Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Update on the Oscars

Mulling over yesterday’s post on the Oscars, I realized that I never really commented on what American values are. I let the fundamentalist pundits define it, but never countered. Here’s a reminder on how a religious extremist views the morals supported by Hollywood and the blue states. According to the letter received by Slog poster, David Schmader, the Academy Awards:
...reward[ed] blatant anti-family themes of homosexuality, prostitution, pimping, drugs, crime, and the overall demonization of America as a bunch of bigots and oil mongers.
That’s a religious extremist’s view of blue-state morality in a nutshell. In today’s links, I posted to James Walcott’s view of “heartland” morality and Hollywood, which I think deserves more visibility here.
....the 'Hollywood doesn't reflect mainstream America' argument is one of the oldest and phoniest in the playbook, with Michael Medved making the same case that Catholic organizers did in the 30's to push for a decency code. The truth is that Hollywood has almost never reflected heartland values, from its birth it's reflected urban energy, cosmopolitan taste, social conscience, and pagan fascination.... [snip] The heartland issue is such a crock, especially when it's taken up by pseudo-populist pundits who cling to both coasts and wouldn't move to the middle of the country unless the name of that middle was Chicago. F[*]ck the heartland. It doesn't exist. It's a metaphor for all the simple good things Americans would believe in if they flattered themselves by believing in simple good things. (Go reread Sherwood Anderson or Sinclair Lewis if you want to savor the loneliness and cultureless vacuity of so much of the bedrock America we insist on coloring with Norman Rockwell nostalgia.) It's true that more Americans than usual are unaquainted and uninterested in the Oscar pics this year, but how many Americans saw McCabe and Mrs. Miller when it came out? Or Mean Streets? Not that long ago, the Oscars noms were panned because for being an index of popularity, not quality; now quality prevails in the judging, tastes have improved even at the Golden Globes, and the kvetching chorus is complaining that the finalists chosen aren't commercial enough, and don't reflect the interests and values of average Americans. There's no such thing as an average American anymore (if there ever was), unless by "average American" you mean (as news producers and pundits seem to do) white, middle-aged, heterosexual Christian small-towners and suburbanites who won't even be watching the Academy Awards because it'll be past their bedtime and they have elk to milk the next morning.
Bingo. First, Wolcott’s right. Mainstream “heartland” values don’t actually exist, except as a fantasy for religious ideologues (and you’ll see more on this topic in my abortion posts). But what “values” or storylines exist in the nominated and winning films? What are “blue state” values? That is, what conflicts, storylines, and characters do the rest of us (that is, most of us) enjoy? Let’s see...“Brokeback Mountain” tells of an illicit love affair that ends in disaster. So, America is fascinated by the struggle of an individual to remain true to herself in the face of popular and cultural pressure to do otherwise. “Capote”: an author gets in way over his head emotionally in a Midwest murder case, but eventually betrays his subjects by writing a tell-all that condemns the killers. Art. The conflict of emotion and intellect. It’s the story of naked ambition. You see what I’m getting at? These movies do an excellent job at representing the conflicts we feel tugging at us in our everyday lives. They deliberately seek to push limits of self-awareness, they explore the boundaries of what’s acceptable. They give expression to the confusion and horror and isolation that we all feel navigating in an incredibly complex world. No wonder religious ideologues hate the Oscars and movies celebrated by the Academy. It seems that most popular organized religions promise their faithful an end to the confusion of existence. They simplistic interpretation of life’s most confusing issues. Creating empathy for a homosexual pair (as “Brokeback” does) endangers a church’s palatable labeling of homosexuality as a degenerate evil. (But, ironically, enforces Christ’s teaching that all people are God’s children.) I don’t mind that Christian fundamentalists exist. I don’t want to ban their movies (although I’m sure not going to let my children watch their fantasies of orgiastic violence). But why does the media give the fringe so much airtime and credibility? It's beyond me...
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