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A Rather Limited Right-Wing Conspiracy

Feature article by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
August 21, 2003

OK, I know that I haven't written anything for this site in over a year, and even what I'm writing now is several months out-of-date, but this is something I just noticed and I felt I needed to comment on it.

Amanda Bynes, for those of you who don't know, is a star on the children's cable channel Nickelodeon, and earlier this year she had her first theatrical film vehicle: Warner Brothers' What a Girl Wants, inexplicably named after a relatively old Christina Aguilera hit single. Though I suppose Dirrty would not be an appropriate title either, but I'm not going to discuss the title. Nor am I commenting on the content of the film itself, as I haven't seen it, and none of the other FilmHead.com writers have reviewed it. As far as I can tell from the advertisement, this is a film that appeals only to innocent little girls and the older men who lust after them. But again, that is not what this article is about.

It is about, of all things, the poster. Before the film was released this past April, Warner plastered malls and megaplexes with posters featuring the attractive, petite Miss Bynes wearing an American flag-emblazoned tank-top and standing in front of two beefeater guards (as you see, the film is about an American girl's adventures in England). What could be more patriotic than a young woman displaying the symbol of her country, acting as a good-will ambassador in foreign lands? Well, somebody at Warner thought the poster wasn't patriotic enough, so they changed it shortly before the film's release. Below, side-by-side, are the two posters, the original being on the left and the revised version (as seen on the case of the newly-released DVD) on the right.

Original 'What a Girl Wants' Poster Revised 'What a Girl Wants' Poster on DVD Case

Do you see the difference? In the original poster, Miss Bynes is flashing a "peace" sign with her right hand, and in the revised version her right arm is at her side with her hand on her hip. For one who works with digital imaging, it is obvious that the original poster was created by super-imposing Miss Bynes over a picture of the two guards, which was taken separately. Her shadow was clumsily added in and her image "sweetened" to stand out from the guards. This made it very easy to simply remove her arm from her component shot, replace it with another (probably belonging to an anonymous model), and then re-blend it with the beefeater two-shot. More fake shadows, and a little extra airbrushing for good measure.

To what end? Of course, to get rid of that dastardly subversive message being sent in the original. With the war in Iraq, the notion of peace and American patriotism had become incongruous. Suddenly, an innocent gesture was now an act of treason, and Warner couldn't risk offending all those Middle Americans who now supported the war. When the poster was created, the invasion of Iraq had not yet begun and the Taliban had already been defeated in Afghanistan. The United States enjoyed a brief "peacetime" and wanton acts of peace-loving were tolerated.

But no more. Now it is not enough to support the U.S. invasion (now an occupation) of Iraq, but we must support the very concept of war itself. We have been told by the "Compassionate Conservatives" (a registered trademark of Halliburton, Inc.) that to oppose American military policy is equivalent to betraying the men and women who serve the U.S. Military. It's a very narrow-minded concept, but it is what we have come to expect from the current administration.

As I write this, we are currently experiencing the low-point in the history of free speech in this country. No doubt, if you are reading this within the continuing Bush regime, the state of free speech has declined further. Now there is no direct connection between Bush and Warner's decision to change the poster, let me make that clear. He's too busy learning about other countries before he invades them. What a Girl Wants is entirely inconsequential, but it is this same irrelevance that makes this issue so maddening. What Bush has done is set a cultural precedent that causes things like this to happen. The right-wing tack of this country's leadership has created a social environment governed by fear.

The best example of this in the film world is not the above example, but the events that took place at the 75th Academy Awards earlier this year. Michael Moore, in a most usual bout of self-righteousness, publicly denounced Bush's War to the entire world. A chorus of boos echoed in the Kodak Theatre, and Moore continued to shout over them until he was practically dragged off the stage. The film he won his Oscar for was the brilliant documentary Bowling For Columbine. The theme of the film was the American culture of fear, which has resulted in a country obsessed with guns and plagued with murder. Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has done everything in its power to escalate this fear to the point of mass hysteria. One would think a self-described "compassionate" leader would have tried to ease the fears of a trembling nation, to help its citizens get through one of the country's most troubling times.

Instead, we have Fox News keeping us up-to-date on the Terror Alert Level: "Look out everybody, we're at ORANGE! Now we're back to Yellow, but please REMAIN VIGILANT!" The only logical use of this system is to perpetuate fear -- fear of terror, fear of disease, fear of liberal documentarians, and now fear of a teenager's right hand. This kind of behavior is not indicative of a healthy society.

As I said before, this is old news now. Many others have commented on this same change, and it is ultimately true that the cover of some teen-oriented DVD doesn't matter. I only just noticed it now because the image of Miss Bynes flashing the "peace" sign was all over my local mall for many months, and now there is a saturation of this new image coinciding with the DVD release. Somehow, my mall never got around to changing the posters, and shoppers in Morris County, New Jersey had to deal with this harrowing display of treason.

But has this image been interpreted properly? In Britain, the gesture of the index and middle fingers raised does not necessarily mean "peace". If the palm is facing the gesturer, it is equivalent to "flipping the bird" in America. With the palm facing out, it could also stand for "victory". Now, if this were the case, one could interpret this image as being a sign of solidarity between the Americans and the British towards the common goal of victory in the "War Against Terrorism". Maybe she's even trying to cheekily "stick it" to Saddam Hussein and/or the French. But instead the official line is that Amanda Bynes refuses to "support the troops". Now which do you think is more reasonable?


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Notice the how it was too late to change the CD cover, and how they managed to avoid the controversial image altogether for the screenplay novelization.


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