Hollywood • Post • The Constitution

How ‘Secret Obsession’ Exposes California’s Dumb Gun Laws

When Netflix’s bland new psychological thriller “Secret Obsession” was released last week, I never expected keen political insights, let alone a unique cinematic twist. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.) Under closer scrutiny, however, the film solidifies the need for individual rights, and presents a damning picture of California’s unconstitutional gun laws.

Much like a generic Lifetime drama, the film opens on a rainy California night, with the vulnerable Jennifer fleeing an anonymous, knife-wielding, male assailant. As the chase continues, it appears the stalker has a penchant for the supernatural—one moment standing menacingly in the rain, the next staring Jennifer down from a truck while reeling her car in with a winch.

At this particular moment in Jennifer’s story, a firearm used in self-defense might have changed this horror flick into a film highlighting female empowerment.

Unfortunately, California’s current gun laws prevent any sort of meaningful self-defense for the state’s most vulnerable populations. Pursuant to California penal codes, it is illegal for citizens to open carry firearms in any instance and concealed carry laws are extremely restrictive.

Currently, a county sheriff or municipal police chief may issue a concealed weapons permit (CCW), provided a citizen can prove he is of “good moral character,” is a resident in the county or city, has completed an eight-hour training course, and has a “good cause to justify the permit.”

As a matter of precedent, California law enforcement, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, have maintained that carrying a concealed weapon is a privilege rather than a constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment. In some counties, concern for personal safety or desire for self-defense is not enough to warrant the issue of a CCW.

Additionally, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Second Amendment does not apply specifically to concealed firearms, so despite California’s additional ban on open carry, the courts have maintained “good cause” requirements do not violate the Constitution—thus making it exceedingly difficult for our heroine Jennifer to obtain such a permit.

Those without a CCW must also carry a firearm directly to and from their vehicle in a locked container and transport the firearm in the vehicle’s trunk or a locked container within the vehicle, rendering it extremely ineffective in the event of an emergency.

Returning to our story, Jennifer effectively is deprived of her constitutional means to defend herself and forced to run headlong into the rain. Next she is struck by a stranger’s vehicle and transported to the hospital with an injured foot and, more crucially to the story, short term memory loss.

After Jennifer wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the horror that occurred, her husband Russell is there to fill in the blanks on her road to recovery. She is eventually discharged from the hospital and Russell whisks her away to a mansion in the California mountains, while local police detective Frank Page continues to examine the events surrounding the night of her accident.

Soon however, it is apparent that all is not what it seems. Russell has many secrets and Jennifer begins to have vivid flashbacks of a man being stabbed in her mansion by a masked figure cloaked in black. Detective Page wants answers, and the hospital nurse tries in vain to schedule a follow up appointment for Jennifer, but it appears cell phone signals are spotty in the mountains.

In a sudden, albeit obvious twist, we learn Russell isn’t who he claims to be. Rather than Jennifer’s loving husband, he is a stalker named Ryan, who murdered the real Russell. As Jennifer ineffectually tries to escape, Page zeroes in on the killer, and the plot comes to a head in a woodland trail.

Page’s gun tumbles to the ground, and he and Ryan wrestle in the dirt as Jennifer backs away on an injured leg. At the film’s climax, Jennifer grabs the detective’s pistol and shoots Ryan twice in the chest, putting the killer down for good. While Jennifer ultimately was able to stop the killer, her story is a cautionary tale for those who would restrict individual rights.

According to an October 2017 study in the American Journal of Public Health, approximately 3 million Americans carry a loaded firearm daily, and an estimated 9 million do so monthly, primarily citing protection as their reason for doing so. California’s current gun laws essentially prevent the state’s citizens from exercising the rights millions of Americans enjoy every day.

While “Secret Obsession” likely was not intended to be a political commentary on the infringement of constitutional rights, it is the perfect vehicle to illustrate why Americans must be allowed to exercise their God-given freedoms. When our rights are restricted, the nation is less strong, less free, and less secure, and society’s most vulnerable pay the price.

Photo Credit: Hybrid Films/Netflix

Books & Culture • Center for American Greatness • China • Hollywood

Pop Gun 2: ‘Resistance’ Hollywood Kowtows to China

Hollywood, the cultural epicenter of the “resistance” to the faux totalitarianism attributed to President Trump, has a vastly different approach to the real totalitarianism of Communist China: capitulation and self-censorship.

As noted by Mark MacKinnon, the senior international correspondent for The Globe and Mail, the sequel to 1986’s “Top Gun”—which, after 33 years of intermittent thought, the creative geniuses behind the project have christened with the inspired title “Top Gun: Maverick”—has the rare quality of being a nostalgia trip that performs the deft, duplicitous trick of including a bitter dose of revisionist history.

“There’s a new Top Gun movie coming out. And Maverick is wearing the same leather jacket—only this time it’s Communist Party of China-approved, so the Japanese and Taiwanese flag patches are gone . . . ”

Why did Hollywood change the patch and stuff the Japanese and Taiwanese flags down the memory hole?

“‘Mystery’ solved,” MacKinnon reports. “China’s Tencent Pictures is one of the main producers of Top Gun: Maverick.”

In agreement is Alan Tonelson, the founder of RealityChek, which is “a blog covering economics, national security, tech, and their intersections”: “i.e., Hollywood Values . . . the filmmakers clearly bowed to the censorship demands of a major China investor.”

Spoiler alert: for a dumpster full of money and access to the censored Chinese marketplace, Hollywood is more than happy to self-censor and pretend (like the Beijing regime does in its heartless soul) Taiwan and Japan have gone into the ashcan of history.

This is “Resistance” Hollywood, which falsely accuses the United States of operating “concentration camps” on its southern borders, while simultaneously kowtowing to a barbarous Beijing regime that is running actual concentration camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

There is no mystery to this state of affairs. Dumping on the United States is box office gold in the eyes of Communist China’s totalitarian rulers, who will deign to grant access to Hollywood’s venal, beautiful people desiring to line their pockets from a literally captive audience; and, of course, these sanctimonious celebrities know a dirty but not so little secret: there’s no box office bank in decrying the Beijing barbarians’ oppression of the Uyghurs.

This sequel is less “Top Gun 2” than “Pop Gun 2,” with its  self-censorship in deference to a Communist junta that spent this summer censoring all reference to the 30th commemoration of its butchering young freedom-seekers in Tiananmen Square. This is yet another despicable exhibit in the decades long amorality of the American business community, in which Hollywood is just another fellow traveler appeasing a heinous regime to enrich itself at the expense of the Chinese people, the American people, and indeed all who yearn for a world free of totalitarian oppression.

True, too, Hollywood’s kowtowing to the Communist regime once again reveals that “progressive” policies and practices are actually regressive.

Merriam-Webster defines “kowtow” as “to show obsequious deference: fawn” and, more specifically, “to kneel and touch the forehead to the ground in token of homage, worship, or deep respect.” Historically, the word derives from the “Chinese ‘koutou,’ formed by combining the verb ‘kou’ (‘to knock’) with the noun ‘tou’ (‘head’).”

In imperial China, this groveling was required when appearing before a “revered authority,” such as “commoners making requests to the local magistrate, by the emperor to the shrine of Confucius, or by foreign representatives appearing before the emperor to establish trade relations.” (Emphasis mine.) “In the late 18th century, some Western nations resisted performing the ritual, which acknowledged the Chinese emperor as the “son of heaven.”

Recognizing no master but mammon, Hollywood’s “Pop Gun 2” nostalgia trip includes a servile return to the days when a totalitarian’s every sin may be overlooked without even bothering to ascribe its omission to some enlightened, albeit bogus pretext. Nope, Hollywood’s shameful self-censorship is about naked self-interest—and not of the kind one finds in an “art film.”

Oh, Hollywood! Thy name is hypocrisy!

That, you can bank on.

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Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Skydance/Jerry Bruckheimer Films

America • Democrats • History • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Post

Insolent Leftists Would Lock Us Up in Hamlet’s World

When I was a boy, everyone said the epitome of Shakespeare is Hamlet’s soliloquy. The soliloquy, the one from Act III, the one that poses the question: “To be, or not to be.”

Those words, like the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, are instantly recognizable, a pocket summary of an entire cultural tradition. The phrases that follow, one after another, dot our language: “What dreams may come,” “this mortal coil,” “the insolence of office,” “the undiscovered country,” etc., etc., etc.

You could hardly escape Hamlet’s soliloquy. In movies, it got the classic treatment by Olivier, was taken up by a melancholy Doc Holliday in “My Darling Clementine,” was played for laughs by Jack Benny in (what else?) “To Be or Not to Be,” and (later on) given an explosive reading by Schwarzenegger in “Last Action Hero.” And that’s just one slice of pop culture. Wherever it turns up, and however it is rendered, the soliloquy is said to be the Bard’s most penetrating insight into the human condition.

I couldn’t see it. What was so hard about the question, “To be or not to be”? Doesn’t everybody want to be? Why all this chin-tugging?

What I didn’t understand—what I never suspected—was that Hamlet was speaking of the shared experience of humanity. Through the centuries, people have been in his shoes. They have had to choose between subservience and struggle—to choose whether to live on your knees or die on your feet. In my sheltered 1950s world, I had no idea of that.

Was my sheltered world normal? Not really. Life has a way of teaching bitter lessons to those who’ve been sitting pretty, sometimes bit by bit and sometimes all at once.

On 9/11, for example, a cloud of flames, dust and death billowed over lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania pasture. All of us were getting it, right in the face. In Tennessee, someone asked a law professor and budding “Instapundit” named Glenn Reynolds when life in America would ever get back to normal.

“This is normal,” he replied. Then Reynolds wrote: “For most of human history, wondering when somebody from another tribe was going to try to kill you was the standard activity. In much of the world, it still is. … It’s only in comparatively strong and wealthy Western nations that we can pretend that safety is normal.”

These dour thoughts were brought to mind by the recent dust-up among the Democrats over crosstown school busing. That policy, which aimed at integrating widely separated urban schools, was a small matter compared with 9/11, but in the 1970s, it was pretty traumatic for a lot of people. In South Boston, a decision in 1974 to swap busloads of high-schoolers with students from a largely black school a few miles away in Roxbury sparked months of furious protests. (A scene from one such protest is this story’s featured image: A woman wearing a “Stop Forced Busing” button seeks safety as mounted police disperse the crowd. She and the others had gathered at South Boston High School after a black student stabbed a white student there.)

The rioting reached a climax more than a year later, when white students picketing City Hall attacked a black lawyer who happened to cross their path. The confrontation produced an image that shocked a nation accustomed to thinking of Boston as a citadel of liberal civility, not like those dens of Southern yahoos in Little Rock and Selma.

Race riots in the heart of liberaldom were explained away by pointing at “Southie,” the home of Boston’s Irish working class. No one had yet coined the word “deplorables,” but that is what liberals were thinking. What they weren’t thinking about—what they had already forgotten, if indeed they ever had even noticed—was that only a few months earlier, a white woman living in Roxbury had been burned alive by a gang of black teenagers a few blocks from her home. Dying in a hospital bed, she told police her attackers said they didn’t want any whites in their neighborhood. And Southie’s kids were supposed to be bused there?

That woman, Evelyn Wagler, is not a household name, like, say, Emmett Till. But she, no less than he, bore witness to the savagery that can erupt when people from hostile tribes collide. Those who promote tribalism in America—which is what “identity politics” boils down to—should take heed.

I advise Joe Biden’s rivals to cut him some slack, then. So what if he opposed busing in the 1970s? The policy wasn’t popular then, and it wouldn’t be loved now.

But set aside the business about busing, tribalism and identity politics. Such things are not what bothered Hamlet. The people who were giving him fits were not only Danes like him, they were his own flesh and blood. What is worse, they were his superiors in rank. His uncle Claudius, who had murdered his father and married his mother, was now his king.

What to do when your ruler is a murderer? Knuckle under, or fight and die?

Adolf Hitler established his credentials as a murderous ruler quite early in his reign over Germany. On the night of June 30 into July 1, 1934, he had several thousand Nazi rivals, personal enemies, and assorted inconvenient individuals shot, without trial, in what became known as the Night of the Long Knives. The firing squads had to be relieved from time to time because of the mental stress it was putting on the soldiers. Winston Churchill recounts the events dispassionately, in the first volume of his World War II memoirs, and then comments:

This massacre, however explicable by the hideous forces at work, showed that the new Master of Germany would stop at nothing, and that conditions in Germany bore no resemblance to those of a civilized country. A Dictatorship based upon terror and reeking with blood had confronted the world.

It was bad enough to have to fight such a monstrosity from the outside. How much worse was it to be inside, among Hitler’s subjects, or, even worse, among those whose military duty involved carrying out his crimes!

One of the many World War II survivors interviewed for the British documentary series “The World at War” was Christabel Bielenberg, an Englishwoman who had married a German and consequently spent the war in Germany. She told the interviewer several heartbreaking stories, sometimes literally wringing her hands. (An example starts at 35:40 in this link.) Among them was this one:

Near the end of the war, I had to travel from Berlin to the Black Forest, and I happened to travel in the same [train] carriage as an SS man. . . . He explained to me that he was on his way to the front now and all he wanted was to get killed. . . .

He told me that in Poland, he had belonged to one of the commandos that were called the extermination commandos, and on one particular occasion when the Jews were standing around in a semicircle, with the half-dug graves behind them, that the machine guns had been set up, and out of the ranks of the Jews that were standing there, [a rabbi] had come towards him . . . and said, “God is watching what you do.”

And he said, “We shot him down before he returned to the semicircle.” Another [among the Jews], a little boy … had asked him, “Am I standing straight enough?” And, he told me, these things he could never forget and that he only, as I say, now wanted to die.

That soldier’s dilemma was dramatized in “A Time to Love and a Time to Die,” a 1958 American movie made by German-born director Douglas Sirk from Erich Maria Remarque’s World War II novel. The film tells of German private Ernst Graeber’s experiences on the Russian front and during a bittersweet home furlough. In its early Russian scenes, it features a brief appearance by the boyish actor Jim Hutton in the role of Hirschland, a new recruit who can’t believe he’s being ordered to kill unarmed civilians. Film critic Glenn Kenny describes Hirschland’s reaction:

“What if I shoot over their heads?” he desperately asks Ernst. “We’ve all tried that,” Ernst says, himself almost as weary as death. “We only had to do it again. It’s like . . . executing them twice.” The Germans then make light of their task, trying to get drunk on the “good Russian vodka” they’ve pilfered from their victims, only to end up squabbling like hens and destroying their loot. And Hirschland blows his brains out.

Shall we state the obvious? No American today is facing anything like such an extremity. Those who prattle about Donald Trump being another Hitler are in no actual danger of being snatched by the Gestapo in the night, any more than they were under George W. “Chimp/Hitler” Bush.

It’s a fact of modern life, however, that controversial public figures often receive death threats. And, though it shames us to have to say so, the basement-dwelling loons who emit such threats do include among them some Trump supporters as well as many of his foes. So it’s not as if the Trump haters have nothing at all to worry about.

Even so, when prominent Trump critics go on book tours, land lucrative endorsement deals, or deliver profanity-laced tirades at glitzy, televised celebrity affairs—all while congratulating themselves for having the “courage” to “speak truth to power” in “fascist AmeriKKKa”—one must wonder where self-flattery ends and lunacy begins.

While the classical picture of a lunatic is someone who thinks he’s Napoleon, a lot of people today seem to think they’re Hamlet. They see Trump as a usurper like Claudius, and themselves as being deprived, as Hamlet was, of their birthright—which evidently is to occupy positions of power from which to rule over us.

And, like Hamlet, they are spurring themselves toward a violent conclusion. We’ve already seen bits of it, in the murderous attack on a congressional GOP baseball practice and the brutal assaults by Antifa thugs on any conservative who ventures within their reach.

How can we minimize the harm such people do? By minimizing their influence. By isolating them, cutting the support out from under them, and thus depriving them of the power to bully others the way they do now.

Let’s reflect that while America is far from becoming anything like Hitler’s Germany, some of the evils of which Hamlet complained have appeared, and indeed have been with us for a very long time.

Hamlet spoke of “the law’s delay.” Americans get a lot of that. Evelyn Wagler, for example, suffered a fate as dire as that suffered by any of Hitler’s victims. You’d think the law would lose no time in avenging her. You’d think wrong. No one was ever identified, let alone arrested, prosecuted, convicted, or executed, in connection with her murder. Yet with “the insolence of office,” the powers that be were soon sending Boston’s finest out on horseback to chase protesters away from Southie’s high school, which had become the scene of further violence. The unhappy woman pictured at the top of this article was living in Hamlet’s world.

No one wants to live in Hamlet’s world, and that includes the very people the Left presumes to speak for. As I wrote more than six years ago:

Many among liberalism’s special clientele—poor people, minorities, feminists, gays, unions, the homeless, etc.—are sick to death of gangs and violence and would love to see that all swept away.

So let’s focus on the violence. Let’s focus on crime and punishment.

Let us fight fire with fire. We should set about hanging murderers, to the point that death for murder becomes the rule rather than the extremely rare exception. And we should keep on locking up the murderers’ lesser fellows for as long as necessary, until violent crime once again is as rare as it was when I was a boy—indeed, even rarer.

Liberals may fret and fuss about “legalized murder” in the first case, and “the new Jim Crow” in the second. Ordinary people like the ones quoted here, here, here, here, here and here will know better. Fight the Left on this battleground, and more and more of those ordinary people will walk away from their leftist leaders, until that fine day when the leaders turn around and, sick with impotent fury, realize no one is following them any more.

Crime should be crushed for the victims’ sake, of course, regardless of any partisan considerations. But in the coming electoral showdown, those considerations are not to be ignored. Have you got it in for liberal Democrats? Then take it out on their pets, the hoodlums who have been shedding our blood these many years. There’s no surer way of bringing about the liberals’ downfall, and securing everyone else’s safety.

While public safety may not be normal in historical terms, it’s the goal we should strive to achieve. Liberals stand in the way, as they have for decades. Today they enjoy an added sense of heroism in “resisting” Orange Man, but such vainglory is nothing new to them. Why should we indulge them any longer? Time’s up! On the issue of crime and punishment, liberals are overdue for a comeuppance, so let’s bring it on.

The more the Left tries to preserve the law’s delay, the sooner it will come to rue its insolence of office.

Photo Credit: Ted Dully/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Books & Culture • feminists • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture

Scarlett Laughs

Strong, female characters are all the rage in Hollywood these days. In “The Force Awakens,” J.J. Abrams merely remade the 1977 “Star Wars” with a skinny girl playing Luke Skywalker. Of course, if you dare to dislike this new genre of movies you are sexist, because strong, female characters! There’s even a study “proving” those who dislike the trainwreck that is “The Last Jedi” are sexist.

Hollywood execs are patting themselves on the back for inventing the “strong, female, character.” Somewhere Chaucer and Shakespeare smolder, wondering when they can expect their royalty checks. Indeed, so is God. The strong, female character is as old as Deborah in the Book of Judges.

The great irony is that strong, female characters were once a matter of course in Hollywood. Then in the late 1960s and early ’70s Hollywood itself destroyed her. As feminists marched and politicians bent to their demands, Hollywood began to treat female characters as extras in some imagined feminist dystopia.

It was Hollywood that turned women into pathetic stereotypes. Women were the gun molls in “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” They were enablers and victims in “The Godfather” movies. I can not think of a single strong or even memorable woman in any Scorsese or Coppola movie.

The great auteurs of the 1970s used women as props, either victims or vixens. The ’70s women were plot devices, not fully developed characters. I grew up in the ’70s, with only two kinds of Hollywood women. They were either murder victims or prostitutes; unless they were prostitutes getting murdered. With the exception of a certain princess from Alderaan, as a teenager, I never saw a strong woman on the big screen.

In contrast, when I’d watch movies on the old movie channel, there were reporters, businesswomen, army nurses, even scientists. I was told again and again, that women of the 1930s were oppressed and women of the 1970s were liberated. But the old movie channel told a very different story.

Those women from black white movies were tough in a realistic way. They were not like today’s ridiculous female heroines—chicks who are all of 95 pounds and beating up men three times their size. The women in the movies of the 1930s and ’40s were resilient, resourceful, and intelligent. In other words, they were tough in a feminine way. They were not just carbon copies of male heroes.

Let’s compare a 1930s and 1970s woman in virtually the same role, con woman. Ellen Brennan is a very good actress, but in “The Sting” she might as well be played by a sock puppet. Ray Walston (TV’s “My Favorite Martian”) has more memorable lines and scenes than the movie’s only woman. Brennan steals a wallet, that’s it. Meanwhile in the oppressive ’30s, we have Barbara Stanwyck in “The Lady Eve.” She owns Henry Fonda from the moment she lays eyes on him. Stanwyck manipulates Fonda, leading him on a merry chase, until the movie’s final moment when she pulls him into her bedroom. Yep, the oppressed and repressed 1930s woman pulls man into her bedroom. Oops, sorry. Spoiler alert.

Then the 1940s arrive and Hollywood had a whole new group of strong female characters. The teeny tiny Rey and teeny tiny Batwoman, beating up men thrice their size is not empowering; it’s laughable. But the vigor and courage of the army nurses in “So Proudly We Hailed” and “They Were Expendable” are towers of quite believable strength.

Howard Hawks and John Ford liked their characters tough and larger than life. In contrast with most of the ’70s directors they knew that weak women didn’t make men look stronger. A strong Humphrey Bogart needed a strong Lauren Bacall. In “To Have and Have Not,” Lauren Bacall was only 19. But Bacall’s character is more of a grown woman than the childish “Captain Marvel,” supposedly an Air Force veteran.

Then there is John Wayne alongside Maureen O’Hara in “The Quiet Man,” Ford’s magnificent love story. John Wayne the great and powerful, will no longer fight. He killed someone in the boxing ring, and is haunted by that still. Yet, Wayne the ultimate tough guy, cannot help but fight with and love O’Hara’s equally tough character, Mary Kate. Mary-Kate doesn’t cure him with enabling or meekness. Nope! She out stubborns him. Her desire for her dowry is greater than his trauma. There was a strong female character. Will there ever be another?

Finally there is the champ—one of the strongest women ever put on film. You aren’t allowed to say that of course, because she was on the side of those whose statues we must now tear down. But there never was, and probably never will be, as strong a woman in movies as Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara. Her entire life, quite literally, is burnt to ashes. But she rises and builds a great business. She has financial success; when everyone around her says it is unseemly for women to do anything but stay home. Scarlett has more right to the name Phoenix than any of the X-Men.

Scarlett O’Hara still stands atop the adjusted for inflation box office.

I think she always will. The entire Yankee army couldn’t take Scarlett down, and a horde of super and space heroes won’t be able to topple her, either.

Those were the strong, female characters, that inspired me in my youth. These women fought against villains and succeeded without fantasy super powers. They brought men like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart and, yes, even the epitome of the male hero, John Wayne, to their knees.

The great auteurs of the ’70s threw women like that under the bus. They beat women and raped women and killed women and degraded women. Now Hollywood pats itself on the back for their ridiculous dress-up paper dolls and proclaim voila! As if it is the first time we’ve ever seen the “strong female character.”

Scarlett, Mary-Kate, Portia, the Wife of Bath, and Deborah laugh. You should, too.

Photo Credit: Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

America • Cultural Marxism • Hollywood • Post • Pro-Life • The Culture • the family

Let’s See If Netflix and Disney Really Mean It

Pity the poor actors and production companies that have discovered a need in conscience not to film in Georgia because of its new abortion restrictions. Presumably they won’t film in any state that restricts abortion—so not just Georgia, which has a burgeoning film industry because of tax incentives—but also Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri, which have all recently passed “heartbeat laws.” And –no!—not Louisiana! No more filming in the French Quarter or on the bayou? This is sacrifice indeed.

Netflix voluntarily complies with Saudi and Iranian censorship, and accepts content filmed in Egypt, which bans abortion entirely. Disney has a theme park in China in spite of its gulag and other blatant human rights violations. So one wonders at this newfound studio squeamishness at complying with local laws. It seems only to be in America, against American citizens, that the Silicon Curtain descends to bully the local populace about what it may say and think, who it may read, and which laws it may enact. Perhaps it is merely democratic enactment by free people that is the objection?

No matter. The rights of conscience must be respected, so I look forward to the brave Hollywood boycott of the Cannes film festival next year (too late for 2019), since France bans abortion after 10 weeks.

And I expect there will be no more films set in the major European capitals, or on the Riviera, or in the Alps, or exotic Morocco, or most of South America, or anywhere in the Middle East or Africa. Most of the world restricts abortion after the first trimester. Even Sweden, with one of Europe’s most liberal abortion laws, bans abortion after 18 weeks.

If you will only film in places where abortion on demand for any reason for all nine months is permitted, you’re restricting the industry largely to the anglosphere: Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and certain parts of the United States and Australia. (What is this thing Anglo countries have for abortion do you suppose?) Sorry, actors of color who want more great parts and more diverse stories told: “on location” from now on means mostly New York, Los Angeles, London, Toronto, and  Sydney. And Beijing, of course—a welcome exception to the coming studio boycott of practically the whole non-Anglo world.

P.S. Abortion is legal only in the first trimester in Switzerland. Should anyone be going to Davos?

Photo credit:  Mario Tama/Getty Images

America • History • Hollywood • Post • The Culture

Hollywood’s Happy Hoodlum Makes Murder Routine

The crook is in a parking lot trying to break into a car when he sees a lady with shopping bags approaching her vehicle. Pretending to be a friendly stranger, he insists on helping her load the bags into her trunk. She tells him that since she didn’t ask for his help, he won’t be getting a tip.

He grins and says, “Oh, that’s OK, ma’am. I’ll just take your car.”

That’s a “laugh” line from the 1998 crime film, “Out of Sight.” Presumably, few people in the chuckling audience were ever victims of a carjacking. But the really odd thing is that in the film’s plot, the grinning carjacker is one of the good guys.

Most of the crooks in “Out of Sight” are either mean as snakes or dumb as posts (or both), and in the end, right does prevail, more or less. So the movie is hardly the worst example of glorified crime ever to come out of Hollywood. But it’s long past time for Tinseltown to be getting over its love affair with criminals.

That affair has been going on at least since James Cagney gave his girlfriend a face full of grapefruit in “The Public Enemy” (1931), but it reached a crescendo in the 1960s and ’70s—which, it so happens, is when real-life American crime posted its steepest increases in the modern era.

In those days, a vogue for attractive, successful screen criminals enlisted Hollywood stars including Paul Newman and Robert Redford (partners in crime in “The Sting” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), Steve McQueen (a gentleman thief in “The Thomas Crown Affair”), Warren Beatty (a charming bank robber in “Bonnie and Clyde,” a charming pimp in “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”), and Rock Hudson (a dashing serial killer—yes, a dashing serial killer—in “Pretty Maids All in a Row”).

It included “blaxploitation” films (“Superfly,” with its drug-pusher hero) and had an international dimension. (In the European caper film “Topkapi,” it’s perfectly all right to be a jewel thief, but unforgivable to be a “schmo.”) The celluloid crime wave subverted even the rock-ribbed rectitude of John Wayne (who organizes a violent gold robbery in “The War Wagon”).

These movies usually ignored the canons of ’30s gangster epics and ’40s film noir, in which the lawbreaking protagonist’s unhappy fate is sealed when he takes his first wrong step. In many of them, the crooks get away scot-free; in others, their violent last stand is depicted as heroic rather than pathetic.

Many of the films went out of their way to portray policemen as ugly, corrupt, or coldly evil. In at least one (“Lawman,” with Burt Lancaster), the peace officer holds center stage as a bloody sociopath. The image common to virtually all of them is that of the happy hoodlum, the gutsy, daring rogue.

Most of the liberal media’s film critics purred happily at this “cute crook” genre. (There were honorable exceptions: New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, for example, tore up “Butch Cassidy” as supercilious and morally deranged.) Tellingly, those same critics were livid in 1974 about “Death Wish,” with its strong depiction of the agonies suffered by crime victims and their survivors. But critical acclaim and commercial success aren’t the only reasons crime on screen was running wild. First, it had to get permission.

No cute-crook picture would have been allowed under the old Motion Picture Production Code, which decreed that “the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.” Nor could the gruesome slasher genre have flourished under the code, which required also that “the technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation.” In the 1960s, the code was abandoned. The cinematic crime wave was the result.

A closer look at two hit films, 23 years apart, may serve to illustrate how greatly American culture changed in one generation. I happened to see them one after the other on television one night, and the contrast was striking.

The Late Show was “Shane,” produced and directed in 1953 by George Stevens, a veteran both of Hollywood and of the war in Europe. Set in the late 19th century, “Shane” tells the story of a former gunfighter, weary of violence, who reluctantly defends a group of Wyoming homesteaders against a cattle baron’s efforts to force them off their land. When the cattleman’s bullying and bloodless half measures are thwarted, he sends for a gunfighter of his own, one with no scruples about murder.

This villain (played by a young and very scary Jack Palance) promptly goads one of the farmers into a duel in which the sodbuster is hopelessly outmatched. The gunman dispatches his victim with a sadistic smile, and the farmers are given to understand that the same fate awaits them all if they don’t clear out. In the absence of state law enforcement, it falls to Shane to bring retribution down on both the killer and his employer.

Next on the tube was “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” a 1976 western starring Clint Eastwood. In its opening scene, Civil War guerrillas massacre a Missouri man’s family, turning him from a peaceful farmer into a remorseless killer. The film is little more than an arrangement of set-pieces in which the hero guns down a series of contemptible minor characters.

What struck me then is that Eastwood was playing his part in the very same manner as the gunslinging bad guy in “Shane.” He had the same soft, hissing voice, the same cold air of menace. The only difference was that whereas Palance’s gunman smiled at his victims while shooting them, Eastwood’s character would grimace, shoot, and then spit tobacco juice on the corpse. And this was how the “good guy,” the audience’s role model, behaved!

Equally stark was the contrast in what the two films showed of a gunfight’s aftermath. In “Josey Wales,” it’s just “bang! bang!” and on to the next showdown. But in “Shane,” when the sodbuster dies, we go to his funeral, we listen to the hymns sung and prayers said over his grave, we hear his widow’s sobs. We even watch his dog whining and scratching at his coffin as it’s lowered into the ground.

Moreover, George Stevens’ film shows the humanity of all its characters, inviting the audience’s sympathy for everyone involved. When the hero metes out justice at the end, the mood is not triumph but sorrow. His motivation throughout is never spite; it’s a sense of shared obligation, of duty accepted and fulfilled for the sake of others.

“Shane” is very much an icon of its era, reflecting a generation’s gratitude to all the reluctant warriors, the loved ones who accepted the grim and bloody challenge of defeating the Axis in World War II.

“Josey Wales” is equally a sign of its times. But go back far enough, and you’ll find lots of Hollywood films with nobler themes.

Many, of course, laud duty and honor and have no killings at all: classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and lesser-known gems like “The Strawberry Blonde” and “Third Man on the Mountain.” Others show criminal violence while teaching us earnestly to hate it: “The Killers,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Naked City,” “On the Waterfront,” “West Side Story,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Murder, Inc.”

More recent movies are more problematic, mainly because of their harsher depictions of bloodshed; yet many of them retain moral clarity about the human cost of crime: “In Cold Blood,” “Bullitt,” “Hang ’Em High,” “The Onion Field,” “The Black Marble,” “Fort Apache, the Bronx,” “An Eye for an Eye,” “Fargo.”

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy might be counted among that bunch, as its tale is tragic and its depiction of mob violence is unflinchingly grim. Yet it seems more a glorification of crime than a repudiation of it. In Coppola’s eyes, the Corleones conduct themselves with dignity, and their victims—from the Hollywood horse’s ass who finds a horse’s head in his bed to the rival mob bosses who fall like tenpins before the Godfather’s righteous wrath—all have it coming to them. Real-life wrongdoers ranging from Mafia don Joseph Bonanno to Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein have fallen in love with this image of the gangster as hero.

The Martin Scorsese gangster films, such as “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” paint a much different picture. They could even be called the anti-Godfathers, full of vicious characters whose disputes are petty and stupid and whose respect for the people around them is tenuous to non-existent. Scorsese’s gangsters are more pathetic than heroic. They are apt to trample the rights and snuff out the life of anyone, fellow hoodlum or hapless innocent, who crosses them in any way at all, and when they finally do meet their end, they themselves are the ones who “have it coming.”

All the same, for every serious and worthwhile crime drama, you have a dozen moral monstrosities: slasher films from “Friday the 13th” to “Scream,” cute-crook movies from “Bonnie and Clyde” to “Natural Born Killers,” mass murder as catharsis in “Carrie” and “The Matrix.”

I stopped paying attention to Hollywood’s output around the turn of the century, but I doubt very much that the past two decades have seen any improvement in that regard. This little mash-up of recent movie mayhem suggests the party is far from over.

Under the old code, Hollywood had a care for what effect its products might have on the more impressionable members of the audience. Not so in the post-code era. And what do you suppose would be the result?

Let’s leave the cinema for a moment and read a line of dialogue from reality: “Murder is not weak and slow-witted, murder is gutsy and daring.”

Those words were written in 1997 by a 16-year-old boy just before he butchered his mother, then shot two of his classmates to death and wounded seven others at a high school in Pearl, Mississippi. His was the first in a series of schoolhouse massacres that, as the riots and assassinations were to the ’60s, have become a signature of our times.

Can a line of responsibility be drawn from the entertainment industry to all that mayhem? Not entirely—though in some cases, where the little morons have consciously aped some atrocity they’ve seen on the big screen, you can just about do that. (“Natural Born Killers” and “The Matrix” were especially fruitful that way.) But there’s enough of a connection to have a lot of us seeking some way to confront those who promote death-worshiping movies, song lyrics and video games.

With regard to motion pictures, however, just how kind and gentle do we want them? Can a diet of “Mary Poppins” appeal to a youth who wants, above all, to be seen as “gutsy and daring”? We often hear about the huge number of on-screen homicides a boy has witnessed by the time he reaches his teens. But children have been raised on tales of blood ever since Achilles slew Hector and David slew Goliath, and indeed long before that.

By way of illustration, here is a bedtime story as told by Barry Lyndon to his son Bryan:

We crept up on their fort, and I jumped over the wall first. My fellows jumped after me. Oh, you should have seen the look on the Frenchmen’s faces when 23 rampaging he-devils, sword and pistol, cut and thrust, pell-mell came tumbling into their fort. In three minutes, we left as many artillerymen’s heads as there were cannonballs. Later that day we were visited by our noble Prince Henry. “Who is the man who has done this?” I stepped forward. “How many heads was it,” says he, “that you cut off?” “Nineteen,” says I, “besides wounding several.” Well, when he heard it, I’ll be blessed if he didn’t burst into tears. “Noble, noble fellow,” he said. “Here is 19 golden guineas for you, one for each head that you cut off.” Now what do you think of that?

“Were you allowed to keep the heads?” asks Bryan. “No, the heads always become the property of the King.” “Will you tell me another story?” “I’ll tell you one tomorrow.” “Will you play cards with me tomorrow?” “Of course I will. Now go to sleep.”

Barry’s tale is given a heart-breaking reprise when young Bryan lies dying.

It may be hard to recall today, but in America the words “shoot-em-up” used to have a happy meaning. It referred to Western B-list pictures starring good-hearted, clean-minded cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Young boys would come home from Saturday matinees, take their toy pistols out to the back yard, and holler “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!” at each other to their heart’s content—and no one had anything to fear. It was all in fun, with no malice at all.

What’s changed? Is it simply a difference in quantity, too much time in front of the boob tube, too many “first-person shooter” video games? Many experts say so. But isn’t it obvious that there has also been a change in quality, in the moral context in which deadly conflict is presented?

A mother who lost her child in one of the early school massacres said something that reinforces the point. With the atrocity at Columbine High School renewing her own grief, Suzanne Wilson of Jonesboro, Arkansas, argued that kids shouldn’t be kept unaware of violence.

“Let the children go to funerals,” she said. “Let them see what happens after the shots are fired. Let’s show them the empty bedroom. Let them know that death is final.”

Wilson was speaking of real life, of course—of real funerals like her daughter Brittheny’s. But her words made me think of the mother’s bereavement in “The Naked City” and of the sodbuster’s funeral in “Shane.”

“The Outlaw Josey Wales,” with its serial-killer hero, was released amid a crime wave unequaled in our history, a 50-year disaster that Hollywood’s movie mayhem both reflected and incited. Mercifully, this crime tsunami has receded from its 1991 crest, yielding to tough lock-’em-up policies, proactive “stop and frisk” policing, a resurgent if increasingly proscribed reliance on the death penalty, and stubbornly law-and-order social attitudes.

Yet each of those anti-crime factors has itself accumulated a burden of complaints and countervailing efforts that threaten to move further improvement beyond our reach and may even put whatever improvement we’ve already achieved at risk.

Meanwhile, as shown by the continuing craze for massacres in schools, churches, nightclubs, concert venues and other public places—to say nothing of the relentless daily toll taken by routine murders in our streets, parks and homes—we remain a long way yet from normalcy.

And the happy hoodlum continues to be a Hollywood staple.

Photo Credit: John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

America • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • History • Hollywood • political philosophy • Post

The Political Implications of the Antihero

Once upon a time in Western civilization, the knight in shining armor was the beau ideal for male character development. A guileless, clean-living, fair-playing Christian and brave sort of rule-keeping chap who treated women with due deference and willingly, if not enthusiastically, sacrificed all for God, king, and country.

The Somme, to steal from Robert Graves, bid goodbye to all that. In the United States, one might have thought Fredericksburg would have done the trick. It didn’t and it took until World War I to start the process in earnest. It took the Vietnam War to finish it.

But culturally, we see in the Great War poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, followed by the “Lost Generation” in Paris, the beginning of the disillusion with, and rejection of, Western codes of honor that had held sway for 1,000 years. Fictional characters such as Jay Gatsby, Rick Blaine, Harry Callahan, and Han Solo showcased leading men who broke rules, disdained authority, and behaved as they saw fit, sometimes in serious contravention of reigning codes of society. They are the antihero.

Though a phenomenon since the time of Andrew Jackson and the American cowboy, it’s fair to say that as artillery serves as a precursor to an infantry assault, this post-World War I trend paved the way in America for Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. These men are rogues who found political success in a culture no longer looking for Boy Scouts.

When we think of the past world, in a sense the old world before 1916, we think of bemedaled sovereigns and potentates striding in solemn procession at Edward VII’s funeral in 1910. The approximate century prior since Waterloo had seen the concept of the Christian gentleman, perhaps best typified by Gordon of Khartoum, as the apogee of masculinity. We perceive them as Dudley Do-Rights today. John Glenn was a self-admitted member of the club and worried about it.

The generation of men who thought and lived like that—Rupert Brooke may have been their most sublime and beautiful voice in “The Soldier”—found their ultimate sacrifice in the trenches of the Western Front. The young subalterns straight out of Eton or Oxbridge, in keeping with Wellington, saw it as a grand game at first. After all, gentlemen didn’t even carry a weapon. Slaughter was the work of the lower orders. Aristos had better things to do. Many of our best of 1917 felt the same way.

Their attitude soon changed when the butcher’s bill came due courtesy of German machine guns and poison gas shells.

British poet Wilfred Owen caught that acidic aftertaste in his classic Dulce et Decorum Est. Americans came home a bit less scarred but still questioning why. With the League of Nations not yet passed, Europe still in shambles, and an intervening decade that would see Europe on the road to world war again, just what did America accomplish in its bid to “make the world safe for democracy” and “end all wars”?

The consensus was very little. Hence, when the draft was up for renewal in 1941, and as World War II brewed with vigor, the bill passed by just one vote in the House, so present was the searing memory of the waste of World War I.

If you know your Fitzgerald, you know the story. The dashing young Princeton lieutenant off to war at the outset of This Side of Paradise is much removed from Gatsby, a bootlegging mystery man who consorts with mobsters and blithely violates societal norms to possess Daisy Buchanan. The difference between hero and antihero? The crucible of war.

Rick Blaine, who had run guns to the Spanish loyalists, then thought the nobler of the sides in the Spanish Civil War, in “Casablanca” is a boozy bar owner in Vichy France who is on the lam from American authorities for an unknown reason. When approached to help Victor Laszlo, a resistance leader against the Nazis, escape to America, he puts his bitter, burning torch for his ex, now Laszlo’s wife, above his alleged duty to fight for freedom and country. Yes, eventually he goes all squish. In 1942, the rot was in a state of stasis because of another war.

Jump forward two wars, Korea and Vietnam, a semi-victory and a loss, and we come to the San Francisco Police Department’s Dirty Harry. Since it’s relatively modern, I won’t belabor the details, as many readers will recall the film. Suffice to say, Callahan has only a passing acquaintance with rules and respect for duly constituted authority. The American public glorified him for it and a U.S. president quoted him from the podium. No more nice guys, we want winners, even if they have to fight dirty.

It’s almost as though we channeled the frustration over the failed objectives in Korea and Vietnam and decided to ape the Viet Cong in their dedication to final triumph, regardless of the questionable ethics required to achieve it.

Do I even have to go into all the ways Han Solo is no choirboy? He’s Rick Blaine in a galaxy far, far away. He’s out for himself and, like Blaine, only comes around at the urgings of a woman he eventually loves. Solo is a smuggler and free-booter, just the man for the age after “the best and brightest” lost Vietnam.

The young selfless honor-bound war hero George H. W. Bush’s win in Desert Storm notwithstanding, we rejected him a bit over a year later for a draft-dodging womanizer of highly questionable personal ethics and his wife who put, more so now, the Borgias to shame for their lack of integrity.

And how do we remember the 1990s? For many of us, it was a glorious decade. Now that could be a function of our then-relative youth, the good economy, or the GOP congressional dominance. No matter the qualifiers, however, many prospered. We noticed the White House doings, up to and including impeachment, and then went on with our lives, rarely giving a second serious thought to the summer stock Elvis in the Oval Office. Our need for noble individuals in power had fallen to that.

Consider that after Bill Clinton was impeached, his poll numbers went up.

I also won’t go into the current president’s foibles and what I consider his good record, as that was recently covered in another column in this space. You can make your own judgments. Though, ask yourself, when you hear of a scandal are you surprised at all? Do even the most heinous acts of political transgression motivate you to think, “Wow! I never would have guessed”?

I would venture to speculate it is generally unlikely.

Russian hoaxes, socialist authoritarians, and congressional witch hunts are usually not repulsed by the Dudley Do-Rights of the world. Fictional San Francisco police inspectors and their temperamental followers fare better when jousting with those foes. So our devolution from hero to antihero has its political plus sides. On the ethical and moral sides, the jury is most definitely still out on the question.

As it should be. For the specter of political conflict is not the total be all and end all of life. When it is our more vital civic, intellectual, and cultural lives are worse off for it.

Photo Credit: Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

Hollywood • Movies • Post • Progressivism • The Left

What If Thanos Snapped the Wrong People?

Avengers: Endgame” is about to soar into theaters nationwide. We know this because a new trailer drops almost weekly and we all are about to lose our nerdy minds.

Based on the events of last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” we surmise that the perished half of the universe Thanos, the Mad Titan, wiped out with a snap of his Infinity Gauntlet-clad hand will be restored. Heroes, villains, and others neither heroic nor particularly villainous who were lost in his act of extreme interplanetary makeover will live again. Or so goes the theory from the geek brigade of which I am proudly a member.

Since I first saw “Infinity War,” I’ve been nagged by a singular question: What if Thanos snapped the wrong people?

Put another way: What if the son of Saturn’s moon got a little out over his skis? What if he had been more calculated about it, more discerning, and less willy-nilly, at dusting half of the living beings in the whole cosmos?

What if Thanos had taken a more nuanced approach? Would we be viewing the most diabolical villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an all new light? Dare I say, a positive one?

Last we saw Thanos he was enjoying a sunrise post-obliteration, reading the newspaper, sipping coffee, and perhaps having a morning constitutional. Just a regular Joe doing his morning routine. So have we misunderstood him? Thanos seems like a reasonable guy, so why didn’t he just get rid of all the murderers, rapists, and IRS auditors in the galaxy? I can think of no single objection that could possibly be raised against this proposal. He could have snapped the world into a better place.

Why get rid of Peter Parker, T’Challa, and Groot when you could instantly evaporate all the Justin Bieber fans? Wouldn’t that make the galaxy great again?

Why not just get rid of all front-runner sports fans who only root for their team when they are winning? Like people living in Connecticut and rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers.

Thanos could have snapped the always obnoxious actor Chris Evans without snapping the actual Captain America character. Evans recently said that was willing to alienate half of the MCU’s audience in order to trash President Donald Trump and his supporters. With Evans’ contract now up with Marvel, I have a hunch that Thanos may handle this problem for us in “Endgame.”

Thanos showed us tears when his daughter Gamora had to go, giving us a glimpse of an alienated father who is carrying a terrible burden. It’s not a job that I envy. At the very least we can agree that the snap should never have been random, the Infinity Stones should have been used more strategically. More scalpel and less slapdash intergalactic paintball of death.

Like why not start with MSNBC, Jar Jar Binks, the Teletubbies, and ISIS?

Then maybe move on to the people who think there should have been an all-women Ghostbusters . . . snap! Or how about all the people at the gym who annoy you? The selfie zombies, the bro-herd who-high five for no reason, anyone swinging a Kettlebell, people without deodorant, and all the creepers hitting on women who just want to be left alone . . . snap!

How about Little Rocketman? Or bearded hipsters? Or grown men wearing sandals with socks? Where is Thanos when you need him? Snap, snap!

How about that guy who posts stupid, unoriginal, unfunny memes on Instagram all day? That coworker who always says, “This ain’t my first rodeo!” right before screwing up everything he touches. How about every human participating in the rapid proliferation of electric pay-per-minute scooters and then leaving them uncharged littered across America’s cities? Snap, snap, snap!

A case definitely could be made that the only flaw of the snap was the randomness of it all. Thanos is vilified because his techniques don’t poll well with media. The right ideas but the wrong approach. Had he just snapped Phish, Abba, and Hamas, he would be hailed as a hero.

Thanos even tried to reason with the Avengers but they just wouldn’t listen. Couldn’t they all have compromised on snapping something together? A true statement of bipartisanship. Like eradicating nearly all the DC Extended Universe characters (except for Wonder Woman, of course).

How about we snap those tedious sports reporters who always asks the most obvious questions—“What’s it gonna take to win tonight, coach?” Snap. How about the NFL refs that blew the Saints-Rams NFC Championship game? Could we do something with the monochromatic late night hosts? All of them. Snap. The SJWs who see Twitter as their woke mafia hunting ground? That guy who keeps telling you “You’d love soccer if you’d only give it a chance.” Triple snap.

Mooches, welchers, bad-tippers, and that ignoramus who thinks his electric car is morally superior to your gas car—even though the electric car depends on fossil fuels for charging.

What about the guy who microwaves fish at the office? I think you get the point.

Maybe with “Endgame,” the Avengers can find it in their hearts to give Thanos a mulligan? A do-over. After all, Doctor Strange even said there’s only one scenario out of 14,000,605 possible future outcomes in which the Avengers defeat Thanos. But in this scenario, maybe they don’t have to?

Maybe they can let Thanos re-snap the universe is a less haphazard way, perhaps beginning with people who have “Coexist” bumper-stickers on their car but ruthlessly cut you off in traffic.

Or even simpler, just snap all the people who can’t take a joke.

Photo Credit: Art by Jim Starlin from a photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Hollywood • Post • The Left

Celebrity Hatred Discredited by Hypocrisy

Donald Trump supporters who never watch mainstream television are making a mistake. Sample it from time to time if only to be reminded just how thoroughly the corporate left-wing media  manipulates the American people.

The fact that Trump was able to garner any support at all, much less win an election, is a testimony to the validity of his positions, because his success has come in spite of the perpetual animosity of the most powerful class of elites in the history of the world.

This animosity was on full display on April 19, when Robert De Niro, one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors, paid a visit to Stephen Colbert, whose “Late Show” on CBS is now the top-rated late-night talk show in America. How Colbert has risen to the pinnacle of late night television is not a pretty story.

In his 11-minute opening monologue on April 19, Colbert talked about President Trump. That’s no surprise. Colbert always talks about Trump in his opening monologue. Typically, Trump is the only thing Colbert talks about in is monologue. And on April 19, Colbert’s monologue was, as always, a nonstop barrage of insults, infantile impersonations, dirty jokes, and lies.

To enjoy Colbert these days, you either have to appreciate incredibly juvenile, vicious slander that’s being passed off as humor, or you have to be filled with so much hatred for the president that you don’t care. But why should Colbert change his tactics? It’s far easier for his writers to produce anti-Trump vitriol than it is actually to come up with clever jokes, day after day, and selling anti-Trump hate has propelled Colbert to the top of his profession after struggling for the first few years he was on the air.

If you watch Colbert without ideological blinders, you see him for what he is. A smarmy, sneering, sarcastic, sophomoric, opinionated creep, pathetically mediocre in comparison to the great comics and late-night hosts of decades past. If you don’t care to risk the brain rot of television merely to let people reinforce your aggressions and anxieties, Colbert is hazardous to your emotional health.

And then De Niro joined Colbert, to prolonged applause. For those of us who don’t pay close attention to the lives of Hollywood stars, De Niro was an icon, a likable actor, and like all famous celebrities, he is a role model. We internalize his characters, we admire their grit, we empathize with their conflicts. But on June 10, 2018, De Niro lost tens of millions of fans overnight, at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards in New York City.

De Niro’s decision last year to bring politics into an awards show for actors is nothing new, but he turned it up a notch. As soon as he reached the microphone, he said “I’m going to say one thing: ‘Fuck Trump.’” After 20 seconds of delirious applause, he escalated, saying “It’s no longer ‘down with Trump’; it’s ‘fuck Trump.’”

Suddenly Robert De Niro was no longer one of the most talented actors of his generation. He was just another aging celebrity, who has to offer profanity and hatred to a partisan crowd to make up for the fact that he turned in his last great performances over 20 years ago. De Niro and Colbert have much in common.

De Niro didn’t offer the F-word to his remaining fans during his recent appearance with Colbert, but he didn’t disappoint them, either. In reference to his Robert Mueller impersonations on “Saturday Night Live,” he said “I hope I can handcuff Trump and lead him away in an orange jumpsuit.” As Colbert’s audience ecstatically shrieked, he went on to call Trump “a total loser.”

It’s worth wondering if actors and comics who have leveraged anti-Trump sentiments for publicity and ratings realize how they appear to pro-Trump viewers. Even politically neutral observers must have caught the irony when De Niro then accused Trump of being a “wannabe gangster.”

There are big problems with De Niro saying this.

First, and most obvious, De Niro built his career playing the parts of gangsters. But De Niro isn’t a gangster. He’s an actor. So who’s the “wannabe”?

Less obvious, but more significant, is the fact that “wannabe” pretty much defines what an actor is. Their careers are made by pretending to be other people. Donald Trump, on the other hand, successfully built skyscrapers in Manhattan, one of the toughest places in the world to do anything. Apart from pretending to be fictitious characters in movies, what has Robert De Niro ever done?

Colbert and De Niro’s shared hatred for Trump is not unusual. The Left has co-opted 90 percent or more of America’s media and entertainment industry, academia, high-tech, corporate multinationals, and government bureaucracies. They want to destroy and divide America because doing so gives them money and power. And because their rhetoric is too beguiling to be easily recognized as fraudulent, the innumerate and the inattentive often fall for it despite having good hearts.

On an individual to individual basis, it’s hard to know which celebrities indulge Trump hatred based on misguided principle, and which ones do it because it helps their careers. But Trump hatred has devolved into a more generalized hatred coming from the Left that is increasingly toxic.

Was Chrissy Teigen thinking about Robert De Niro when she decided to join the F-word chorus at a recent strategy retreat for prominent Democrats? She was asked, “if there was one word you would help, particularly women, use more frequently, what would it be?” Her response? “Fuck you.” The crowd went wild. And it worked. Most of us had never heard of Chrissy Teigen. Now everybody knows her name.

Teigen’s partner in profanity, along with Trump hatred, is her husband John Legend. Reacting to Trump’s attempts to control immigration—and in complete deference to the leftist media’s complete distortion of both the scope of that problem and the possible solutions—on November 7, 2018, Legend tweeted “The president is a fucking embarrassment.” But maybe Legend and Teigen are only embarrassing themselves.

The celebrities who despise Donald Trump are too numerous to mention. They don’t have to be so outspoken in their hatred to keep their jobs, for that all they have to do is keep their mouths shut. Needless to say, there are plenty of actors, along with professors, teachers, and other professionals, who have to keep any favorable opinions about Trump to themselves. But what motivates the ones who go the extra mile in their hatred, dropping the F bomb like De Niro, Teigen, and Legend, or obsessing endlessly about Trump like Colbert?

Do they realize how much it devalues them? How cheap they look? Don’t they see that by stooping to the lowest forms of insults, far lower than anything Trump’s ever even allegedly done, their indignation is discredited by their hypocrisy?

Nobody in the mainstream media will do it, but thankfully, there are now ordinary people everywhere who have the tools to do video editing. It would be helpful to show middle-of-the-road Americans, those millions who will swing the next election, an anthology of Trump hatred. From Colbert to De Niro to Legend and Teigen, to Omar and Tlaib, and hundreds of others, collect video snippets that expose their blithe profanity, their unreasoning hate, their violent fantasies. These are the people, and this is the movement, that wants Trump gone. Do we really want to hand them political power?

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Photo Credit: Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

America • History • Hollywood • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Left

Celluloid Alternatives

Unless mercifully you live under a rock, you have heard all the hoopla over the upcoming next installment in the “Star Wars” franchise. Those of us over the age of consent realize the series jumped the shark after the third, no-sixth, no-who cares, film. It went from being your basic World War II fighter pilot movie placed in outer space to a jumbled PC narrative of offensive mumbling space lizards and ethnic stereotypes that would put Joseph Goebbels to shame. The latest in the offering is a slightly rebooted effort of past stories with a feminist tinge.

Yeah, boring stuff.

The first and original “Star Wars,” combined with other 1970s movies “Rocky II” and “Apocalypse Now,” offered America, in the worst of modern decades, release from the progressive pieties of the day and a chance for the silent majority to reconnect to an America they thought could be gone forever. Such was the pessimism of the Me Decade. Such were the alternatives yearned for.

“Star Wars” portrayed the plucky pilots of an American Revolutionary-like force in a fight against an aesthetically combined Nazi-Soviet empire. This when the United States was getting its hat handed to it all over the world in places such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and Angola; at a time when an American president rambled on about “a crisis of confidence” festooned in a cardigan better suited to a butch grandmother. The movie was a fantasy of American geopolitical resurgence.

The U.S.-Rebel Alliance similarities in Star Wars are notable. The rebel pilots’ flight suits were almost exact copies of U.S. naval aviator flight suits. The imperial uniforms had a Tyrolean look, of course, in feldgrau. The call signs were American and the mission chatter would not have seemed out of place in “Top Gun.” To be fair, there was some RAF thrown in too. The genre, dashing U.S. fliers against aliens would later be done to clichéd perfection in “Independence Day.”

The country kid coming to the rescue at the end with his sharpshooting skill is such a blatant “Sergeant York” scene, or of any number of cavalry coming to the rescue Westerns, that the writers must have blushed at the plagiaristic chutzpah of including it.

The Han Solo and Princess Leia romance? Gee, anti-hero reluctant loner interested in sticking his neck out for nobody in a rocky romance with idealistic heroine of the resistance. “Casablanca” anyone? Luke and Obi-Wan? “A Guy Named Joe,” a World War II-era  Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, and Van Johnson vehicle where dead pilot Tracy gives invisible over the shoulder advice to novice pilot Johnson.

The list goes on. Not that it diminishes “Star Wars.” It just pays a debt to memories of those of us who grew up watching television reruns of those films and thus bonded with the Lucas creation, as Lucas intended.

“Rocky II,” after the ascendency of black power Muslim and draft-dodger boxer Muhammad Ali, gave Middle America an Ellis Island ethnic heavyweight champion who was right out of Central Casting. The message wasn’t black versus white. Joe Louis had been black, as had Sonny Liston, and they were popular favorites. The comparison was big-talking, name-changing Ali, who was tremendously talented as a fighter, versus his easier to stomach competitors who couldn’t match him in the ring. It was the old world reassurance of an Italian from Philly against a new cultural force as evidenced by Ali.

“Rocky” was not derivative as was “Star Wars.” Its appeal was to feed an American hunger for comparative stability in a world that to many had gone mad after they had experienced the U.S. economic boom of the 1950s followed by the humiliations of the next 20 years.

The lovable lug of various past boxer movies was incarnate now in Rocky Balboa. His city, the cradle of American freedom. His opponent? Ali in everything but name and certainly in arrogance and showmanship. “Rocky” was a teaser for the sequel, given the virtual tie at the end of the match. After the victory of Balboa in the follow up, the two work together first to defeat the menace of the urban predator in III and then the Cold War foe in IV. It’s as if Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner had miraculously defeated Ali. Then Ali was in his corner against Mike Tyson.

Not at all likely. Though flyover country wasn’t looking for reality in this series. They already had too much of that in the evening news. They wanted and got cinematic comfort food.

“Apocalypse Now” showed the Vietnam War not exclusively as the Left intended, of a neocolonial exercise of a capitalist superpower to oppress the peace-loving people of Southeast Asia. Instead it told of a surreal landscape of U.S. power challenged by Stone Age technology. The Americans had their moments of glory, as in the Wagner-scored helicopter attack scene led by Robert Duvall’s Wild Bill Kilgore. At its end the film recognized the only way we were going to be victorious in that war was to do what the British and Field Marshal Templer had done during the Malayan Emergency, be more Viet Cong than the actual Viet Cong. It was no throwaway script line that VC activity had fallen dramatically in Kurtz’s area of operations. However, since our national security policy and Army doctrine forbade anywhere near proper implementation of that, we were doomed to eventual loss by political attrition and tactical malfeasance.

I think Sir John Keegan wrote the best book printed on tactical relationships between men, The Face of Battle. In it he compares three clashes, Agincourt in 1415, Waterloo in 1815, and The Somme in 1916. While the technology changes, the reaction of the men under fire essentially does not. They do not primarily fight for flag, country, or ideology. They fight for the guy next to them. Coppola got that and emphasized the men on the boat and the insane bonds of loyalty to Colonel Kurtz over any sense of the geopolitical or ideological aspect of the conflict. A story as old as “Beau Geste” and “Battleground,” it rang true to veterans of any military conflict. And this movie had a rock and roll soundtrack in keeping with the zeitgeist.

“Apocalypse Now” was not Hanoi Jane-inspired Bolshie agitprop, as Vietnam vets had been already used to. This film said to those vets, yes you sometimes had your glory and you did what you had to do in a dysfunctional environment led by bureaucrats in Washington and higher command.

It also, by the seeming absence of coherent leadership at the top, recalled another part of the war. Colonel Harry Summers, an accomplished soldier, led a team to Hanoi in July of 1974 to resolve the issue of U.S. MIAs with the North Vietnamese. During a break in the negotiations he got into a conversation with his NVA counterpart. As they debated the ups and downs of U.S. involvement, Summers opined, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,” NVA Colonel Tu countered, “That may be so. It is also irrelevant.”

The Communist colonel knew what Coppola did and LBJ did not, faced with muddled and constrained objectives the mission was handicapped from the get-go. Throw into that Tu’s simultaneous dagger in the gut over the United States kowtowing to teenage protestors and you have the recipe for abject strategic failure.

The frustration of U.S. vets stateside to what they saw as lack of purpose in fighting that war is reflected in Summers’ challenge and the brutal accuracy of Tu’s response. Again, the American fighting man didn’t lose. Armchair generals did. It was a message traditional America could embrace. Perhaps too comforting in its rationalizations. Certainly better than the drum beat of imperial overreach and downfall emanating from other parts of the popular culture.

In their alternative messages, these films led the way for the reborn America of the 1980s that emerged out of the national traumas of Watergate, Vietnam, and Jimmy Carter. Thus their cultural reconnaissance went far past celluloid and into the national consciousness.

You can say better things about the influence of a movie. But not by much.

Photo Credit: John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

America • History • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Law and Order • Post • The Left

From ‘Birth’ to ‘Glory’ by Way of ‘Wind’

At the end of his documentary series “The Civil War,” Ken Burns bids farewell to many of the figures who drove that story. They departed this earth in touching, even inspiring ways.

There’s General Ulysses S. Grant, stricken with cancer, racing the Reaper to produce an autobiography and thereby provide for his family, and finishing the manuscript one week before his death. (The resulting work is, unlike the overpraised memoirs of a more recent president, a true classic of American literature.)

There’s the aged Confederate General Joseph Johnston, standing bare-headed in the cold as a pallbearer at the 1891 funeral of William Tecumseh Sherman, the man who had harried him out of northern Georgia and chased him through the Carolinas. Urged by a friend to cover up, he replied, “If I were in his place, and Sherman were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” (Johnston died of pneumonia a month later.)

There’s Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Gettysburg, who led his Maine regiment in a bayonet attack that stopped the Southern effort to turn the Union flank on the battle’s second day, thus dooming the rebels to attempt Pickett’s Charge on the third. Chamberlain, full of years and honors, died in 1914 of complications from one of his six war wounds. The narrator concludes: “The war was over.”

The postscript Burns assigns to Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest goes like this: “In 1867, he became the first Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but then quit, when the Klan grew too violent even for him.” That’s more terse than elegiac. Much more could be said about Forrest’s disaffection from the KKK, enough to make the story of his final years an inspiration too.

Forrest didn’t just resign from the Klan; he threatened its remnants. In 1874, when a racial disturbance in Gibson County, Tennessee, ended with the murder of 16 blacks, Forrest attended a Memphis “indignation meeting” along with Jefferson Davis and other leading ex-Confederates. There he said that if he “were entrusted with proper authority he would capture and exterminate the white marauders who disgrace their race by this cowardly murder of negroes.”

Not only that, but Forrest started preaching integration long before its day finally came. At a time when many white Americans, North and South, would rather have deported free blacks from America to Africa, Forrest recommended the immigration of free blacks from Africa to help repopulate the South. In 1875, he told members of a black fraternal group in Memphis:

I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man, to depress none. I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. … I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. … Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.

As Forrest noted, such sentiments were not then shared by many of his fellow whites, and in fact they would shortly impose a Jim Crow regime in the South that lasted almost a century. (Forrest himself died two years after the Memphis speech.)

It’s a shame that Forrest’s more benign views did not prevail in his day. It’s a further shame that they are ignored now by those who want his memorials destroyed. But my question is how, after being damned by Forrest, Davis and the others, the KKK could ever have become resurgent to the point that it thrived in northern states like Indiana and even marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

We have Hollywood to thank for that. Hollywood melodrama, to be precise. And, just as the indulgence of melodrama is working mischief today, it worked mischief back then.

The most successful and consequential melodrama Hollywood ever produced is “The Birth of a Nation.” Completed in 1915 by film pioneer D.W. Griffith, it tells the story of how two families, the Stonemans of the North and the Camerons of the South, fought, suffered and eventually reconciled during and after the war. (The title reflects Griffith’s view that before the Union victory established the supremacy of federal power, the United States of America were not truly one nation.)

The film aroused a furor. In Boston, black citizens greeted its premiere with a riot at the theater and a petition to the governor that procured a threat of prosecution against Griffith. Despite such protests, “Birth” did enormous business, and it sparked and turbocharged the Klan’s revival.

In Griffith’s version of the Klan’s origin, Ben Cameron, “the little Colonel,” tries to warn a menacing black soldier named Gus away from his kid sister, Flora, but is rebuffed by the Reconstruction carpetbag leader, Silas Lynch. Sitting on a riverbank, “in agony of soul over the degradation and ruin of his people,” Cameron finds inspiration when he sees some white children scare their black playmates by hiding under a sheet and pretending to be ghosts. The Klan makes its debut by scaring “a negro disturber and barn burner” in like manner.

Undeterred by such nonsense, Gus accosts Flora in the woods. She flees, he gives chase, and she throws herself off a cliff to escape him. Her brother arrives in time to hear the dying woman name her pursuer.

Led by “the little Colonel,” the Klan captures Gus and decides his fate in a proceeding that takes as little time on film as many such deeds took in real life. One title reads, “The trial.” A few seconds later, another title reads, “Guilty.” The Klan kills Gus and dumps his body on the carpetbaggers’ doorstep.

In the film’s climax, black soldiers lay siege to a rural cabin in which some of the Stonemans and Camerons have taken refuge, while in town, whites cower behind locked doors as a riot rages in the streets. The Klan rides to the rescue, defeating soldiers and rioters in pitched battles.

Historians Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer wrote in 1957 that the sensation created by “The Birth of a Nation” was “without precedent and has never been duplicated. People had not known that they could be so moved, so roused, by what is, after all, only a succession of pictures passing across a screen.”

Despite its highly problematic subject matter, “Birth” is in the National Film Registry because of artistic merit, technical innovation, and historical significance. But its legendary cinematic virtues don’t obscure the fact that much of the film is just plain racist.

The film treats interracial marriage as a fate worse than death. It pictures uncouth black legislators as contemptible, even though the movies often depict equally uncouth white backwoodsmen with admiration. When Cameron is introduced to the mulatto Lynch, he spurns Lynch’s polite offer of a handshake, a snub that, though it offends the onlooking Stonemans, seems intended to meet with the audience’s approval. And at the end, the Klan completes its triumph by keeping black Southerners from voting, as if casting a ballot were a crime.

The whole story is of, by, and for whites. Except for Gus, Lynch, the elder Stoneman’s mistress and two “faithful souls” in the Cameron household, the blacks in the picture are a nameless horde whose rights, happiness, and future seem to interest the filmmaker not at all.

That’s not so with another Civil War film whose subject intersects with Griffith’s. Yet its presentation of the case is in surprising agreement on one point.

Edward Zwick’s 1989 epic, “Glory,” tells the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and it is counted by many Civil War buffs as the best and most authentic depiction of the war on film.

No melodrama here. Instead of whitewashing one side and smearing the other, “Glory” tells its story in full, dutifully recording the terror inflicted by black Union regiments on the Southern backcountry. Zwick’s heroes go along on one of those rapacious forays, and though their commanding officer objects in vain to his superior in the field, and his men carry out their orders reluctantly, this is of no benefit to the victims. Griffith, for his part, simply depicts the events, early in the wartime portion of his film, with no attempt at extenuation. In his melodrama, the black soldiers are villains, and that’s that.

Between “Birth” and “Glory,” was there any other Civil War movie of note? Oh, yes: filmdom’s all-time top grosser, “Gone With the Wind.”

Margaret Mitchell’s novel came out in 1936 and was America’s top-selling fiction title that year and the next, when it won the Pulitzer Prize. No sooner had Hollywood producer David O. Selznick set about bringing it to the screen, however, than he encountered protests like those which had greeted “Birth.” The problem was that since “Wind” dealt with the Civil War and Reconstruction from the Southern perspective, its story was going to involve many of the same elements as “Birth” had done, including lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan.

So Selznick and his screenwriters took care to keep the Klan out of the picture. In Mitchell’s novel, after Scarlett O’Hara is attacked while riding near a shanty town, the retaliatory sortie led by Frank Kennedy and Ashley Wilkes is a KKK raid. It remains off-screen in the movie, with the Klan never mentioned and with nary a Klan robe in sight.

The contrast between book and film here is revealing. In the novel, Scarlett came to be taking her buggy around Atlanta without the protection of a male driver because of two incidents: First, her black driver Uncle Peter refused to continue with her after some Yankee ladies insulted him and her retort to them struck him as inadequate. Second, the taciturn hillbilly ex-con she secured as Peter’s replacement quit her when she started using convict labor at her sawmill.

In the movie, Rhett Butler smiles and shrugs after Scarlett rejects his warning against driving alone “through all that riff-raff” to reach the mill. But in Mitchell’s novel, Rhett is more severe:

If you don’t care personally whether or not you are raped, you might consider the consequences. Because of your obstinacy, you may get yourself into a situation where your gallant fellow townsmen will be forced to avenge you by stringing up a few darkies. And that will bring the Yankees down on them and someone will probably get hanged. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps one of the reasons the ladies do not like you is that your conduct may cause the neck-stretching of their sons and husbands? And furthermore, if the Ku Klux handles many more negroes, the Yankees are going to tighten up on Atlanta in a way that will make Sherman’s conduct look angelic. . . . They mean to stamp out the Ku Klux if it means burning the whole town again and hanging every male over ten.

By the time this business reached the screen, its most fearsome aspects had vanished almost entirely. The episode even included moments of comic relief.

Such sanitizing kept “Gone With the Wind” from stirring up a second Klan revival. Unfortunately, it hasn’t kept the film out of the cross-hairs of today’s social justice warriors, who, not being content with saying, “Sorry, this flick is not my cup of tea,” are trying to ban it from public viewing. “Wind,” they say, is an artifact of white supremacy, and as such it is beyond the pale.

The melodrama of Southern villainy that runs in such people’s heads has a much worse consequence than what it might mean for movie lovers. With their slogan “‘Law and order’ are code words for racism,” our progressive thinkers have exposed millions of their fellow Americans to dangers that are no mere shadows on a screen.

A woman has a right to drive a buggy past a shantytown, or stroll on a pier in San Francisco Bay, or go jogging in Central Park, without suffering violence of any kind whatsoever. A child has a right to be tucked into bed at night, and not be hidden in a steel bathtub for fear of bullets flying through the walls. All of us have a right to sleep out on the fire escape if we want to, or ride a bicycle, or walk to school, or wait at a bus stop, or go grocery shopping, or attend church or synagogue, without worrying about becoming the next crime statistic.

Protection from criminal violence is something we owe to ourselves and to each other. It’s something the government owes to all who, as Forrest put it, “live honestly and act truly.” And as the image of Lady Justice has attested since antiquity, when the shield of the law has failed to protect, the sword of the law is there to avenge.

These statements are true regardless of race—and only a scoundrel or a fool would call it “white supremacy” to insist on them.

Photo Credit: Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Hollywood • Movies • Post • Religion and Society • Terrorism • The Media

A Great Movie About Jihad

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Hotel Mumbai,” which arrived in theaters late last month, is an Australian production “based on true events” that may have faded from memory or were not known in the first place. For the record, in 2008, Islamic jihadists launched a series of attacks in Mumbai, India, that claimed 166 victims from many nations.

As the movie opens, jihadists in small boats make landfall, guided by a Pakistani-based controller, codenamed “Bull.” The well-equipped team targets a train station, restaurants, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where most of the action takes place. The portrayal is very authentic with the terrorists, who invoke Allah as they throw grenades and gun down innocents young and old, male and female. This realism, unfortunately, tapers off with the various guest characters in the hotel.

These include the naïve American ordering a hamburger, the malevolent Russian who served in Afghanistan, and an elderly woman who wonders about a Sikh waiter’s beard and turban. The portrayal likely understates the bravery and suffering of hotel guests and the story neglects the real heroes.

The Indian special forces, known as the Black Cats, are late to the scene but quickly take down most of the terrorists. As Arnold Schwarzenegger said in “True Lies,” “they were all bad,” but the most important member of the death squad gets no screen time at all.

Daood Gilani, born to a Pakistani father and American mother, made five trips to Pakistan to train at camps operated by the terrorist organization called Lashkar e Tayyiba (LeT), which coordinated operations with Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. Gilani in 2006 changed his name to David Coleman Headley to ease travel to India. Between 2006 and 2008, he made five trips to Mumbai, giving his handlers key intelligence on the targets, including videos.

“Hotel Mumbai” does not reveal that the Chabad House Jewish community center was a primary target and the victims included Ben Zion Chroman, Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, Sandeep Jeswani, Alan Scherr, his daughter Naomi Scherr and Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum. Neither does the movie show that Headley, busted in 2009, got a sentence of only 35 years. The Indians, by contrast, hanged Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist the Black Cats managed to capture alive.

As the film notes, the Pakistan-based mastermind of the operation has never been caught. Any sequel will have to wait but the takeaway is clear: If you only play defense against jihad, many innocent people are going to die.

If “Hotel Mumbai” inspires any great American filmmakers, they might try the actual events of December 2015, when Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik gunned down 14 innocents and wounded 20 others at an office party in San Bernardino. The movie could show the terrorists’ meticulous planning and chart the back stories of the victims. The action could show local police taking down the terrorists in a ferocious gun battle. This victory was achieved with no further loss of innocent life, and before the pair could carry out their planned attacks on schools and freeways.

As Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather,” people might like a story like that. On the other hand, with the American movie industry dominated by the Left, such a film won’t be coming to the big screen any time soon. In today’s political climate, viewers might expect a movie with Ku Kluckers in MAGA hats attacking an LGBTQ convention at the Hotel Del Coronado.

Frustrated film viewers might track down a copy of Richard Grenier’s 1982 novel, The Marrakesh One-Two, in which wealthy Arab oil interests tap filmmaker Burt Nelson to make a movie about Mohammed and Islam, the equivalent of Hollywood biblical epics. “The Arab world depicted with murderous realism,” said the first-edition endorsement from U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who served in the mid-1970s as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The model here is “The Message,” (1977) by Moustapha Akkad, starring Anthony Quinn and subtitled “The Story of Islam.” Akkad made millions on the “Halloween” horror movies but was killed by a terrorist bomb in Jordan in 2005. You can’t make up this stuff, and any film about Islam entails a certain risk.

The “Hotel Mumbai” filmmakers knew that but went ahead anyway. The film is certain to draw protests from CAIR, Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and possibly some squeamish Republicans. Even so, everybody should see “Hotel Mumbai” to learn about “true events” and because it may be the most realistic portrayal of jihad to date.

Photo credit: Bleeker Street/ShivHan Pictures

America • American Conservatism • Americanism • civic culture/friendship • Hollywood • Law and Order • Post • self-government • The Culture

Civilization Wins in ‘The Highwaymen’

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Hollywood’s cultural liberalism is effective not because it lectures us. Indeed, the lecturing, hectoring awards shows have been getting clobbered in ratings precisely because they do that. The movies and TV shows that succeed in moving our culture leftward do so because they tell a story that gets us to sympathize with the hero.

In his fine little book, The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling writes that the three most significant political ideologies in America see political issues in terms of distinct fundamental conflicts. For liberals, it’s the oppressors versus the oppressed; for conservatives, it’s barbarism versus civilization; for libertarians, it’s tyranny versus freedom.

The categories are not mutually exclusive, because the people who hold these ideologies are rarely completely pure. (People with completely pure political ideologies are fanatics, and all fanatics are boring, Pellinore.) The oppressed fight for freedom; tyranny is itself a form of barbarism; real freedom can only flourish in civilization. Still, as basic frameworks, they are both durable and remarkably explanatory.

John Lee Hancock’s new film, “The Highwaymen,” speaks the language of conservatism. The movie—showing in theaters and on Netflix—follows famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and his partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) as they track and ambush Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, bringing an end to one of the most celebrated killing sprees in U.S. history.

Superficially, “The Highwaymen” is a cop-buddy picture, with the stock elements of the genre. More substantially, it’s a compelling consideration of society’s response to evil, civilization’s response to barbarism.

John Fusco’s screenplay serves as a rebuttal to 1967’s unduly honored “Bonnie and Clyde.” If ever there were a movie that spoke the language of liberalism, that was it. In the popular imagination of the Great Depression, Bonnie and Clyde were Robin Hoods, robbing from banks. Director Arthur Penn bought into that myth, weirdly sympathizing with them even as his film graphically displayed their violence. If Bonnie and Clyde were bloody, they at least sided with the oppressed Everyman against the oppressor banks.

Likewise, “Bonnie and Clyde” slandered Frank Hamer as a braggart and a buffoon, motivated not by a sincere desire to enforce the law and protect society but rather by revenge and self-glorification. The Hamer family was so upset by the portrayal that they sought and won a substantial defamation settlement against Warner Brothers.

Hancock and Fusco set out to right that wrong, along the lines of John Boessenecker’s 2016 book, The Epic Life of Frank Hamer.

Rather than a showboat, Hamer is correctly depicted as a serious, experienced lawman, methodically tracking his quarry across the south and Midwest. Bonnie and Clyde knew they were wanted; they didn’t advertise their route or their whereabouts. Hamer and Gault had to understand their targets and anticipate their moves. They also had to disabuse some of the locals of their hero-worship and figure out which local law enforcement officers they could trust.

In reframing the story to be sympathetic to Hamer and Gault, Fusco literally had no choice but to choose the language of conservatism: Hamer as Civilization, confronting the Barbaric Bonnie and Clyde.

Because Bonnie and Clyde were barbarians. They robbed banks. They killed lawmen in cold blood and engaged in any number of petty thefts from the Everyman whose sympathy they exploited. And as true barbarians, they turned civilization’s own ethics against it. Confident that men in 1930s America would be reluctant to shoot a woman, Clyde used that moment’s hesitation to get the drop on those they confronted.

Hancock’s filmmaking here is masterly. He simultaneously emphasizes the inhumanity and violence of Parker’s and Barrow’s crimes, while distancing us from the criminals. They are shown only from a distance, from behind, unclearly, fleetingly. They are the Other, come to terrorize, and we can never empathize with them.

And yet, we are dealing with human beings. If we are to avoid turning civilization’s defenders into tyrants or oppressors, if Hamer is to be something other than the assassin from “Serenity”, we must confront the choice to take life head-on. Conservatism demands that examination of hard truths and hard choices. In two pivotal scenes, Fusco’s screenplay does just that.

Repeatedly, Hamer has to tell people that Bonnie and Clyde aren’t who they think they are. They aren’t Robin Hood and they’re not the nice kids who grew up in Dallas. They are stone-cold killers.

One person Hamer doesn’t have to tell that to is Henry Barrow, Clyde’s father. Yes, they discuss whether Clyde was a bad seed or was pushed to go bad. Instead of ending there in trite fashion, though, the two men agree that it really doesn’t matter. What matters is what Clyde has done. Is it enough to put him past redemption? And if so, what must the response of society be to that evil, whatever its source?

Our distance from Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow works to filmmakers’ advantage in one other scene. The two detectives have located the criminals’ hideout. Harrelson’s Gault holds Parker’s hairbrush, and is reminded that he has been chasing a real person across the country, a woman, and he is preparing to take her life. Because we have also only seen Bonnie and Clyde from a distance, we’re with him.

Once again, Hamer sets the terms: “It’s never easy, and it’s never pretty. And there’s always blood at the end of the road—you know that.” Weakness right now is just going to get more good men killed.

The movie opts not for the easy postmodern moral ambiguity, but instead shows the calm, reasoned self-confidence of men bringing individuals to justice.

Photo credit: Netflix

America • Americanism • Conservatives • Cultural Marxism • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • The Left

The Zone of Adulthood

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Like some of you, I suffer from insomnia. Try as I might, sometimes I just can’t close the deal when I put head to pillow. It started in my teens; I would take a walk or swim in an effort to get tired out enough for sleep. But the passage of time has granted me another remedy as close as my phone: old television.

The familiar and comforting aspect of watching old shows from my childhood generally does the trick. In binge-watching one show, however, I’ve noticed something stark—not that I haven’t noticed it in other aspects of culture when contrasted with early 1960s—it’s just more evident here. What I’ve noticed is that we used to define adulthood as coming to accept that mankind’s negative traits can be ameliorated, but not completely eradicated. Further we used to understand the dangers of conformity. Today it feels like 500 years have passed, not just 50. That’s how great the difference in common knowledge seems between that time and today.

The show? One you know. One I will submit for your approval: Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.”

Three episodes from the first season stand out: “Walking Distance” (my favorite of all episodes in the series), “I Shot an Arrow into the Air,” and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”

From Innocent Joy to Duty and Responsibility
“Walking Distance” tells the story of Martin Sloan, a burned out Madison Avenue ad exec in 1959. (Think of the later Don Draper—more on that in a bit.) He returns to his childhood hometown of the late 1930s to recalibrate, to try and feel serenity again as opposed to his frenetic life in Gotham. His car breaks down outside of town and he walks the distance to it after leaving the vehicle at a service station for repair. But as happened regularly with Serling, the walking distance between the station and town takes him through the twilight zone.

He enters the town not in 1959, but transported back to his carefree days of 1938, and encounters his eleven year old self. As he tries to talk to his younger version to impart wisdom, the boy runs away. Sloan visits his mother and father, who have no idea who the strange man is now claiming to be the grown up version of their son. He again encounters the boy, who he weirdly chases through a merry go round until the boy falls off, permanently injuring his leg. After the incident, and here’s the key, Sloan’s father finds him, figuring out who he is. Sloan wishes he could forever remain in the warm summer night of 1938. But his dad understands that childhood happens only once. After its innocent joys, one must embrace the duties of adulthood. Sloan reluctantly agrees, acknowledges his maturity, and walks back to the service station. The episode finishes with Sloan riding confidently back to Manhattan. Back to his adult life. Gig Young stars as Martin Sloan.

This was filmed before the counterculture of the 1960s turned the tables. Since then the alleged wisdom of youth has been in the ascendant. Adults are money-grubbing racist, sexist, robots whose experience is to be shunned while we are encouraged instead to adopt the supposed earnest authenticity of never-ending adolescent angst. It gave us a world run by Holden Caulfields, as the student rioters of the ’60s have long held the cultural levers of American society without ever growing up in any emotional or intellectual sense.

In an updated version, Sloan would barge his way into the basement of his boyhood home, insist he is entitled to the space, and make camp awaiting the advent of the internet. In 2019, the acceptance of the compromises, responsibilities, and challenges of living as a grown up are tossed aside by the phenomenon of 30 year olds living in their parent’s home and behaving like teenagers with ATM cards. It is reflected in the politics of the age as well, as veritable children like AOC are actually taken seriously by many in the nation. We have regressed to political and cultural thumb sucking. It does not bode well.

Is this only the fault of the teenage miscreants? No. Just as the seeming failure of Brexit is in great degree due to the Tory Party installing a Remainer as the Prime Minister of a government committed to the U.K. leaving the EU, the rise of the Bratty Brigade is due in large part to the abrogation of adult responsibility by their elders in the first place.

When student agitators disrupted a class, damaged school property, or occupied a dean’s office, if they had been forcibly removed and then expelled, it would have sent a message to students and administrators alike: Sorry, toddlers, the grownups are still in charge. Aside from Ronald Reagan as governor of California and S. I. Hayakawa as president of San Francisco State University, that was a message the adults of the time were rarely willing to send. Thus, the petulant little vermin ran amok to infect the vast majority of academia and the rest of society well into the future.

As a side note, the themes, characters, and even terms from the “Walking Distance” episode were lifted wholesale in the brilliant Don Draper Kodak Carousel pitch from “Mad Men.

A Thin Veneer of Civilization
In “I Shot an Arrow into the Air,” Serling engages in what would become a familiar trope to  viewers; that if any wayfarer is lost or on the way to another planet, they were really on or headed to Earth the whole time. He does this so consistently you can set your watch by it.

This story deals with three marooned astronauts who believe they have crashed landed somewhere in deep outer space. We assume by the standards of the time that they are highly trained and disciplined military officers. Nevertheless, one of them repeatedly breaks the chain of command and then kills his commander and crewmate so he can survive by using their scant resources for himself. As he then ascends over a cliff to survey the terrain, he finds they had landed in . . . Nevada. Ed Binns stars as the commanding officer.

What I think we see showcased here, as in The Lord of the Flies, is that when put in severe situations, it is easy and probable that certain people will throw off the thin veneer of civilization and behave like ravaging beasts, murdering and taking advantage of others for their own benefit. That, Serling knew, is a constant. It is the human condition. This is a far cry from the perfectibility of mankind ethos that underlies the modern welfare state and incipient American socialism. A tweak there and an adjustment here and man will reach social paradise. We can immanentize the eschaton.

But perhaps because Serling’s generation had been through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, and was on the cusp of Vietnam, they full well understood the evil man would always be capable of committing. Today though, the facts and conclusions of history have been replaced with a never-ending litany of agitprop designed to instill a sado-narcissism, a sense of greatly elevated personal status earned by brutishly punishing your heritage, your nation, your very being. It is making common cause with those who would put you in peril. It is Stockholm Syndrome gone even more mad.

We’ve Seen the Enemy . . .
Finally, in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” mindless conformity is the subject, as aliens slightly alter the power grid on a typical American suburban street to watch the total violent mayhem that takes places as the residents turn on each other looking for the culprit who is causing the power fluctuation. It is 1959, so flying saucers are quite on the mind. Once the villains are deduced with the help of a kid with a bad haircut, the hunt is on for the alien collaborators.

The episode ends with the aliens commenting to each other how easy it was to drive the earthlings to self-destruction. Seems silly. But it is presented well. Claude Akins stars.

It was no doubt meant to be an indictment of conformist McCarthyism, as Serling was a liberal in his day—which, of course, would make him a solid conservative today. But in modern translation watching the neighbors on the street crazily betray and prey on each other to discover who is working with the aliens does not conjure up visions of wild-eyed House Un-American Activities Commission committee members. Instead, the story reminds us of the insane conspiracies of collusion and the ideological lockstep and party conformity (known today in the neo-Orwellian term “message discipline”) that engulfs one of our major parties. It is enough to throw small bait to the mind of those disposed to bite and turn them into salivating wolves, ready to persecute and even kill those who do not conform or agree. These residents of Maple Street would find a fine home in most gender studies departments today, not to mention the Democratic Caucus of both houses of Congress. And the rounding up of the enemy collaborators? Well, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has got that covered with her now notorious “I’m keeping a list” line.

The purblind longing for delayed or denied adulthood, the delicate boundary between civilization and barbarism, and the mad power of leftist conformity, are all things that came to pass and replace normal discourse as the warped ideals of the vicious childlike late ’60s counterculture captured the previously adult culture.

Though it was mistaken in many respects, Serling’s vivid imagination must have looked upon the dissolution of muscular and sane Cold War liberalism as the years passed and despaired over the weak shadow it cast. For both him and his country, a country he had served in uniform, a more nightmarish dreamscape was hard to imagine.

Even in “The Twilight Zone.”

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America • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Post

Melodrama or Reality?

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In the spring of 1519, the Aztec god-king Montezuma II received word that strange, marvelous creatures had appeared on his empire’s eastern shore. Fearing either to receive or destroy them, he sent envoys with orders to greet them, offer them gifts, and bid them leave the way they came.

The emissaries went down to the coast, where they found Spanish adventurer Hernando Cortez and his army. These fair-skinned strangers were duly presented with gifts of gems and gold, at which their eyes gleamed. Then the Aztecs brought forward some Indian captives, stretched them out, and cut out their hearts in honor of the visitors.

In Aztec diplomacy, this was correct protocol, but it produced an unexpected result among the Spaniards. As an Indian chronicler later wrote: “When the white gods saw this done, it was as if they were filled with loathing and disgust. They spat upon the ground; they closed their eyes and shook their heads from side to side; they wiped away tears. When food sprinkled with hot blood was offered them, they struck it away, as if it sickened them, as if the blood were rotted.”

Historian T.R. Fehrenbach notes that the conquistadors’ reaction to the ceremony reinforced Montezuma’s belief that they signified the return of the god-king TopiltzinQuetzalcóatl, a deified ruler of a previous Middle American civilization who had been deposed 500 years before for trying to abolish human sacrifice. This misconception did much to paralyze the Aztec ruler’s response to the Spanish invasion.

That invasion would destroy Montezuma, consume his city and overthrow his monstrous gods. And although many of the Aztecs’ subject peoples fought alongside the Spaniards for their own liberation, Old World diseases and conquistador greed would soon devastate and demoralize all of Mexico. By 1650, an Indian population first estimated at 11 million had shrunk to about 1 million—proportionately the greatest loss of human life since Noah.

It has been 500 years since those epic events unfolded, and Mexico’s recently elected left-wing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO for short), thinks it’s time Spain and the Catholic Church apologized for it.

“I have sent a letter to the Spanish king and another letter to the pope so that the abuses can be acknowledged and an apology can be made to the indigenous peoples for the violations of what we now call human rights,” AMLO said.

“One culture, one civilization, was imposed upon another to the point that the temples—the Catholic churches were built on top of the ancient pre-Hispanic temples,” he added.

The Spanish were unimpressed. What about Cortez’s Indian allies, they asked. Are they going to apologize to themselves? What about the Americans, who invaded Mexico in the 1840s, or the French, who forcibly imposed Emperor Maximilian on Mexico in the 1860s? What about Austria, the land of Maximilian’s birth?

“It looks a bit strange to demand an apology for events that occurred 500 years ago,” remarked Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister. “Likewise, we aren’t going to ask the French Republic to offer an apology for what Napoleon’s soldiers did when they invaded Spain; neither are the French going to demand an apology from the Italians for Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul.”

As for His Holiness, our “woke” pope has, bless his heart, already apologized to Mexico’s indigenous people. “Some have considered your values, culture and traditions to be inferior,” Francis confessed to them during a 2016 visit.

Catholic churches may indeed stand atop Mexican temples, and Christian traditions may indeed have supplanted indigenous ones, but one thing is certain: No one is dragging sacrificial victims to the altars of those churches and cutting out their hearts, as was long done in the temples underneath.

The conquest of Mexico, in other words, was not simply an assault of greedy, bigoted villainy on unsullied innocence. The evils it destroyed were at least equal to those it unleashed. It was real life, not a melodrama. It was both triumph and tragedy. That’s what reality has always been.

It’s hard to get more dramatic than the story of Cortez and Montezuma. But human imagination has proven equal to the task, through the creation of the melodrama.

As perfected in late Victorian romance and early motion pictures, melodrama usually involved a mustachioed villain, a damsel in distress, and a doughty young hero. Railroad tracks were desirable but not required. The villain’s appearance on stage (or screen, in the silent days) was always accompanied by the house pianist (or organist or pit orchestra) playing Schubert’s “Erl-King,” and it was always greeted by lusty hissing and booing from the audience.

Classic melodrama seems ridiculous to us moderns. It’s long been good for laughs, but who could take such stuff seriously in this day and age?

As it turns out, quite a lot of us can. We may pride ourselves on being smarter than those simpletons who cheered the hero, booed the villain and trembled for the heroine in “The Perils of Pauline,” but melodramatic nonsense continues today, in movie houses and, more destructively, in real life.

Staying with entertainment for a little longer, let’s consider the case of the Brutal Brit. Only two decades ago, nasty Englishmen were a mainstay in film, ranging from Tim Roth’s fantastically wicked rapist/duelist Archibald Cunningham in “Rob Roy” (1995) to Jeremy Northam’s icy assassin in “The Net” (1995) to Tom Wilkinson’s oily art thief in “Rush Hour” (1998).

The Brutal Brit looms large in German director Roland Emmerich’s puerile would-be epic “The Patriot” (2000). Mel Gibson plays a fictional version of the Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, while the Dark Side’s heavy lifting is performed by Jason Isaacs in a role based on the real-life British cavalryman Banastre Tarleton. The film defames Tarleton by having him burn down a church after locking its congregation—men, women and children—inside. No such atrocity was ever inflicted by British troops during the American Revolution. Tarleton, notorious as “the butcher” and “Bloody Ben” for taking no prisoners after one battle (a policy known thereafter as “Tarleton’s quarter”) was accused only of killing rebel soldiers who tried to surrender. As more than one irate British reviewer observed, it was the Waffen SS who packed civilians into a church and set it ablaze, in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, in 1944. Take that, Herr Emmerich!

American critic Michael Lind sent up the whole thing by imagining a Tinseltown brainstorming session:

OK, here’s the pitch: A remake of Gary Cooper’s 1941 “Sergeant York.” In the new version, York’s this Tennessee farmer who refuses to fight in World War I because of his religious convictions, see? Then some of the kaiser’s commandos on a secret mission in the South molest his nephews and nieces and burn down his church. Now it’s personal. Cut to Sgt. York kick-boxing the kaiser and a couple of field marshals. . . . Such a Hollywood mutilation of the Sgt. York story couldn’t be any sillier than [Emmerich’s and Gibson’s] “The Patriot.”

Overripe as that movie surely is, Hollywood’s masterpiece of Brit-bashing melodrama has to be an earlier film in which Mel Gibson bathes in his enemies’ blood: the 1995 Oscar-winner “Braveheart.” That at least is set in an era when the English, along with everyone else then living, were quite capable of indiscriminate massacres. Even so, Gibson’s film gives the Scottish side of its story a thorough whitewash. It represents its hero, William Wallace, as a peace-loving farmer driven to violence by his wife’s murder. But according to Scottish historian James Mackay, Wallace had been waylaying and killing Englishmen for years before that event.

Hero-and-villain distortions pervade the film:

  • It depicts the English as smugly overconfident at the battle of Stirling, but in reality they could see that Wallace held a strong position on high ground beyond a narrow bridge over the River Forth, and when he returned a defiant answer to their offer to parley, they were unnerved and unsure of what to do. One of them, Sir Richard Lundie, told his colleagues, “My lords, if we go on to the bridge we are dead men,” but the English commander, a corpulent political appointee named Hugh de Cressingham, replied, “There is no point in dragging out this business any longer, and wasting our King’s revenues for nothing. Let us advance and carry out our duty as we are bound to do.”

The battle developed precisely as Lundie had feared, and Cressingham was killed in the ensuing rout. Mackay writes that the Scots skinned him, stuffed his genitals down his throat, and dried and cured his hide, of which Wallace “caused a broad strip to be taken from the head to the heel, to make therewith a baldrick for his sword.”

  • The film represents Wallace’s enemy, King Edward I, as a “pagan” and a cold, calculating manipulator who stole an easy victory at Falkirk through treachery. “Longshanks” was a brutal man, but no more so than Wallace himself. Neither was he less ardent and courageous than Wallace.

And he was no pagan. When his army’s situation in Scotland grew desperate as supplies ran low and the elusive Wallace waited to fall upon him on his retreat, Edward’s scouts brought word they had located the Scottish force. The king cried, “God be praised! who has brought me out of every strait! They shall have no need to follow me, for I shall go to meet them, and on this very day.” He pressed his men forward and bivouacked in the field with his horse tethered at his side. The horse, restless from lack of fodder, trampled the sleeping monarch, breaking his ribs and starting a panic among his troops.

The tumult ended only when Edward mounted up and ordered the advance to continue, bringing the English upon the Scots at Falkirk so quickly that Wallace had to fight at a disadvantage. The Scottish cavalry did desert him, as in the film, but Mackay says this was more likely out of panic than treachery. Even so, the battle was a near-run thing, fought and won by a badly injured English commander.

  • While dressing the English in the darkest colors, the film paints a contrasting image of joyful Celtic solidarity by having Edward’s Irish conscripts switch from the English to the Scottish side at Falkirk. No such thing actually happened. Not only that, but in the campaigns leading up to Stirling and Falkirk, an army of turncoat Scots and Irishmen loyal to Edward was defeated by Wallace at Loch Dochart. Some of them drowned trying to flee across the lake; others begged for mercy. Mackay writes: “Wallace gave instructions that the Scottish prisoners should be spared, but to the Irish he gave no quarter.”

Melodrama is bad enough in the movies, but when it starts affecting real life, it becomes a real problem. “Braveheart,” for example, blew wind into the sails of the movement for Scottish independence, helping it come close to breaking up the United Kingdom. As another Scottish historian, Allan Massie, complained:

Bad history is potentially dangerous. In this case, “Braveheart” can scarcely fail to feed the growing Anglophobia which is, to many Scotsmen, a pernicious feature of our country today. If it does so, it will be not only a bad film but a deplorable and damaging one.

In a future column, I’ll examine the pernicious effect another famous movie melodrama, D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), once had here in America. That film and the two Mel Gibson vehicles cited here all go to show that a taste for melodrama is by no means confined to left-wing Mexican presidents. But just consider how much harm this appetite is doing to our country and the world today.

NeverTrumpers? Melodrama fans, every one. Diehard Democrats? Ditto. Confederate statue iconoclasts? Antifa thugs? Hate crime hoaxers? They’re the heroes; we’re the villains. Muslim terrorists? “It’s us against the infidels. Allahu Akbar!” Black Lives Matter? “Here comes a racist cop! Cue the Schubert!” College snowflakes? “Unhand her, Dan Backslide!”

It’s hard to think of a modern problem that isn’t made worse by this heroes-and-villains mindset. True, there are times when a society’s survival depends on people recognizing that public enemies do exist, and social evils do persist, and such must be opposed with resolve and sometimes even with force. But the eager, childish, indeed moronic pleasure some of us take in conjuring up enemies and evils when only fellow citizens and ordinary difficulties actually are there—that’s a problem in itself. It has been so ever since Don Quixote went tilting at windmills, and no doubt long before that.

If only these devotees of derring-do could see themselves! Years ago it struck me how much they resembled Don Quixote, and Mr. Magoo, too. Vainglorious and blind. Crime, AIDS, broken families, bumbling schools—nothing fazed them. I wondered how much longer they would persist in making a mess of things, trotting along from one social calamity to another, always shifting the blame for whatever misery they didn’t ignore altogether, and lamenting how “liberal” had become a dirty word.

I still wonder. But I also recall how, in “Man of La Mancha,” the dreamer of impossible dreams collapses and takes to his deathbed when the Knight of the Mirrors forces him to look upon himself in the harsh light of reality. Perhaps the kindest course is to humor the melodramatists while working to limit the damage their delusions have done and may yet do.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Cultural Marxism • feminists • Hollywood • Post • Pro-Life • The Culture • The Left • The Media

Normalizing the Unthinkable

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A few weeks ago, a new television series called “Shrill” premiered on Hulu. Based on a memoir of the same title by avowed feminist and “fat activist” Lindy West, the show stars Aidy Bryant of “Saturday Night Live” and is produced by Elizabeth Banks.

I wasn’t going to watch the show. Since coming to understand the way pop culture is designed mainly to destroy actual culture, my tolerance for all of it—music, TV, movies—has seriously declined. I find it difficult to be entertained by things that I know are designed to hurt me. Some things cannot be unseen. But when Justin Caruso at Breitbart wrote last week about how the show’s pilot episode (which is supposed to be a comedy) features the main character getting an abortion, I decided to grit my teeth and witness what appeared to be a watershed moment in television history.

If we are to understand how degeneracy is memed into reality by Hollywood, we must understand the narrative devices that writers and directors employ to get the audience on the side of he or she who will eventually do evil.

Building a Bond of Pathos
To the tune of some very Portland-y indie pop, the show opens with a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the main character, Annie. It’s morning. Annie has just returned home from walking her dog and goes to get dressed for the day. She’s overweight. Looking in the mirror, her sweater appears too tight, so she bends down to stretch it with her knees. She goes for her breakfast, which looks like (and looks like it tastes like) alien food, from a package labeled “Thin Menu.” This opening scene sets the tone of the show. Poppy music presents the mundane as endearing. The mix of sweetness and vulnerability pulls the viewer in.

When she arrives at the local coffee shop, Annie sees a cheesy flyer for fitness classes (“Get Toned with Tonya,” it says) tacked to the ad board. Giggling that “Tonya” is pictured kicking a slice of pizza, she takes a picture. Surprisingly, the subject of the flyer actually happens to be there. Tonya approaches Annie, smiling, and offers her her number. As Annie takes the piece of paper, Tonya takes Annie’s wrist and comments, “Wow. You’re wrists are so tiny. You actually have a really small frame,” and then in the most demonic example of foreshadowing I have ever seen, “There is a small person inside of you dying to get out.”

Playing off the awkward encounter, Annie makes a few jokes, which causes some other patrons to tell her that she reminds them of Rosie O’Donnell. She laughs along and thanks them for the non-compliment, but the moment she turns away to leave, the audience can see her mask slip. The defeat and frustration in her eyes is hard felt. Annie seems nice enough, just trying to “live her life” as they say, but a source of deep insecurity for her has just been publicly prodded, both intentionally and unintentionally. It’s a painful moment for Annie and for the audience, who having been invited into the story are now living vicariously through the protagonist.

Annie goes to work. Her boss is a jerk who takes none of her ideas seriously. He won’t let her write the stories she wants to write. She struggles to articulate her desires and he does not take her seriously enough to have patience. More pain.

Then Annie gets a text from someone named Ryan. It says, simply, “Fuck?” So she goes to this guy’s house and the two have perfunctory sex in his dirty apartment. She asks if he would get dinner with her that night. He can’t because he’s “working on a podcast.” Playing off the rejection again, she jokes that he should kill his boss and his entire family. He doesn’t get the joke, and in another extremely creepy moment of ironic foreshadowing, responds, “That’s fucked up. His wife just had a baby.” Ryan makes her leave through the back door, which requires that she hop (and fall over) a fence to exit the backyard. Another painful moment.

All of this rising action sets up a bond of pathos between the audience and Annie. Her character is sweet but flawed in a self-destructive kind of way, which makes her pathetic and endearing. She wants what the audience wants: to be accepted, admired, cherished, needed, and loved. In every effort to fulfill these most basic needs, she fails, generating an increasing level of empathy from the audience who, by the third scene, is rooting for her.

It doesn’t matter that the audience may or may not have experienced in their waking life exactly what Annie experienced in the aforementioned vignettes. Having all at some point felt the sting of rejection, of unrequited desire, or of self-deprecation—this much is sufficient. Annie’s experience is meant to reflect that of the audience, not in form but in substance, and that’s what matters. It doesn’t matter that everyone knows that the reality presented in the television show is in fact simulated. We suspend disbelief, allowing ourselves to be emotionally affected because that is the natural role and function of an audience.

Thus the main character is the lens through which the audience will experience this fictional reality, like a surrogate. The audience and Annie are not simply on the same team; they are effectively, if only for a moment and if only in the mind, the same person. Initially, we see that she wants what we want, and as we settle into our symbiotic experience with her, we come to want what she wants.

Fleeting Moments of Lucidity
Annie learns she is pregnant, which shocks her because she’d been taking emergency contraceptives every time she and Ryan had sex. He preferred it unprotected and she “didn’t want him to stop liking me, so I just went with it.”  The first person she tells about the pregnancy (her fat black lesbian roommate who “doesn’t apologize to white people”) reacts insouciantly: “Get an abortion before it becomes illegal or something.”

Before finalizing the decision, Annie has a moment of lucidity about the situation. She expresses to her roommate her deep fears about motherhood—and the prospect that it won’t be available to her because of the challenges that her weight, her greatest insecurity, pose: “I keep having this little thought of like, this is my chance to be a mom. There have been moments in my life where I didn’t think that I would ever get to have that because of what I looked like or because there is a certain way your body is supposed to be and I’m not that. And that maybe if I was just sweet enough and nice enough and easygoing enough with any guy that would be enough for someone.”

Instead of listening to her expressions of genuine fear, the roommate brushes them off entirely. She, in all her intersectional omnipotence, assures Annie that this won’t be her only chance to be a mother. She insists that Annie should not carry the child—and she does use the word “child”—of Ryan the loser.

Annie then visits her parents. Her mother asks her how her diet is going. Her father has cancer. She doesn’t tell them anything about the baby. But as her visit comes to a close, she takes a moment to look at pictures of herself that her parents fixed on the wall. She is reminded of the happy innocence she once had as a child—something she has lost along the way.

And then, sickeningly, the show cuts to the abortion clinic. Her roommate is there to “support” her. And of course, the director ensured there is a mother holding her toddler in the background of the waiting room scene.

“Empowerment” or Evil?
We come to the moment when the abortion takes place. She lies on her back, and the camera is angled directly downward toward her face, a bird’s eye view. God’s eye view. With extremely sterile language, the doctor guides Annie through the procedure. “You might feel some light cramping. You might also feel some numbing.”

I can’t get much further into the scene without feeling actually nauseous. She is killing her child. The child she just expressed at least a modicum of desire to raise. The next morning, she discusses the situation with her roommate. Upon reflection, Annie has realized that the little girl she saw in the picture at her parents’ house needed to be resurrected: “Little me was so happy and fat and had big, dumb dreams. And I got myself into this mess . . . but I made a decision, only for me, and I got myself out of it. I feel very fucking powerful right now.”

Knowing that their exceedingly relatable characters act as a proxy for the viewer, the creators of these kinds of shows force the audience into moral quandaries that should, in fact, never be a question. Creators have the immense power to guide the rationalization of immorality in the minds of the audience, through the created character, by bringing the story to a moral gray zone. Inevitably, gray leads to black.

The abortion is the climax and turning point in Annie’s character arc. Afterward, she stands up for herself to the fitness girl at the coffee shop, to her boss, and to the father of the child she murdered. She finds herself. The outro song goes, “don’t worry about me, I’m doing good, I’m doing great . . .”

Effectively, the main idea of this episode is that the protagonist sacrifices a child to obtain or reclaim the energy of her own inner-child. The symbolism is easy to miss, but it cannot be ignored. It is sick and twisted and evil—but it was delivered in the form of a sugar-coated poison pill. The unthinking audience swallows whatever appears in the trough. Before you blink, a generation of women believes that infanticide is empowering.

This is about normalizing the unthinkable. It is a total inversion of poetic justice, wherein the outcomes of the story reward vice and punish virtue. But our sense of poetic justice is closely tied to our waking notions of justice. This is how public virtue is perverted. Hollywood has infected hearts and minds by concealing a philosophy of death in an aesthetic of pathos.

“Shrill’s” positive depiction of abortion is part of a growing number of television shows and movies determined to normalize the unthinkable. Indeed, depictions of abortion on TV are becoming increasingly callous and casual. Beginning in 2011, Shonda Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” shocked viewers when one of its main characters aborted her child against the initial wishes of the child’s father. In the fifth season of another popular Rhimes show, “Scandal,” the main character Olivia Pope willfully engages in the procedure to kill her own child to the tune of “Silent Night.” The symbolism, again, is utterly satanic and, no, I don’t think that’s an overstatement.

Human beings require the sublime. What we have in pop culture today is sin disguised as the sublime. Trash exalted as treasure. Little by little, the souls of consumers have been worn down by the content of pop culture. Moment by moment, the unthinkable is becoming the norm. “Shrill” is but a drop in the ocean of democratized degeneracy. The battle for hearts and minds rages on.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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Center for American Greatness • Cultural Marxism • feminists • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • The Left

Captain Marvel’s War on Women

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Art imitates life, but to an even greater extent, life imitates art. Like culture and politics, the two are intertwined in an infinite feedback loop. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.

The latest addition to the wildly popular Marvel cinematic universe, “Captain Marvel,” came out last week. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and starring Brie Larson, it is the story of Carol Danvers, a maverick Air Force pilot turned superhero whose powers exceed those of all other superheroes in the Marvel world.

The writing is as hamfistedly political as the promotional materials (and Brie Larson’s unrestrained activism during the promotional period) would suggest. Despite all its claims at bravery and badassery, Captain Marvel communicates the very most banal and tiresome claim possible. It’s one we hear every day, a mantra that serves as prerequisite for those who seek employment in your average firm, matriculation at your average school, or participation in your average social club.

Yes, in case we’d all forgotten, women are equal to men, except better.

Abiding perfectly by Hollywood’s latest contra natura narrative about sex and life, of course, male characters occupy either one of two roles: bumbling sidekick or evil jerk. Female characters, on the other hand, are paragons of leadership.

In the beginning of the movie, the audience is led to believe that Carol Danvers’ fatal flaw is that she cannot control her emotions. As the story plays out, it is revealed that the villain, the male supervisor who was advising her to “control her emotions,” was only doing so to keep her power at bay. So her essential flaw was not essential at all. It was more incidental. The only thing she actually had to overcome was an obstacle foisted upon her by a man.

Danvers was essentially perfect and always had been. She merely needed to realize how perfect she was, which she did quite passively, through the gradual revelation of information from other people, including her best friend: an equally “empowered” (save for the photon blasting abilities) single black mother (I thought we hated stereotypes here). Eventually, Danvers gains access to her full power by removing a headpiece installed by her oppressors. Her character arc is that she presses a button and unlearns emotional regulation. And that’s about it.

The character of Carol Danvers echoes a new societal ideal, which is being held up for little girls and grown women alike to imitate, in case they hadn’t been acting out the past thirty years of propaganda by default already. Danvers is the post-sexual Mary Sue, an ersatz man who fears not and feels not. Her flaws, easily surmountable, say nothing of her womanhood. She is an empowered woman only by ceasing to be a woman in all meaningful ways. And by ceasing to be a woman, she neither needs nor desires any man.

Carol Danvers is homo sovieticus in the female form. Detached completely from nature and from any feminine essence, she is an unrelatable shell of a character. She exhibits neither the unbridled passion of a femme fatale nor the intentionally reserved desire of a chaste woman. Not that she has to have a romantic interest. But Danvers lacks any maternal instinct as well, and her female friendship with her bestie copilot rings hollow, like a cheap imitation of Maverick and Goose’s brotherhood with none of the humor or intimacy. Rather than her womanhood playing some unique and interesting role in her personhood, it is reduced to a setup for cheap jokes.

The average American woman has consumed a steady diet of “girl power” since she can remember. We’ve heard it our whole lives. Girls can do anything we put our minds to. We are made to believe that there are no real limits on our potential and no legitimate limits to our behavior. We believe that hearing “no” is invariably a signal of oppression, that “well-behaved women rarely make history,” and that men are either stupid and disposable or fundamentally evil. We are entitled to our notions of happiness at all costs, because we deserve it, and happiness is best discovered by transcending the patriarchy. So we set out to conquer the traditionally masculine workplace and abandon the traditional feminine hearth, because that’s what “empowerment” looks like: being a dude.

The societal result of this kind of this utterly mainstream, old, hackneyed “Captain Marvel”-type messaging is Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. It’s AOC. It’s the succubus who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. It’s the spectacularly unfunny Amy Schumer or Lena Dunham. It’s the female careerist on birth control, SSRIs, and the wrong side of thirty who hesitates to settle down or reproduce on account of her professional potential. What do these types have in common? Entitlement and bitterness on the surface, sure, but deep down, a void of vulnerability and vitality. They are unfeminine because they have been raised as men.

Hollywood’s female empowerment meme has done nothing but desacralize the feminine on a symbolic level and create in its place a generation of extremely confused and angry if not numb women who have female parts but no feminine heart. Despite being “empowered,” women aren’t doing so well. Female happiness has been in a steady state of decline since the dawn of the feminist movement. The American birth rate is below replacement. Never before have women self-described as lonely and depressed in the rates they report right now.

This postmodern effort to annihilate distinctions between all things—high and low, right and wrong, male and female—has hurt women deeply. In an ironic sort of way, “Captain Marvel” does imitate the callous woman that feminism has created; like Carol Danvers, we women have in many ways forgotten who we are. Unlike Carol Danvers, if women are to truly reclaim their happiness, it will not be through the pharmakon cure that feminism offers. It will instead require that we imitate a higher form of femininity. “Captain Marvel” ain’t it.

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Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

History • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Left

God’s Ways and Our Ways

Did you hear that Phil Robertson has a new book out? Yes, the “Duck Dynasty” patriarch, author of Happy Happy Happy, UnPHILtered, and (in a previous life) War and Peace, has just written The Theft of America’s Soul: Blowing the Lid Off the Lies That Are Destroying Our Country.

You can tell by the title that Robertson bears the scars of his battle with the Social Justice Warriors who tried to run him out of television a few years ago. With the help of his family and fans, including a special Facebook page that “accumulated 1.5 million likes” in his support, he survived that politically correct onslaught, and now he is taking the fight to the foe. Good for him.

In a LifeZette interview, Robertson explained what motivated the book:

We see carnage in the nation’s rehab centers. We see murders. We see people shooting other people at schools and concerts and other places. We need to take a step back and really realize that we must help our country get back on the right track. We need the Scriptures. We must go back to the Bible. We have to love our neighbors and forgive each other. We need patience, kindness, goodness. . . . We need God and prayer—and we need to understand the difference between good and evil.

It’s remarkable how much those comments echo the themes touched on by C. S. Lewis in his defense of the universal validity of traditional morality, or as he put it, “the massive unanimity of the practical reason in man.” I quoted that passage from Lewis while defending John Wayne in a new action brought by the SJWs over (among other things) Wayne’s four-decade-old disparagement of homosexuality, the same issue that got Robertson in trouble with them.

Much as I admire Robertson and his family, this is not a review of his book. I haven’t even read it yet. This is a discussion of another book, written by the matriarch of another family, whose story inspired a movie also mentioned in last week’s piece: “The Sound of Music.” As will be seen, its theme is very much the same.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, first published in 1949, is broadly similar to the film’s familiar tale: Would-be nun Maria is dispatched by her Salzburg abbey to the service of widower Georg von Trapp and his children. They fall in love, and he breaks off his engagement to an Austrian aristocrat and marries her instead. The family’s musical talent, nurtured as a domestic pastime, wins public acclaim, but when Nazi Germany takes over Austria, the family von Trapp must flee over the mountains.

The main difference in the first part of the story is that the real captain was never a barking martinet, not with Maria nor with the children. He’s a bit reserved and sad, but from their first meeting, Maria describes his courteous greeting and “warm and hearty handshake,” his tenderness toward the sickly child who is to be her special charge, and even an occasional “twinkle” in his eye.

The timeline is different, too. The film compresses its story into a few months in the late 1930s, but in reality Maria and Georg married 10 years earlier, and she bore him their first child, his eighth, in 1929. In the mid-1930s, the family lost its fortune in a bank failure and had to convert the great mansion into a boarding house. They began to sing publicly at the urging of friends and admirers—and as a means to support themselves. They had given concerts around Europe before the Nazis ever marched into Austria.

The confrontation with Hitler’s regime is where the difference between film and reality is most significant. In the movie, Georg is a patriot who waves the Austrian flag in the Nazis’ noses and escapes with his family cat-quick, with the Gestapo nipping at their heels, after Berlin tries to dragoon him into the German navy. But the real events are more complex.

The Trapps wept for Austria when it was reduced to the German province of “Ostmark” on March 11, 1938, and they knew of the brute force behind the façade of joyous German unity. (As bells pealed all over Salzburg, the Trapps’ music director, Father Wasner, phoned a fellow priest and learned that “a Gestapo man with a gun was supervising the ringing of the bells in every church.”) Even so, at first they had no notion of leaving. But the clouds darkened quickly.

As in the movie, Georg refused to display the Nazi flag. He even sassed the Gestapo officer who supplied him with one, saying he’d hang his rugs out the windows instead.

The children were informed at school “that our parents are nice, old-fashioned people who don’t understand the new Party. We should leave them alone . . . [and] never mention at home what we learn at school now.”

The Trapps’ first-grader got in trouble with her teacher, however, first for not singing the Nazi anthem and later for not giving the Nazi salute. At parent-teacher conferences after each of these incidents, the teacher scolded Maria. First this: “Your little girl announced in front of the whole class that her father had said he’d put ground glass in his tea or finish his life on a dung heap before he would ever sing that song. Next time I will have to report this.” And in the second lecture: “Your little girl answered, ‘Mother said if I tell in school what is going on at home, Father will be put in a concentration camp, and Mother, and all my sisters and brothers!’ Madam, you will understand that this is going too far.”

Push came to shove in the summer of ’38. Within a week the Trapps received three inquiries from the German government: Georg was offered the command of a new submarine in the German navy; his son Rupert, recently graduated from medical school, was offered a position at a Vienna hospital; and the family was invited to give a command performance in Berlin for Hitler’s birthday.

The captain had been highly decorated as a submarine commander during World War I for clearing the Austrian Empire’s Adriatic coast of enemy shipping, and he was greatly tempted by the chance to return to sea at the controls of a state-of-the-art U-boat. But the proposed theater of operations troubled him: “What do they mean, ‘eventually in the Adriatic Sea and later in the Mediterranean’? They must be pretty sure of going there someday. That means war. I can’t run a submarine for the Nazis, can I? Of course not. It’s out—it’s absolutely out.”

Of the hospital offer, Maria writes: “Of course they needed doctors. All during the last months they had in a most shameful manner persecuted, killed, and imprisoned thousands of Jews in all parts of the country, and now they were short of doctors, lawyers, dentists; no wonder the young fledgling doctors advanced in a hurry.”

And Rupert’s response to the opportunity? “Of course I can’t accept. The only question is how to word it politely enough. They’ll be quite offended. I’d have to consent to all kinds of treatments and manipulations which I am not allowed to as a Catholic—and as a man.”

As for the birthday concert, the family had these concerns: “Will we have to say ‘Heil Hitler’ then?” “Will we have to sing the new anthem on the stage?” “How about Father Wasner? The Nazis don’t like priests.” “In school we are not permitted to sing any religious songs with the name of Christ or Christmas. We can hardly sing any Bach for that reason.” “I am sure we’d have a tremendous success in Germany with our program, but will it be possible to keep our ideas and remain anti-Nazi when we take their money and their praise?”

So the captain put this question to his family: “Do we want to keep the material goods we still have: this our home with the ancient furniture, our friends, and all the things we are fond of? Then we shall have to give up the spiritual goods: our faith and our honor.” And they all agreed it’s better to be “poor but honest.”

“Then, let’s get out of here soon,” Georg said. “You can’t say no three times to Hitler—it’s getting dangerous.”

So they went to the Italian Alps for a “mountain-climbing vacation.” This was not quite as dramatic a move as the movie would have it, for there were no Nazis in hot pursuit. But—and here is where the film ends—it was the first leg of a journey to America.

The exodus from Austria was quickly followed by a storm-tossed ocean passage (paid for by an advance from an American impresario), a stressful stay in New York City and a strenuous American concert tour. Remarkably, Maria endured it all while carrying a dangerous pregnancy to term.

Maria’s kidneys having been weakened by a bout with scarlet fever, the expectant parents had consulted a specialist back in Munich. “Your wife cannot have another child,” he told the captain, and—in response to their obvious perplexity—“The child has to be removed, of course, immediately.”

“What do you mean, ‘of course’?” Maria exclaimed. “That is not ‘of course’ at all. On the contrary, it is absolutely out of the question—we are Catholics, you know.”

“The child won’t be born alive; this much I can tell you,” the doctor replied, and he told Georg, “I just hope I shall be able to save the life of the mother.”

Ordered to stay in bed and avoid excitement, Maria instead followed her conscience halfway around the world—and safely delivered a healthy baby boy.

(That’s young Johannes sitting on his mother’s lap in the picture above. Georg’s seven older children stand to the left; his two daughters by Maria stand with him at right. Father Wasner stands at far right. If you want to know how they sound, click these links. It’s not much like the kinderkitsch tunes from the movie.)

“Many years later I happened to learn about planned parenthood and birth control to guard against unwanted children,” Maria writes, and she admits having often wished that this particular baby would pick another time to arrive. “But thousands of years ago God assured us—it’s in the Book—‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways.’ So if there is any planning to be done, why don’t we let Him do it?”

That takes us only halfway through Maria’s remarkable book, and it doesn’t even touch on the sequel she wrote 23 years later, telling of her life as a missionary and innkeeper after the captain passed away. “The Sound of Music,” then, is the merest snapshot of an extraordinary family’s extraordinary story. Even so, it remains the world’s all-time favorite musical. Adjusted for inflation, it’s America’s third-highest grossing movie ever, after “Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars.”

Yet one wonders: If Maria’s book were to be filmed today, how would it be received? What about the scene where Rupert “as a Catholic” rejects Nazi medical practices, which notoriously included euthanasia? That might not go over so well, here in the land of Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian and Ralph “Make the newborn ‘comfortable’ while we decide whether to kill it” Northam. The bits about Maria rejecting abortion, about certain people not liking priests, about school children being set against their parents, and Christian music being shut out of school—all these things might make today’s “progressives” squirm.

Ah, yes: Progress! Who but a “reactionary” would stand against it? But the Nazis thought they were on the cutting edge of progress. So did the Communists. So do our Social Justice Warriors today. And there’s nothing in the world any one of them hates more than the idea of counterrevolution, of “turning back the clock,” of going back to the way things were before they got their hands on society. “Forward!” they shout, a battle cry common to Bolsheviks, Maoists and modern SJWs. And if you’re not on board with it, well, as the current governor of New York has said, you “have no place” in their New Order.

That’s why Phil Robertson’s new book will get nothing but a big “Hoch, ptui” from American progressives today, if they deign to notice it at all. That’s why Robertson himself is hated, as John Wayne is, as Donald Trump is. But are the progressives really on the side of progress? And is there really nothing to say for the idea of going back? Let’s give the last word on that to our friend C.S. Lewis:

Would you think I was joking if I said that you can [turn] a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. . . . There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

Photo Credit: Imagno/Getty Images

Hollywood • Identity Politics • Post • The Left

John Wayne, Frank Capra, and C.S. Lewis—Haters All!

Mean People Suck.”

I first saw that bumper-sticker slogan almost 20 years ago, pinned to the office bulletin board at the newspaper where I worked. It struck me as a little strange, much like what Jon Stewart called a “moment of zen.” Isn’t it mean to tell people they suck? Yet my progressive media colleagues who embraced the slogan certainly didn’t think of themselves as “mean.” They didn’t see themselves as a Mobius strip or a dog chasing its tail either, though such they really may have been.

No, what the journalist who posted that slogan meant was: “Other people suck. The people I disagree with, the ones I disapprove of. They suck. They’re mean. Not like me. I’m not mean. I’m ‘woke.’”

“Woke” hadn’t been coined yet, but when the word finally did appear, it walked right into that “Mean People Suck” meme and made itself at home. We’ve been watching the antics of “woke” people who aren’t “mean” and don’t “suck” for quite a while now. The best way to bring one out is to wear a MAGA hat in public. The results can range from hilarious to obnoxious to frightening.

Another way to bring them out is to criticize the “march of progress.” Commit your thought crime to paper, and you can make the woke wax wroth even from beyond the grave. That’s what John Wayne did in giving an interview to Playboy magazine in 1971. The movie star best known for such classic Westerns as “Stagecoach,” “The Searchers,” and “True Grit” is now known in progressive circles as a bigot, a hater, “a total piece of shit,” because of the sentiments he expressed to Playboy. Sentiments such as:

Movies were once made for the whole family. Now, with the kind of junk the studios are cranking out—and the jacked-up prices they’re charging for the privilege of seeing it—the average family is staying home and watching television. I’m quite sure that within two or three years, Americans will be completely fed up with these perverted films.

“What kind of films do you consider perverted?” the interviewer asks.

Oh, “Easy Rider,” “Midnight Cowboy”—that kind of thing. Wouldn’t you say that the wonderful love of those two men in “Midnight Cowboy,” a story about two fags, qualifies?

Wayne’s comment shows he never actually saw “Midnight Cowboy.” Lucky him. Though the milieu that film depicts is perverted as perverted can be, its two main characters are not “fags.” One is a would-be gigolo from Texas; the other is a lousy grifter from the New York gutter. Their ultimate friendship—especially the way the gigolo, for the grifter’s sake, turns his back on his loathsome career just as it is starting to pay off—is touching, but not touching enough to compensate the viewer for having spent two grimy hours watching what the two of them have been crawling through.

Wayne was correct, however, to point out that audiences were getting “fed up” with movies like “Midnight Cowboy.” As film critic Michael Medved put it in Hollywood vs. America :

The distance the movie business traveled in a few short but disastrous years can be measured by the titles it chose to honor with Oscars as Best Picture of the Year. In 1965, the Academy selected “The Sound of Music.” Four years later, it chose . . .  “Midnight Cowboy.” Is it entirely coincidence that in the year of “Midnight Cowboy” (1969) Hollywood films drew scarcely one-third the number of paying customers who had flocked to the theaters in the year of “The Sound of Music”?

Who was to blame for this sea change? Medved quotes a passage from the memoirs of a “three-time Oscar winner and creator of several of the best-loved motion pictures ever made, [who] walked away from the business at age sixty-four because he refused to adjust to the cynicism of the new order”—the legendary Frank Capra:

The hedonists, the homosexuals, the hemophilic bleeding hearts, the God-haters, the quick-buck artists who substituted shock for talent, all cried: “Shake ’em! Rattle ’em! God is dead. Long live Pleasure! Nudity? Yea! Wife-swapping? Yea! Liberate the world from prudery. Emancipate our films from morality!” . . . There was dancing in the streets among the disciples of lewdness and violence. Sentiment was dead, they cried. And so was Capra, its aging missionary. Viva hard core brutality; Arriba barnyard sex! . . . To hell with the good in man. Dredge up his evil—Shock! Shock!

Harsh words, much harsher than anything John Wayne said in Playboy. So I guess Capra is a hater, too. But what about the Duke’s word, “fags”? That is a genuine slur, though perhaps not quite as hostile and judgmental as calling someone “a total piece of shit” is. (Too bad Wayne didn’t say “queers” instead. Then he could be counted among the wokest of the woke. LBGTQ, after all, has no F, but it does have a Q.)

One clue to whether a man is a hater is how he behaves toward those whose behavior or opinions he disapproves. In 1969, Wayne co-starred with Rock Hudson in a rather forgettable Western, “The Undefeated.” Though Hudson’s homosexuality only became publicly known years later, after he died of AIDS-related illness, it had long been an open secret among his colleagues. Yet that caused him no grief from Wayne.

Here’s what Hudson said about the Duke: “John Wayne was then the Hollywood legend, and I was on screen with him. The guy is an angel. He saved my life back then when no other filmmaker wanted to know me.” And Wayne, an avid chess player who would bring a board to the set for play between takes, said of Hudson: “Who the hell cares if he’s queer? The man plays great chess.”

This is not to say it’s OK to toss slurs at people. Neither is it OK to minimize people by labeling them Neanderthals, knuckle-draggers, troglodytes, dinosaurs, or any of the other dehumanizing epithets cast blithely about by those who like to tell each other, “Mean people suck.” But it seems to me the word from the Playboy interview that really rankles our progressive thinkers, the word that cuts them to the quick, is not the slur. It’s the idea that something like “Midnight Cowboy” could be called “perverted.”

If you Google the word “perversion,” the first definition that comes up is: “The alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.” For those who believe—to borrow from another old bumper sticker—“God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” homosexuality would seem to fall within that definition. But you won’t likely hear it described that way today, not in polite company, at least.

I won’t argue here whether homosexuality is perverted or not. For what it’s worth, I’m in the “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” school. In other words, for me the answer is “yes.” That may make me a fool in some people’s eyes, but I’m not fool enough to think I can argue such people into my school. The question I want to explore is this: If you think the answer is “yes,” does that make you a hater?

We’ve already looked at John Wayne and Frank Capra, neither of whom can compete with, say, Fidel Castro when it comes to hating homosexuals. Now let’s look at someone even further removed from the category of “mean people.”

C.S. Lewis, the Oxford and Cambridge scholar and renowned Christian apologist, has been called “one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century.” His Chronicles of Narnia novels alone have sold more than 100 million copies, and thousands of new readers discover him every year.

In his essay “The Poison of Subjectivism,” Lewis defends the universal validity of traditional morality, taking issue with the idea that “the ethical standards of different cultures differ so widely that there is no common tradition at all”:

If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason in man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery, and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of almsgiving and impartiality and honesty. He may be a little surprised (I certainly was) to find that precepts of mercy are more frequent than precepts of justice; but he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the Law of Nature.

Variations in sexual mores do exist among cultures. But those variations, Lewis insists, are far from absolute. He cites the example of the ancient Greeks, whose sexual practices, as reflected in the writings of Plato, included grown men having it off with adolescent boys. Lewis comments:

It is untrue to say that the Greeks thought sexual perversion innocent. The continual tittering of Plato is really more evidential than the stern prohibition of Aristotle. Men titter thus only about what they regard as, at least, a peccadillo: the jokes about drunkenness in Pickwick, far from proving that the nineteenth-century English thought it innocent, prove the reverse. There is an enormous difference of degree between the Greek view of perversion and the Christian, but there is not opposition.

Most people today, even in gay-friendly America, would deem pederasty a bit worse than a peccadillo. But that particular perversion is unfortunately not unique to the ancient Greeks. Some of today’s Afghan tribesmen have been guilty of it, to the consternation of their American military advisers. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben, the drillmaster of George Washington’s Continental Army, had fled to America from Europe after being accused there “of having taken familiarities with young boys which the laws forbid and punish severely.” Peter Tchaikovsky had a thing for boys, too—a proclivity that tormented him to the end.

I don’t know if Rock Hudson belongs in such company or not. But late in his life, the AIDS-withered actor posed for a magazine spread in his mansion’s backyard, with creepy statues of naked boys at poolside.

Perversion? I think so.

Those who condemn John Wayne for his Playboy interview are upset about more than just his comments on perverted movies and such. I won’t try to defend the Duke on every score. Lots of people more knowledgeable than I am have already had their say about it. But was Wayne wrong to speak as he did about that one point? I don’t think so.

He followed up his slam on “Midnight Cowboy” with a polite bow to the preoccupation of Playboy readers:

Don’t get me wrong. As far as a man and a woman is concerned, I’m awfully happy there’s a thing called sex. It’s an extra something God gave us.

Count Wayne, then, as among those who view homosexuality as a perversion of something good, “a distortion or corruption” of what God intended for us. Count Lewis in that group, and throw in Capra, too.

Argue with them all you want. But if you call them haters, if you spit on them in the flesh and dishonor them in death, then be warned: People are apt to conclude the hate is coming from you.

Photo Credit: John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Hollywood • Post • The Culture

Will The Woke Mafia Whack Tony Soprano?

This year marks two decades since television was changed forever. If “The Sopranos” had been created today instead of in the late ‘90s, would Tony Soprano be a kinder, gentler, more virtue signaling mob boss? Could the scriptwriters even mention “made men,” or would it need to be a gender-neutral pronoun?

What about all of those guns? Millennial viewers would be aghast. Smoking, drinking, and marinara sauce, oh my! Lots of strippers, too, and all female—really, not pretending to be—and good-looking. The horror of it all would be too much to endure.

Families; traditional values. The Catholic Church. And Tony drove a gas guzzling Escalade—with a bigger carbon footprint than half a dozen hybrids. And lets not forget how The Sopranos handled the Italian third rail of homosexuality? If any show today tried to handle the case of Vito Spatafore Sr. in the way Tony and company did, we would have all out cultural nuclear war on our hands.

We’ll soon see who gets “triggered” by all this—because a prequel of the iconic HBO series about a Newark, New Jersey crime family and its existentially troubled paterfamilias, Tony Soprano, is in the works.

The Many Saints of Newark” will take us back to Tony’s childhood in the Newark of the 1960s and ’70s. It will star Michael Gandolfini, the 19-year-old son of actor James Gandolfini, who played middle-aged Tony to perfection in the original.

Sopranos creator David Chase cast the younger Gandolfini because of his “mastery” of Tony Soprano’s mannerisms as well as his “innate understanding” of Tony’s character, according to Digital Trends. Young Tony is also, of course, alarmingly heterosexual, at least as far as we now know.

Both Jim Rockford of “The Rockford Files” fame (another Chase character) and Tony Soprano could be a “fool or a jerk . . . but had to be the smartest guy in the room.”

Rockford and Tony were also instinctively protective of and courteous toward women, a sure sign of traditional male toxicity and gender stereotypes in the eyes of the Woke Mafia, who operate like real-life Cosa Nostra authoritarians trying to impose their code of omerta on everyone via the cudgel of political correctness.

These woke mafiosos will probably put a contract hit out on the new show—in the form of eructations of feigned outrage, hoping this will cause potential viewers to shy away. Although David Chase is no jabroni, he knows what he is doing.

An alarming new survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) of college students’ attitudes found that 60 percent believe that “promoting an inclusive environment that is welcoming to a diverse group of students” is more important than “protecting students’ free speech rights, even if it means allowing hurtful or offensive speech.”

It gets worse.

More than half the students surveyed—57 percent—either “agree” or “strongly agree” that “colleges and universities should be able to restrict student expression of political views that are hurtful or offensive to certain students.”

How can Tony Soprano survive in a culture rife with feminine male angst? Where the sole beta-male concern is opening oneself up to emotional richness while talking endlessly about your feelings? This is why Tony would ask plaintively, “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper?”

A lot has changed in American culture in the 20 years since the original series debuted on HBO in January 1999—and even more since the pending prequel’s 1960s-era backdrop.

The only snowflakes in New Jersey back then fell from the sky during winter.

People smoked, cursed, drove convertible Cadillacs with huge V8s—and no airbags, and no one wore a seat-belt. Kids rode bicycles without helmets or helicopter parents hovering. Their moms—who mostly stayed home—expected them to be home in time for supper, that’s all.

Traditional masculinity hadn’t yet been pathologized by the American Psychological Association.

Pre-Woke America was ready for the story of a man—deeply flawed, certainly; but noble in his own way because he was a man. Without Tony Soprano, there would have been no Walter White, no Don Draper, no Jax Teller. He ushered in the dawn of modern serialized TV’s laconic, taciturn anti-hero.

Tony’s crew of Silvio Dante, Paulie Walnuts and Christopher Moltisanti clicked with the viewing public because while they were mobsters, they had good qualities, too—such as genuine affection for each other and a desire to take care of their own. This humanized them and made them extremely likable.

Chase has expressed surprise that the original series made it on the air—and was quoted by IndieWire back in 2016 as saying that the “chances of doing this ever again (are) unlikely,” adding that “my understanding is things have changed” in television. In the woke #MeToo era, everything has changed. Which is tragic, creatively as well as socially.

Politically correct or not, The Sopranos was brilliant TV—and can be credited with helping to ignite the high-quality creative outpouring of programming we today take for granted. Any time you binge watch a series, you are living in the house that Tony built.

Before “The Sopranos,” there was very little to see outside of the big three networks. You generally had to go to the movies to see something like “The Sopranos,” which many believe ranks with “The Godfather” in terms of writing, acting and on every other metric by which artistic excellence is judged.

If “The Many Saints of Newark” is shouted down for hurting society’s current virginal feelings, it will be a loss not only in terms of what we don’t get to see—but what will never be made.

Perhaps young Tony can fit his critics with a pair of cement shoes before the Woke Mafia strikes.

Photo Credit: HBO