures into historical fabrication in order to make things look and feel more believable.

He commissions a singer who lost his glory back in the 70’s to create a song called “Good Ol’ Shoe.” The song is processed by a brilliant sound engineer who makes it sound scratchy and very Vinyl. The song is actually packed into some old, dusty cover, is given a serial number and is planted in the Congress music library. By “mere chance” some reporter finds the song, people start listening to it – and if they were flower children they could vaguely “remember” hearing that glorified ballad in their youth.

According to this link: The team’s appointed songwriter, Johnny Green (Willie Nelson), pens a song for the occasion strongly reminiscent of the Persian Gulf War’s “Voices That Care” or the 1980s anthem “We Are the World.”

And the [spin-doctoring] group’s plan to encourage Americans to throw their shoes into trees in support of a missing soldier nicknamed “The Old Shoe” mirrors the trend of tying on yellow ribbons in support of war efforts.

After a long musical break the singer revives his oldie, this time with a song called “Old Brown Shoe.” (Again, remember I am unearthing most of this from memory).

Bush & the Good Ol’ Iraqi Shoe

A brilliant opportunity awaits Arab political satire songwriters. Yesterday on news in some demonstration in Iraq a guy was holding a shoe on a stick.

Good old brown shoes have in deed become a symbol, but this time they are in favor of “that” nation that Americans have conquered. Brown shoes have become a symbol of buried boiling rage at the American atrocities committed in the name of freedom. Isn’t it all too ironic. Sometimes one suspects Hollywood producers go to fortune tellers and like to shed some satirical light on the future.

P.S. I’m wearing brown shoes today.

* Why does a dog wag its tail? Because the dog is smarter than the tail. If the tail was smarter, it would wag the dog.

Writer: Ruba Saqr (inspired by conversation with Ammar Haykal last evening).

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for the nice post. I heard about this movie but I didn’t see it. I guess I should look for it .. seems interesting. Although, I think we should not over-emphasize the message of the movie. We all know the effect the huge PR machine especially in the US, but I don’t think we should fall in the trap of “conspiracy theory”.

    I took a decision not to speak about politics (especially in public) but I guess I will take this opportunity to ask .. or maybe open some ideas for consideration.

    First, do you really think that hurling shoes on a head of state is an acceptable act? I know very well that this action is a symbol of the social contempt towards the head of a state which made a lot of mistakes in the region. I know that it is socially justified but the public and (sort of) official celebration of the event makes me feel angry. Why angry? Maybe because I know many Arab heads of state that deserve much more than this but no body dares to touch them. Maybe because I know that Sadam Husain deserved much more than this but he is now a hero after all what he did to his country and people. Maybe because many leaders in the Arab world fiercely defended the president of Sudan when he was charged by the criminal court only because he is the head of a sovereign state.

    Secondly, everybody knows that the US (and allies) made a lot of mistakes in Iraq like the torture in prisons, killing of civilians, etc. Those mistakes were either due poor management or bad decisions by the military forces. But let’s face it; isn’t this happening all around the Arab region by Arab leaders? Isn’t the killing of civilian in Iraq for more than a couple of years totally done by Iraqi militants themselves? Isn’t the sectarian violence causing all the trouble in Iraq and elsewhere? And how do we expect the Iraqi seen to be better if the US withdraw when the Iraqis themselves admit that their security forces are not able to control the country for the time being?

    Aside from the real reasons for the US invasion of Iraq, at the end of the day the war’s cost was billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. The result, the Iraqi people for the first time have the right for democracy and have a historic chance to repair their country for better. Why not grab this chance rather than fighting with the ghosts of the past. Why not make use of the huge surplus in the Iraqi budget (because of oil revenues which the people have access to for the first time) to build the country for good rather than letting this fortune go to dust because of our own failure to cope with the changes of the world.

    I am not justifying the war on Iraq or any other war, and I’m not giving excuses to the US government which is making the world a worse place ever since they took control. I’m asking you (especially media people) to look at the big picture and guide people to opportunities rather than inflaming their emotions and fall in the trap of conspiracy theory or making traitors out of people.

  2. Symbolism that comes your way on a silver tray is rare these days. There are people who get high pay cheques to spin symbolism into people’s the media, using it to sawy people into certain opinions and behaviours, and there are the spontaneous Symbol creators, like this Iraqi shoe thrower.
    There is a difference between conspiracy theory and being aware that there are Media and PR strategies laid out by strategists who control the media.
    The Iraqi shoe thrower is not a strategist, he’s just a guy who committed an act that resonated with so many people. He did something unusual and struck the right chord. By throwing that shoe he started a blizzard of conversations around the world, on line and off line, about the legitimacy of his act, what shoes mean culturally, and what it means to throw a pair of shoes at the world’s most hated head of state.

    Last evening someone here said: “The shoe has been stepping over Arabs for so long, it is about time someone threw it at the oppressor.” So as one can see, Shoe throwing transcends etiquette and walks into the realm of symbolism, and symbolism is what the media heavily relies on to filter through certain messages to brain wash people into certain paradigms of perception.

    Shoes have GREAT significance in contemporary Arab literature, they are a symbol of lost dignity, lost sovereignty, lost land, the lost homeland… etc.
    Hurling a shoe at a head of state is nothing compared to what that head of that state did to the country of Iraq, and to the world at large… creating myth after myth about war terror, pointing fingers at innocent people, spinning accusations about countries here and there so as to accomplish one thing: world domination.

    At the same time, hurling a shoe at Bush signifies a lot of things to people. It means an individual managed to say: “No.” This is a huge shift in the psyche of the Arab masses who are used to the defeatist attitude towards the one man American show. The people are rising, and it is with simple acts of symbolism that they do.

    By the same token, the Americans used symbolism to play with people’s psyches after capturing Saddam Hussein. They showed him on TV, old and broken with a white beard, while an American soldier “insulted” him by holding his mustache and beard and looked through them (for what I don’t know). The Mustache in Arabia stands for manhood, dignity, authority. That shot was calculated to plant a feeling in every Arab consciousness about kneeling to the superiority of the USA.

    When a mouse musters up the courage to do something very unexpected to the elephant, just a little gesture of defiance… the rest of the mice might start to follow suit, at least psychologically.

    Emotions is media. Without emotions the media can go no where. Opra, David Letterman, CNN, Fox, Sky news… all of them are about making you cry when a mother reunites with her kid (although both of them are insignificant on the political battlefield), making you laugh at Bush because he’s stupid (Letterman show), making you sympathize with American soldiers killing people to create a free world, making you feel ashamed, proud, broken, accused, terror-incubating, deteriorated, uncool, cool, in, out… And as “Wag the Dog” suggests: if it’s on TV, it’s “real.”

  3. What was the title of the movie? I’d like to watch it too. Thanks for this post.

  4. The movie is mentioned in the article. it’s called “Wag the Dog.” It’s one of the best movies produced by Hollywood, very insightful about how the media spin the news

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