Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 26, 2003

Enlightening chiaroscuro

Here’s a ten-dollar word for you: chiaroscuro, which means the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities, according to my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

Sunday night’s television broadcasts provided a telling juxtaposition of two utterly disparate worlds as I switched between the Academy Awards and CNN’s coverage of the war in Iraq.

One minute, I was watching pampered celebrities congratulating themselves on their artistic achievements; the next minute, I was watching bombs explode over Baghdad.

One minute, I saw an actor who once played a soldier; the next minute, I saw the real thing in a firefight in Iraq.

I don’t mean to slam the Oscars or the people who make the movies I frequently enjoy; in fact, I normally make an annual couch potato festival out of watching the red carpet arrivals, critiquing the clothes and cheering or groaning when the winners are announced.

But this year, with a war raging simultaneously on live television, the contrast between entertainment and real life was stark. Perhaps that’s why this year’s Oscar telecast set a new record low for ratings.

Although it seriously curtailed my popcorn-and-pizza tradition, the truncated red carpet seemed like the right decision to me. The shallowness of asking what designer created Hilary Swank’s silly gown would have been magnified after viewing photographs of young American prisoners of war on CNN.

As important as the arts are, as Nicole Kidman asserted when she accepted her best actress trophy, Sunday night’s competing live broadcasts showed how movies pale in consequence when compared to the life-or-death struggles soldiers and civilians in the Persian Gulf faced as she spoke.

As a journalist and news junkie, I’ve watched war coverage for hours at a time during the past week, and have been amazed and awed by the images broadcast from the Persian Gulf. Watching tanks race across the desert, seeing fighter jets take off from an aircraft carrier, hearing about U.S. doctors operating on an Iraqi POW – all live – has instilled a deeper respect for the work of our military personnel.

I’ve had misgivings about how the United States arrived at this conflict – questions about the timing of the decision to push the issue of Iraqi disarmament; worries about setting the precedent of the United State’s first preemptive war; uncertainties about the administration’s priorities given the severity of other threats facing this county; – but like the decision or not, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are now engaged in armed conflict on the other side of the globe, and they deserve our support.

I don’t think that means blind support of the war or the United States government – that contradicts the very essence of this great country, where dissent is allowed, where activism has played an important part in bringing about momentous changes.

But it’s imperative to remember that our military personnel don’t set policy, they follow orders. They are doing the job they’ve dedicated their careers – and may give their lives – to perform, and, by all accounts, are performing it spectacularly. I hope anti-war protesters can see the wisdom of opposing the war while simultaneously supporting our troops.

So, Sunday night, one minute I was watching documentary filmmaker Michael Moore chide President Bush from the Oscar stage – as is his right, whether or not you like his style or substance – and the next minute I was watching images of dead American soldiers. One minute I saw best actor winner Adrien Brody eloquently asking everyone – whether they call their higher power Allah or God – to pray for a swift end to the war, and the next minute I saw Iraqis dancing around a downed U.S. helicopter.

The chiaroscuro was enlightening.

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