Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

A suspicious first-class passenger triggers the action in Harold and Kumar 2.
A suspicious first-class passenger triggers the action in Harold and Kumar 2. [Source: YouTube]

White Castle is one thing. You expect hapless stoners to end up there. Guantanamo Bay is another story. That’s where Harold and Kumar land after they smuggle a bong on an international flight to Amsterdam. It’s not so far-fetched, given the paranoia that can creep up on stoners and the authorities who try to subdue them. One line from the trailer gives me a chill: “What’s up with the guy with weird eyes — he handicapped or something?”

Harold and Kumar 2, scheduled for release in April, is only the latest in a long line of cultural productions that tur the U.S. government’s official Gitmo narrative on its head. John Galliano’s Abu Ghraib couture makes more sense in this context. According to Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, Guantanamo has become a pop culture trope with a symbolic life all its own. She spoke recently with On The Media:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rosenberg, who has visited the prison many dozens of times for hundreds of hours, believes that Gitmo has long since left the Island of Cuba and taken on a symbolic life of its own – certainly not what the U.S. had in mind back in 2002.

CAROL ROSENBERG: There always was the notion that it would become a Nuremberg, that it would become a place where America got justice, that they would create and hold these trials and that we would learn that America had found and prosecuted the perpetrators of 9/11.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now, of course, Guantanamo has become a kind of international stand-in for something much larger when we shorthand Guantanamo today. What is it that we’re actually talking about?

CAROL ROSENBERG: Indefinite detention without charge. The notion that the United States can take a person, put him on an extraterritorial piece of land, which they declare not to be the United States, and to say that as long as this war goes on we can hold you without bringing you before formal charges, is what Gitmo, certainly in the left-wing circles, has come to mean. That’s it. That’s the shorthand.

And it’s six years later, and the debate is being played out. And I guess the point of my article is that it’s being played out not in necessarily the arenas that you’d expect it to be, which would be at the Pentagon, in Congress and at the courts, but, in a way, the popular culture has hijacked the narrative.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what was it in particular in pop culture that pushed you to do the story?

CAROL ROSENBERG: Poetry books and memoirs and kitsch and all these novels had been piling up on my desk for months. Then I see the Sicko trailer, Michael Moore’s trailer for his documentary, shock documentary on the state of health care today. And he uses Guantanamo as a metaphor.

Michael Moore is trying to get onto the base to show this fabulous free health care that the Pentagon has been boasting about. You know, part of the package tour at Guantanamo for first-time reporters is we give detainees the same free health care we give America’s soldiers and service members.

And so, Michael Moore turns the narrative on its head and says if it’s good enough for Guantanamo, isn’t it good enough for, I don’t know, Georgia?

[CLIP][MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

MICHAEL MOORE: We commandeered a fishing boat and sailed into Guantanamo Bay. [THROUGH BULLHORN] These are 9/11 rescue workers. They just want some medical attention, the same kind that Al Qaeda is getting. They don’t want any more than you’re giving the evildoers. Just the same.

[END CLIP]

BROOKE GLADSTONE: As you say, Michael Moore took the government’s talking points and turned them on their heads. Is that what most of the pop culture references do, is depict Guantanamo as something quite different from what the military wants to describe it as?

CAROL ROSENBERG: Absolutely. It says we don’t agree with you and we are going to answer through the arts. That’s the thing about this Harold and Kumar story that’s coming up that’s so interesting. They’re portraying two men as having been caught up and misidentified as terrorists and landing at Guantanamo.

I mean, it’s a very interesting popular cultural response to the narrative that everybody down there is evil, everybody down there is guilty. Now you have this political satire where there’s these two – schmoes?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Fair enough.

CAROL ROSENBERG: They’re not captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, as the Pentagon alleges many of these people are. In this story that’s coming, they end up down there, and I think the underlying message is they don’t deserve to be there, and it’s Kafkaesque.

Read the full OTM transcript. See the Miami Herald’s Guantanamo topic page.

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