Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - At the Movies (Again)
by Tibor R. Machan

Ordinarily I am not a paranoid person, so this hypothesis of mine is a little unusual. But I have recently noticed that, in serious American movies, the ideological take tends to be anti-capitalist, anti-free markets, anti-free trade, anti-business, anti-corporate—in short, against most of the things associated with The United States of America. Granted, there are U.S. government policies that I, too, find very upsetting—increased meddling in people’s personal lives, court decisions that favor the government over the private sector, preoccupation with political correctness, and so forth—but these aren’t what these movies tend to go after. No, the targets of these movies tend to be ordinary American values.

It is difficult to list all the movies that incorporate some of these themes in a rather underhanded, subterranean fashion—that is, through little asides spoken the heroes, and by the championing of people who show their "virtues" by embodying these attitudes. There are the more blatant ones, though, such as Wall Street, Glengarry Glen Ross, Erin Brockovich, and Steven Seagal’s propaganda movies about how American business nastily mistreats Hollywood's sacred cow, the environment.

It isn’t just the movies; television drama and even sitcoms serve as vehicles for these sentiments. (Law and Order this and Law and Order that, Boston Legal, and similar shows all do it, sometimes in pretty entertaining ways.) Despite the (occasionally) good writing found on these shows, it has come to be something of a pain to watch such fare, for anyone with a serious regard for the ideals with which America is associated, such as individualism, freedom, commerce, profit making, the bottom line, industrial development, wealth creation, and the rest.

The good guys are usually people who find all this abhorrent, and only love a pristine, pure environment, and peddle rank altruism—not benevolence, but self-sacrifice. Such protagonists consider all developers mean and nasty people, while the villains are, of course, developers and makers of SUVs and anyone who would have a good word to say about them. (The movies and television fare are rife with such alleged thought-crimes, by the way.) I think you probably recognize what I am saying here, but may be so used to it that you don’t take notice any longer. (My son keeps telling me to just relax and enjoy the show, and ignore the ideology, but I am not willing to heed his advice.)

Interestingly, though, as in the old Soviet Union, where serious movies all had to hail socialism and communism, or at least accept them as the norm, in America it is now science-fiction movies and cartoons that manage to sneak in various American ideals and ideas. Take, for example, this recent Batman Begins flick, which has no patience with the modern liberal excuses for violent criminals; or last year’s big hit, The Incredibles, about a group of retired comic heroes, in which incompetence was dissed and exceptional talent praised. Both imply considerable disdain for the intellectual community’s favorite ideology, egalitarianism.

These animated and sci-fi flicks aren’t my own favorite types, so I only catch them now and then, when someone I trust recommends them to me. Despite their much more appealing values, I am not all that drawn to this type of fare—I have never quite managed to suspend disbelief, so science-fiction stuff just doesn’t work so well for me (even though I am not a one-size-fits-all kind of guy about such matters). The few of these movies I have attended do remind me of what used to be said about those old Soviet movies, namely, that they allow the themes of individualism, freedom, capitalism, meritocracy, pride, good-versus-evil, and the like, to emerge rather forcefully in the fashion of a sort of esthetic black market.

In Batman Begins, for example, we see the idea that crime should be excused because of "mental illness" pooh-poohed head on, and depicted as an excuse to evade personal responsibility and foster the therapeutic state. (Thomas Szasz would have been delighted with this part of the movie, I am sure.) No show starring Susan Sarandon or Paul Newman would allow such heresies—it would puncture too many of the modern liberal dogmas to which these folks are attached, and would ill serve as vehicles for peddling the interventionist government they so love.

But it seems that science fiction screenwriters, as well as those renegade South Park producers, manage to get away with championing values that the serious folks will not embrace or feature in their offerings. Although there is no out-and-out state censorship of these values in America, as there was in the old USSR, it is arguable that a kind of cultural peer pressure is in force such that only movies that seemingly offer nothing but technical razzmatazz get to say some true and unusual things about human nature and life. I haven’t done a scientific survey, but I think there is something to my impressions. I urge my readers to check it out for themselves.

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