Entry from December 23, 2010

Writing in National Review online, Andrew Klavan announces with delight that “After years of declaiming against the Left’s domination of our culture, I’m startled and delighted to discover that the tide is beginning to turn.” The only evidence he offers for this remarkable contention in what is otherwise an unexceptionable exhortation to his fellow conservatives not to lose heart — hardly necessary if the tide were really turning, I’d have thought — is the following paragraph:

We should ease off on the complaining. For the last few years, movies promoting the Western ideals of self-reliance, morality, and faith have scored at the box office — see The Incredibles (“If everyone is special, that means no one is”), The Blind Side (“Who would have thought we’d have a black son before we knew a Democrat?”), and Toy Story 3 (a takedown of the nanny state). They have also been more innovative and creative — 300, Gran Torino, No Country for Old Men — than the products of the desiccated and outmoded Left. Our best novelist (Tom Wolfe) and two greatest English-speaking playwrights (Tom Stoppard and David Mamet) are now all open about their political conservatism. And new top-notch mainstream TV shows (Justified, Blue Bloods) have arrived to offset the lefty Law and Order and Jon Stewart.

The Blind Side is about football, while The Incredibles and Toy Story 3 (like Toy Stories 1 and 2) are cartoons. Nothing wrong with football, of course; and who doesn’t love cartoons? But cartoons remain cartoons even when dealing with (or attempting to deal with) serious subjects. In fact, it is a significant datum that Hollywood is unable to deal with serious subjects except in cartoons — whether overt, like The Incredibles, or partially disguised, like 300. And of course the reason is not far to seek. It’s that the culture has not changed, as Mr Klavan suggests it has. Instead, it continues to demand the tribute from conservatism of exiling itself to fantasy land, especially whenever it tries to deal with serious questions of honor or morality.

As for Gran Torino and No Country for Old Men, I think these are just bad pictures and fully vested in liberal assumptions about the world, especially the latter. Clint Eastwood as usual, like the creators of the ubiquitous super-heroes, presents an apparently conservative theme but undermines it with liberal assumptions and cartoonish excess. In the central role of Walt Kowalski, he teaches the Hmong boy not to stand up to thugs and bullies but to rely on him, as another sort of superhero, to perform an act of self-sacrifice that will magically solve all his problems for him. It’s just one sign that Clint also has, like Warren Beatty, a Christ-complex that renders the whole enterprise more than faintly ridiculous. No Country is just shockingly nihilistic in its attempt to make a sort of inverted superhero out of a psychopathic killer for no better reason than the thrill of watching him do his stuff as the Lone Ranger of murder. I am at a loss as to how any conservative can hail this morally imbecilic movie as a hopeful sign.

Maybe there is some good in the TV shows Mr Klavan mentions. I haven’t seen them. But how different are they, really, from hundreds of other TV police dramas? He appears to be praising them only for not being so overtly left-wing as Law and Order or Jon Stewart. That hardly amounts to a reason for hailing them as heralds of a new dawn. And if Messrs. Stoppard and Mamet are conservatives, the former is now an old man and the latter’s only overtly political play, November (2008) is mostly farce where it isn’t a thinly-veiled attack on George W. Bush and social conservatives. His movie of The Winslow Boy (1999) was good, but the play on which it was based was by somebody else (Terence Rattigan) and more than half a century old at the time he made it.

Mr Stoppard has written only one original play since The Coast of Utopia in 2002 — itself a sentimental paean to the founders of revolutionary communism. That was Rock ‘n’ Roll (2007), which celebrates a popular American musical idiom for contributing to the subversion of the Communist tyranny in Eastern Europe. He’d have done better to have balanced it with a consideration of rock’n’roll’s much less welcome contribution to the subversion of traditional religion and morality in the West. I understand that nobody wants to be thought a gloomy Gus or a mere curmudgeon; everybody wants to be hopeful and not pessimistic about the future. And there are things to be hopeful about if you hunt more assiduously than Mr Klavan appears to have done. But there are not enough of them to amount to a turning of the tide, I’m afraid.

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