FWD (FT) suck.com on Waco and Gighliotti

From: Terry W. Colvin (fortean1@frontiernet.net)
Date: Mon Jul 17 2000 - 16:56:49 MDT

>From suck.com, July 17th 2000:

>Based on a True Story
>In a world in which a comedian's testicular cancer can be quickly
>repurposed as an hour-long MTV documentary with more laughs and
>better production values than a Metallica lawsuit, it sometimes
>seems as if any story can get a big- or small-screen version, just
>so long as the following magic words are sprinkled over the
>treatment: Based on a True Story.
>In fact, to judge from the mega box office for the recent
>blockbuster Erin Brockovich, the story doesn't even have to be
>particularly true just so long as the hero talks like a sailor and
>looks good in tight clothes. (Alternatively, judging from the
>tsunami-esque b.o. of the even-more-recent blockbuster, The Perfect
>Storm, if the protagonists are actual sailors, they can even get
>away with wearing baggy clothes.)
>But some stories ripped from the headlines are virtually guaranteed
>never to inspire any Hollywood movies, even - and perhaps especially
>- if they're tales jam-packed with suspense, drama, and hints of
>conspiracy at the highest levels of power. To do so would
>Picture this one, for example: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, &
>Firearms, hoping to do something more exciting than collaring kids
>buying smokes and desperate to recover its good standing with
>Congress after a sexual harassment scandal threatens its funding,
>decides to stage a highly publicized raid of the
>Kennedy-family-style "compound" of a crazy rock-and-roll religious
>cult (no, not the Church of Rome). The charge: The freaks inside are
>amassing an illegal weapons cache.
>Although the agency knows that the cult has been tipped off about
>the impending action - and although it knows it can arrest the
>group's leader on his regular trips into a nearby town - the BATF
>elects to enter the compound by force. There's a shoot-out, during
>which both agents and cult members are killed, and a stand-off
>The FBI is called in and dutifully plays bad pop music loudly for
>weeks on end in an effort to force a surrender. The feds eventually
>decide that enough Abba and Olivia Newton John is enough and decide
>to again attack the compound. During this second raid, 75 true
>believers, including two dozen kids, perish in a fire whose origins
>remain a matter of dispute. As the ashes cool over the carnage, the
>president calls it a "typical" mass suicide, dismissing as a
>coincidence the fact that the deaths corresponded closely both with
>the stand-off and the government's decision to send armored vehicles
>crashing into the walls of the cult's compound.
>Some years after the incident, a universally well-respected expert
>in "thermal imaging" - in reading film and videotapes for funny
>business related to guns and fire - is hired by the U.S. Congress to
>look over footage of what everyone now concedes was a massive
>government fuck-up. The question at the heart of this real-life
>version of Blow Up: Whether federal agents, contrary to sworn
>testimony, shot into the building during the final raid, effectively
>trapping the believers in a hellish blaze. As he endlessly replays
>videotapes that the government at one point insisted didn't even
>exist, the expert becomes more and more convinced that he has
>stumbled onto a massive cover-up.
>In various press stories, he suggests that the tapes he's examining
>show that feds are lying and that the FBI squeezed some triggers in
>the general direction of the compound: "The gunfire...is there,
>without a doubt." In a letter to the lead counsel in a wrongful
>death suit brought by the heirs of the dead freaks, he writes, "I
>still have a lot of shocking evidence to show you."
>Then, just as the expert is readying his final report to Congress,
>he goes missing for several weeks, eventually turning up as a
>decomposing corpse in his own Maryland office. After a brief
>inquiry, the police determine that the 42-year-old expert had died
>of a massive heart attack. According to a Washington Post reporter
>who attended Ghigliotti's funeral, there were just nine mourners,
>until a "knot of dark-suited men arrived...They sat off to the side,
>by themselves, five of them. They exited hastily after the ceremony,
>not pausing to greet [the expert's sister] or anyone else."
>This is the sad, strange story of Carlos Ghigliotti, the
>thermal-imaging analyst hired by Congress to pore over tapes of the
>final moments of the 1993 seige of the Branch Davidian compound
>outside Waco, Texas. There is, to be sure, no reason to suspect foul
>play in his death earlier this year. (Indeed, there is some reason
>to believe he was driven over the edge by his Waco work: "He told
>his sister it was depressing him. He told me he didn't want to
>endlessly relive a tragedy that most Americans had long forgotten,"
>wrote Post reporter Richard Leiby in a May 28 piece on Ghigliotti's
>But there's also no reason to expect that a Hollywood which once
>used such haunting, suggestive episodes as source material for all
>manner of political thrillers and meditations on power (think of The
>Parallax View or Silkwood) will ever figuratively touch Ghigliotti's
>rotted body with a 10-foot boom. As the warm embrace of Tom Green's
>cancerous nut suggests, that's not because Hollywood isn't willing
>to wrestle with unseemly flesh per se. It's because such reckless
>speculation about Washington villainy would contravene what has
>emerged as one of Tinseltown's defining characteristics over the
>past decade: An abject willingness to treat Bill Clinton as if he's
>a Renaissance king and to flatter him with sycophantic dramatic
>versions of himself. Forget about Bill Clinton's contributions to
>balancing the federal budget or his role in creating an America in
>which people are free - at last ! - to talk incessantly about oral
>sex. In the end - and especially if he signs on with Dreamworks SKG
>after he leaves office - Clinton's ultimate legacy may come to be
>seen as the ushering in of a new age of court culture, in which
>movie stars and studio heads shamelessly flatter and favor their
>rulers in return for a pat on the head and the chance to tan
>themselves, however briefly, in the reflected glow of power.
>"These guys get into it for the buzz," a Hollywood star's
>"political-issues" adviser told The Nation's Marc Cooper last year.
>"Their interest isn't ideological," explained "legendary
>left-liberal rainmaker" Stanley K. Sheinbaum. "They just want to be
>invited to Camp David. They want to sleep in the White House." Which
>helps explain the tales of Geffens, Spielbergs, and Hankses dropping
>in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on a regular basis.
>And, perhaps more interestingly, why a self-styled rebel type such
>as director David O. Russell gushes about the special White House
>screening of his "very large subversive film" Three Kings last fall.
>(Clinton reportedly "thought the movie brilliant," which is not
>surprising given that it harshly critiques one of the supposed high
>points of his predecessor; no word yet on whether Russell is
>planning a Kosovo war pic anytime soon, perhaps to show to the next
>The rise of the new court culture is perhaps most visible in actual
>depictions of the president. As Time noted a few years back, until
>the Clinton became chief executive, "the President of the U.S.
>couldn't get arrested, at least not in the show-business sense of
>the phrase....[W]e had seen relatively few presidential characters
>on the big screen since the era of Dr. Strangelove and Seven Days in
>May back in the '60s." During the Reagan years, in fact, audiences
>looking for executive drama had to content themselves with President
>E.G. Marshall's unconditional surrender to General Zod in Superman
>That's all changed over the past eight years of so.Forget about the
>psycho Vietnam vet and the hooker with a heart of gold. Bill Clinton
>has midwifed an entertainment era in which the stock character is as
>likely as not to be the President of the United States. These
>characters have ranged from well-intentioned, kind-hearted impostor
>(Dave) to sympathetic, romantic widower (The American President) to
>reluctant, hardened-under-pressure hero (Independence Day) to
>pompous, delusional incompetent (Mars Attacks! ) to Alan Alda
>(Candian Bacon) to distracted, workaholic dad (First Kid) to horny,
>murderous hypocrite (Absolute Power) to horny to genial good ol' boy
>(Primary Colors) to hunky, ass-kicking defender of God, family, and
>country (Air Force One) to Nobel-Prize winning, moral crusader (The
>West Wing).
>There is a general progression here, a dispiriting one that moves
>from dueling, hotly contested visions of the president as good or
>evil to a more uniform conception that often shades into a flat-out
>apologetics for power. This latter point is particularly true if one
>reads films such as American Beauty for their implicit political
>content: A middle-aged man beset with a job crisis, a frigid,
>career-obsessed wife, and impure feelings for a girl his daughter's
>age is made sympathetic when shot to death by a right-wing
>crypto-Nazi. Nor is it confined only to dramatic forms: Bill Maher,
>the relentlessly conformist m.c. of Politically Incorrect, recently
>hosted an L.A. fundraiser for Clinton. Only five years ago, the
>rubber-faced host got into hot water for saying "fuck" in front of
>the Clintons at a Radio and Television Correspondents Association
>dinner and doing blue humor at their expense.
>Regardless of Clinton's politics, such a progression is as
>regrettable as it is ironic (An uncritical advocate of mandatory
>V-chip technology and tighter content restrictions, the prez has
>been quick to wag his finger at the entertainment industry as a
>locus of evil and to threaten executive action whenever it serves
>him politically). Any development that leads to an impoverished
>range of fictional possibilities is always to society's detriment.
>As is anything that gives Martin Sheen a regular acting gig, thereby
>taking him away from the far more socially beneficial task of
>closely supervising his sons.
>courtesy of Mr. Mxyzptlk

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA)
< fortean1@frontiernet.net >
Home Page: < http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Stargate/8958/index.html >
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