Art for art’s sake is a myth: The case of “The Insult”

Lana Barakeh
Staff Writer

Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult” has officially been nominated for an Oscar. Is it really grounds for celebration? Before we get our patriotic boots on, and praise one of our own for ‘finally making it,’ we should take a moment to really look into the controversy behind this film: a controversy much more binary than we may think.

Before even addressing the confusion centered on the intersectionality of art and politics, a clear and simple point is to be made: the film and Doueiri’s presence in Lebanon is first and foremost a question of legality.

Doueiri’s previous film, “The Attack,” was not only filmed in occupied Palestine, but also funded entirely by the Israeli state and employed Israeli technicians, actors, and artists across the board. “The Attack” was essentially a nine-month-long Zionist collaboration.

In line with Lebanese law, this renders it a criminal act, and once we call for artistry as an exception to the law, we simply perpetuate the same corrupt system of exploitation of power that we are so opposed to today.

Legality, however, only represents the tip of the iceberg of issues regarding this film, particularly when inapt arguments are made in an attempt to muddy the line between right and wrong, such as Doueiri’s mindfulness in asking for permission to film in the enemy state. The approval never came through.

Apparently his only wrongdoing is hinged upon impatience with bureaucratic technicalities. Fortunately for us, whereas legality may always come into questioning in a country where true justice has a face with a bank account and high status, certain moral issues simply transcend any legal system.

When it comes to art—in this case, film—there tends to be a common discourse of ‘art for art’s sake.’ However, there is no such thing as apolitical art. The mere expression and representation of a certain subject matter, in a certain medium and for a certain audience, is in itself a political act.

The arts have always been part of the political conversation, and in the case of “The Insult,” this notion of course is a no-brainer. One cannot divorce the film from its context.

One cannot simply see the film without seeing the mind behind it, who asserts that the enemy state has been “demystified” through talks and filmic interactions. One cannot ignore the fact that the film is made to cater to Orientalists, or that the Oscar nomination that we have clung on to so dearly as a form of validation, is a mere tool for Western power to once again exploit the Arabs to fuel their own narrative.

The narrative of backward Arabs who are still fighting over religion seems to always make its way to the forefront; needless to say this is no coincidence. What better way to feed and ignite the white savior complex than through a ‘real portrayal’ of the hardships we face in the Arab world. Where is the neutrality of art now?

Would the film have received an Oscar nomination had the director not been so outspoken on a number of political issues, from a conveniently Western-approved stance? It is hard to say. However, Doueiri has continuously pushed propaganda through the promotion of his films, emphasizing not only that Israel is not the enemy, but also that the boycott campaigns against Zionism are, in fact, the real problem.

Rather than solidarity against this immense normalization of the barbaric occupation and a call for a national cultural boycott of the film, we celebrate the supposed recognition of Lebanese talent through the very lens that exploits us at their convenience; we celebrate the moment that we finally fit into the Western political narrative.

“The Insult” does not exist without Ziad Doueiri. It is Ziad Doueiri, and pitting them as mutually exclusive, when it conveniently aligns with certain interests, trumps the absurdity of celebrating the likes of one Harvey Weinstein regardless of his abhorrent sexual misconduct tenfold.

How are we so eager to elevate ourselves to a moral high ground and jump on the solidarity bandwagon against the racists, misogynists, and fascists halfway across the globe, but when it comes to our very own vicinity, the oppression and ethnic cleansing of our very own people, we somehow grant artistic immunity to its normalization? Why do we now loosen the reins on our supposedly undeterred moral compass?

Leave a Reply