Flipping Out [subtitled]

Flipping Out

The description I read of Flipping Out before watching it was interesting, and at times the film itself was interesting, but it also dragged for me quite a bit.

The topic of this Israeli documentary is the trend among young Israeli Jews who have completed their mandatory military service to take an extended holiday in India. Recent veterans are financially able to do that kind of thing because they are paid a decent-sized bonus upon being honorably discharged from the military. Plus the Israeli government itself has paid to provide certain services in India, like sobriety house-type places where the visiting Israelis can gather as an alternative to going to bars or doing drugs. There are also gathering places like that in India run by Orthodox Jewish religious fundamentalists, I don’t think funded by the government of Israel.

Judging from the movie, the Israelis don’t do a lot of sightseeing or conventional tourist activities. They mostly congregate in a few places where they can be around each other, and they talk and relax and try to reorient themselves after their military experiences. Drug use is widespread, and religious fanaticism and going insane (hence the title of the film) are not uncommon. I think one of the main things the movie is trying to get across is that as a result of what they experience in the military, a lot of Israelis are seriously messed up.

Unfortunately there’s just not enough probing and questioning of these people. It’s possible very few of them were willing to talk very much about themselves, or it may have been a stylistic decision not to make it primarily an interview film of that kind. But the most effective parts of the movie—to me—are the occasional interview snippets like that where we get some insight into what they’re feeling and what they’ve experienced.

So we get a little of that intriguing stuff, and a lot of them walking in the Indian scenery, and making small talk with each other, and eating, and chatting on the phone, and lots and lots and lots of them doing drugs. There’s also a lengthy segment on tracking down and forcibly taking back to Israel one of the guys who went nuts on drugs.

By seeing how they live in India, I take it we’re supposed to infer how much they’ve been damaged, but again, I prefer when it’s talked about explicitly.

In the little bit we do hear from them, some of the veterans are at least a little troubled and ambivalent about what they did and what they observed their fellows doing in their time in the military. (Specifics are few, though.) More common (at least on the surface) are jingoism, a kind of macho camaraderie, and really pretty ugly racism and bigotry.

(We don’t hear very much at all from women, by the way, though they too have mandatory military service in Israel, and some of the veterans shown here in India are indeed women.)

The Jewish elitism is explicit at times. In a religious lecture, a speaker talks about how the forces of Good and Evil battle within every Jew. Someone in the audience asks if he doesn’t mean just in every person. The speaker more or less concedes it—yeah, yeah, in everybody—but then adds that only Jews can have a “divine soul” (“chosen people” and all that, you know), so they really are special.

One of the veterans who has recently become a religious fanatic happily greets the Indian woman who (I think) runs the hostel where he stayed on a previous visit, but adds “I’ve become religious, so I won’t shake your hand.” Whether that’s an idiot religious taboo against non-Jews, an idiot religious taboo against women, or what, I’m not sure.

Another of the veterans is asked how they get along with the Indians, and he says they’re fine, because they’re like Arabs only friendly and fun-loving, “like retarded children.” So Indians would be the equivalent of the good, obedient house niggers who know their place, and Arabs are the equally inferior but troublemaking, rebellious field niggers.

(The one Indian who is questioned on film about the Israelis laughs and seems to like them fine, but points out that they’re very loud and arrogant and routinely offend British and other foreign visitors with their 24 hour partying and carrying on.)

I think a film like this is valuable in providing evidence of the damage done by certain political and military policies, in showing that when you have a race or religion-based apartheid system, and decades of brutal military occupation, there are going to be severe corrupting consequences, on an individual and systemic level.

Now by itself that doesn’t establish that those policies are wrong, and it’s possible all the alternatives have even greater costs. The Israeli Right would argue that that’s precisely the case here, that to not keep such policies in place would invite the very destruction of Israel as a country, and even out and out genocide of its Jewish population.

But it’s always worth knowing the costs so at least that decision of which is the least of the evils can be an informed one. And I say the same thing about the U.S. and its various military adventures. Beyond the immediate death and destruction caused by war, it has vast indirect and subtle consequences in terms of its brutalization of its participants, its effects on democracy, its encouragement of official secrecy and lying, its enflaming of the ugliest aspects of public opinion, its effects on the economic system, and on and on and on. It’s never a matter of “They’re bad people, we have a bigger army and can beat them, so let’s do it.” There are a million other horrible things associated with war, whether you win or lose.

Again, the case can be made that refraining from a given war will have even worse consequences, but I think all too often people are ignoring the bulk of the bad consequences of war when they make that determination.

The Israeli people have manifested more of a conscience than the people of most countries in worrying about these matters, among other things by producing this documentary to show some of the ill effects of their government’s military policies on the people charged with carrying them out. Of course that soul-searching is of little consequence to the “retarded children” being beaten into submission by their betters, but I guess it’s something.

Flipping Out is basically a very good fifteen minute short with some provocative scenes and quotes that raise some important questions, plus an hour or so of watching people sit around and smoke dope.

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