John Cusack on NPR: Laugh While Bush Ideology Destroys America

On Sunday, I mentioned that the Saturday night version of NPR’s All Things Considered was a pacifist’s dream. It was also a Bush-basher’s delight. Leftist actor John Cusack explained his new anti-war comedy (read: the next box office flop) this way: "The ideology behind this war is so radical and it's so destroying the country that I think a somber serious take on it would just add to the sense of depression and inevitable doom that this administration has unleashed on the country."

Cusack added War Inc. was Bush-inspired: "And the argument of the Bush administration is that there's nothing, no function of state, there's no national interest that is not a corporate interest. Everything is to be privatized, everything is to be -- the core function of government is to create the optimal conditions for a feeding frenzy."

It’s probably a good thing Cusack didn’t try to argue the Bush administration lied its way into war, since Cusack charmed and tickled his NPR interviewer by explaining how they basically lied to major companies seeking to use their corporate logos for mockery by filing innocuous requests, not telling the Financial Times, for example, that their logo was going to be put on the side of a tank for laughs.

This is mildly funny when you consider that commercialism-mocking NPR makes you listen to an ad (this morning it was Lumber Liquidators) before you can listen to their socialist content online. To the transcript:

GUY RAZ: John Cusack, to say the least this is not a subtle film you made. Why did you decide to go with satire?

JOHN CUSACK: Well, I think, you know, there's a large and glorious tradition of the satire and comedy and absurdist comedy making fun of power elites and aristocracies. And I think the modern or post-modern world, these people are kind of corporate titans, you know. So, it just seemed like the situation's gotten so grave and the ideology behind this war is so radical and it's so destroying the country that I think a somber serious take on it would just add to the sense of depression and inevitable doom that this administration has unleashed on the country.

So I think sometimes when you put an absurdist lens on it maybe you can see it a little bit more clearly and you can recapture your sort of sense of defiance and your spirit of outrage. And also, you know, what is absurdism but taking the current trends to their logical conclusions? And the argument of the Bush administration is that there's nothing, no function of state, there's no national interest that is not a corporate interest. Everything is to be privatized, everything is to be - the core function of government is to create the optimal conditions for a feeding frenzy.

RAZ: I'd been to Iraq many, many times myself as a correspondent. And even though this film is obviously over the top, I was struck at how frighteningly familiar some of the scenes appear, sort of the interaction between the contractors and the locals; and the interaction between the contractor and the journalist. What kind of research did you do to make this film?

CUSACK: Basically I read everything I could and went through every independent news organizations and spoke with people who had been on the ground there, really tried to research it as much as I could. And when you get into that research you realize that it's really beyond anything that you could imagine. It's all kind of savage and absurd.

RAZ: John Cusack, talk to me a little bit about the obstacles that you faced in making this film. I mean, obviously, this is a very political film, it's overt and you're trying to send a message. I imagine you face some push back.

CUSACK: Yeah, I mean, I don't think you face the push back, you know, in an overt way. I think people just tried to ignore what you're saying and hoped that you'll go away and won't choose to do it. And certainly we didn't get any corporate backing and none of the studios wanted to do it. But we did find a company that did do it so we did it for a very small budget and shot it in Bulgaria.

RAZ: In the film there are a lot of corporate logos, familiar ones -- Coca-Cola, Popeye's Chicken, Financial Times. Did you have to get permission to use those?

CUSACK: We did, but we basically just sort of sent out the most innocuous sort of form letter we could [Raz laughs] and we hoped that people would, that the corporations would think, well, any press is good press and/or they wouldn't read about what the movie's about. And so we just kept sending out form letters until we got back yeses. And we got yeses from those companies so we used them.

But I have to say the Financial Times on the tank was one of my proud, was one our proud satiric accomplishments. Because, you know, after all, those papers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times called Iraq a gold rush. And I think they were being quite accurate. You know, you build a frontier and because it's the most profitable thing you can do and the gold rush is a feeding frenzy.

RAZ: There's a particularly tough scene in the film. It's where a group of dancers, can-can girls, are rehearsing for a performance, all of them with prosthetic limbs. Let's listen to that scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "War, Inc.")

Man: Incredible. Each girl is a trans-femural amputee who had lost her leg during the liberation.

Woman: And thinks that with Tamerlane's cutting edge prosthetic devices, we can literally have you up and dancing before you know it.

Cusack’s voice: Just another breathtaking example of how American know-how alleviates the suffering it creates.

RAZ: John Cusack, it's a pretty shocking scene. Why did you put it in the film?

CUSACK: Well, I think it's a mistake to think that comedy or humor or satire is supposed to just make you laugh. It's supposed to also make you think and it's okay to make you feel uncomfortable. So, I think you have to start with that premise.

RAZ: Why are you trying to tell this story now? I mean, the tide has turned in the United States. The war is overwhelmingly unpopular. What's the point of doing it now?

CUSACK: Well, I don't know. You know, when we conceived this, it was at the height of actually the war's popularity, and, you know, people were standing at podiums and lecterns saying, you know, people better watch what they say. When they were giving all these kind of McCarthyite warnings. So, I think it came out of a sense of outrage.

And I would say I don't relish sort of being an activist - not sort of something I would want to do - but I think in maybe in 2008, being an activist is probably is a pretty decent position to take if you want to sleep at night.

As for the "McCarthyite" warnings from lecterns about people watching what they say, he's referring to Ari Fleischer. If you still care about the left-wingers routinely mangling that event, see here.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis