HP spy case suggests U.S. has bought ticket to `Brazil'

Gilliam's movie prophesied bungling, snooping, torture

October 01, 2006|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The biggest shock about all the spying that has been going on at Hewlett-Packard is that everyone finds it so shocking. After all, the company was only taking its cues from a White House that has decreed that anything goes when it comes to maintaining security.

Want to steal phone records? Go ahead. Need to snoop and spy? Please do. No court order required, much less an act of Congress. Only those with something to hide need worry, right? Presumably the next item on HP's agenda would have been torture - excuse me, make that "robust interrogation."

If the president condones it, then how could it be wrong? If that seems an overly bleak assessment of our national ethos, it's not as if we weren't warned. In fact, one our more vivid and humorous warnings was issued in 1985, way back when Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were still accepting our dollars and handshakes.

It came in the form of a wild film called Brazil, a dark comedy from director Terry Gilliam, who cut his teeth on satire as part of the Monty Python gang. To view it today is to behold an eerily dead-on caricature of the world we now inhabit, or will inhabit soon if trends continue.

It's all there - the electronic snooping and eavesdropping, the ready acceptance of torture, the roundup and detention of the wrong suspects. The excessive tactics are blithely accepted by a public that is too busy shopping, watching television and obsessing over cosmetic surgery to object. Besides, the government keeps reassuring everyone that it's all for the sake of fighting "the terrorists."

Meanwhile, bombs keep going off, the cities are crumbling, the skies are clouding over with pollution, and the security bureaucracy (symbolized throughout by some rather cumbersome and insidious ductwork) has become so clumsily inefficient and smugly self-congratulatory that one half-expects a smiling George W. Bush to stroll in for a cameo, in which he announces, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!" before continuing merrily on his way.

Even the government's perky little rallying cry which pops up from time to time - "We're all in it together!" - sounds an awful lot like "United We Stand."

The disturbing parallels hit you from the get-go. An early scene is set amid a frenzy of Christmas shopping (including is a sign for a group called "Consumers for Christ," which sounds like something Fox News personality John Gibson would have dreamed up just last year).

At the center of the shopping chaos, but ignored by one and all, are television screens on which the nation's Minister of Information, a jovial dolt named Mr. Helpmann, is attempting to explain the mind-set of the terrorists: "A ruthless minority of people seems to have forgotten certain good old-fashioned virtues," he says. "They just can't stand seeing the other fellow win."

No, he does not go on to say, "They are thrown into panic at the sight of an old man pulling the election lever," but he easily could have.

Minister Helpmann then switches to Dick Cheney's "Death-Throes-of-the-Insurgency" mode, by claiming that not only is the government winning its war, but that the terrorists "are nearly out of the game."

The interviewer expresses skepticism, saying incredulously, "But the [terrorist] bombing campaign is now in its 13th year?"

"Beginner's luck!" Minister Helpmann guffaws.

From there, it only gets better. Or worse, if you think too hard about the movie's truths. Either way, at least you get some laughs.

Dan Fesperman is a Sun reporter on a leave of absence and a novelist. His most recent book is "The Prisoner of Guantanamo."

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