Superman and Dehumanity Part I

Let me address a question which, if answered, would answer several questions at once. Why are crass popular comic book superhero movies better than mainstream Hollywood movies? Why are they better and more honest, more sound, and more true than a modern comedy or tragedy or melodrama, or what passes for it? Why are they better drama?

There are some deep questions unexpectedly connected to this shallow question. Let us see into what oxbows of digression the river of conversation leads. A prudence of space may require the discussion to be drawn over several entries.

The question is also based on some assumptions, such as the assumption that comic book movies, by and large are good, and are good drama. (I am aware of the glaring exceptions, and any useful theory must explain those exceptions as well.) What comic books are not is naturalistic drama; they are high romantic drama—but more on this later.

I am thinking in particular of movies like THE INCREDIBLES, DARK KNIGHT, SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, BATMAN, BATMAN BEGINS, and the first SUPERMAN movie by Alexander Suskind, and also MEN IN BLACK and X-MEN. If we are generous with our definition of comic book movies, we can add that best beloved version of FLASH GORDON known as STAR WARS; but I cannot in this space defend that these movies are good, and make for satisfactory drama.

Those of you who disagree, read no more, or accept it in philosophical humor for the sake of the argument, because this article is concerned with discovering the reason wherefore this is so, not debating whether this is so. To the skeptic, all I can report is that the taste of the public put these films in the top ten to top hundred of highest grossing films of all time, whether ticket price inflated or no, so that if you scorn such films are trash, you do so in a lonely minority.

The second assumption, harder to defend and harder to swallow, is that mainstream Hollywood movies are artsy, trivial, greasy, and bad. I do not mean popular blockbusters like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, inspired by old cliffhanger serials, CASABLANCA, inspired by genius, or WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND or LORD OF THE RINGS, inspired by widely beloved best-selling books. I am thinking of movies critics and Hollywood insiders like, flicks such as FULL METAL JACKET, RAIN MAN, DANCES WITH WOLVES, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, AMERICAN BEAUTY, CHICAGO, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, THE DEPARTED, THE HURT LOCKER. These are not obscure films, and each won widespread critical acclaim, awards, and praise; and you could not, for 357 dollars gold or with a 357 Magnum persuade me to sit through one showing of them.

The third assumption is that Hollywood movies are made by the elite for the elite, and that it is only with reluctance, or to pay the bills, does Hollywood turn out nutritious fare meant to please and sate the coarse palate of coarse commoners like me, as the popular blockbusters mentioned above.

I do not mean to dwell on this point, I merely ask that you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, accept it as uncontested, since surely the counselor for the Defense of Hollywood dare not claim the actors and studios like us, want to be like us, or like what we like. Their entire claim to be an elite, and superior in taste, intellect, and moral insight to the pathetic bourgeoisie is dashed if they do not discriminate themselves from bourgeoisie tastes.

With these assumptions explicit, let us ponder the question.

Why are comic book movies better than Hollywood movies?

Now, one might assume that anyone asking this question merely has tastes that are common, plebeian, philistine and low.

As for that, I do confess it: it is easy enough to enjoy and appreciate the works of Homer and Euripides and Sophocles, Dante and Milton, Shakespeare and Wagner and Beethoven, the paintings of William Bouguereau or John William Waterhouse, or the movies of Akira Kurasawa and Hayao Miyizaki for the genius of these men is brighter than summer lightning, and darts from so dazzling a high empyrean, and echoes into such profoundest deep that one would be blind and deaf not to be awed by it.

What is difficult is learning to appreciate and savor the artistic genius of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, who wrote comic books and paperbacks, fairy stories and science fiction marketed to children. I have worked hard to lower my taste to appreciating the things as common and simple as children’s tales, and all the simple and true things under heaven. I hope one day my taste will be as coarse as that of St. Peter, who was a fisherman.

The elite of our culture have not yet shouldered that difficult task. We all know that the elite are out of touch with the tastes of the common man, but how far out of touch they are is something of a shock.

Allow me to quote from “J.R.R. TOLKIEN” by Jeremy Mark Robinson:

Philip Toynbee declared, in 1961, that Tolkien’s ‘childish books had passed into a merciful oblivion’, a wonderful statement, just a tad inaccurate. In 1997, The Lord of the Rings was voted the top book of the 20th century by readers in a British bookstore’s poll (Waterstone’s). 104 out of 105 stores and 25,000 readers put The Lord of the Rings at the top (1984 was second).

The results of the poll angered many lit’ry critics in the UK. Howard Jacobson, Mark Lawson, Bob Inglis, Germaine Greer and Susan Jeffreys, were among those irritated by Lord of the Rings‘ success among readers. The Daily Telegraph readers’ poll came up with the same results. The Folio Society also ran a poll (of 50,000 members), and Middle-earth was top again (Pride and Prejudice was second and David Copperfield was third).

It was Tolkien’s incredible popularity that annoyed some critics and journos. Writers are nothing if not bitchy and envious of other people’s success, and British journalists have a long tradition of knocking down anyone who’s successful. So the popularity of The Lord of the Rings served to underline many of the prejudices of the literary establishment and media in the UK:
(1) That people who liked Tolkien were geeks, anoraks, sci-fi nuts, college students, hippies, and so on.
(2) That Tolkien’s fiction was juvenile, reactionary, sexist, racist, pro-militaristic, etc.
(3) And it was badly written, simplistic, stereotypical, and so on. (4) And it was in the fantasy genre, which was automatically deemed as lightweight, as ‘escapist’, as fit only for adolescent boys. And so on and on.

What Mr. Robinson reports of these polls is underscored and emphasized by some that film critic and conservative commentator Michael Medved mentions about movies.

Allow me again to quote, this from a talk Mr. Medved gave at Hillsdale College:

In years past, Hollywood also turned out popular and sympathetic portrayals of contemporary clergymen. Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien and Spencer Tracy played earthy, compassionate priests who gave hope to underprivileged kids or comforted GI’s on the battlefield. Nearly all men of the cloth who appeared on screen would be kindly and concerned, if not downright heroic.

In the last ten to fifteen years mainstream moviemakers have swung to the other extreme. If someone turns up in a film today wearing a Roman collar or bearing the title “Reverend,” you can be fairly sure that he will be either crazy or corrupt—or probably both.

Mr. Medved offers the examples the film Monsignor (in which a cardinal seduces a Nun, embezzles Church funds to the Mafia and CIA) Agnes of God (Nun commits infanticide, stuffs her own baby down the toilet) The Runner Stumbles (seduction again) True Confessions, Mass Appeal and The Mission (various other crimes and offenses). Also, Pass the Ammo, Salvation, Riders of the Storm, In Light of Day, Malone, Crimes of Passion, and that masterwork of bad cinema The Last Temptation of Christ.

In explaining the hostility to our Judeo-Christian heritage that characterizes so many of these films, industry insiders firmly deny any deep-seated anti-religious bias. They insist that moviemakers are merely responding to the beliefs and prejudices of the film-going public. According to this argument, they are merely following the honorable capitalist practice of giving the customers what they want.

There is, however, one gigantic flaw in that line of reasoning: all of the movies I’ve mentioned above—every single one of them—flopped resoundingly at the box office. Taken together, these pictures lost hundreds of millions for the people who made them. Hunger for money can explain almost everything in Hollywood, but it can’t explain why ambitious producers keep launching expensive projects that slam religion.

He next lists films where religious faith was portrayed in a sympathetic light: Chariots of Fire, Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful, Places in the Heart, Witness, A Cry in the Dark: all box-office successes. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was ruthlessly (and pointlessly) slandered, and yet still made an astonishing fortune at the box office.

[…] It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is a perverse sort of idealism at work here. For many of the most powerful people in the entertainment business, hostility to traditional religion goes so deep and burns so intensely that they insist on expressing that hostility, even at the risk of commercial disaster.

Medved goes on to quote a 1982 survey by researchers from the University of Maryland which analyzed the attitudes and practices of key decision makers and creative personnel in the movie business. “Only three percent responded that they regularly attended church or synagogue. In the country at large, by contrast, the same study indicated that just under fifty percent flock to services on a regular basis.”

By no coincidence, a survey by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Psychological Sciences, “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” found that consumers of “Green” and “Planet Saving Products” are more inclined to cheat, lie and steal.

Risibly, perhaps because Mazar and Zhong are from the planet Mars, and not aware of the last fifty years of human history, the researchers speculate that people who wear what they call the “halo of green consumerism” are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. “Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours.”

Pardon me, but I must pause to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.

Those of us from the planet Earth, who remember being lectured-at and talked down to for the last fifty years by these sneering self-anointed Green busy-bodies and Enviro-Marxists know very well why Greens tend to lie and cheat: it is because they are unbathed and draggle-haired hippies.

Anyone who did not note the moral degradation involved in the Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolt overlooked the express and often repeated point and purpose of that revolt: it was to degrade moral standards, first in the sexual realm, then in common courtesy, chivalry, common decency, then in independence of character, then in toleration of dissent. Somewhere along the way personal hygiene fell by the wayside, along with respect for one’s elders and respect for one’s word.

The purpose of the Green Movement, which sprang from the unbathed Youth Movement, is not now and has never been to save the planet and preserve the beauty of nature. That is what Boy Scouts and Rod and Gun clubs and other arch-enemies of the Greens mean to do. The Greens want to trash industry and to feel good about themselves.

It is self esteem therapy, not anything related to reality.

If they were interested in reality, they would publish rather than falsify scientific data, such as Global Warming scares.

If they were interested in preserving nature rather than interested in watching brown skinned people die of malaria, they would legalize rather than forbid the use of DDT. Population Explosion alarmist Paul Erlich would have publicly repudiated his exploded theory once he lost his famous bet to Julian Simon, had he been interested in reality, or vulnerable to shamefacedness; and committed seppuku in the proper Japanese ritual fashion once the demographic data made it clear that the Industrialized world is suffering from underpopulation, not overpopulation.

The Greens are not interested in any of these things because their hearts are not true.

We are not dealing with honest people or even with hypocrites who pretend to value honesty. We are dealing with a philosophy of life and a world view that values untruth, and reacts with umbrage, not shame, when they are caught faking data or believing faked data.

Umbrage: because their code regards it as meritorious to lie for the sake of the cause, the party, and political correctness. To cheat is merely to lie with actions rather than words, and to steal is merely to cheat another of money or goods due him: but the root of all evil, despite what the Good Book says, is love of dishonesty.

But we have wandered far afield: let us return to the main current of the conversation. These examples (and they could be multiplied endlessly, I am sure, from your own life and experience, dear reader) suggest that good taste, faith, and trueheartedness are interrelated in some way.

We need not pause to ponder in what why they are interrelated, or whether the chicken of reality-o-phobia comes before or after the rotten egg of aversion to morality and faith. Let us merely for now proceed on the assumption that the elite in the West today accept a moral code, or antimoral code, which in some way encourages and in some way is encouraged by their code of aesthetics.

They have bad taste because they have bad morals.

Instead of believing in God, or following the Way of Heaven called the Tao, or seeking Nirvana, or paying heed to any saints, philosophers, or sages of Occident or Orient, the Glittering Generation just believe in Themselves and seek to do it Their Way, and they seek Self-satisfaction. They heed only the inner voice of pop-psychiatry self esteem, which, by no coincidence, happens to coincide with the voice of fashion, of political correctness, of useful idiocy.

No matter in what other way the great ideals of faith, truth, and beauty are intermingled, we can at least establish the sole point we need for our present purposes: a man putting up a vast idol to himself erects a monument to his own execrable bad taste. (See the Confessions of Rousseau for details.)

The vast idol to himself that the modern or postmodern man puts up always is posed in the posture of Promethean defiance: the tasteless slabs of smelt used to create the looming figure always have arms upraised in rebellion. For the modern artist, to be is to be subversive.

But against whom does the rebel rebel? To what cause do these Pied Pipers seek to subvert their ensorcelled audience? To subvert means to use subtle means to pry the fidelity of one from his former loyalty to a new. To what buried and illusory fairyland does the music of the Pied Piper’s piping pull?

You can see against whom these would be Lucifers and play-pretend-Prometheans lift their impotent arms by reading their works. They are not shy about telling you. They challenge authority, and convention, and the bourgeoisie morality. Some are alert enough to know against whose authority they actually rebel, and shameless enough to admit it: the it not the followers of the Ten Commandments the Sexual Revolutionaries conspire, but against the Author.

They regard you as sleepy and stupid sheep who need to be startled out of complacency and educated out of stupidity by the jarring clamor of their art. They do not regard themselves (as more sane and more humble artists do, for humility is sanity) as employees seeking your entertainment dollar by providing you with divertissement and simple enjoyment.

Nor do they regard themselves as did the pagan bards of old, whose purpose was to maintain in the memory of mankind the great deeds, whether joyous or tragic, done by demigods and heroes wise and great who came before, and whose name and fame should not perish from the Earth, or whose example should serve as an inspiration or a caution, lest men forget their forefathers and themselves and drift without roots, and be forgotten by their children when time is done.

No, indeed, the express purpose of the subversive modern artist is to cut those roots, to blind the modern world to the past, to drench the eye in the slumber of oblivion, and leave the soul adrift.

Rebels not only rebel against, they also fight for.

Now keep in mind we can speak only in general terms about what is in truth a complex gathering of many persons acting for many goals over many years: but let us not delay to make all the legalistic qualifications or list all exceptions that might obtain. We are seeking wisdom here, not scientific knowledge, and where a single counter example destroys a general scientific principle, an exception does not undo a generally wise observation. Let us silence this objection before it is uttered: to speak in general terms is allowed, for the same reason that we can speak of a sand dune and observe its shape, or hear the stampede and guess its direction, without naming each cow or counting each mote of sand. Sand dunes do indeed have shapes, even if some grains are tossed aside by the wind, and stampedes do go in one direction, even if one in the herd breaks away.

So what are they fighting for, this modern elite?

After the Great War, Europe went through their Crazy Years period, and during the Cold War, America followed, and the elite opinion makers, politicians, writers, thinkers, intellectuals and entertainers, all those who control the imagination and the deliberation of Western Civilization became enamored and fascinated by the series of ideas the previous two generations of philosophers and literati had conceived: the idea that God was Dead and that life meant nothing, and that life was unfair.

The great moral crusade of that generation, the so-called Sexual Revolution was the main rebellion against morality. In the name of freedom and progress, the progressive bent every effort to undoing the progress of all previous generations of saints and sages and moralists, and enslaving the world to addictions and sins: Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, a heady mixture of self-indulgence and socialism. The great moral crusade was Antinomianism.

Antinomianism, the idea that moral rules have no meaning, is a logically incoherent idea, easily refuted by human experience. Progressivism, the idea that the rules of the science economics can be replaced by wishful thinking, is likewise incoherent, and likewise alien to human experience.  Progressivism and Antinomianism are Siamese twins, since the promised revolution of the Progressivism involves an overthrow of basic principles of justice, such as the maxim that forbids stealing, forbids envy, forbids treason, forbids lying. The more violent and radical version of Progressivism, Socialism, also refutes the principle of justice that forbids murdering the innocent masses in their millions who all have to be trampled underfoot for the Marxist and Maoist revolutions to succeed. Socialism is the first code of conduct in history where to show disrespect to one’s elders and ancestors, and to hate and uproot one’s own history and institutions is regarded as a virtue rather than a vice.

Adherence to incoherence has several consequences for any mind willing and able to carry out the logical corollaries implied: civility, history, politics, and reason are all involved in the downfall of morality.

Simple civility is the first casualty of this world view, for it presupposes a degree of respect, if not for persons, then for rules of courtesy, but in either case for norms. One cannot consistently be an Antinomian and be in favor of norms.

(One also cannot respect the victims of one’s lies: contempt is the only logical way to regard those one lies about or lies to.)

History is simply ignored by the Progressives: they regard it as a principle of Hegelian or Marxist or Darwinian evolution that the past has no control over the future, no merit, and need not be consulted. The extraordinary and risible inability of the Progressives of any age to learn from their mistakes, their astonishing parochialism, and their revolting inability to honor even their own founding members are all explained by this philosophical amnesia.

As a political philosophy, Progressivism is not a political philosophy, and does not pretend to be: it is a psychological strategy to scapegoat others for failures and dissatisfaction. As the National Socialists were with the Jews, as Marxists are with the Capitalists, as Race-baiters are with Whites, and Feminists are with Males, as Jihadists are with the Great Satan, and as everyone is with the Roman Catholic Church, the Progressive scheme of things consists of finding someone to blame and expanding the power of the State in order allegedly to rectify these allegedly blameworthy evils.

Nothing is ever blamed on the nature of things, or natural limitations of reality, or on historical facts: these entities do not exist in the Progressive mind.

Reason, of course, cannot be dethroned from the respect it merits by any reasonable argument: instead it has to be shunned.

To do this is relatively simple: Reason was merely called ‘rationalization’ by Freudians, ‘False Consciousness’ or ‘An Ideological Superstructure’ by Marxists, or an ‘Epiphenomenon’ by various sorts of Behaviorists and radical Materialists. Reasoning, particularly metaphysical reasoning, was denounced as meaningless verbiage according to a metaphysical principle of the Logical Positivist School.

Hence, the one central principle of this allegedly rational and scientific age is its devotion to centerless unprincipled unreason.

The philosophy of centerless unprincipled unreason is called secular humanism, but it should rightly be called dehumanism, since its end is to remove all particular human characteristics from the human soul, and leave man barren, helpless, hopeless, soulless and empty beneath the Mordorian lidless eye of the omnipotent state.

This is the world view and the mission of the elite.

Let me hasten to add that no one person holds all these beliefs, or hold them all to the same degree. The beliefs contradict each other and contain lunatic paradoxes, so of course no one can embrace all Modernist ideals simultaneously. Many folk only have one or two of these slogans they repeat, perhaps lukewarmly, and few are true zealots. The average Progressive or Leftist or New Ager or Lover of Dunderheaded Stupidity does not buy fully into these beliefs simply because no one could: these beliefs are deadly, and only the dead could practice them consistently.

Why are the elite so out of touch with the common man? The common man comes from the common experience of Christendom, and Christendom combined Jewish faith with Greek rational philosophy and Roman civic virtue. The dehumanist who rejects all authority must indeed reject that most demanding of authorities, Christ, and finds he cannot reject Christ without rejecting also faith, reason and virtue.

You may be wondering how our elite, or any elite, could rise to predominance in society they reject? Should not the elite be composed, as in the Old World, of those established ruling and land-owning families whose ancestors founded or conquered the social order, and hence are loyal to it? Or, in the New World, should not the elite be composed of self-made men whose genius and enterprise and good fortune enabled them to contribute so much to society, offering mankind oil and steel mills and rail lines and electrification, that the reward of the free market elevated them to wealth? Would not either an elite of lineage or an elite of money be loyal to the social order?

The answer is that the modern Progressive elite are not the children of iron who whose fathers won land by hard military service and fawning on princes, but neither are they children of wealth whose fathers’ stubborn hands won gold from a hard world by fawning on customers: our elite are self-selected and self-anointed, and they know nothing of the iron of war nor the gold of commerce.

The elite are people who flock to journalism and entertainment and politics and the academy, and they share one outstanding characteristic:

Even though their intellectual accomplishments are relatively modest, they take their ability to disregard morality as a sign of lofty and superior intelligence, as if disobedience were a difficult quadratic equation.

As a corollary, they assume that loyalty to morality can only be due to an absence of intelligence rather than the presence of experience, common sense, honor, grit, manhood, spiritual insight or upright character.

They are people less moral than the rest of us, and they take that lack of moral character to be a sign that both their moral character and intellectual ability supersedes our own.

The pop psychology of high self esteem, the loss of the Christian virtue of humility, is what allows them to have these inflated and false-to-facts self-estimations.

Fan as I am of the free market, Capitalism has one obvious drawback: it is too forgiving. Capitalist societies forgive entertainers and entrepreneurs their peccadilloes, their addictions to drugs or booze or porn or adultery or pederasty, because the society wants the goods produced by the entrepreneur and the diversions provided by the entertainer. There are times when your favorite song is the only thing fending off a gray and rainy day of despair; and nothing else will cheer you. Why should you care if the singer molests children? He does not live in your neighborhood. Your ill opinion will not affect him. There are times when the only car worth buying is your favorite make and model. Why should you care if the manufacturer is an anti-Semite? The free market does not condemn.

The entertainment and media markets are even less condemnatory: Artists are expected to be odd. What would in a normal society be a sin in the world of artists is an amusing eccentricity, or a source of insight, or a sign of the sanctity. In the Academic world, eccentricity to the point of sickness and madness is not a drawback, but a passkey to lauds and fame. See the case of Peter Singer of Princeton for details.

Democracy also has a drawback: our liberty allows for such license, that no accomplishment is needed ere one is called accomplished. Eve our elitism is democratic: Anyone can be a snob!

All you have to do to achieve the paramount of the modern Decalogue is dishonor your father and mother; to be the modern version Horatio, all you need do is betray the ashes of your fathers and the altars of your gods. Hegelian evolution says that whatever comes later is better, right? Well, you come after your forefathers, and you are younger than your teachers, so you must know more.

To be a snob in the Old World you had to be born to a high family, or in the New, to earn a high place. But all you have to do to be a snob in the world of no-fault modern snobbery is look down on the giants who founded and fought for this nation.

The only way to look down on a giant is to turn your soul upside down, can call evil a type of good (tolerance, diversity, choice) and good a type of evil (intolerance, divisiveness, bigotry). And all you need to do to switch the labels on things, change the definitions so that the north arrow of the moral compass reads south, is to be a damned liar.

Yes, I do mean damned. So picture the modern Progressive as a dwarfish figure, head firmly wedged into a chamber pot, who looks down (what we call up) sees the clouds and stars underfoot, and sun and moon, and proudly imagines he is trampling heaven. And when he seeks to soar to higher places, overhead is a blank and cold earth, merely a roof of matter, impenetrable to his wit; and when he dreams of spiritual things his thoughts ascend to hell. The harder he tries to live up to what he thinks are higher ideals, the lower toward the central fire he sinks.

The short answer is that the elite of our culture are not a high elite at all, but the low dregs.

They do not sneer at us as their inferiors despite their embarrassing retardation in experiential, intellectual, philosophical and theological matters, not to mention their bad manners and sexual perversions: they sneer at us as their inferiors BECAUSE of their retardation.

Lest I be accused of exaggeration, let me pause to give a single example, which will have to serve for countless others. Recall to mind Shirley Jackson’s famous 1948 story, “The Lottery” in which the folk of a small rural town in the American heartland gathers every year to implore an unnamed force to grant a good corn harvest. The townspeople consider, and then reject as foolhardy, the notion of ceasing the lottery as other towns have done. A young mother draws the black spot, and is without remorse and without regret stoned to death by her neighbors and kin, including her own children.

A Chronicle of Higher Education piece by Kay Haugaard, a writer who teaches at Pasadena City College, reports the following:

Until recently, Haugaard says, “Jackson’s message about blind conformity always spoke to my students’ sense of right and wrong.” No longer, apparently.

A class discussion of human sacrifice yielded no moral comments, even under Haugaard’s persistent questioning. One male said the ritual killing in “The Lottery” “almost seems a need.” Asked if she believed in human sacrifice, a woman said, “I really don’t know. If it was a religion of long standing. . . .”

Haugaard writes: “I was stunned. This was the woman who wrote so passionately of saving the whales, of concern for the rain forests, of her rescue and tender care of a stray dog.” …

And so on. One student, speaking in quite rational tones, argued that many cultures have traditions of human sacrifice. Another said that the stoning might have been part of ‘a religion of long standing,’ and therefore acceptable and understandable. Another student brought up the idea of “multicultural sensitivity,” saying she learned in school that if “it’s a part of a person’s culture, we are taught not to judge.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, these students are morally retarded. Morally, not mentally. No matter how smart they may be in other areas or academics, no matter how good their vocabulary or grasp of spatial relations, when it comes to making blindingly simple moral calculations, they are like a ten year old with the mind of a two year old, who can neither form sentences nor tie his shoelaces.

Let us turn with disgust from this grisly vision of the triumph of sardonic hell over the innocent minds of stupid youth back to our initial question. Hollywood mainstream movies stink because Hollywood is run by self-anointed elitists whose only claim to being the elite is their inferiority, and their inferiority is a cause and also an outcome of their dehumanist world view.

Can a dehumanist concoct, without betraying his principles a satisfying dramatic story?

To answer this, we first must turn to what makes for satisfactory drama, but that question in turn leads to a deeper question. Are the rules of drama objective, something we can discuss rationally, or are they merely an epiphenomenon or side effect of accumulated accidentally prejudices and social programming?

If we answer this, we can finally turn to what the elements are that often appear in superheroic tales, and whether or which such elements in such tales lends themselves to satisfactory drama. This will require a further digression into the origins of naturalism versus romanticism in literature. We may even have space to observe the relationship between good drama and the doctrine of determinism.

Alas, but these questions must wait for another day. What I have said so far is far too long, and should occasion at least some excuse, until next time, for debate.

19 Comments

  1. Comment by CPE Gaebler:

    Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m psyched for the sequel.

  2. Comment by Stephen J. (Genesiscount):

    Mr. W: While I won’t try to persuade you of the likeability of the “artsy” films you list, having seen a number of them and (for the most part) sharing a lot of your tastes, I can speak for at least a couple of them as being much better than you give them credit for.

    For all its gore and violence (and there is actually far less of either than in any given Roman-numeralled slasher movie), THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a powerful portrait of both a certain real kind of human evil (thinking of Mr. Gumb here rather than Lecter, as the former is much more like most serial murderers, i.e. as pitiable as he is terrifying) and the strength, courage and empathy it takes to outwit and defeat such evil.

    Similarly, THE HURT LOCKER is actually much less violent a film than it appears and much fairer and more even-handed towards its soldier protagonists than most war movies of recent vintage; the central character’s tragedy is not one that argues for the pointlessness or senselessness of war, but of a kind of price that can be paid by anyone so invested in any struggle that eventually the struggle itself becomes more important than the reasons for it or the goals it seeks. This is not a specifically Christian message, but it’s one any Christian apologist or advocate can stand to hear once in a while.

    I wouldn’t try to drag anybody else into any of the other critical darlings you mentioned — I think FULL METAL JACKET is worth seeing, but I can see why someone wouldn’t — but these two, at least, I will argue are rare examples of the critics being right.

    • Comment by Jordan Bassior:

      Stop to think about what you’ve said regarding The Hurt Locker being “fairer and more even-handed” to OUR OWN SOLDIERS than are most Hollywood war movies. You are taking for granted that American popular media should be hostile to OUR OWN SOLDIERS. Now, _why_ are you taking this for granted? Because the modern American media normally IS hostile to our own soldiers.

      You don’t see why this is shocking and repulsive? Even a bit?

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        Repulsive, I agree absolutely; shocking, not so much. I agree that it *should* be shocking but the record is what it is: since, essentially, Vietnam, most of the American film production community has abandoned belief in the idea that soldiers can be decent men who choose to go to war for worthy causes, largely because it has become fashionable to believe that no cause can be worthy of the destruction and dehumanization seen as endemic to modern warfare. If the soldiers are decent men, they are young and foolish who must have their eyes opened to the horror of war; if their eyes *are* open to the horror of war and they still choose it, they must by definition be monsters.

        To be somewhat (if not altogether inaccurately) reductionist, every war movie since PLATOON has basically been a retelling of PLATOON; all protagonists are either the Naive Everyman of Charlie Sheen or the Civilization-Lost Monster of Tom Berenger, and the Heroic Soldier of myths past was the destroyed hero of Willem Dafoe.

        THE HURT LOCKER has gotten away from this equation (and it’s the farthest any movie has gotten in recent years) by at least acknowledging the reality that there are other reasons besides murderous barbarism that sane men might choose war as a vocation. While the primary reason examined is not that much more admirable (Jeremy Renner’s character is addicted not to the violence of war but to its tension and adrenaline high), it is, at least, a step forward, and not an unworthy thing to examine. To repeat myself from above, the danger of becoming so invested in a struggle that the struggle itself becomes more important than winning it, or why you’re struggling, is something I see as very clear and present today.

  3. Comment by bibliophile112:

    I’m curious what you thought of Cast Away. Came out in 2000, starred Tom Hanks.

    I would argue with the poster above, that Silence of the Lambs was excellent.

  4. Comment by NorthoftheBorder:

    I thought Silence of the Lambs was simply gratuitous and disgusting – it indulged our lust for gore and shock by playing itself as sophisticated. But I admittedly of a sensitive nature when it comes to portraying cannibals – it makes me sick to my stomach to view such evil :o== I just didn’t see how I was any better equipped to fight evil after watching such a film.

    • Comment by kmai:

      I think Hannibal Lecter exemplifies what Chesterton says about the evil of cannibalism — it is not an evil of a very barbarous culture, but the evil of a highly civilized culture — that society doesn’t “progress” towards greater moral good, some evil is highly cultivated evil. Buffalo Bill is portrayed as a hick, but still shows this combination of highly specialized hobbies and gruesome morality. In contrast, the story’s heroine, Clarice Starling, is a pure-hearted country girl that treats prisoners humanely, is haunted by the cries of sheep (symbolically, innocent victims), is cast aside by her superiors, but ultimately solves the crime.

  5. Comment by Mary:

    I think they have moral concerns. They love progressivism because it lets them get their ego-boo for being Better Than Them by being arrogant and bullying, rather than doing good, which would require money, or being nice to people, or some other sacrifice.

    Check out the news on “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” — a study. Consumers of “Green” and “Planet Saving Products” are more inclined to cheat, lie and steal.

  6. Comment by deiseach:

    I actually liked “Rain Man”, to the point that I went to see it a second time in the cinema when it came out (and I never do that).

    I agree with you about “Dances With Wolves” and “American Beauty”, though. Could not drag me or bribe me to watch them.

  7. Comment by WyldCard4:

    Hm…

    First of all, I haven’t actually watched most of the movies you define as “bad” for Hollywood. The only two that I have are “Dances With Wolves” and “The Hurt Locker.” Both of those are bad, but as far as I know two data points do not make a pattern. So I am a bit unsuited to reviewing this. Still this idea intrigues me.

    You also chose well, very well, in your choice of “good” comic book movies. That many definitely does point to a pattern. So I will follow this through to the end.

    Second, I have never read Lord of the Rings either.

    At this point you seem to go off on a political tangent on religion and politics, based around your usual “my political enemies cannot be reconciled with because they are controlled by an archangel” philosphy. On that regard I must say that I sincerely hope you are wrong. I admit it, I have no great argument or cutting move to fight this argument. And I’m not saying that in an ironic fashion. You could be right, and you argue your case better than most. I just hope that you are wrong, because it is a terrible thing if it is true. Perhaps not more terrible than if you are wrong in other areas, but still terrible to contimplate.

    Hm…

    I think the Modern artist (using your own definitions) is corrupt. Indeed, if you spoke it in their tongue they wouldn’t actually disagree with you on their goals.

    “(One also cannot respect the victims of one’s lies: contempt is the only logical way to regard those one lies about or lies to.)”

    This is something that I really disagree with.

    You can respect a person you lie to, love a person you lie to, trust a person you lie to. Lying is too complex and sick a thing for it not to be the case. Maybe in another world what you say would be true, but our culture is too stepped in lies for such a statement to be true. Everyone lies to everyone, pretty much. It is not a good thing, but it’s there.

    Admittedly the “logically coherent” thing is probably where we actually disagree. I’m thinking of how irrational people can be, while you’re pointing out that lying insults one’s intelligence.

    Onto the last part I want to comment on, the story of “The Lottery.”

    Well, my mother is encountering something very similar in her own classes with pacifism. To paraphrase a story, she asked her student’s how they would feel if they found out that Russia had bombed us. Many responded that they would want to know why the Russians did it and understand the catastrophy. No rage, no anger, no will to fight. That’s leaving our culture.

    I may disagree with you, but you always get me thinking. I consider our common ground to be far greater than our disagreements. It is always interesting to read your essays.

    On to part 2.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Everyone lies to everyone, pretty much. It is not a good thing, but it’s there.”

      I do not tell lies, not even little white lies, not even to be courteous or to spare the feelings of the weak. I regard it as contemptible, a crime akin to theft or murder to speak untruth.

      So, your facile explanation that everyone lies to everyone merely betrays either a deep cynicism on your part: no doubt if you heard an honest person talk, you would think him a liar.

      For you to say one can admire and respect one’s victims is not something I can argue with, first because I cannot believe it, and second because I cannot believe you are serious. Can you admire and respect someone whose eye you spit tobacco into? What about someone you shove a knife into?

      • Comment by Mary:

        He who accuses all of mankind convicts only one. –Edmund Burke

        • Comment by Maureen:

          To be fair, lying is such a common vice in our society (alas!) that the poster’s assumption is not unexpected.

          One may meet many people who do not participate in slightly less popular vices, however, such as people who never become drunk; so perhaps the poster can extrapolate from that to realize that there are still people whose word is their bond. And actually, one meets such people in unexpected places. Even unvirtuous, unsavory people may still be too proud to lie, or may regard it as too much bother to do so.

      • Comment by Fabio Paolo Barbieri:

        I could convict you of a number of bad habits, but not of lying. It might actually be better if you would sometimes consider, for instance, moderating your view of the truth to avoid being aggressive to someone else.

  8. Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

    “Risibly, perhaps because Mazar and Zhong are from the planet Mars, and not aware of the last fifty years of human history, the researchers speculate that people who wear what they call the ‘halo of green consumerism’ are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. ‘Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours.’

    Pardon me, but I must pause to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.

    Those of us from the planet Earth, who remember being lectured-at and talked down to for the last fifty years by these sneering self-anointed Green busy-bodies and Enviro-Marxists know very well why Greens tend to lie and cheat: it is because they are unbathed and draggle-haired hippies.”

    You don’t seem to have read the paper. You seem to think that the researchers sought people who had bought Green products, and then tested those people for altruism. On the contrary, they randomly assigned people to buy or not buy Green products. The people assigned to buy Green products subsequently chose to lie and cheat more than those assigned to buy conventional products. The random assignment, being random, did not correlate with unbathedness or draggle-hairdom. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it is *necessary* for causation. Therefore, the differential in lying that Mazar and Zhong observed *cannot possibly* be explained by hippieness.

    Here’s the relevant quote from the paper:

    “Participants were randomly assigned to one of two stores (conventional vs. green). …

    Participants who had purchased in the conventional store identified 42.5% (SD = 2.9%) of trials as having more dots on the right side; this percentage was not significantly different from the actual percentage (i.e., 40%), t(37) = 1.66, p = .106, prep = .811. Participants who had purchased in the green store, however, identified 51.4% (SD = 2.67%) of trials as having more dots on the right side—which suggests that they were lying to earn more money.”

    Paper available here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1463018

    • Comment by Fabio Paolo Barbieri:

      Obviously, the very fact of being assigned those more virtuous and expensive products gave them a kind of moral wash. The most widespread error in moral theory is that you can run a ledger of right and wrong, in which doing one thing that is right makes up for doing another that is wrong, so that people who follow the current idea of good citizenship immediately feel they have some extra space for self-indulgence. They have done their bit.

  9. Comment by Fabio Paolo Barbieri:

    Through three generations, the Toynbees have had a kind of family monopoly on wrongness. From Arnold J.Toynbee inventing all the topoi of modern pro-Islamic propaganda to Polly Toynbee being the virtual incarnation of everything wrong about the current idea of Left, they have made it their business to embody fashionable folly. Anyone who knew that would know that Philip would turn against Tolkien, just as a bat would flee from the sun.

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