It Can Be a Fair Game

where will we go from here?

where will we go from here?

At the end of Fair Game, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) asks a straightforward question: How many of you know the 16 words in President Bush’s speech that led us to war in Iraq? No hands. How many of you know my wife’s name? All hands.

Valerie Plame—the beautiful CIA agent outed by the White House. The 2010 film recounting her story surprised me. What I expected to be an entirely political and propagandistic journey through a news story I vaguely remembered was actually a personal and inspiring interaction with my own Americanness. Valerie Plame’s life may have become fair game in the swirl of government and global relations, but there is hope for this generation to shirk off the embarrassment of American imperialism and participate in the fair game democracy can truly be at its best.

Yes, that was a rather sweeping statement, haha, but I think the film makes a strong case for participation in our government—or at least in the amplification of one’s voice that coalesces with other voices to make a government. And it pulled down grandiose abstracts—Freedom, Duty, Responsibility, Intelligence, and Patriotism—onto the intimate stage of interpersonal life.

where the world happens

where the world happens

Director Doug Liman expertly employed mise-en-scene to contextualize the American ideals in the American reality: the kids running through the kitchen, the dinner pot boiling on the stove, the patient hurrying out of the clinic, the lunchtime rush at a downtown restaurant, the babysitter coming and going, the cold hardwood floor at 3:45 a.m. You could listen to the dialog with your eyes closed and you would find an intriguing debate about the individual versus her government, but you wouldn’t really hear what the film is saying. You have to see it.

With each cut into action, each audio linkage, each carefully mixed ambient track, each fleeting glimpse of a ponytail, each just-out-frame introduction we begin to feel Valerie Plame’s life. Her life. No nation exists independently of the lives of its citizens. Whether they have a voice or are drowned out by power-mongering, those citizens are in fact that country. And this is what Fair Game reminds us.

Each person in the CIA is a normal person trying to be a loyal employee who is good at their job. (A generalization, yes, but one worth making because it is mostly true.) The more challenging implication is that people in power—such as Presidents—have just as much chance of being normal people making the best decisions they can to keep things moving forward as the CIA analyst. And the housewife. And the elementary school student. Life is damn hard, and making it through is a game of luck in which you collect as much information as you can and make the decision that is needed to move forward. Without forward motion, we die.

3:45 a.m.

3:45 a.m.

Now, that does not mean that Fair Game excuses the White House for what happened, for everything from the Iraqi War to the leak of “Valerie Plame.” It goes beyond mere smearing and challenges every citizen to hold its government accountable—to embrace the reality that we the people can make it a fair game once more. And the most beautiful scene is the one that reinforces that accountability and courage starts between two people: Valerie Plame comes back and refuses to let the fiasco steal her marriage to Joe Wilson. Making a name for ourselves within a marriage, keeping the word we have declared at the altar, takes more courage than managing secret covert operations for an employer that hasn’t pledged its allegiance to you.

I will acknowledge that this interpretation of Fair Game was deliciously influenced by screening Invictus earlier in the day. It is entirely opposite: Nelson Mandela has left his family to become the father of a nation. He has become the captain of his soul and taken the lowest road to greatness. Throughout the film, opposition accuses of him of being a self-promoting, distracted politician, and yet it showcases the depth of his leadership time and again. There were moments that reminded me of that glorious line in Batman Begins: if they need someone to chase, the people can chase me for a while. Batman allows the populace to think meanly of him when he is the only reason they have survived. Not because he has an inferiority complex, but because he is willing to absorb the high cost of change for a better world into his own person. That’s what Mandela did.

Invictus: politics is personal

Invictus: politics is personal

And he knew the power of inspiration. That’s why, the film tells us, he committed to the success of South African rugby. Just like Fair Game, Invictus understood that global realities actually form at the basic level of human experience: falling in love, having children, watching sports on TV, playing in the backyard, getting up in the morning, fixing dinner, having tea at 4 p.m. We have the power to change our world not merely because of the new channels of amplification—BBC, CNN, FOX, blogs, television, satellite broadcasts, YouTube, cell phones, high-tech communications—but simply because our world—food, shelter, warmth, clothing, love—is the world.

No, we cannot fully understand everyone else’s experience and it is fatal to assume that we can, but each person is in fact a human. And that makes all the difference.

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