November 15, 2019

‘Inside Out’ and Iran

You want to understand the Iran nuclear negotiations? Read the analyses in Foreign Policy and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  Read the pundits and editorials from left to right. Then, basically, ignore the pundits, and instead pay close attention to what the bipartisan experts like Gary Samore, Dennis Ross and Olli Heinonen have to say.  But what you should really do is go to your local cineplex and see “Inside Out.”

Yes, “Inside Out.”

Pixar’s animated feature won’t tell you whether the deal President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and other nations are trying to reach with the Iranian mullahs will make the world more or less dangerous. But it will give you as good as insight as any into the minds of the various players. 

The movie follows the adventures of 11-year old Riley as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. But we experience the move from, as the title says, the inside out, as  Riley's emotions, each one a distinct character — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger — manage the control room inside her brain. 

We humans are emotional apes — we can indulge our feelings, repress them, watch them or confront them — but we can’t ignore their power over our lives and decisions. The creators of “Inside Out” found a brilliant way to dramatize what Jung called “the alchemical fire” that is the source of consciousness itself.

In the life of Riley, these five emotions have a pretty easy dilemma to confront. But as I sat in the theater, surrounded by an audience of 10-year-olds, it dawned on me that I was watching the most sophisticated analysis of politics since, well, Aristotle’s “Politics.”

I was watching Riley– but thinking of Iran.

When Jews read about the negotiations, their brains look exactly like the scene in “Inside Out” when Anger takes over the controls. He’s a fireplug-shaped bright-red man — voiced, of course, by Lewis Black — who spews invective and spouts fire from the top of his head. Meanwhile, in the background, Fear — tall, purple and cowering — stands just behind Anger, expecting the whole world to blow up at any second.   

For nearly a decade now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been running around screaming that Iran is just months, days, minutes from getting a bomb. I stood 20 feet from him at the Los Angeles Convention Center when I first heard him say, “It’s 1938, and Iran is Germany.” And that was in 2006.   

This past Tuesday, at a state memorial service for Theodor Herzl, Netanyahu was at it again. “The true aim of Iranian aggression,” he declared, “is to finally take over the world!” 

The geniuses at Pixar would have gone to town inside Bibi’s brain.

But, there isn’t a Jewish brain in the world — mine included — that doesn’t emotionally connect with what Bibi is saying. How do I know that? “Inside Out.” In Riley’s brain, her outside experiences turn into little marbles, each bearing the color of a different emotion, and those roll down a series of tracks and get stored either on the short-term memory shelf or in the long-term memory vault. Sadness colors those marbles blue — and after 3000 years we Jews have a lot of blue marbles rolling around our brains.

The geniuses at Pixar would have gone to town inside Bibi’s brain.

As the Iran deal nears, and Bibi proclaims that it will mean the destruction of Israel and the Middle East and the world, the Anger at his control center speaks directly to the Sadness and Fear at ours, and, frankly, it’s hard to think straight.

And we know exactly which Pixar character is fully in control behind the smooth, charming exteriors of the Iranian negotiators: Disgust. The mullahs loathe America. They despise Israel. If they could press a button and make us disappear tomorrow, you just know they would. 

Meanwhile, you might wonder, who’s at the controls in Obama’s brain? Fear? Anger? Sadness? Disgust? Joy?

The answer is: Who the hell knows?

And that, I think, is why the Jewish world is so beside itself over this deal. We can read Bibi, and we respond to him with all our marbles. But the control room inside Obama’s brain is — to leap movie metaphors —   like the deck of the Enterprise and our president is Mr. Spock. Calm. Quiet. Dispassionate. We know which characters are battling at the control panels inside our brains, but inside his — what? And the lack of craziness drives us crazy. With the stakes so high, how can he stay so calm?  Riley’s brain was a fury of clashing emotions — and all she was facing was a move to a $2 million Bay Area Victorian. Obama is taking us to the edge of Armageddon, and we can’t get a fix on him.

So, here’s my advice to the president, courtesy of the political philosophers at Pixar: In the coming days, if the Iran deal concludes, you will have to sell it to the people who are most agitated and against it. You’d better step off the starship deck and connect with at least some of our feelings. We’re Scared. We’re Angry. We have long, Sad memories. Get inside our heads, and make us feel Safe.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.