Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hollywood vs. America

“When’s the movie coming out?”

I have been asked that question repeatedly over the course of seven years of book-signings for Sparrowhawk at Colonial Williamsburg’s Booksellers by eager patrons who have read the series and wish to see it on the big screen.

“Not any time soon,” I usually answer. “If it is ever produced, it won’t be by Hollywood. And if Hollywood in some episode of hubris thought it could tackle it, it would attempt to maul and dismember it, just out of sheer, doctrinaire meanness, coupled with incompetence. I would likely disown the result. After all, Hollywood hates America.”

I borrow the title of film critic Michael Medved‘s book-long critique of Hollywood (Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values (New York: HarperCollins, 1992). Neither he nor his book is the subject here, but rather the culture that cannot produce Sparrowhawk or any other nominally pro-American, pro-freedom film -- including the “traditional” ones which Medved has championed in his book and in various conservative and religious columns (promoting family, God, and other, non-intellectual, non-fundamental values -- “Leave It to Beaver“ style, with Ward Cleaver taking questions from the audience).

I don’t think a list of films is necessary that proved Hollywood’s anti-Americanism. I could go as far back as some of Frank Capra’s films (which were not so much anti-American as pro-collectivist), and, working forward, see the list of movies grow exponentially (with a short hiccup in the 1950’s and early 1960‘s), ending with stuff like “Avatar” or “Little Big Man” or “Jarhead.”

The worst film critics happen to be conservative ones. They call for a moral cinema and constantly pine for one that does not now exist. Leftist critics have a near monopoly in the press and mainstream media, but their influence and popularity poll are hard to measure. But, as the Republicans in politics are bankrupt of ideas and cannot (or will not) offer a credible antidote to the leftist ideology of the current administration that does not include God, conservative critics like Medved cannot offer a credible antidote to the leftist mantra that America is an evil country, and an evil empire, and evil in its material comfort and achievements.

Leftists are beholden to the great ghost society; rightists are beholden to a ghost of indeterminate gender and appearance in the ether (or perhaps He’s a resident of the constellation Orion, no theologian in history has been able to pinpoint his whereabouts on the map). The leftists have been able to put over their ghost because society is ostensibly tangible: it’s you, and me, and our neighbors all over the country. The rightists can only cite belief that the creator of individual rights and freedom exists -- somewhere, as an entity of semi-infinite dimensions, armed with the contradictory powers of omniscience and omnipotence -- and that everything good emanates from Him, including that incidental, unimportant thing called capitalism.

In terms of metaphysics and epistemology, the leftists have a leg up on the rightists. They can “prove” their ghost exists, and why everyone should defer to it today, in personal relationships on up to coercive legislation, while all the rightists can trot out is a tooth fairy on steroids who mandates selflessness and self-sacrifice in the name of life after death.

David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, has written about “Avatar” and the Haitian earthquake. Brooks is a specter himself, materializing here as a progressive, there as a disgruntled conservative. His advice on why the Haitian earthquake was so destructive is nearly spot-on. Haiti has been the recipient of billions in especially U.S. aid to reduce its poverty, yet its infrastructure collapsed and vanished like sand castles at the onset of high tide. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Why?

The first of those truths is that we don't know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.


Here he implies, but does not identify, that it is freedom that allows countries that have not received aid (extorted from productive men in freer countries) to increase the wealth and standard of living of their citizens. China, even though it is a repressive dictatorship, allows its citizens a modicum of freedom in order to produce wealth (to better tax and expropriate). Countries that receive aid become addicted to it and never develop the morality or political institutions that promote wealth-creation. They remain on welfare, and are not encouraged to break free of it by the “humanitarian” programs of the West, which has a vested interest in being altruistic, altruism being the only virtue it boasts (and which is destructively addictive in its own right). Altruism, after all, is the enemy of selfishness and self-interest. Why would a tax-paid alms-giver want to see a country like Haiti become free of his generosity?

Brooks shows the other side of his spectral being when discussing James Cameron’s “Avatar.” (Avatar: incarnation of Hindu deity, an incarnation of a Hindu deity in human or animal form, especially one of the incarnations of Vishnu such as Rama and Krishna.) In “The Messiah Complex,“ he rightly points out that the film is a 3-D rehash of cinematic shibboleths from the last few decades of Hollywood America-bashing: colonialism is bad, the white race is bad, capitalism is bad, and so they’re doomed to be defeated by the primitive natives. He mocks the film better than I could.

This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.

Avid moviegoers will remember “A Man Called Horse,” which began to establish the pattern, and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” More people will have seen “Dances With Wolves” or “The Last Samurai.”

Kids have been given their own pure versions of the fable, like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully.”


John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard, whom Brooks cites, is even more severe:

What they didn't tell us is that Avatar is blitheringly stupid; indeed, it's among the dumbest movies I've ever seen. Avatar is an undigested mass of clichés nearly three hours in length taken directly from the revisionist westerns of the 1960s-the ones in which the Indians became the good guys and the Americans the bad guys. Only here the West is a planet called Pandora, the time is the 22nd century rather than the 19th, and the Indians have blue skin and tails, and are 10 feet tall.

They're hunters and they kill animals, but after they do so, they cry and say it's sad. Which only demonstrates their superiority. Plus they have (I'm not kidding) fiber-optic cables coming out of their patooties that allow them to plug into animals and control them. Now, that just seems wrong-I mean, why should they get to control the pterodactyls? Why don't the pterodactyls control them? This kind of biped-centrism is just another form of imperialist racism, in my opinion.


(I especially appreciated Podhoretz’s remark about the natives apologizing to the animals they kill. That politically-correct and probably fictive Indian practice was in the opening scene of the last remake of “Last of the Mohicans” (1992), another turned-inside-out mess which partly moved me to begin work on Sparrowhawk.)

Podhoretz writes, observing the anti-Americanism in the movie:

You're going to hear a lot over the next couple of weeks about the movie's politics-about how it's a Green epic about despoiling the environment, and an attack on the war in Iraq, and so on. The conclusion does ask the audience to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency. So it is a deep expression of anti-Americanism-kind of.


But while Brooks and Podhoretz justly explode the story and dwell on the suffocating political correctness and second-handedness of “Avatar,” they don’t defend or advocate anything. Neither of them contends that our civilization is not rotten, that it ought to be defended and preserved, and that it is superior to Pandora’s and even Haiti’s. Neither counters the charge that big corporations are inherently evil, and that its employees are necessarily avaricious monsters capable only of destruction.

Most conservatives are too cowed by their own apologetic philosophy to advocate the superiority of Western culture over Islamic or any other pre-industrial or anti-reason culture. They would be reluctant to take Voodooism to task, for fear of offending a cultural “tradition.” When was the last time Britons heard that British culture was superior to that of the Muslims who want to establish Britain as a suburb of Riyadh? And where, except on Internet blogs, do Americans read that their civilization is superior to the Indians’? It is such ’sensitivity” to Muslim culture that freed Major Nidal Hasan to open up on American soldiers at Fort Hood, in the same way that “sensitivity” to Pandoran culture freed neo-Na’vi Jake Sully to open up on his fellow humans in “Avatar.”

It is this crucial omission (or evasion) by conservatives which allows them to agree with their rivals for political power, the leftists. As the leftists cannot bring themselves to champion individual rights, private property, and selfishness, neither can the rightists. They meet on a middle ground, as they have done for decades in Congress, and agree to an alleged compromise that simply paves the way for the more consistent of them to go whole-hog. As the Obama administration has done.

The Republicans are as anti-American as are the Democrats. As Hollywood. The film that defines America is neither “Wall Street” nor “The Ten Commandments,” but, to date, “The Fountainhead.”

17 comments:

M.D. Labeit said...

Here's a good video from the Hoover Institution on Hollywood: http://fora.tv/2009/05/05/Uncommon_Knowledge_Andrew_Breitbart

As a side note, I think China's got a bit more than merely a modicum of freedom. I'm mostly optimistic about their socio-economic progress, however gradual it may be.

Anonymous said...

M.D.: Thanks for the link to this Hoover interview. Extremely interesting. It is certainly relevant to the points I make in this piece. On China, I'm not so optimistic, however.

Ed

Joshua Lipana said...

Bravo Ed! Wonderful article!

pomponazzi said...

Great article, Ed!!

Anonymous said...

M.D.: On the Hoover interview of Breitbart, the readers' comments seem to have been made by some of the very leftist creatures he and the host discuss intimidate conservatives in Hollywood. I tried to register and post a comment myself, but the site is not very user friendly. I gave up. Ed

Neil Parille said...

Ed,

You write:

_____

Most conservatives are too cowed by their own apologetic philosophy to advocate the superiority of Western culture over Islamic or any other pre-industrial or anti-reason culture. They would be reluctant to take Voodooism to task, for fear of offending a cultural “tradition.” When was the last time Britons heard that British culture was superior to that of the Muslims who want to establish Britain as a suburb of Riyadh?

_____

I think this is a bit unfair. There are many conservatives who are calling for an end to Islamic immigration in the name of preserving (what's left of) western culture. Even the former left-evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury (Carey) said something critical about Islam and that it is contrary to British values.

-Neil Parille

M.D. Labeit said...

Fora TV is laden with left-liberal viewers and video partners. Most politico-economic commentary is made from a collectivist perspective. Registering wasn't a problem for me. I log in using my facebook account which is convenient. The Hoover Institution is very active on Fora TV, as well as the Cato Institute, if you are interested. I get facebook messages from Hoover whenever they post new stuff.

Harold said...

I don't even go to the movies anymore.

***

The Sparrowhawk series sounds interesting. I'm somewhat a fan of historical fiction and have just ordered book one, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Neil remarked: "There are many conservatives who are calling for an end to Islamic immigration in the name of preserving (what's left of) western culture."

When I hear a conservative champion Western culture without a single note of apology or a single note of concession to Islam, then I'll be "fair." When I hear a Republican, conservative or otherwise, champion individual rights, private property, and the Bill of Rights without any qualification whatsoever, then I'll be "fair." Until then, I will remain "unfair" in my estimate of the value of conservatives as allies of those who fight for their undiluted rights.

Ed

rsdalton said...

Ed,

I have been lurking on your site for awhile and I really appreciate your perspective. I wanted to comment on the Haiti issue.

I heard one of the commentators on the radio ask rhetorically "Why did this happen in Haiti, and why couldn't it happen in this country. Then I heard a few interview of Haitians and the line kept repeating, "We are waiting for the help to arrive." That is what altruism does, it creates a culture of dependency in others. With all the admonishments against politicizing this crisis, I would argue that this is a very teachable moment. It needs too be stated very loudly and unapologitically that this is what happens. Through our aid, we have created a state that is dependent on international welfare just the same as this country has created a entire class of people that are dependent on government welfare. Like Mr. Axelrod says, "Never let a good crisis go to waste."

Anonymous said...

Ed, your point that you won’t be “fair” to conservatives until they offer a defense of individual rights, and capitalism, without one note of apology or concession of any idea of selflessness as the justification for capitalism is spot on.

Conservatives and social progressives agree on fundamentals: morality consists of sacrificing oneself to others- all they differ on are which portions of the victim are to be sacrificed, and the day and time of delivery. Because of that, the conservatives cannot be, and have not been, unapologetic defenders of a free market AND free minds as absolutely moral and unequivocally good! Without that moral self confidence, their half-hearted defense of a free market (as the “best” one can hope for in an “imperfect world”) is ineffectual and it actually helps the enemy. Who comes across as morally self-confident: conservatives or Islamic radicals?

Excellent essay explaining why the Right can offer no real alternative to the Left, and why the Left is (temporarily) winning.

Roxanne A.

Anonymous said...

RSDalton remarked: Like Mr. Axelrod says, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." Rahm Emanuel claims credit for that one, too. However, re Haiti, it's such a relief to hear from someone who gets a point the first time around without one having to beat him over the head with it. Thanks for your remarks about Haiti.

Roxanne A: This essay will appear on Big Hollywood tomorrow. Was just informed by the editor in chief. Should generate a lot of response, especially from the site's conservative readers (and there appear to be many).

Ed

Slade Calhoun said...

I just read the comments on your article at Big Hollywood. You were casting pearls before swine, Ed. Nobody knew what the hell you were talking about. And "conservatives" are the worst p.o.s. on the planet.

Sandi Trixx said...

Another great article, Ed. You are far from being unfair to conservatives. They will never be able to reconcile their "faith" with a moral system that promotes rational self-interest. The notion that America is secular is Greek to them. And paying lip-service to free markets and individual liberty (a la Scott Brown)just points out their willingness to compromise. When/if Republicans regain some power in 2010 I expect they will "reach across the aisle" and stick it to us hand in hand.

Anonymous said...

Slade: Word sure gets around about Big Hollywood. Yes, I may be casting pearls before swine, but some of the swine had never seen pearls before, and uttered human sounds. True, most of the readers left comments that were lopsided, off point, and even off subject, but a few of them were pleasantly surprised.

Sandi: I agree with you 100%. That was the point I was making about Brooks, Podhoretz and company. If Brown wins in Taxachusetts, and if he truly casts the 41st vote against the health care bill, that will buy Americans time to get their act together and prepare for November. But...never trust a conservative. You can ally yourself with them on an ad hoc basis, but no further.

Ed

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Ed, a very interesting esssay as usual.
A nit: some native cultures do practice prayer over their kill--though usually it is not an apology, it is some kind of thanks. This is a form of animism, and it is animism that certain "green" groups would like to revive. (Personally, I say no, thank you to that).

A reaction to Avatar: I saw the movie in 3D with my business partner and my 16 year old son. When the lights came up, we turned to one another:
Son: great effects, but it was a cheesy story.
Business Partner: Dances with Wolves and the Ewoks.
Me: Dances with Wolves plus the Mysts of Avalon, with a little Star Wars thrown in.

The effects were great, but they could not carry the story. It was boringly predictable and annoying.

Anonymous said...

Sandi: Re conservatives and Scott Brown's election to the Senate. I read a Minneapolis Magazine interview of rep. Michelle Bachmann, famous for her "gangster government" statement. She's a Lutheran, says she prays every day, thinks it's one's duty to adopt "at risk" kids (she has a dozen!) and exhibited other altruist and collectivist penchants. Big disappointment.

Ed