Monday, February 27, 2006

Conservative Critics Fight For Freedom!!!

The Liberty Film Festival, an anti-Hollywood-perverts thingamajig run by Jason Apuzzo (or, as John Rogers calls him, the stupidest fucking guy on the face of the earth") is always your go-to source for angry movie reviews postulating that:

1. Hollywood has made another movie with an Anti-American, anti-Bush agenda,
2. It'll lose money because Hollywood socialists like Arnold Schwarzenagger and Rupert Murdoch are more interested in spreading their Anti-American propaganda than in making money,
3. Wait, it made money? But why don't those evil capitalists realize that it's not worth tearing down our children's values just so movies can gross millions of dollars?
4. I hate Hollywood enterpreneurs, movies that make money, and people who pay to see them, and this proves I am on the side of capitalism.

We can all expect the new movie V For Vendetta to provoke about 75,000 articles of this kind. And Libertas has risen to the occasion with this magnificent review by someone calling himself "The Road Warrior." (First rule of the conservative blogosphere: always give yourself a name that makes you sound like a wrestler or gay porn star. The classic examples are the genocidal dweebs at Powerline Blog, who used to call themselves "Hindrocket, Big Trunk and Deacon.") Now, the Road Warrior lets down the side in one way: he admits he's seen the movie. This is a no-no in the conservative culture-sphere, where, as Roy Edroso often points out, "Conservatives reviewing movies they haven't seen is the new black." But he makes up for it by his brilliant use of all the other important features of the conservo-review:

1. Plot synopsis in lieu of analysis. -- Nearly the entire review is taken up with summarizing the plot of the film and trashing its message. Apparently such things as acting, pacing, camerawork and dialogue are only discussed by loser liberal critics from California, not us manly men in the heartland.

2. Conservative victimology. -- Road Warrior wants you to know that Liberal Hollywood is out to crush dissent and destroy his values. Clearly special help -- possibly from a government grant, or a Ministry of Pro-American Cinematic Values -- is needed. He writes: "Now consider how many overtly political Hollywood films have been made that voice dissent against Leftist values? None. Whose voice is really being suppressed in this country?"

3. Godwin's Law. -- "Hitler also wanted to eliminate Christianity. Which party is in bed with the ACLU - currently attacking Christianity, crosses, and Christmas at ever [sic] opportunity? The party of the Left. " The conservative blogosphere: where Christmas is under attack all year round!

4. Declaring that a movie is bad because it expresses ideas you don't agree with. -- Road Warrior has one criticism of the movie and one only: it conveys messages that are mean to conservatives and to their cult leader. His review says nothing about why the movie isn't good; it's just a laundry list of mean ideas that those cross-dressing brothers are using to poison the body politic.

5. Creepy obsession with the bad scary Islamofascists who are so prominent in suburban areas. -- "I find it completely hypocritical that every time a Hollywood plot has to have a bad Islamic terrorists (which is a rarity in today’s movies anyway), it has to be balanced by a good Islamist." The corollary of this is complaining that Hollywood is mean to Christians, which combines the victimology stance with what might be called aggrieved majoritarianism: the belief that Hollywood should be sensitive to majorities but hard on minorities. If these guys had been around in the '40s, they'd be reviewing the movie Crossfire and demanding that Hollywood tell us less about Christian soldiers who beat up Jews and more about Jewish bankers running the Truman administration.

6. Predictions of failure for the movie, based on no actual evidence. "Hopefully people will stay away in droves once word gets around from the unlucky few who’ve endured this view askew of modern politics and morality." If the movie flops, this will be direct proof that real Americans reject Time Warner's anti-capitalist agenda, and if it succeeds, expect articles arguing how much more successful it would have been if it had been aimed at rural Utah and exurban South Dakota and all those other places conservative columnists and bloggers wouldn't visit on a bet.

I don't usually get pissed off about these things, but the recent explosion of right-wing cultural philistinism really makes me angry. For one thing, it didn't use to be this way. Some of you may remember that National Review employed John Simon as its movie critic for many years. Simon is at the very least culturally conservative, and his curmudgeonly attitude was a good fit with a conservative magazine -- but he never had to keep to the magazine's editorial line in his reviews, nor introduce any political content into his reviews at all. He gave a positive review to the pro-Sandinista thriller Under Fire (one of the great underrated movies of the '80s, by the way, and quite a bit better than Oliver Stone's Salvador) at the time when the magazine was running article after article about the evil Cuban-sponsored Commies (basically the same articles they're running now, except "Commies" has been replaced by "Islamofascists"). Look at today's National Review and ask yourself whether they'd ever run an article like that. The American Spectator used to have Bruce Bawer as a film critic until they spiked his review of a movie about gay characters (Bawer, a gay semi-conservative, had not expressed sufficient disgust for homosexuality); they replaced Bawer with James Bowman, a man so dumb and such an art-hating philistine that he could get a job on the Wall Street Journal editorial board with no questions asked. And, going back a little further, Commentary magazine replaced its great film critic of the '70s -- the apolitical, brilliant William S. Pechter -- with Richard Grenier, whose right-wing Stalinism (he wrote long essays criticizing movies like Gandhi and even The Empire Strikes Back for expressing dangerous political ideas) has influenced a generation of hacks.

The nuts at Libertas are easy to make fun of, but they're the culmination of twenty years or more of trying to reduce cinema to politics, reduce "Hollywood" to a pejorative, and evaluate movies entirely based on whether their ideas are acceptable to conservatives. (The recent target of this particular crusade appears to be George Clooney, the subject of a jillion articles complaining that he makes movies about the problems of America instead of the tribulations of Danish cartoonists. Yes, George Clooney is condemned for being more concerned with his own country than with Europe -- in other words, conservatives hate patriotism.) Apart from the sheer whininess and victim-envy of this kind of thing -- dudes, if you want a pro-Iraq-war movie, take some of the money away from Scooter Libby's defence fund and make the movie yourself -- it demonstrates a contempt for art, a purely utilitarian conception of art, that is very close to the Stalinists of the '30s. Apuzzo and his boys are funny, but they're not so funny when you consider that their basic premises are taken seriously by a lot of people. Dick Cheney's contempt for the media and paranoid belief that non-conservative reporters are out to destroy him is part of the larger idea that media -- television, movies, whatever -- is only good insofar as it delivers ideas that serve your political interests.

The sad thing is that this kind of thing is actually less dangerous than it was only a couple of years ago, when Fahrenheit 9/11 was pilloried up and down the media not for the factual distortions (fair enough) but for expressing ideas that were and still are perfectly mainstream ideas held by roughly half the population (the Iraq war was a mistake and the American government lied to the people it serves). Perfectly moderate, mainstream people were derided as members of the "angry left" by the likes of the Wall Street Journal's racist snob James Taranto, and many people took these attacks to heart and convinced themselves that they were, in fact, freakishly out of the mainstream when they weren't. And so Hollywood convinced itself that it was out of touch with the "heartland," even though it's become pretty clear that Hollywood's product appeals to the American heartland far more than, say, the President's State of the Union Address. And the philistinism of the Libertas crew was in danger of becoming conventional wisdom. Now things seem to be shifting; Hollywood is starting to recognize that George Clooney is a lot more in touch with the average man than, say, the average politician. He has to be: his living depends on appealing directly to average people, whereas the politician doesn't have to give a damn about average people when he's not out campaigning. I have a feeling that this year's Oscars will have the air of Hollywood's revenge on its attackers, as Hollywood stars and producers recognize that they, not Jason Apuzzo, have their finger on the pulse of the nation. But it's been a tough few years, and the conservative Stalinists seemed to be in serious danger of taking over the cultural conversation. We need to remember that and guard against it, even as we laugh at the ineptitude of their low-level apparatchiks.

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