Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Missing the Point of: "The Night Of"

Now that HBOs new show “The Night Of" is over we can try to figure what it was all about. This post will contain multiple spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the show and do not want to know, cease reading this post… immediately.

The show was written by Richard Price, one of our great novelists and one of our great screenwriters. Admittedly, critics have been drooling over this show, but they are wrong to do so. The show fails and it fails for reasons that seem to have escaped most of the critics. Price befouled his talent by making the story into a propaganda vehicle.

Ultimately, we see a nice Muslim boy corrupted by America and the American injustice system. The show is about only one thing: American Islamophobia. It says that Islamophobia turns nice Muslims-- they are all nice-- into criminals and terrorists.

It’s not a mediocre failure. It’s a great failure, because much of the writing and the acting is excellent. Actors like John Turturro and Michael K. Williams do yeoman work. Yet, the central character, Nazir Khan, played by Riz Ahmad is not a good enough actor to carry a show. His performance is flat and uninteresting. But he is a Muslim so he will probably be nominated for all manner of awards.

In the show a nice Muslim boy named Nazir gets picked up by an American vamp and cannot resist her corrupting charms. He follows her back to her lavish apartment, engages in a brutally violent form of foreplay, takes drugs, drinks alcohol, has sex with her, passes out and awakes to find her dead, butchered. In other words, he does all the things that his religion forbids him to do... and get himself into trouble.

The message to Muslims is: do not assimilate into a corrupting Western culture.

Naz does not know whether he killed her but he runs out of the place, into the arms of New York’s finest. While awaiting his arraignment he runs across a down-and-out criminal defense attorney, played by John Turturro. He ends up in Riker’s Island where he becomes the protégé of a violent black criminal named Freddy. 

Naz seems to be the only non-black criminal who is adopted by Freddy… curious and implausible point that the screenwriter tries to cover by having Freddy say that he sees Naz as an innocent unicorn. It’s an easy out, but it does not work. Surely, it does not work to rationalize the implausibility of one of the most important relationships in the show.

In the end Naz is put on trial, but his case is dismissed after the jury cannot reach a verdict. By the time the jury comes back from its deliberations the detective in charge, Det. Box, has uncovered evidence that point to the real killer and Naz is freed. Yet, Nasir has by now been transformed into a drug addicted criminal himself and we are led to expect that this is not going to end well.

If we were dealing with a criminal investigation show would fail miserably. Detective Box is not Lt. Columbo. And John Stone is not Perry Mason.

Box does not bother to investigate anything about the murder until the trial is well underway. This is supposed to be meaningful, a sign of incompetence and prejudice, but seeing detectives overlook obvious evidence… like surveillance photos… tells us that we are not supposed to admire their work.

One notes also, because the show seems to ignore it, that the murder scene is especially bloody and that when Naz awakes from his stupor at the victim’s house he has no blood splatter on him at all. He could have figured out and a decent detective could have figured out that he could not have committed a crime that looks like a bloodbath.The show takes every opportunity to show us Andrea Cornish's butchered naked body.

But, like I say, the show is not about criminal procedure. It's about prejudice against a Muslim defendant.

As for the trial the lawyers do not inspire confidence. With the exception of Chandra Kapoor, they are decidedly unattractive,.Turturro's John Stone is siply disgusting. Turturro’s eczema, at first covering his feet but later, after having been cured, returning to cover his body, adds very little if anything to the story. It gives the actor a chance to flash his feet at the audience, gesture we know to be a supreme insult in Islam.

Naz’s defense attorney, Chandra Kapoor, is presented as a bright young Indian woman, but also as someone who was easily corrupted. Not only did she manage to French kiss her client while being filmed by a surveillance camera—point which she had to know—but she allowed herself to be corrupted to the point of smuggling drugs to her client in her… vagina. She is not the only character in the show to do so. Price seems to find the point fascinating. I find it gratuitous.

Anyone who was paying attention should have been able to see what the show was about and why it went so completely off the rails. The show was about an innocent young Muslim man, a man of impeccable morals who gets seduced by a Western temptress and becomes corrupted by the American criminal injustice system, especially as they manifest America’s Islamophobia.

The show tells us that America, and especially American injustice and incompetence, produces Islamist terrorists. Because, we are supposed to believe, Muslims would never do such heinous actions of their own volition or by following the precepts laid down in their religion.

The show is fundamentally an indictment of America. It continually drops references to American Islamophobia and even to the wave of anti-Muslim violence that followed the 9/11 attacks. We are told that Naz had a bad moment in school after the 9/11 attacks—he threw another boy down the stairs-- but we are led to believe that his was righteous anger. His is the righteous anger of those who are unjustly persecuted.

Most people know full well that the nation was not overwhelmed by attacks against Muslims after 9/11. Most sensible people were more surprised by what did not happen. Yet, Price seems to be hell bent on indicting America for Islamist terrorism, so he is willing to exaggerate the facts… for the purpose of his propaganda.

Since Nasir spends much of the show in prison, one must note that it’s denizens are not as Islamphobic as the police and the criminal justice system. And yet, their influence is also corrupting, not in the sense that they are going to make Naz into a terrorist—the show is not quite that obvious—but they do make him into a drug addict, potential drug dealer and general all-around violent criminal.

We are told that he just does what he has to do to survive…again exculpating him for his actions.

Some critics have said that the show humanizes Muslims. It is true that Nasir, his parents, his brother and family friends and associates are basically the only good people in the show. The problem is: Naz is humanized at the expense of  every other American. These latter are consistently defamed and dehumanized. They are so Islamphobic that they do not even bother to investigate the crime. They fail at the most obvious criminal procedures. And they are completely inept in the courtroom.

In the end it turns out that the real murderer is a financial advisor, Ray Halle. He was stealing money from Andrea Cornish and they had argued about it.

As you know, it’s always the Wall Street banker types, the preppy white guys who commit the most heinous crimes. Like a good leftist propagandist Price wants to blame it all on... you know who.

And yet, even here the story falls flat. Even if Ray snuck into the house when Naz was comatose and murdered Andrea, since when do financial advisers engage in the kind of overkill that suggest a rage killing, not a business transaction?

How did Richard Price make such egregious mistakes? Simple: he no longer wanted to tell a story, but wanted to make a political and cultural point. He turned his art into propaganda. Those who liked the viewpoint liked the show. Those who do not watch these shows to be preached at or guilt tripped did not. As a work of art,the show fails miserably.


Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: How did Richard Price make such egregious mistakes? Simple: he no longer wanted to tell a story, but wanted to make a political and cultural point. He turned his art into propaganda. Those who liked the viewpoint liked the show. Those who do not watch these shows to be preached at or guilt tripped did not. As a work of art, the show fails miserably.

This reminds me of a quote from E.F. Schumacher. So maybe we can conclude this story failed to be great art, although as for propaganda, avoiding drugs and alcohol seems like a smart move in general, whatever your ethnic group is. You can't know your responsibility for a situation if you're not in control over yourself.

I'm sure a lot of people would agree not all the freedoms of "Western culture" are virtuous, and we all, who wish to keep our personal freedom and virtue, should be wary.
Schumacher in a digression from his main argument discusses the nature and importance of art. He notes that there is considerable confusion about the nature and meaning of art; but argues that this confusion dissipates when one considers art with relation to its effect on human beings. Most art fits into two categories. If art is designed to primarily affect our feelings then it is entertainment; while if art is primarily designed to affect our will then it is propaganda.

Great art is a multi-faceted phenomenon, which is not content to be merely propaganda or entertainment; but by appealing to people's higher intellectual and emotional faculties, it is designed to communicate truth. When entertainment and propaganda are transcended by, and subordinated to the communication of truth, art helps develop our higher faculties and that makes it great.

Leo G said...

Maybe some of the plot was taken from this?

Sam L. said...

Leni Reifenstal made exceptional art out of propaganda, once. I've never heard of Price, though I've seen one of the movies he wrote (Shaft) and I've heard of Clockers. Now, I've heard too much. I expect to soon forget his name.

sestamibi said...

Richard Price was one of my high school classmates, and I can tell you he wasn't PC back then. I've read all his books and I'm also sorry to say he's been on a slow, steady decline in quality over the years. Maybe he should just pack it in and live off royalties.