Billy Mitchell is Coming to Vanderbilt?

As we touched on in class, point of view is a crucial element of any story, fictional or not. It has the ability to shape the audience’s emotions and understanding of events. In all forms of media, the audience gets most of their information second hand; they are never in a book or in a TV news show to witness events in person. Therefore, all of the information they receive has always been skewed, even when it has been related by the most faithful of narrators.

The director of King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was hardly the most reliable and unbiased narrator. The film portrayed Billy Mitchell in an unfair, clearly biased light, so that the director could set up an obvious adversary for Steve Wiebe to beat. Mitchell was portrayed as stupid, immature, arrogant, and sneaky. From what we saw in the movie, he never received Steve Wiebe’s calls, and would never meet him face to face until the final showdown for the Guinness Book of World Records. They filmed him saying stupid things, such as, “Everything I say sparks controversy, just like the abortion issue.” They also hint that his submitted Donkey Kong high score tape was doctored, and the referees looked the other way when reviewing and verifying it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Moore and the director of King of Kong were good friends, because their one-sided approach to portraying the opposition is remarkably similar. What the audience has to remember in order to judge the situation as accurately as possible is that there is always more than one way to view a situation, even if it is not presented that way.

Throughout the movie, I kept thinking that Billy Mitchell couldn’t be as bad as they portrayed him. He appeared to be well-liked among his community, was shown giving an old lady a QBert arcade game, and was apparently likable enough to run his own hot sauce company. I watched a video clip of Billy Mitchell being interviewed on the X-Show, in February of 2000, and he wasn’t at all as ridiculous as King of Kong made him seem.

I can’t help relating this to the highly controversial visit that Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently paid to Columbia University. Although his speech has been dismissed by both sides as a failed attempt to ease U.S.-Iran tensions, it was still one of those rare opportunities when people could hear what the man had to say from his own perspective, without any biases of the media. The audience at Columbia had a unique insight into the Iranian conflict, as they got to see the issue from both the American point of view and Ahmadinejad’s own, although extreme, point of view. I’m not saying that Ahmadinejad has been represented poorly in the past by the media, as I suspect Billy Mitchell has been in King of Kong. I am also not calling Billy Mitchell a dictator, or passing any judgments on Ahmadinejad. I simply believe that further attempts to experience opposing points of view across conflicts could have many benefits. In fact, Ahmadinejad invited President Bush to speak at a University in Iran. Maybe Vanderbilt should host Billy Mitchell so that he can share his side of the story with us.

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1 thought on “Billy Mitchell is Coming to Vanderbilt?”

  1. What do you think would happen if the directors of this movie took a bias against Steve W.? Could they have portrayed him as unsympathetic — in the same way that Billy was portrayed?

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