Monday, July 6, 2015

Is 'Philomena' Movie "Cinematic Propaganda"?

Years after watching Philomena and forming an initial impression, I've gotten a little curious about criticism of the film, and the obligatory criticism of the criticism.  I was surprised to find that the film's namesake Philomena Lee had written to the NY Post in response to a unflattering review by Kyle Smith.

I'm inclined to agree partly with the sentiments Mrs. Lee expresses to Smith: The relationship depicted between her and Martin Sixsmith is not so simple and not simply for laughs (the movie poster notwithstanding).  Sixsmith seems to have taken Lee's story on for the same reasons that leftwing commentator Timothy Haslett gets swept up in the story: It's apparently very satisfying to hate the Catholic Church.  It's obvious that Lee doesn't hate the Catholic Church, but Sixsmith, who early in the movie seems to reveal disdain for conservatism, is somehow drawn to help this religious social conservative.  He obviously looks down on her, and, here the story becomes more subtle, he gains some respect for her along the way.  The story puts a sympathetic spin on her: she somehow detected homosexual tendencies in her wee bairn before he was stolen from her (he showed too much interest in other male toddlers?), and was therefore not shocked to learn that Anthony was gay.

I'm not surprised that Lee sees the movie (and book) as incontrovertibly positive. (Who would be?)  She says the film is about unlikely friendships.  It turned out to be a liberal who helped her locate her son, so in her experience, help really does come from some surprising allies.  Like sometimes it turns out that the only ones who will help you stand up to the Catholic Church are people that aren't religious--possibly even anti-religious.  Martin Sixsmith and Stephen Frears chose to tell her story, a story that had long gone unheard, so why shouldn't she be completely positive about that?

But, as Timothy Haslett ably points out, just because her story has some bright points about unlikely friendships, doesn't mean that in context it doesn't intentionally play on anti-religious and anti-conservative sentiment.  I mean, if you are a big Hollywood filmmaker and also a liberal (but I repeat myself), to have a story about evil baby-selling nuns that also pre-supposes and perpetuates the 'Reagan hated the gays' myth, well, it just doesn't get better, does it?  You see, Philomena's son turned out to be a closet gay in the Republican Party of the' 80s, and even though AIDS was adamantly not a gay disease, nothing said "I hate gays" more than AIDS not getting more than its fair share of medical funding.  (Did Reagan ever reject a budget because it provided too much AIDS research funding?)  So in parallel with Philomena's betrayal by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heartlessness, there is Anthony's alleged betrayal by the GOP who just stood by and let him die when he contracted the heterosexual disease.  It becomes a two-generation story of betrayal!  Now that's the kind of film that gets Oscar nominations.

I disagree with Kyle Smith that the repartee is trite or that the film is boring.  By analogy, the movie Lincoln was one of the best-made films in years yet also completely propagandist; well-made films aren't necessarily devoid of political purpose.  But I do agree with Kyle Smith that anything made about the evils of institutional Islam would be panned as Islamophobic.  But Hollywood isn't Islamophobic--it's Christophobic, if anything.  So Haslett and Smith are both right about the anti-Catholic overtones, and by association, anti-Christian, to the film.  The film is a yawnfest in that one important respect, but it's a very well made bit of cinema nonetheless.  For Philomena Lee the film's uplifting because her story of perseverance is finally told to a wide audience, and for many, many others, it's an uplifting film because the bad guys are, once again oddly enough, who they "should" be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Problem With Reza Aslan : Why Did Reza Write About Jesus?

The Problem With Reza Aslan : Why Did Reza Write About Jesus?: "separate the man from the deity" Why would Reza Aslan, a Muslim, write about the founder of Christianity?  He gave an answer to Lauren Green (in the infamous Fox News interview) that was very different from the answer he gave in his post "Why I write about Jesus," written July 20th, 2013, six days prior to the interview ...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Orwell on Collectivism/Socialism

In George Orwell's classic 1984, he appears to give his impressions of the various ideologies derived from Marxism (through the eyes of the fictional dissident Emmanuel Goldstein) and explain why they all share the same essence, character, and outcome.  In the following quotes, all emphases are mine.

The "equality" that all forms of collectivism (fascism, communism, and socialism) tend toward:
After the revolutionary period of the fifties and sixties, society regrouped itself, as always, into High, Middle, and Low. But the new High group, unlike all its forerunners, did not act upon instinct but knew what was needed to safeguard its position. It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called ’abolition of private property’ which took place in the middle years of the century meant, in effect, the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before: but with this difference, that the new owners were a group instead of a mass of individuals. Individually, no member of the Party owns anything, except petty personal belongings. Collectively, the Party owns everything in Oceania, because it controls everything, and disposes of the products as it thinks fit. In the years following the Revolution it was able to step into this commanding position almost unopposed, because the whole process was represented as an act of collectivization. p. 120
The usefulness of government waste, the danger of capitalism's creation of wealth, and the power of scarcity:
 The economy of many countries was allowed to stagnate, land went out of cultivation, capital equipment was not added to, great blocks of the population were prevented from working and kept half alive by State charity.  . . .  The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world.  . . . War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. . . . In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another. By the standards of the early twentieth century, even a member of the Inner Party lives an austere, laborious kind of life. . . .   And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival. p. 112
How and when the Marxist-inspired collectivisms started abandoning the pretense of being about liberty and equality:
Socialism, a theory which appeared in the early nineteenth century and was the last link in a chain of thought stretching back to the slave rebellions of antiquity, was still deeply infected by the Utopianism of past ages. But in each variant of Socialism that appeared from about 1900 onwards the aim of establishing liberty and equality was more and more openly abandoned. The new movements which appeared in the middle years of the century, Ingsoc ["English Socialism"] in Oceania [i.e. the West], Neo-Bolshevism [Russian communism] in Eurasia [former Soviet Union], Death-Worship [Chinese communism], as it is commonly called, in Eastasia [the "Far East"], had the conscious aim of perpetuating unfreedom and inequality.  p.118
<spoiler> In 1984, it turns out that the dissemination of Emmanuel Goldstein's book is controlled by the State to carefully flush out dissidents.  The government's ability to monitor its citizens is absolute.  In the end it is unclear whether Emmanuel Goldstein is merely the State's amalgam of anti-collectivist revolutionaries. What does become clear is that the State does not mind some revolutionaries knowing the State's true values and game plan, because the strongest revolutionary can be reeducated (i.e. tortured) into complete submission to and love of "Big Brother." </spoiler>  

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