It’s kind of sad that conservatives feel they have to co-opt popular culture just to seem hip. Aren’t they supposed to be above all that, above chasing the arbitrary, ephemeral nature of trendiness in order to affirm timeless values? Guess not, judging by the National Review‘s list of the best conservative movies of the last 25 years. There’s actually a lot of good movies on this list, but are they conservative? It takes a lot of wishful thinking, or deliberate obtuseness, to call some of these movies conservative. Mostly, it takes the assumption that conservatives have a monopoly on such virtues as heroism, patriotism, self-sacrifice, and opposition to terrorism and totalitarianism. It also takes willful ignorance of the ambiguity inherent in most movies.
For example, Juno makes the list because its heroine chooses adoption over abortion, but I was taken to task not long ago by a conservative critic (responding to this article) who insisted that Juno was a liberal movie because it depicts teen pregnancy as no big deal and men in general as feckless and weak. Team America: World Police skewers both liberals and conservatives. Gran Torino is about a bigot who learns to appreciate immigrants and their culture. The listmakers like Brazil for saying that a Big Brother government is bad, but they also like Dark Knight for saying it’s good. They like 300‘s militarism but breathe not a word about its extreme homoeroticism. They like Metropolitan‘s celebration of class privilege and noblesse oblige but don’t notice the movie’s simultaneous lampooning of the debutante set for being hopelessly out-of-touch dinosaurs. Even the ultraconservative Red Dawn (see trailer above) — which the opportunity to praise was, I suspect, the excuse for drawing up this list in the first place — has some mixed messages, particularly in the character of the general (played by Ron “Superfly” O’Neal) who comes to doubt the rightness of his invasion and sympathize with the occupied. Seems that imperialist invasions of other countries for no good reason are bad no matter who’s doing the occupying, but that’s a message that conservatives have somehow missed despite 25 years of watching that movie over and over. “Wolverines!” Continue reading
Photo by Siebbi on Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons
Any doubt that political punditry has now turned into pro wrestling should be dispelled by William Kristol’s challenge to debate Matt Damon for calling him an idiot on such issues as the Iraq War — not to mention new blog Big Hollywood‘s offer to bankroll the $100,000 cage match. (How will they come up with the money? I smell another unfunded mandate.) As entertaining as it would be to see the two Harvard-educated experts engage in erudite repartee, it sounds like a lose-lose for both of them. If Kristol gets whupped, he’s lost a political debate to the guy who made Stuck on You; if he wins, well, big deal, he’s beaten the guy who made Stuck on You. If Damon (pictured) loses, he looks like a typical know-nothing Hollywood actor for his initial remarks, but if he wins, he’s only beaten a guy mercilessly ridiculed in the left blogosphere for being so wrong about everything all the time that even the New York Times let him go with an unceremonious don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out notice on Monday. (Moments later, Kristol landed a new sinecure at the Washington Post. Like the Weekly Standard editor/Fox News contributor needs another outlet for his underexposed opinions? Dude’s got more platforms than Elton John.) Damon should let this double-dog-dare slide (if he’s even aware of it) and go back to making kick-ass spy thrillers and recording Howard Zinn audiobooks.
The reaction over at Big Hollywood is instructive. The site, which launched earlier this month, seems to want to be the conservative answer to the Huffington Post (a mix of celebrities, political experts, and people no one’s ever heard of, all opining on pop culture and politics), but it clearly has disdain for the opinions of most celebrities, and so do the 1,100-plus people who’ve commented on the Kristol-Damon item so far. The Big Hollywood bloggers see themselves as an embattled minority within liberal Hollywood (shouldn’t they call themselves “Little Hollywood,” then?), even as they claim Hollywood’s biggest successes as their own (Did you know The Dark Knight was a right-wing parable about supporting the Bush War on Terror? Neither did I.) while dismissing the folks who actually have lucrative gainful employment in Hollywood as out-of-touch liberals whose propaganda fails to move the populace. (Obama fan Tom Hanks, you’re no everyman — unless you decide to make Forrest Gump 2: Gump Harder.) They think the marketplace should favor conservative movies, but since that’s not happening, they’d apparently like some quotas in their favor. They don’t understand why, if the market is the ultimate arbiter of what’s art, the marketplace is so full of movies that pander to the lowest common denominator and promote ideals that make family values conservatives aghast. And of course, they don’t realize that, if their supposedly deep thinkers like Kristol want to engage the entertainment arena on the level of spectacle, they’ve already ceded the moral and intellectual high ground. Once you turn a political debate into an episode of Hannity and Colmes, or a YouTube video to be shared via e-mail. you might as well let Vince McMahon be the moderator.
Filed under Feuds, Movies
My Friday chats with Mark Reardon of KMOX-AM in St. Louis continue with this look back at the top entertainment stories of 2008 and a preview of the likely highlights of 2009.
Gary Susman talks to KMOX’s Mark Reardon, 1/2/09
All art is political. To make art is to remake the world, either as you envision the world to be, as you wish it to be, or as you wish it not to be — so making art is always a political act. The artist’s political statement may not be intentional or even conscious, but nonetheless, by making art, he or she is initiating a political conversation. And by interacting with and interpreting the art, the viewer is adding to the political conversation. That’s why the discourse over culture — between artist and viewer, between artist and critic and viewer, or among artists or critics or viewers — is so important to me.
How we talk to each other about culture — which ususally means, how we talk to each other about popular culture — is how we talk to each other about the world we live in, or the world we would like to live in. At this time of hyperpartisanship, we have few other ways of talking about such matters in a way that gives us all common ground. We can barely speak to each other directly about issues of criminal justice or torture or authoritarianism, but we can all talk about The Dark Knight, thereby addressing these issues without throttling each other.
This blog will explore the intersection of politics and popular culture. This crossroads has always fascinated me, but it also seems to be of interest to many at a moment when conservatives gripe about positive portrayal of Barack Obama in a Spider-Man comic book, or when Tina Fey’s lampooning of Sarah Palin may have helped decide the election. I’ll be writing about what our popular culture is really saying about us (however unwittingly), how partisans read (or misread) the culture and try to use it to their own ends, and how, in this age of niche politics and niche pop culture, we may yet find a measure of unity through the movies, TV shows, music, and books that speak to us of the world that is and the world that could be.