Get local news delivered straight to your phone

Support City Paper!

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Since Sept. 11, the mainstream U.S. media have offered only the most timid of challenges to the Bush administration’s bellicosity. Yet a small book of interviews with MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, a longtime critic of American foreign policy, has become an unexpected bestseller. Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times isn’t about the phenomenon of Chomsky’s 9/11, but it exists entirely in the shadow of that book’s success. The documentary was filmed mostly during a few talks Chomsky delivered last year in California, and it depicts the avuncular leftist being swarmed by fans who want him to sign copies of 9/11 and other books. Even if Chomsky is now a star, that doesn’t justify treating him as the professorial equivalent of Justin Timberlake—his ideas need to be defined, challenged, and put in context, none of which director John Junkerman attempts to do. Snippets of an interview with Chomsky in his Cambridge office provide a cursory sketch of his life and political thought, but the film will probably mystify viewers who don’t know anything about its subject. And it doesn’t address a central problem with Chomsky’s position: While condemning the 9/11 attacks, the professor essentially sees them as payback for American crimes against Nicaragua, Vietnam, and other countries that have dared have popular revolutions. Yet the members of al Qaeda are not fighters for freedom; they would subject their countrymen (and especially -women) to theocratic tyranny. Rather than challenge Chomsky’s formulations, however, Junkerman attends to pointless formal devices, punctuating the talk with black-screen passages and pop songs. (And is the movie 74 minutes long because Chomsky was 74 when it was filmed?) Because the director is based in Tokyo, the songs are by Japanese performers, and the titles and quotations that appear on screen are bilingual. These cross-cultural accents are intriguing, but they just emphasize that the film—like much of Chomsky’s commentary itself—is really just a series of asides. —Mark Jenkins