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May 31, 2008

Reclaim Your Sense of Outrage


An interview with John Cusack

by Scott Horton

Interview conducted May 22, 2008. Listen to the interview.

"War is the improvement of investment climates by other means" -Clausewitz for Dummies.

Alright everybody, welcome back to Antiwar RadioKAOS 92.7 FM in Austin, Texas. Introducing actor, writer, producer, John Cusack, on the phone from England today. He's the star of Say Anything, The Grifters, The Thin Red Line, Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank, Identity, 1408 and dozens of other movies including his brand new War Inc., which he also co-wrote. It also stars his sister, Joan Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Hilary Duff, Ben Kingsley, Montel Williams and John McLaughlin. It starts tonight in New York and LA, and then hopefully soon thereafter nationwide. Welcome to the show, John.

Cusack: Hi, how are you doing?

Horton: I'm doing great. Thanks very much for joining us on the show today.

Cusack: It's my pleasure.

Horton: My first question for you really, I think is, "You know Marisa Tomei, huh?"

Cusack: I do.

Horton: That must be pretty nice?

Cusack: Yeah, that's pretty nice – especially if you get to know her too, in 3-d. That's even better.

Horton: Alright, so this movie is great. I've already watched it about 3 times and shared it with a couple of friends of mine. It's pretty ruthless satire of empire and the so-called "war-on-terrorism." I'm going to see if I can go ahead and start us off with a couple of clips of Dan Aykroyd here.

Cusack: Sure.

The Vice President (Aykroyd): I hope you like the smell of fresh liberation.

Brand Hauser (Cusack): Turaqistan. What's the gig?

TVP: Omar Sharif, CEO of Ugi-gas, the Ugijastani conglomerate. The son of a b*tch is trying to build a pipeline through his own sheep fu**ing country. We didn't liberate Turaqistan to get hustled by some co**-sucking fez-head, Hauser! Terminate! You will be working directly under the Viceroy just appointed by the President. Tamerlane is sponsoring a trade expo, "Brand USA." It's our big launch bringing democracy to this part of the world – plus now that we've bombed the shit out of them, well – there's lot of rebuilding to do.

Hauser: That shows a nice spirit.

TVP: Well, somebody has to help these poor people. This moment presents a great opportunity for Tamerlane – and the United States for that matter. Not to mention the people of Turaqistan. This is a historic moment, Hauser; the first war ever to be 100 percent outsourced to private enterprise: Tamerlane jets, Tamerlane tanks, Tamerlane soldiers, and to top it all off – a "Brand USA" expo!

Horton: All right. So that's you, you're Hauser, the hit man having some personal problems, and you're the fixer for this company, "Tamerlane," running the very first all-outsourced war.

Cusack: Yeah, I guess Halliburton and Bechtel and a lot of the Green Zone gang – now, they got about half of it done, but there is still the problem that they have to use the United States military – but they are trying their best to make it a totally outsourced war. There are 180,000 troops, I think, and 140,000 contractors, or it might be the other way around, but we've got about a half-privatized war now. So this is a logical extension of that trend. So it could be two weeks into the future or two years unless we can get this administration out of power – and what they represent; that strain in the Republican party – and hold them accountable for their crimes.

Horton: You know, I interviewed this guy named Bruce Falconer from Mother Jones magazine, and he had written this article all about Blackwater, and he talked about how they really are now building their own navy, their own air force and their own ability to actually do an entire war.

Cusack: Yeah, that's the future that the Republican Party, and of the Democratic Party, if they're going to be complicit in this, are offering us. If you want a world where corporations can hire their own armies, run around with weapons and kill people without any accountability to international law, and do it on our tax dollar – then that's what you can get with this ideology.

Horton: Now have you always been this opposed to empire? I don't remember you really being lumped in with the members of the "Film Actors Guild" from Team America or anything earlier in the war.

Cusack: Yeah, I guess I didn't make the cut there, but I think that's just because my agent is the agent of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. So I think he said, you know, "you ain't using Johnny." So I think it was basically the threat of my agent to Trey and Matt, probably, that they didn't lump me in there. But I always thought that was a completely jive argument anyway, you know? I mean, I think it's fine to make fun of celebrities, but to kind of equate actors and artists who may or may not be self-righteous with dictators and corporate war profiteers is a bit of an uneven comparison – to put it mildly. I always thought that making fun of actors was a kind of paper tiger thing. I don't know. I don't get it.

Horton: You know, at least those people, self-righteous or otherwise, were trying to stop this war and pretty much everybody seems to agree that it was a bad idea now.

Cusack: Yeah, I think the biggest thing to fight now, and the whole reason we made War Inc. was to fight apathy. I think the first thing people need to reclaim is their sense of outrage and their sense of defiance and their spirit, right? It may take awhile and to hold people accountable for this but we don't have to just roll over. It should feel good to be subversive. It should feel good to tell the right people to go to hell. It should be empowering. I can't really tell many people to go to hell, because otherwise I would be living in a glass house. And I don't really want to tell that many people to go to hell. But war profiteers, who then come back and then deny the GI Bill of Rights to the real soldiers? I can wake up in the morning every day, look in mirror and tell those people to go to hell.

Horton: Well, part of the joy of the movie for me and was just seeing you get away with it, because it really is very ruthless in its delivery of the satire, gag after gag for the first forty minutes. You know, it's pretty shocking. That was part of the joy for me was that "Wow, John Cusack and these guys even got this movie made." Was that difficult?

Cusack: Yeah. The thing is that we haven't really gotten away with it yet. That's maybe where people who listen to your show and some other people can come in, because we got it made, but we don't know have a lot of support out there for it – obviously. If any of your listeners want to go to MySpace and go to John Cusack at MySpace, the MySpace page, there's reviews from people, who I think a lot of antiwar folks would respect, from Naomi Klein to Jeremy Scahil to Gore Vidal, Tim Robbins – just a whole bunch of people who have come out in support of the film. But we really don't have the support of a lot of the corporate media, obviously, because they say the movie is not funny enough or it's "too close to home" or we're supposed to be Wedding Crashers or something. I like Wedding Crashers, but it's just a different vibe. A lot of people say "you shouldn't make fun of something when we're already so close to having a privatized war. It shouldn't be the time for this..."

Well, I don't know exactly when the right time would be. Should we wait till everything is a corporate profit industry – like every function of the state? Is that the time to make fun of it? When there is no more public sphere? So if people go see the movie tomorrow – it's playing at the Landmark Theater in LA and the Angelica Theater in New York, and sell out the weekend, then they are going to put it in more theaters, and we'll bring it to all the different cities and keep playing it. But if it doesn't make money right now without any corporate backing then it'll have its life on DVD, and it'll play all over the world, in Europe and the other countries. But if we want to keep it in the theaters – if we really want to piss off the right people – we have to get people to see it now.

Horton: Well, it really is funny. It seems like you probably have the best shot of any antiwar movies that have come up lately of really breaking through to the public here, because it's a hilarious movie. The other ones aren't, and haven't done that well – so I think you stand a really good chance.

Cusack: I was hoping that people would they would use it as a springboard to get people riled up and reclaim their spirit about this. If you think about the war it's really depressing too, and at some point when you know all this stuff, as every one of your listeners already know, you get a little bit down about it and you get a little doom struck about it, and you think, well it's just inevitable that these bastards are going to keep doing this. So I think the first thing you want to do is just reclaim that sense of outrage. Name it and shame it and tell 'em to go to hell. So people can use the movie as a springboard to take action to take the country back in some way – in some small way, that would be great. If they want to, go see it this weekend – don't wait. If we can keep it in the theaters maybe we can have some real fun with this. I would love to keep it in the theaters all the way to the Republican convention.

Horton: Well, your character in the movie kind of goes through that. He is sort of a Tin Man character with no heart who's got to reclaim his outrage, right?

Cusack: Yeah, I guess so. The character in it... I don't know if he's quite so redemptive, but I think certainly the politics of the movie are things that people who are interested in ending the war and ending some of the abuses of empire would really like.

Horton: You said something very interesting in an interview with – I forget the guy's name, the Scottish guy that does the TV talk show at night.

Cusack: Craig Ferguson?

Horton: Craig Ferguson, that's right. You said something in the interview with him – that this "disaster capitalism" is not the free market. It's actually a big protection racket – welfare for billionaires.

Cusack: Yeah, absolutely. Let's just say for example... I mean, here's some of the arguments that the movie makes, and this is also something a lot of your listeners would know if you would read Jeremy Scahill's book Blackwater, or Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine or Anthony Arnoves's book or the blogs of RawStory – a lot of these journalists who are doing unbelievable work is... Well, we all know, we hear about this "privatization" thing and it's kind of an abstract thing. It's like "globalization" – Like, "What does it really mean? I don't really know."

But when you really get down to it, if you want to believe that it's okay for Exxon to, say, hire a private army to protect their oil fields, well then okay let's say you could make that argument: that it's okay for corporations to have a private army that's totally outside international law and not accountable to anybody. Well then you could say, "Alright, well you know, they're producing the oil and they've got to protect their pipeline or whatever they've got to do, so I guess, you know, yeah, let them pay for it." Well that's an insane argument: to say that it's okay for a corporation to have its own private killing army, but let's say you went with that, but even that's not true, because we pay for it. We are paying Blackwater – the U.S. taxpayers. So it is not even like a free market. It is not even these people kind of just taking care of themselves in the lawless international land, I mean all these myths are bullshit, you know?

Horton: Right they like to call it "free market fundamentalism" when what it really is, is fascism. It's mercantilism at war. What else could you call it?

Cusack: Yeah. I don't know another name for it. Nor do I think you should be polite with it anymore. I think We have to be past that point. So, you know, if you think it's okay for these corporations to help create these conditions for war, drive us into war, and then make money bombing the place, make money rebuilding it, all the while barring other people from the competition, right? And then come back on television and preach about the free market, when they are orchestrating a vast protectionist racket, where they are securing their market and profiting off of people's death and destruction. I mean that's what's happening, We're in a place right now where it's okay for people to not only do the United States' torture, but we've turned torture into a for-profit business that is paid for by and the U.S. taxpayers. We have outsourced interrogation, right? – you know, a gentle semiotics for torture.

Horton: Right. CACI International at Abu Ghraib.

Cusack: That's the reality. So I don't know... If this isn't enough for revolt, I don't know what is. And the Democrats have got a lot to answer to as well. I mean, if Nancy Pelosi says impeachment is "off the table," what does that mean? That means that you commit crimes as long as the Democrats are within striking distance of capturing power?

Horton: Yeah, that's exactly what it means, apparently.

Cusack: That's what it means.

Horton: Hey John, let me take this opportunity to complement your sister Joan. I think she is so funny, and I think she ought to win Best Supporting Actress or something for her portrayal in this movie of the pure banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt called it. I want to play this short clip.

Marsha Dillon: (Joan Cusack) [making announcement]: Progress Update, people! Bank Swiss didn't even wait for the opening ceremony, closing a $1.3 billion deal with Root, Branch and Blossom to restore essential water services to the people of Turaqistan! [applause] Oh, come on! I sure they'd like to give a shout out to the Tamerlane Third Bomber Wing for those humane precision strikes that have created this... wonderful opportunity for everyone!

Horton: Alright, that ought to give ya'll a little bit of a taste of what this movie is about.

Cusack: You know what you should probably do? You know that really long winded speech that I just gave before before this? You should just play that clip and I should shut up.

Horton: No way! No I love it.

Cusack: [Laughs] Because that was a lot better example of what I was just talking about.

Horton: Well, it's the perfect example. What you said was the setup.

Cusack: Alright.

Horton: We'll go with that. Uh... listen, you mentioned the media, and in this movie, you really kind of heap praise on the bravest reporters in the form of Marisa Tomei's character, and you absolutely skewer, well, the same people who have panned the movie, I guess, right?

Cusack: Uh no, because the people who pan the movie are people who mostly go to junkets and watch movies all the time. I think the people who have studied this stuff – even the media people, like Bill Maher, who liked the film and gave us a quote, Laura Logan, who is chief foreign correspondent for CBS News and 60 Minutes, Rachael Maddow, you know, who studies this stuff, people on Internet like Howie Klein, Crooks and Liars – people who are keeping an eye on this stuff – they all love the film or really like it. The people who have and not liked it are the people of the trade papers in Los Angeles, who said it was a little too close to home, and it made them uncomfortable...

Horton: Oh... Some criticism!

Cusack: Yeah, well, I think you should feel uncomfortable about all this.

Horton: Yeah, I mean what kind of praise is that?

Cusack: I don't think the role of satire is just make you feel good. It's maybe meant to provoke you too, But, um, so we'll see what happens tomorrow with these reviewers, but I am not expecting much from the corporate media, to be honest. I've been the beneficiary of snobbery from that class. So I don't mind so much that they don't understand or like this movie because I've never really expected them to.

Horton: Yeah, tell me about Hilary Duff's character, Yonica Babyyeah.

Cusack: Yeah, she plays and if a pan-Eurasian sex symbol who wants to be like an American pop star. Her goal is to come to America and write soulful music and be sad and rich. That's her ultimate goal.

Horton: Yeah.

Cusack: She's great in the movie too. I think even the people who haven't liked the movie – and there haven't been that many – there has certainly been some blowback on the movie – they all love Hilary in it. She is pretty great. Very funny.

Horton: I'm not even familiar with her. Is she a pop star or an actress?

Cusack: She's both!

Horton: Oh, okay well, I guess she is now, but she was a pop star originally is that it?

Cusack: Yeah. She had a TV show, she's done a bunch of tours and does music. Yeah, she does it all. She was happy to secure that world, I guess.

Horton: And her character is the centerpiece of the big "Brand USA" synergy, marketing, corporate-culture-at-war kind of thing that you have going on there.

Cusack: Yeah, she's a perfect branded synergy between the modern young woman getting her own and getting it on, with all the strength and tradition of a kept mistress for a warlord. So she's a perfect crossover star.

Horton: Yeah. I'm curious about the portrayal of the "Emerald City" there – the Green Zone. It's... well, it has that Wizard of Oz sense as I was saying before, I was wondering, did you actually go to Iraq and see what the Green Zone was like for yourself?

Cusack: No I didn't, but I have read from a million accounts of it and talked to a million journalists who have been there, including, as I've said, Naomi Klein, Laura Logan and a bunch of them, so...

Horton: Yeah, you have the atmosphere of that situation just... It's just pretty insane the way it comes across.

Cusack: I really think the people who read these books and this accounting – this heroic journalism – that's going on from over there, they don't think the movie goes far enough. But people who, I guess, haven't studied it so much, think maybe we're, you know, sniffing glue and taking blotter acid. But that's okay.

Horton: Have you considered offering a free screening to Congress?

Cusack: Uh, yeah. I think that sounds like a good idea. I don't think many would show though, do you?

Horton: I don't know, you might get a couple of the braver ones.

Cusack: I bet Jan Shakowski would.

Horton: Yeah, um...

Cusack: Yeah, I actually bet a bunch of then would, but I don't know... I don't think a lot of them knew when the Blackwater hearings were happening – I didn't have a real sense that any of them really knew that they were taking state money. I didn't think that many people knew that the $600 million are so that they take is from us. Our taxpayers, our budget.

Horton: That the Congress people didn't even realize it?

Cusack: I don't think a lot of them did.

Horton: [Laughs]

Cusack: I swear to you, when I was watching those hearings, I had a sense that they were learning for the first time what was going on during the hearings.

Horton: That's funny. Yeah, I don't doubt it. I think most of them are pretty uninterested in their actual job, and more just in themselves.

Cusack: If you think about what the Republicans have done – that their version of government is to create a feeding frenzy for corporations and to let these corporations come in and basically use the State Department as an ATM – like they can just put their card in and just take money out for whatever project they think they want to do at a cost plus basis, you know? So that's the gig. It's a great gig if you can have it. It's basically a completely deranged and evil to do that. Especially when you think that these soldiers were not getting all of the equipment that they needed, or they weren't getting everything that they needed, or they had to go on these extended to tours or that they aren't being guaranteed the GI Bill of Rights.

Horton: Yeah, or even decent health care...

Cusack: Yet we have much higher salaries, at a cost plus basis, for private mercenaries? I don't know... If that doesn't get people outraged I don't know what would. I really don't... I think we're so far down the rabbit hole here, that of I don't know what it'll take. So that's probably why we wanted to be so over the top with War Inc. It is just to get people talking about it or thinking about it.

Horton: Are you familiar with the writer, Nick Turse?

Cusack: No sir.

Horton: Well and he's a progressive writer and he's got a new book out called The Complex. It's the military-industrial-everything complex. It's grown so much since the days of Ike Eisenhower and is so pervasive. And one of the things that he talks about a lot actually is the Pentagon's role in Hollywood, and how if anybody wants to have good military equipment and special effects and high tech gear, that the military is always there are ready and willing to cooperate, that kind of thing... I don't guess you got any kind of help from them on this?

Cusack: From the Pentagon? No, no, no, no... We had no contact with the Pentagon.

Horton: That's something that is pretty pervasive in Hollywood though, isn't it?

Cusack: I don't understand. Are you saying that the Pentagon is kind of infiltrating Hollywood to give pro...? I don't think I understand what you mean.

Horton: Yeah, sure, exactly like that. Like Transformers and Iron Man – it's all F-22 Raptors and the latest technology because the military helps them make the movie, basically.

Cusack: Oh, I think they probably do some stuff like product placement deals, certainly. No, I know they're going to try to keep their brand vital and alive, there's no doubt about that. So I don't know a lot about that, but I'm absolutely sure that you are right, just based on principle.

Horton: Well, this has been a great interview and the movie was absolutely excellent. Everybody please go out and watch it. It'sWar Inc. It comes out Friday night in New York and LA. If you can sell it out there...

Cusack: Yeah, it's at the Angelica and at the Landmark, and if you want to keep it in theaters and if you want to have fun, you can do whatever you want with it. You can throw stuff at the screen – who cares? – just have fun with it. But if you guys go, we will keep it in the theaters and we will keep the conversation going, and we can use it to – I think the antiwar movement can use it, and I'll be thrilled if they did – to get more attention.

Horton: I sure wish you the best of luck with it, and I congratulate you on it. It really is good. The hot sauce helps too!

Cusack: Thanks man!

Horton: Alright, thanks a lot. Everybody - John Cusack.

 

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  • Scott Horton is an assistant editor at Antiwar.com and the director of Antiwar Radio.

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