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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Cultural wars

Roger Ebert and Jim Emerson, have indignantly attacked Michael Medved for his supposedly "spoiler" review of Clint Eastwood's latest film Million Dollar Baby.

I have not seen Million Dollar Baby so I cannot comment on the film’s artistic, technical, or moral standing. In principle I agree with the thesis proposed by Jordan at The Last Renaissance Man "that a film need not be in tune with our moral code to be great, and that real people - even Christians - make the wrong decisions each and every day."

Both of these statements would seem to me to be self-evidently true. No Christian I have ever encountered has ever disputed the second proposition and I cannot believe many reflective Christians would dispute the first. Of course "greatness" is not a synonym for "goodness". Some undeniably great movies could hardly be called "morally good". But I do think that all genuinely great movies have a profound moral dimension to them, a point I’m sure Ebert, Emerson and Jordan would heartily endorse.

The sad fact remains is that moral goodness is extremely hard to portray in plays or films; it is easier for flawed, conflicted and even outright evil characters to be more powerfully presented than the "goodness" and "morality" of people going about the ordinary lives in quiet determination or staisfaction. Those in this latter category are almost universally portrayed in both "serious" and popular films as shallow and inflexible hypocrites, rubes, or fanatics.

Roger Ebert is probably right to expect sophisticated and tactful reviewers not to give away key plot points in the movies they review, but in practice, as he notes, "spoiler alerts" are becoming more common - even in his own! This may be tacky, but it is not a profound moral issue for me.

What I would point out, is the ferocity of his and Jim Emerson’s attack on spoilers of THIS particular movie. After all we are only talking about a movie here, not world peace, brain surgery, or the eternal destiny of human beings. The villifying of Medved and Limbaugh and other conservative reviewers as "right wing commandos", "partisan opportunists", "exploiters", "fantasists", "religious activists", etc. pretty clearly sets both the agenda and bias of Ebert and Emerson, both highly respected representatives of the mainstream liberal establishment.

And the reason is obvious to me. Both Ebert and Emerson, as members of the urban cultural elite, reject, and in some cases despise, the conservative and religious values of a significant sector of middle America. Their attack is against religious and social conservatives, as much as it is against "spoiling". So I was surprised at Jordan's whole-hearted endorsement of their take on this issue.

I would argue strenuously that in both popular and elite culture, conservative values are marginalised. The social conservative beliefs in and respect for order, tradition, patriotism, religion, family and morality is anathema to the prevailing liberal and post-modern ethos of the educated elites who dominate academia, the arts and the media.

Both liberals and conservatives recognise the power of popular entertainment and media to shape – both overtly and covertly – the values, aspirations and beliefs of the community. This is what makes these fields a battleground for the hearts and minds of the people - and why concerns about the undeniable liberal, even anarchic, values that dominate "Hollywood reality", serve as a rallying cry for concerned conservatives.

What I find particularly hypocritical is Emerson’s own grab for the high moral ground with his tut-tutting about how appalling it is "to engage in a campaign to harm the movie for those who may not agree with them" and his plea that "to actively attempt to sabotage a movie with its intended mainstream audience... is not justified". This, in the light of the huge campaign by virtually the entire media establishment, including a majority of film reviewers, to "harm" and to "sabotage" Mel Gibson and his film The Passion of the Christ - along with the scorn and vitriol directed at the huge audience for THAT film - strikes me as a classic case of ignoring the log in one’s own eye in order to detect the speck in the other fellow’s. Emerson's sective indignation over the harming of a movie rather than concern about the discarding of a human life unfortunately sums up rather succinctly the liberal mindset.

Secondly, as Medved and Limbaugh both address audiences composed overwhelmingly of people who heartily endorse their views and values already (since when do liberals care what anyone on the 700 Club had to say about anything?) why are Ebert and Emerson so worked up over up over them preaching to the choir? I do think there is a much broader agenda at work here, one vigorously pursued by those on the left of the fault line dividing elitist liberal values from conservative traditional ones in society. And in that regard, and regardless of the merits or otherwise of Million Dollar Baby, I am less than sympathetic with the gripes of Ebert and Emerson and more open to the position of Medved and Limbaugh.

11:37:00 pm