How Modern Post-Christian Liberals Watch Movies

As Christianity became less and less a cultural force over the last several decades, one of the great losses is our ability to make art that appeals to our common humanity, largely because a common humanity no longer seems to exist. While this may be a disappointment for the traditionalists among us who can no longer find quality films to view or quality popular music to listen to, it has been nothing short of devastating for the intellectual maturity of the modern progressive liberal, who defines himself by his agenda. For this unfortunate wretch, trying to watch a good film while holding onto one’s rigid ideological views is an exercise in frustration on a truly bizarre level.

This is most evident with classic films. Those of us who don’t see a need to redefine the family or male and female sex roles and the like can easily view a classic film and enjoy it for what it is. We don’t feel a burning need to judge the past by the standards of today, since we largely reject those new standards. The modern liberal is absolutely incapable of this. Liberal individualists achingly search for their personal message in older films and demand it in new films. Thus they are utterly incapable of enjoying the Golden Era of Filmmaking and at the same time are actively contributing to the flat-out mediocrity of contemporary movies.

Did you know young feminist-minded women today are viewing all movies through the prism of a ludicrous, self-marginalizing lens known as the Bechdel Test?

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History Lesson: From 1983 to 2008 Alison Bechdel wrote a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For that followed an array of queer characters through twenty-five years of relationship drama, parenting, and political upheaval. In one panel of a 1985 DTWOF, a character created a “rule” to gauge gender bias in movies. The rule has three parts:

1. There have to be two female characters with names
2. They have to talk to each other…
3. About something other than a man.

Think for a moment of all the great films of the 20th century that fail to pass that test. Goodbye “Citizen Kane”, goodbye “The Third Man,” goodbye “The Godfather” … the list is endless. Speaking of “The Godfather,” here’s how one modern feminist struggles with enjoying something that perpetuates a world she is committed to eradicating:

I have mixed feelings about “The Godfather” (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972). On the one hand, it’s a brilliant, well made production with a phenomenally perfect opening sequence. On the other, it’s inherently sexist. I don’t find it sexist because it’s about homosocial bonds or fails a Bechdel test—as I don’t think homosocial privileging narratives are a bad thing in general nor that something must pass a Bechdel test to be a quality work of media—but I do take issue with it promoting a traditional, patriarchal view of gender roles and masculinity especially.

Patriarchal masculinity isn’t attractive to me, but I’m an educated woman and wouldn’t want a partner who believes I’m inferior to him, exist solely to minister to his needs, and am his personal property. Machismo works based on entitlement, an overinflated sense of ego and disrespect for others. It’s gross and psychologically unhealthy, particularly because the men who ascribe to it believe they’re doing right by women by treating them like children or property, yet still warrants study and dissection. Gender studies reached a point where viewing masculinity as the norm and femininity as the other stopped being viable.

How impossible it would be to explain to this woman that this is a film above all about brothers and the fact that, as Michael Corleone famously said, “it’s not easy being a son.” For those of us who have no problem with the traditional family this is a universal message able to be understood and appreciated by all, male or female. For the feminist, this is an unfathomable message alien to her existence simply because her views and her agenda are not being promoted. Never mind that she may have a brother. He does not exist to her except in the way in which his masculinity must be redefined to create her new social structure. That “The Godfather” does not actively push this new social structure makes it a hurtful and harmful film.

For the narrow-minded liberal, the very message of “The Godfather” is that traditional family roles are destructive. Imagine carrying this baggage (see comments) with you the next time you watch this all-time classic:

Well that was interesting—I’d always taken the Godfather as a cautionary tale, not a piece of advocacy: cautionary to both genders, as in this is what society *was* like 30 years ago, and this is what traditional society *will* do to you if you let it.

These kind of mental acrobatics are particularly absurd when we deal with the frenzied push to normalize homosexuality in our culture today. Homosexuality, of course, was far removed from even being on the fringe of American culture until the 1970s. But that will not stop our retroactive obsessives from seeing homosexual messages in even the most benign of classic movie scenes, such as this one from what many critics and viewers consider the greatest film ever made, Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”:

There is also a subtle queer subtext in the character of Kane’s friend Leland. Jebidiah Leland never marries or expresses interest in any female character. Throughout the time he is being interviewed by Thompson, Leland aggressively tries to get the reporter to sneak into the convalescence home where Leland now lives some cigarettes, which he is forbidden by his doctor who cites the health risks of tobacco. What struck me about this scene is that, while a small number of doctors in the early forties believed that smoking posed a significant health risk, it would not be another decade before the first major study linking tobacco and lung cancer would be published. However, the false belief that “homosexuality” did pose serious health risks to gay men and lesbians was very widespread. Furthermore, during the Hayes code, smoking and particularly the sharing of cigarettes was a common way to subtly suggest sexual activity. Basically what I am saying is that the entire scene plays as if Leland is hitting on our intrepid reporter.

The immediate reaction to the above paragraph can only be utter disbelief.

Even films that have something interesting to say about the reality of the idealized American Dream, such as Terrence Malick’s 1973 masterwork “Badlands,” get reduced to single-issue silliness. This highly praised yet still underappreciated gem, noted for its gorgeous cinematography, offers a compelling argument against the comfortable lie that a blue-jeans-wearing James Dean lookalike and your typical girl next door will naturally fulfill the promise of a bright and limitless future in the Land of the Free. Our two protagonists are instead lost and disconnected, with fanzine celebrity following and Cocoa-Cola consumption failing to help them find their place. These are two of America’s children, circa 1958, and somewhere somehow things went awry. How did this come to pass?

This is a theme that should engage the modern liberal mind. But it does not, because it calls on him to think of something greater than himself. Far easier and far better for him to call on his own personal agenda and then discover it over and over again as he watches the film:

As frightening figures show beyond a doubt, gun violence is endemic to American society as it is to no other country. Yet mainstream media fail to investigate the root causes of this violent plague. Nothing better illustrates the congenital bond between gun violence and North American society than the nation’s cinema. […] In “Badlands,” currently celebrating its 40th anniversary with revival screenings around the country, Terrence Malick frames violence under a singular, revealing viewpoint by exploring its inextricability from notions of beauty and freedom. The movie helps put the problem in context.

You see, the film isn’t about the main characters and their actions. No, it’s about this one item of particular significance to the modern progressive liberal. Imagine watching every movie this way. Not only does it sound completely absent of joy or intellectual stimulation, it seems above all like … work. Dull, dreary work.

Which brings us to the movies of today. It’s bad enough that modern Hollywood routinely spits out tepid commercial garbage instead of real stories that entertain and inspire. Now we must have the social engineering front and center. So for those of you who still go to the movie theater today (and why do you?), if you thought Iron Man 1 and 2 had too much testosterone for our post-patriarchal society, you’re in luck. Because Iron Man 3 is a Bechdel Test dream come true:

In a lot of films, there may be more than one woman present, but the women do not interact with one another and again, they are used to advance a man’s story. In Iron Man 3, Maya and Pepper talk to each other and have their own scenes together that further the plot of the movie and their own character development.

Of course there is still much re-educational work to be done but, hey, we’re getting there:

Iron Man 3 does have its pitfalls regarding women however, as there is a scene that uses a problematic and stereotypical representation of Third World Women.

Really now, is this what a comic-book action hero movie should be focusing on? In our brave new age, the answer is … but of course:

To see women break out of stereotypes in this super hero film is really meaningful as Iron Man is one of the most popular and influential franchises in pop culture today; and so for Iron Man 3 not to rely on antiquated and oppressive female tropes, they can help rewrite a highly masculinized genre to include developed women characters that have meaning outside of their relationship with men.

It has taken a while to see the effects of living in a post-Christian cultural milieu, but they should be more and more clear to Americans today. Artistically, we have a creatively bankrupt Hollywood film industry, the wasteland of cable television and a lifeless pop music industry in which emotion and posture trump talent, a quality that is increasingly hard to find. But while we traditional-minded folks can at least look back and enjoy the creative achievements of a better age, the modern liberal is trapped in his clearly-defined box. Liberals don’t want their thought processes challenged by genuine artistic expression or want to be encouraged to step outside of their rigidly structured mindset and dwell on things higher than themselves. They want and expect their particular thoughts and views to be validated by the fake art they consume.

Forget for a moment the negative impact this has on our society. More than anything, it sounds like a horrible way to spend a Saturday night.

Editor’s note: The scene above is from “Iron Man 3” staring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. (Disney-Marvel Studios.)


  • Joseph Schaeffer

    Joseph Schaeffer is the former managing editor of The Washington Times National Weekly.

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