Friday, August 18, 2006

Politics and popcorn

To my few but loyal and much appreciated conservative readers:

Some of your fellow conservatives don't like you and want to put a serious crimp in your ability to relax and enjoy life.

They want you to watch a lot of bad movies.

I don't know just who these people are. They call their website to Misty who posted the heads up at Shakespeare's Sister---and they've come up with a list of the Top 100 Conservative Movies that they want you to show your financial support for. Since none of these movies is in the theaters at the moment, they must want you to go out and buy the DVDs.

I'd caution you not to do it, but once you look at the list I'm sure you won't be tempted, unless you're looking for a steady diet of Sylvester Stallone movies and you've been thinking to yourself, Gosh darn it, it's just been too darn long since I last watched Turner and Hootch.

There is one, count them, one, great movie on the list. It's A Wonderful Life. And it's not there because it's a great movie or because it's a particularly conservative movie, as I'll explain in a mintue.

There are a few pretty good movies. Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Dave. Tombstone. And, believe it or not, Woody Allen's Bananas.

But I'm not kidding when I tell you that The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is representative of the quality of three quarters of the movies on the list.

They've made a list of the Top 100 Liberal Movies too, and these you're supposed to boycott.

Fortunately, they're not asking many great sacrifices of you. This list contains a whole lot of must-skips, enjoyed it the first time but have no real desire to see it agains, and maybe I'll catch it if I'm up late with insomnia or a sick kid and it happens to be on cable-s.

They do want you to give up The Princess Bride, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Starman, This Is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, Traffic, Stand By Me, and pretty much everything starring Paul Newman, which, if they could be taken seriously, is a very good argument right there for switching your political allegiance and becoming a Liberal.

They don't want your kids watching Shrek or Chicken Run either.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Both lists were compiled on the crassest, and dumbest, of political grounds---a Liberal movie is a movie that stars an actor who's given a lot of money to Liberal causes and a Conservative movie is one that stars etc etc etc etc.

I have a question though. Back when he made Kings Row and Knute Rockne---All American, Ronald Reagan was an ardent New Deal Democrat. He probably contributed to Franklin Roosevelt's campaigns. Should conservatives boycott those movies and confine themselves to re-watching Bedtime for Bonzo and The Killers?

The answer to that, I'd guess, is that it doesn't matter, because the listmakers are only concerned with where the money is going right now.

This would explain why there are no great movies from Hollywood's Golden Ages on either list, except for It's A Wonderful Life, which must be there because Jimmy Stewart left some money to the Republican Party in his will or the now-old lady who played Zuzu is active in the Club For Growth.

Who knows?

The listmakers don't explain themselves well. They don't appear to have done a lot of homework. It doesn't look like they've come up with an algorithm that would help them decide if a movie that stars a known activist conservative and a known activist liberal whether the movie is conservative or liberal.

It just sounds as if they don't like the idea of your hard-earned conservative bucks going to pay for Barbara Streisand's lunch at Chason's.

It's a stupid and trivial exercise and isn't worth bothering with.

So why are you writing a long, two-part post about it, Lance, you ask?

New here, aren't you?

Regular readers know that the stupid and trivial are house specialities at Le Maison de Mannion.

But besides that, the lists just give me an excuse to take out of his stall a favorite hobby-horse of mine I don't ride often enough here.

The foolishness of judging art by how well it conforms to and flatters our own political opinions.

It's fine to acknowledge that works of art have politics, that they either push or support a political agenda, and even judge them by how well or how badly they express those politics---badly usually being synonymous with baldly; artists who let their political opinions guide their artistic judgment usually produce propaganda, not art. It's even ok to object to a work of art because of its politics.

Roy Edroso routinely slaps his forehead over conservative bloggers who condemn movies for their perceived lefty-ish agendas.

But mostly what drives Roy to the medicine chest to empty another bottle of Advil is these writers' inability to tell the difference between a political statement and an artistic decision.

To them, what a character does or says is always an act of political activism and always indistinguishable from the political views of the artist.

To put it bluntly, if they could make themselves sit through a production of Hamlet, they would condemn it as another example of the Liberal Culture of Death because Shakespeare advocates suicide.

From the medicine chest Roy is sent reeling to the liquour cabinet when these same writers go on to argue that it is up to the "liberal" moviemakers to make more movies that conservatives like them can go to without having their political feathers ruffled.

At this point I expect conservatives to object that Liberals do this too. Even to say that Liberals started it.

And I agree. Some Liberals do, although in my experience it's more often Leftists who do it, not Liberals, but since conservatives refuse to make the distinction and I don't want to go off on a tangent explaining it to them yet again, I'll just let it pass as a given. Some Liberals do.

I have written before of a former colleague who refused to read Moby Dick and Billy Budd because in his judgment Melville was a racist. He told his students that too.

And listen to all the apologizing and rationalizing that goes on whenever some theater company puts on a production of Taming of the Shrew.

And, from the point of view of the mostly Gen X crowd who type up Karl Rove's press releases on the Right side of the bandwidth, Liberals did start it---at least, it was Liberals who introduced them to the idea that works of art should be analyzed, criticized, liked, admired, condemned, or rejected on the basis of the works' political agendas, that works of art---"texts"---should in fact be "read" as political tracts. Those Liberals being their college English professors.

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, all the fashionable -ist and -ism approaches to literature, art, and film were political at bottom. They looked at art as expressions of the dominant culture, which was always seen as bad, and judged them on the basis of how well the work---the text---accepted or challenged that dominant culture.

Good teachers tended to make a nod at a fashion, touch lightly on the -ists and -isms, and move on to the works of art as works of art.

Bad teachers put together their reading lists in ways that would allow them to turn their classes into forums for political conscious raising. They called this teaching critical teaching, but it was usually a way for the professors to sneer at the frat boys and athletes in their classrooms.

Why the conservative kids who grew up to be Right Wing bloggers and culture warriors chose to pay more attention to their bad teachers than to their good ones is beyond me, but apparently they did.

They learned the lesson of political correctness.

They learned to ignore what was most important in a work of art---its artistry.

Since they hadn't read all the works of criticism and literary theory, history and sociology and political philosophy that their professors had, it looked to them as though their professors were pulling a lot of what they taught out of their hats, which plenty of cases was the truth, and they learned that analyzing a work of art was a matter of imposing your own political prejudices upon a book or a movie or a song or a poem or a painting.

All of this is unfortunate. It's too bad there are conservatives who can't watch Million Dollar Baby or Brokeback Mountain without becoming outraged, just as it's too bad there are liberals who can't enjoy a a staight-forward production of Taming of the Shrew.

But just as unfortunate, I think, is that, right and left, people have learned a way of looking at art that doesn't only cut them off from enjoying the whole of that work of art, it cuts them off from understanding and appreciating the whole of their own natures.

Simply put, none of us is wholly liberal or wholly conservative.

In fact, most of who and what we are cannot be described or defined by our politics.

We are like works of art in that way.

End of Part One.


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