Niagara Gazette

December 15, 2013

SINGER: The hard lessons of 'Captain Phillips'

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — By now the movie “Captain Phillips” (featuring Tom Hanks) has become a world-wide hit; and except for the film’s final minutes, when after the maritime ordeal, some stress-budget young caregiver barks unreasonably at the beleaguered hero, justice would be served if this one wins the Academy Award for best picture. It’s one of today’s rare Hollywood products that few could dislike.

However, this is not a film review, nor the reason for the present article. More important is how the movie reminds us that we in the developed world are currently in a struggle for survival. More bluntly put, and referring to the picture, we’re all in this same besieged boat.

If we forget the lessons of horrid terror attacks in London or Madrid a few years back, the more recent one in Boston, and multiple others foiled by determined efforts of figures like New York’s Ray Kelly, then we forget at our peril.

“Captain Phillips” reminds us that this war — not solely abroad anymore, but really, for American, English, or Danish homelands — is alive and dire. Pathetically under-armed merchant ships (due to outmoded international laws) are the least of it — the tip of the proverbial iceberg. More significant is the suicidal dithering, hairsplitting, and internecine sniping one finds in places like today’s Washington or Paris, along with a cacophonous, sound-byte media that keeps us from focusing clearly on what has become an existential struggle.

Sure other pressing matters loom, not least national bankruptcy here and in Europe; but even more so does this general war for survival, which maybe comes out OK in “Captain Phillips,” but will never be definitively done with the way things are going.

If central authorities and average citizens forget that point, then they become ostriches pure and simple. And yet, scarcely preaching from on high, I forgot yesterday, I’ll forget next week, and many of you will, too. We all want to live in an “as if” universe, lulled by TV, internet distractions and the rest.

Well I say “hurrah” for those who stay ever vigilant, like the afore-mentioned Mr. Kelly or Bill Bratton, not to mention brave Navy Seals, featured in the film. I say “hurrah” to individual heroes who keep their cool under fire, from Mayor Giuliani and first responders of 9/11 days down to this Captain Phillips.

However, it’ll take much more than a few even to have a chance at holding out in this war. It will take everyone — from governments in Washington, Rome, London, and the rest, down to main streets everywhere. It will take a media that hopefully sobers up and starts paring down its mountains of triviality.

Those Somalis who invaded the ship (in life and in the movie) are complemented by myriad other Third Worlders who try and assault Europe’s shores each day. (Think of thousands sinking or rescued en route from Africa to Italy, or the 17 daily flights between Paris and Senegal, which I saw announced on a French subway poster a few years back.) The plentiful, poorer sectors of the planet are far past the time of forgiving the West its affluence and hijinks. Many — afforded cheap technology to do so, including on GPS-armed boats in “Captain Phillips” — want nothing more than to take the West’s goodies or really, to expropriate. They feel it’s their right, that we’ve lost legitimacy, and if any justification be required, for some, there’s a purifying, if hypocritical brand of religion, or the fact that once the West imperialized the other way (but what’s often forgotten is how much the Brits brought positively to India, the French to Vietnam, etc.).

Declining Rome now besieged by barbarians? I’ve said it before, but that’s indeed the current situation. During the ‘60s and ‘70s era of Western liberationism, the central menace seemed to be Soviet or Chinese Communism. But paradoxically, today’s threat is far greater because it’s more widely diffused.

More important than plaudits or probable awards, this is what “Captain Phillips” drives home upon one’s exit from a theater or DVD-watching chair.  

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.