05 March 2008

Thou Shalt Not: A Follow-Up

Wouldn't you know? Just after I watch the documentary and post my commentary, the next morning's paper has an op-ed from some Christian group griping over how the Academy Awards didn't honor popular, family-friendly, pro-Christian movies. Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder represent an outfit called Christian Film & Television, which publishes film reviews from a "family-values" standpoint online.

Their op-ed complained that many of the Oscar-nominated films were dark, violent, anti-American, anti-family, even anti-God. They propose alternate criteria of quality according to which Will Smith in I Am Legend was more deserving of the Best Actor prize than Daniel Day-Lewis, because "it takes a much better actor to play compelling heroic characters." Since I haven't seen I Am Legend, I must withhold judgment on how compelling Smith's performance was. But since the writers refer in passing to "effete secular critics," I need not withhold judgment on the quality of their thinking.

The writers, it must be admitted, were less concerned about the films than about the Academy Awards, which they believed were becoming irrelevant because of their elitist irreverence toward traditional values. Nevertheless, it's only a short step to demanding that Hollywood make more "positive" product, which brings us back to 1934.

Some people can't help but see all art as instruments of indoctrination. They can't help but demand that art send positive messages, as if they believe, as I suggested below, that by telling the right stories we can change people's perception of reality, or to some extent get them to renounce reality in favor of mandatory idealism. In this, America's professional moralists are very similar to the former seminarian Joseph Stalin, who supposedly described writers as engineers of human souls. These U.S. culture warriors are actually no different from the people they once considered their worst enemies in their obvious effort to use culture to mold audiences into an ideological image. It makes no difference if they call themselves traditionalists or if they try to distinguish religion from ideology. Tradition on the defensive, especially when faith-based, is indistinguishable from ideology. When it seeks power, we can expect similar results.

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