Saturday, January 10, 2009

Movies, Moral Clarity, and the Reproduction of Culture

"Not everything has to be a judgment through the prism of 'moral equivalence'."
That's Wordsmith, at my post yesterday, differing with my take on Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima."

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Actually, he's right: We don't have to look at everything through a lense of morality, but since the media, Hollywood, and the global film industry will do it for us anyway, it pays to be on guard against the pernicious influence of mass media relativism - doubly so considering the powerful impact movies have on the popular imagination of our younger generations.

With that, I think folks need to read Bill Whittle's essay on Hollywood's reproduction of political culture, "The Workshops of Identity." It's a lengthy piece, but brilliantly explosive in its blatant and triumphant exaltation of American cultural and material power, and of our (providential) exceptionalism. It's also a reminder of our responsibility as a nation not to discard that inheritance:

There was a time when America broadcast its virtues to the world. Films like It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, even Star Wars and Spider-man, were films about common, decent people – Americans, obviously, for we all know that even Luke Skywalker was an Iowa farm boy – who find themselves in dangerous and evil places and whose fundamental decency corrected this wrong in the world and restored a sense of hope and optimism, a sense that we are masters of our own destiny. It is an idea so powerful that even French intellectuals, who seemed then and seem today to be incapable of a single positive or upbeat thought, could watch in wonder and contempt as legions of their countrymen flocked to see them.

Those days have gone. No longer does Hollywood broadcast America’s mythic virtues to the world. No, the flow is reversed now. Now the great creative driving force of Hollywood is to present to America the anti-American hatred of the intellectuals watching in impotent fury out in the rest of the world,

Of the six or seven war movies made during the last few years, all – save one – were spectacular failures. Many were the reasons given for this, but perhaps, someday, while sitting in a hammock in the Cayman Islands, even a studio executive might be just intellectually aware enough to catch a flash of what is obvious to a pharmacist in Des Moines: that maybe, just perhaps, these films failed not because of war weariness or denial or rank stupidity on the part of the American people, but rather – are you sitting down? – that most of the country, unlike Hollywood, has sons and daughters and fathers and brothers in the military and know for first-hand fact that they are not rapists or murderers, hicks, dullards, losers, or broken and victimized children but rather the bravest, the most capable, the most decent and honorable and just plain competent people we have.

And perhaps, just perhaps, it might enter that navel-gazing, self-centered, dim little brain to reflect that the one war movie that did out-of-the-park business was the one that showed the Marines as the good guys, winning on the battlefield, defending their people and their culture against long odds and full of the heroism and sacrifice that used to be so commonplace in this city… even if the Marines in question wore loincloths and funny helmets and advanced with spears and round shields.

If America simply led the world military to the degree that it does today, well, that would simply be historical. That it should have both economic and military might, and use them so much more often for good than for ill, would unique and awe-inspiring. That it could couple military and economic strength with such leadership in science and medicine is simply unheard of in the annals of history, and for it to be the military, economic, scientific and cultural beacon that is is not only unheard of, it simply almost defies imagining – would, in fact, defy imagining to anyone who had not grown up in it, as we have, and seen it with their own eyes.

I have said all of that simply to say this: I know my people and I study our history. The single thing that makes America so exceptional is the belief of its people in American exceptionalism. It is a simple cause and effect relationship, easy to understand from using your own common sense and the examples in your own life. The confident and the bold do bold and confident things. The shameful and self-loathing? Not so much. And Hollywood as it exists today is using all of its vast talent to turn us from the former into the latter.

America is not just a cauldron, but a reactor. From all over the earth, men and women have risked their lives to immerse themselves in this great experiment in freedom and individuality, and the results, by any measure, have produced more goodness, more security, more prosperity and more raw happiness than society or combination of societies in history.

Stars, like our sun, are reactors too: the tremendous, monumental energies and pressures they generate would blow them to pieces in a millisecond, but for one thing… the immense gravity that holds these fiery atoms together and strikes the balance of force and pressure that creates all the light and life in the universe.

The American reactor of individuality and freedom of expression would also fly apart too, but for one thing: the deep love of country that has bound it together and liberated the best of the human spirit. Destroy that love of country and the idea of America – for that is what she is, in the end… simply an idea of freedom and the pursuit of happiness – eliminate that binding love and the reactor will explode. And when it does, there will be no more light – no more medicine, no more art and poetry, no more iPhones and MRI scanners and jet travel, no more Fifth and First Amendment rights, no more security and peace… in fact, no more hot running water.
Readers should absorb the whole thing, here.

This is probably the best essay I've read on American exceptionalism and the primacy of morality in culture. And in reading this, readers can see why I take issue with Tim,
my commenter at the post, who says:
Donald: I believe, truly, that there is room for war films that are both triumphant and morally ambiguous. You're sounding a bit grandpa-ish here. By the way, what's wrong with showing something from another perspective? Isn't that one of the goals of art?
Bill Whittle's essay above provides the answers for Tim that in my sense shouldn't be so elusive.

29 comments:

Tom the Redhunter said...

I don't have time to read Whittle's entire piece, but 'll take a shot at answering Tim's question:

I don't have a problem with a few US government is evil/anti-war movies, but it seems as if that's all Hollywood makes anymore. Where are the movies where radical jihadist Muslims are the bad guys? Where they subjugate women? Where the horrors of sharia law are shown? And can't we have a few John Wayne style war movies that aren't cheap knockoffs?

With all the anti-American stuff coming out of Hollywood, it's not a wonder so many others in the world see us as evil.

TRUTH 101 said...

You enjoy bandying about terms like exceptionalism Professor. When will you do something exceptional like condemn the use of torture? That's not exceptional. That's reducing ourselves to the level of the scum that is the enemy. When will you embrace quality, accessible health care for all Americans? Looking away while families that don't have and can't afford health care is not exceptional. It's despicable.
I'm sure the Professor will tailor a definition of exceptionalism to suit his opinion. And I'm sure he will consider it exceptional.

Donald Douglas said...

Tom the Redhunter: Do read it when you have the chance. Pure excellence, and I'm not just throwing that out there.

As for all the "evil out there," we're on the same page.

Thanks for the great comments!

Donald Douglas said...

Truth101: I'm not bandying anything. The U.S. is exceptional, and the fact that you take exception with alleged "torture" policies, you accept exceptionalism too.

TRUTH 101 said...

My problem is there are too many people that cloak themselves in religious righteousness and patriotism while accepting ideas and actions that are neither.

Donald Douglas said...

Truth101: The righteousness is in the power of argumentation and standing up for the good. The left, IMHO, is wicked, and you haven't made all that many powerful arguments in your defense, other than calling me or my commenters "right wing extremists."

Tim said...

As a part-time movie buff, I'm not seeing a lot of examples here of America-is-bad movies. The recent Eastwood movies were about perspective, and fallout when reality conflicts with the legend. It's pretty simple really, and shouldn't be disregarded so easily.

My basic feeling is that there is room for artistic differences, especially when it comes to war movies. Blackhawk Down, We Were Soldiers (which was largely shot indoors on a soundstage at Paramount where I used to work --I would see Mel Gibson and troops ready for action every day!)

The beauty of America is that we CAN make movies that are critical too. The day we cannot is the day we are a fascist state.

As for success, Hollywood is about money first, art second. If these films don't make money, they won't continue to make them. It really is that simple. But even some good war movies suffer at the box office. You can't keep making the same movie, with the same endings over and over and expect them to be considered unique or inspiring.

TRUTH 101 said...

There is righteousness in my consistency of belief and action Professor. Your side proclaims to on the side of Christianity and you blindly defend those you support and justify their non Christian acts. Torture. Denying health care and saying nonsense like our health care system is a wonderful example of freedom. You got an HMO Professor? No freedom there buddy. Don't have health insurance? You're free to die.

cracker said...

Is there an argument here for dis-illusionment Dr.?

Wouldnt you agree that "moral clarity" hinges on a review of "reality", and that all sides of any story should be extolled as to make a "clear moral judgement"?

What it sounds like you're saying is that "Hollywood" has an obligation to present history in a single dimension.

As you must know....I think...well maybe this is one point that defines your POV...

When history is presented in a single way, we become fascists, communists , totalitarian ....whatever evil We the U.S has fought against since the instigation of a free press and a freedom of religion and mostly a freedom of expression....

to promote single dimensional views of history Dr......is to promote the values of despotism.....dontchathink?

Is there an illusion here, Sir.....that you wish to maintain?

Donald Douglas said...

"The beauty of America is that we CAN make movies that are critical too. The day we cannot is the day we are a fascist state."

You're constantly telling me we already are a FASCIST STATE!!!

And no, Eastwood's not just about perspective. He's totally abandoned the old-fashioned "grampa" movie style you yourself dismiss.

Donald Douglas said...

I do not believe we torture, Truth101, and I've written two recent posts on this already. I'm sure you commented on those as well.

Donald Douglas said...

Cracker:

"What it sounds like you're saying is that "Hollywood" has an obligation to present history in a single dimension."

We already have a "one dimension," so if we need some balance it's back toward traditionalism.

cracker said...

Actually....

After WW1..... and WW2,when soldiers began to return, the genre of "film noir" was born and became popular.

A type of film where the black and white of good and evil suddenly becomes greyer....

this was a style of story that combat vets related to after the dis-illusionment of insertion and combat.

Since and after every war/action....Korea, Vietnam and Gulf Wars this style has been popular

The Film stories reflect the reality of physical combat in these "grey views"

Certainly not the best recruitment tool.

But the reality of war to a foot soldier is like this upon return to the world.

Here at Ft. Lewis, we see Alcohol, Drug addiction and self destruction along with alarming rates of (attempted) suicides by returning combat vets.

Everyone knows the reality of an amputation above the knee versus below the knee....do you?


This is real, this is what remains for many, No movie

Donald Douglas said...

I haven't had a leg amputated, Cracker, but that doesn't mean Whittle's argument is flawed. Did you even read his essay?

Reliapundit said...

MY SOMEWHAT RELATED THOUGHTS ON "OLD HOLLYWOOD" (THE HOLLYWOOD THE LEFT HATED AND TOOK OVER) IN AN OLD POST HERE:

http://astuteblogger.blogspot.com/2004/12/myth-of-american-cultural-hegemony-or.html

http://astuteblogger.blogspot.com
/2004/12/myth-of-american-cultural-hegemony-or.html

Tim said...

Donald: Don't know if I've proclaimed we ARE a fascist state, my arguments have usually been that if we follow the dictates of the hard right and the talibangelicals, then we will certainly become the equivalent of.

The very idea that movies, especially war movies, should portray triumphalism over reality haunts me.

Clint Eastwood is a true Hollywood Conservative (there are some, usually older) and it's ironic that he has turned two genres on their collective ears: the Western, with Unforgiven, and the war movie.

His Oscar-winning Unforgiven enraged a lot of old cowboys. But it's an amazing film, dark as hell, and probably way more realistic than any John Wayne western. (Which I love by the way.)

Libby said...

good article & discussions, donald!

Jeff said...

Donald - Excellent post! I really enjoyed Whittle's post. Like you and Whittle, I too, believe in American exceptionalism.

Van Zan said...

Like listening to Dorothy Gale talk while she fondles an uzi.

cracker said...

Thank you Dr.

I have read Whittle's essay, ....creative, dramatic, rousing

An inspirational charge.....or a prayer for the dead?

"Exceptionalism" and "life in a Reactor"

(I wonder if he knows what happens to matter....in a reactor?)

Whittle describes these points of light.....relates them to an exceptionalism, Babylonian, Chinese, Greek, French , British.....exceptional moments of civility.......all , ALL, eventually dimmed (per his words mind you).

In a retrospective this "author" beats on the 20th century image.....photos and stories of a culture gone by.....

He portrays "exceptionalism" as the poison that it is....and has always been.(Did he do it on purpose?)

Poppycock, my man....pure cheap candy given to the worrisome, lame and paralytic

Now get off the computer and go do something productive with yourself! ; )
Cheers

TRUTH 101 said...

Do all your disciples have to thank and praise each post to stroke your ego or simply to irritate me Professor?

Grace Explosion said...

T101,

I have a real heart for universal health care. I really do. I want everyone to have exceptional care. I want that kind of exceptionalism in the USA. It requires wealth. It requires production. Government is the robber and destroyer of both wealth and production. Government is a leech, a parasite, a boa constrictor that kills what it desires the private sector to create: wealth for the good of all.

So, do you have a private sector charitable response to provide universal health care to which people could freely contribute??

How do we get more people into the private sector health care system without the Government getting involved??

How can we do this charitably?? How many Americans are uninsured and how much would it cost each of us to get their premiums paid??

And if we paid their premiums... then what?? Will the demand increase for freely paid premiums, or will they heed the call to get on their feet, take over the premium payment - then turn to insure someone else??

How could you develop a private sector solution that could effectively work while generating responsibility and not dependency... thrift and contribution of those who receive the benefit with the goal to become independent... and turn to help others??

Because Government doesn't instill good character and destroys the economy.

I'm for universal health care idealistically.

Realistically, I need a private solution presented. Why do you focus on Government rather than the people?? Compulsion in taxation rather than free will in charity?? Why isn't anyone presenting a charitable response?? Solution?? Organization??

We're not against, I don't think, universal healthcare. We're for it. We just want a good end result that doesn't enslave people, create entitlement/dependepncy attitudes that destroy, and drag us all down to poverty and a poor healthcare system with doctors and the best leaving hte system in droves, etc., etc.,

Please don't question our motives. Please provide a solution we can support that we can believe will truly solve a problem instead of creating bigger ones that systematically spread the poverty and lack of healthcare of the some to the all.

What really works?? Why don't liberals focus on the REALITY instead of the IDEALISM and understand we have legitimate objections and that their solutions destroy entire systems and peoples and wealth - rather than solving the problem they noticed.

When will things become less emotional and more rational so that we can work together on real solutions???

Rant off if it was a rant. But T101, you falsely accuse our motives when it's not the motive on which we disagree: helping people. We just know your solutions are untenable and destructive... and we want a better solution presented that we can support and that will truly help all people.

How bout the characterizations of the right STOP... because the character assassination that "we don't care"... isn't true. We do care. We're just not so blind that don't see the end result of destruction. We're not emotionally driven destroyers... and it seems to us... the left looking foolishly to Government... are. Slavery, poverty, destruction, lack, and no good systems is all Government produces and more ruin than that too. When will you wake up and smell the coffee and listen to us instead of impugning our motives??

Grace.

Grace Explosion said...

T101,

Believe it or not... literally... I am an apostle... coming to minister hte full stature move of the Spirit (that's my goal). Fruit: 100% miraculous instantaneous healing across the board. If I have attained the full stature move of the Spirit in clear illumination of grace to bring the body of Christ to unity and maturity in full measure - miraculous healing at the level of 100% across the board instantaneously will occur at my meetings as I move to minister and "hit my stride".

There's your universal health care.

It's the best I can do. My pockets aren't deep enough to insure everyone... but please, don't tell me I don't have a heart for it.

And maybe, just maybe, I've got the goods. If you read your Bible, you'd know, Jesus healed everyone... AND.. when the Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land... everyone was 100% healthy - no sickness or disease (except by plague when they rejected God). WE will be spared the plagues that are coming. (lil apocalypse post note) lol

Well, I've been "going for it" since age 3. We'll see if I've attained. I believe it's possible.

If I have, there's your universal health care baby. :) We got it goin' on when the full stature move hits. lol How can you say we don't care - or you've got a better plan... if that happens??

Come on. It could happen. ;)
Grace.

TRUTH 101 said...

You and most of us that do have health insurance are slaves to the HMO we belong to Grace. For you to say you care about the uninsured but until a private company comes along that can figure out how to sell health insurance to people that can't afford it and make a profit doesn't morally cut Baby. And by all means, when the Catholics and Synods and Conventions all agree to put The Gospel of Grace Explosion in the Bible I will be happy to attend your services. Till then Baby, you're just another right winger trying to justify ideas based on greed as some part of your religious teaching.

Grace Explosion said...

I don't hope to have any of my works canonized. That's out. I hope only to clarify that which is already written.

I didn't say that the private insurance companies come up with affordable coverages.

I said I'd like to see private charities work to fund premiums... by free will offerings... and that require responsibility on the part of recipients... and turn them into positive contributors who eventually pay for their own premiums... and turn, also, to help others less fortunate even as they were helped.

Why are you against charity??

Do you hate charity??

Do you hate the poor so much that you don't care and don't want them to have health insurance because you are so against charity as a left winger??

You're heartless and greedy.

Take the argument and spin it around. What you want to see Government do by compulsion - I want to see private citizens do charitably of their own free will.

If you don't want to see private citizens do this charitably of their own free will - then you are greedy and heartless, cruel, and don't care for the poor.

And it's all because you're a left wing greedmongerer.

Grace.

TRUTH 101 said...

There you go again Grace. Abdicating your responsibility as a Christian in a nation you claim to be Christian. You should be ashamed of yourself. As a Christian nation we should be caring about the poor and disadvantage. You sure are going to have a lot of explaining to on Judgement Day Grace. You preach and preach but when it's time for the entity that can actually do something you bend over for the greedy insurance companies. Shame on you. But unlike your feelings toward President Elect Obama; I hope you go to Heaven Grace. I forgive you for your hypocrisy.

Grace Explosion said...

T101,

There you go again refusing to give to charity as we do as Christians. You're Ebeneezer Scrooge and you don't even care about the crutch in the corner on Christmas Day.

Ebeneezer, I hope the ghosts of Christmas Past visit you soon so you can start really caring about the poor and seeing charity, not the organized crime of big government, as the answer for the poor.

And I hope you start supporting Catholic charities better than you have.

Grace.

Tim said...

Grace: Which bible do you read? Just curious where you find this "information." Jesus didn't heal "everyone." He did, however, heal who he came in contact with.

Allegedly.

Your proselytizing is a bit scary. Has to be said.

CS said...

Grace,

continue to entertain us with your comedy routines.

"Left-wing greed mongerer" hmmm okkkkkk

applause anyone?