Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Makes a Movie Conservative?

Like many in the blogosphere, I'm puzzling over the National Review's recent-ish list of the 25 Best Conservative Movies, which to me looks like a group of movies almost everyone likes ("The Incredibles," "Groundhog Day," "Juno," "The Dark Knight," "United 93"), no matter what their political orientation. The truth is, as film historian Jeanine Basinger always tells her students, when we go to the movies, "we see who we are," meaning we project ourselves and our values onto the screen. A liberal can watch "Juno," a movie in which the pregnant teen heroine carries the baby to term and gives it up for adoption, and call it "pro-choice." A conservative can watch the same scenario and call it "pro-life." A liberal can watch "The Dark Knight" and see in it a condemnation of George W. Bush's surveillance technology that invades privacy. A conservative can watch it and see it as a defense of same policy. Many of the most popular films are those that speak with forked tongue, i.e., confirm the beliefs of those at either end of the ideological spectrum. Still, this list got me thinking: Is it possible to identify a Conservative film? A Liberal one? Is it the political affiliation of the filmmaker? If so, the right-leaning Clint Eastwood slaughtered a Conservative sacred cow in "Million Dollar Baby." Is it the ideology of the hero? If so, the populist James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" might be deemed anti-Capitalist because of his ongoing fight with banker Lionel Barrymore. The movie "To Kill a Mockingbird," released a few years before the Civil Rights Act, was in its day progressive. After the Civil Rights act, its plea for equal rights is less easy to place ideologically. Any thoughts?

What Makes a Movie Conservative?

Who did Batman vote for?
Who did Batman vote for?

Like many in the blogosphere, I'm puzzling over the National Review's  recent-ish list of the 25 Best Conservative Movies, which to me looks like a group of movies almost everyone likes ("The Incredibles," "Groundhog Day," "Juno," "The Dark Knight," "United 93"), no matter what their political orientation.

The truth is, as film historian Jeanine Basinger always tells her students, when we go to the movies, "we see who we are," meaning we project ourselves and our values onto the screen. A liberal can watch "Juno," a movie in which the pregnant teen heroine carries the baby to term and gives it up for adoption, and call it "pro-choice." A conservative can watch the same scenario and call it "pro-life." A liberal can watch "The Dark Knight" and see in it a condemnation of George W. Bush's surveillance technology that invades privacy. A conservative can watch it and see it as a defense of same policy. Many of the most popular films are those that speak with forked tongue, i.e., confirm the beliefs of those at either end of the ideological spectrum.

Still, this list got me thinking: Is it possible to identify a Conservative film? A Liberal one? Is it the political affiliation of the filmmaker? If so, the right-leaning Clint Eastwood slaughtered a Conservative sacred cow in "Million Dollar Baby." Is it the ideology of the hero? If so, the populist James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" might be deemed anti-Capitalist because of his ongoing fight with banker Lionel Barrymore. The movie "To Kill a Mockingbird," released a few years before the Civil Rights Act, was in its day progressive. After the Civil Rights act, its plea for equal rights is less easy to place ideologically.

Any thoughts?

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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