To ask the all-important question, “Is The Bourne Ultimatum anti-American” is a bit like asking, “Is Gladiator anti-Roman?” Put this way, I think we can immediately see how misguided the question is, since the question makes us say whether the movie is for or against an entire country, way of life or (if you will) civilisation, when the movie in question is pretty clearly an indictment of a corrupt and/or tyrannical government. “This isn’t us” isn’t quite “there was a dream that was Rome” in rhetorical power, but it conveys a similar idea.
The first mistake anyone who flings the “anti-American” accusation makes is to equate the government with the society as a whole. If someone or something is critical of the U.S. government, it is very often deemed anti-American or, if the person doing the criticising is American, unpatriotic. This plays by the state’s rules: it makes patriotism dedication to the state, rather than to the country, and it makes the state into the embodiment of America. This is simply not true, and it’s a very good thing at times that this isn’t true. That doesn’t mean that the citizens don’t have some small part to play in the dreadful policy decisions made by the state (it is our government, after all), but the decisions being taken in Ultimatum are the sort that the public is never supposed to know about because the average citizen of this country would still probably be horrified at ordering the deaths of foreign journalists in the name of protecting some part of the behemoth security state.
This may be why I don’t think the word “anti-American” means very much, at least not as it is used these days. If it applies to, say, Bin Laden, Gerhard Schroeder and Paul Greengrass in some meaningful way, it seems to me that the word is either far, far too broad to mean much at all or it is used deliberately to obscure what the user is actually trying to say (i.e., “I really don’t like this person’s views, and I’m going to tar him with a really ugly label”). Here the criticism is that the movie pretty explicitly says that black ops, torture and breeding armies of mindless assassins are all un-American activities (ha!), which can really only offend your sensibilities as an American if you think all of these things are basically necessary and useful tools of the state for the protection of [place whichever buzzword we’re using this week here].
Mickey Kaus’ main complaint is that “the film is unredeemed by any sense that America or the American government ever stands for or does anything that is right.” Here’s the crucial point, since the movie is not concerned with America in general, but is very specifically concerned with one nasty corner of the American government. It does not, it’s true, spend even five seconds of film time noting the solid work that people in the National Park Service are doing every day, and Matt Damon does not stop his rooftop chase in Tangiers to applaud this year’s charitable giving to hospitals, but I think these things might break up the storyline a bit. Obviously, I jest, but this sort of thing invites a bit of ridicule.
Yes, we know that Damon and Greengrass are men with super-liberal politics (Howard Zinn is a Damon family friend, for goodness’ sake), and we know that they don’t understand James Bond (which is their true crime), but what is the basis for charging their movie with anti-Americanism? That it doesn’t engage in a lot of feel-good, pro-American rah-rah? This is silly. I’ll second Chris Orr‘s “jingoistic nonsense” line.