Comfortable and Furious

Team America: World Police

Fucking Puppets by Matt Stone and Trey Parker

Matt Cale is not amused…

No one will lay claim to it, nor will any politician mention it even in passing and expect to have a job in the morning, but if they possessed an ounce of courage, they might realize its power. I have no idea if Trey Parker and Matt Stone are Republicans or Democrats (my guess is that they are far too ignorant and juvenile to care about the political scene in any serious fashion), but I do know that they have absolute contempt for the culture of celebrity. That in itself is a noble effort, as the rich and famous make it their habit of embarrassing the hell out of themselves on a daily basis. Still, Parker and Stone are not ridiculing celebrity so much as they are blasting left-wing celebrity, especially those who speak out against conservatism, Bush, or the global war on terror.

As the objects of scorn are the likes of George Clooney, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, and Alec Baldwin — without a single member of the equally vocal right-wing force in Hollywood (Tom Selleck, Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dennis Miller, etc.) — we know that we are meant to find inherent humor in the idea that actors are using their visibility to oppose the forces of Republicanism. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t care for Parker and Stone’s one-sided assault, but that is only a piece of why Team America: World Police failed on every level. One-note, monotonous, dull, and insipid, the film strives to be an unrestricted assault on current events, but the only ideological position it dares to make is that, despite four years of lies, distractions, and fear-mongering, there remains no sillier sight than an Oscar winner speaking out in public. [Ed Note: Hey Cale, you didn’t catch Aston Kutcher supporting Kerry, did you?]

I had high hopes indeed for a nasty, acid-tongued puppet show, and for a few minutes I thought it might live up to expectations, but Team America: World Police simply didn’t have anywhere to go after I slightly, silently chuckled at the obvious artifice (we can see the strings and the film makes no effort to hide them). But as the plot took over, I quickly lost interest. Apparently Kim Jong-Il runs the worldwide terrorist network, and he’s using Alec Baldwin as a front for a peace conference that will distract world leaders long enough to allow the North Korean madman to set off WMD explosions in several hundred locations across the globe.

So, we’re treated to Jong-Il’s mix-up of Rs and Ls, his outrageous narcissism, and his pained loneliness (he even sings a song about his isolation), but none of it registers as satire, even of the strained variety. Because humor is often impossible to describe, especially if you are trying to explain it to someone who failed to laugh, I have no words to offer other than, well, everything involved in this story line didn’t produce even the hint of a response. I sat patiently at first, then began to squirm a bit, and by what seemed to be the third hour, I was ready to bolt, largely because I felt stupid as a 31-year-old man spending a Saturday evening with teenagers, watching crap that I might have found “cool” when my brain remained underdeveloped.

The closest the film came to attacking Bush’s terror policy was the idea that whenever Team America goes on the march, cities and landmarks are destroyed. It’s that whole Vietnam-era idea that “the village must be destroyed in order to save it.” So when Paris is reduced to ashes in order to nab four terrorists, it might be interpreted as an anti-Bush slam, but it makes much more sense to believe that Parker and Stone just wanted to topple the Eiffel Tower and torch the Louvre. Team America might be an extension of U.S. machismo and tunnel vision, and hence a tempting target, but there is little that leads me to believe that the filmmakers thought that deeply. Fine, we’re creeps, thuggish, and like to destroy things, but we’re also right, so what’s the problem? There’s even a final speech involving the difference between “pussies, dicks, and assholes” that, crudely enough, actually articulates the Bush Doctrine quite accurately, but it’s nothing more than Parker and Stone’s way of endorsing the idea that it’s okay to be a motherfucker, so long as one is a motherfucker with the largest arsenal/dick.

Team America may not be speaking to any of these issues, and I might look like a pretentious, humorless dolt for even bringing them up, but it’s either that or admit that Parker and Stone made this film for no other reason than to watch puppets explode, have sex, and discuss blowjobs. Maybe they’re still getting off on the idea that it’s still taboo to take a children’s medium and reduce it to perversion and nastiness, in which case they need to move on to some new business. South Park made it acceptable to watch cartoon kiddies swearing like sailors, so no one could possibly be shocked at this late stage, could they?

At this point, I really don’t care, and I’ve decided that few things piss me off more than the promise of a “radical vision” going unfulfilled. There is so much to attack in this grave time, and so much ready and willing to be exposed, satirized, and stripped of its vanity, if only someone had the courage to use a little wit and sophistication to get the job done. Parker and Stone continue to have no greater ambition than a well-timed penis joke, and no stronger sense of the political than the silly notion that people who talk about politics are foolish, naive, and mere pawns of more sinister forces. Make a joke or shut up, they argue, as if the profession of reciting dialogue disallowed expression. Actors rarely contribute anything of substance, of course, but they’re no more ill-informed than the hundreds of religious leaders, corporate chieftains, athletes, and hell, politicians, who saturate the media with their assorted agendas.

And yet, we seem to reserve the majority of our contempt for the acting set. But next to athletes, they are the most harmless bunch, and dismissing (or attacking) their gibberish only allows the truly powerful to continue their campaign of disinformation. Parker and Stone, reactionary rebels? In this country, at this time, it’s just preposterous enough to be true.