Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Michael Moore Learns about Patriotism: Some Thoughts on American Carol

Before the film, American Carol, started there was an ad for the National Guard. It featured National Guard troops in action spliced with Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving in a NASCAR race with heavy metal music in the background. I take it as a good sign that I am capable of looking at something like this with a mixture of confusion and amusement. I take it as a sign that I am not some mindless drone of the conservative movement. I am not certain what Dale Earnhardt Jr., who I am sure is a wonderful guy, and a patriot who supports our troops, and NASCAR have to do with the National Guard. The dramatic high point of the ad was a scene in which a Humvee full of American soldiers is driving full-throttle through the dusty streets of a Middle Eastern town when all of a sudden a soccer ball crosses the Humvee’s path. The Humvee breaks and comes to a complete stop right in front of the soccer ball. A soldier gets out and with a nod from his commanding officer kicks the ball over to a Muslim boy, who looks back at the American soldier with a look of awe, gratitude, and respect. Upon seeing this, I broke laughing; this was too over the top to bear. I think it is a problem when you cannot tell the difference between a propaganda piece and a piece of satire.

American Carol bills itself as the first conservative film to come out of mainstream Hollywood and is devoted to sticking it to the liberal establishment. (I would point to Team America: World Police as a film that preceded it.) It is a send-up to Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and spoofs Michael Moore. It features an overweight radical leftist documentary filmmaker in a Michigan State baseball cap named Michael Malone in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Malone despises all things American, including his tall good looking all American nephew, who is serving in the Navy. He hates America so much that he wishes to abolish the Fourth of July. The night before he is to speak at an abolish the Fourth of July rally, Malone is visited by the spirits of John F. Kennedy, George S. Patton and George Washington, who teach him the true meaning of patriotism.

I laughed my heart out through the film’s eighty-plus minutes and would have loved to have gotten more. I am not sure what was my favorite bit; a group of black slaves breaking out into hava nagilah while picking cotton or the shootout with ACLU zombies out to deliver injunctions to make it impossible to check the bags of potential terrorists and to destroy the Ten Commandments. (This still does not compare to season four of Twenty-Four when the villain, upon finding out that one of his people had been captured, calls a group named Amnesty Global to inform them that an innocent man was being illegally held by CTU. A lawyer from Amnesty Global then shows up with a court order, banning CTU from questioning the person they hold. Fortunately, Jack Bauer ignores this and proceeds to break the guy’s fingers one by one until he gives over the information necessary to save the day and stop a nuclear device from wiping out Los Angeles.)

I feel that I can recommend this film to everyone across the political spectrum, without any sense of guilt, as a hands-down brilliant piece of political satire. I am not saying this simply because I agree with the film’s politics. I enjoyed watching Michael Moore’s films too. Bowling for Columbine was absolutely hilarious and even Fahrenheit 9/11 had its share of good moments. I think that Michael Moore is a brilliant filmmaker whose work can be enjoyed regardless of one’s politics. (I also think that Leni Riefenstahl’s films are genius despite the fact that they are Nazi propaganda.)

While I enjoyed the film I had a number of problems with it. These problems may seem like quibbling on my part but I do see these things as a cause for concern. The film has Patton show Malone an alternative universe where Lincoln had followed Malone in thinking that violence never solves anything and did not fight the Civil War. Malone finds that his family has moved to the South and that he is now a major slaveholder. A very funny bit without any question. The problem is that Patton came from a Confederate family. His grandfather fought under Robert E. Lee. Of all the people that the film could have picked to make their point, Patton might not have been the best choice. Patton also takes Malone to the Munich conference of 1938 where Neville Chamberlin shines the shoes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. It was great having Hitler strumming a guitar and singing a peace song, but, and maybe this is me being the nitpicky historian, it bothered me that Tojo was put in Munich. Japan had nothing to do with Munich.

These small historical bloopers could be laughed off if it was not for the fact that it is part of a larger assault on academia. The film clearly has a gripe with academics. Malone even gets to visit a peace studies course at Columbia University where the professors break out into their hippy selves and sing about how it is 1968. While I have my problems with academic culture, I am not comfortable with this sort of head-on attack, mainly because I suspect that what lies behind it is not just a rejection of the academic culture as it exists at present but also a rejection of academia of any sort. Whatever problems I may have with academic culture as it exists at presence I am a believer in the academic process. Universities, even the radical leftist parts, have an important role to play in our society. I am not certain, though, that the filmmakers share my concern. If they did they would have bothered to get their history right.

As an academic on the right side of the political spectrum, I believe that radical changes need to be made to the university system. I think that the hard left culture that dominates campuses is a problem. That being said, I do not think that the solution is for a right-wing takeover. I fear that too many on the right are not just against liberal academics but would seek to destroy all academia.


ChocolateandWoolens said...

What makes me uncomfortable about many conservative anti-academia commentators is that they seem to deplore not only liberal scholars,but the very act of questioning the status quo, challenging doctrine and calling out bullshit. That, to me, indicates hostility to the very concept of the intellectual process, and that worries me.

I go to a very liberal college and I wish there were a few smart, conservative professors here. I'd love to study with them. I'd also love a 2-semester, 300 level sequence in conservative and liberal political theory.

Miss S. said...

I like Michael Moore's films, but I enjoy his books more. The American public must demand a more objective a fair approach to politics in order for these gross stereotypes (and the propaganda that perpetuates them) to cease their effectiveness. However I do not see this this happening in the least. Forget politics; how many Americans can find Missouri on a blank map of the United States, much less know about the unique role the state played in the American Civil War?

American pop-culture just loves to portray these gross inaccuracies that all liberals are anti-patriotic, 1.5 children per household, urban cosmopolitans, who are atheists and have Che Guevera t-shirts in their closets. Conservatives are ignorant, religious fundamentalists who are xenophobics and members of the NRA. Everyone should find this unsettling; especially the key political strategists of both parties. But unfortunately the mob mentality has taken over and they would just rather continue to ride the wave, no matter what the costs, in order to pull more votes their way. That price is a very high one too. :-(

Regarding universities, I find it ironic that while the mission statements of most is to foster intellectual inquiry among a broad range of subjects, the reality is they are often a pretty intolerant atmosphere for some. How many professors would tolerate a student who is a proclaimed White-supremacist to offer their views for free discussion? What about the biology student who does not believe in evolution? The truth is many universities are "intellectually diverse" but it is often suppressed and molded into a branded product designed to fit into preconceived expectations. In spite of this, college students themselves, seem to stick by their own convictions. Besides that, the college student of today has other, more powerful influences swaying their political leanings other than their professors and the campus culture around them.

Izgad said...

“How many professors would tolerate a student who is a proclaimed White-supremacist to offer their views for free discussion? What about the biology student who does not believe in evolution?”

From what you say it would seem that you support tolerating white supremacists and creationists on campus. You are never short of surprises. I tend to think like this but then again I am an extremist. For me the whole point of free speech is to create intellectual chaos. I like to play the intellectual terrorist. :D
Curious. Do you believe that the government should be allowed to stop private businesses from engaging in discrimination? For example what if someone wanted to set up an Aryan coffee shop so that middle class white supremacists can come relax, drink coffee served by pretty white waitresses and not have to be bothered by the sight of any black faces. What is the difference between this and Hooters?

Miss S. said...

Well I don't waste any of my affection on White supremacists; but to be fair, do they deserved to be censored any more than the pro-life camp, followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, Satanists or those NORML people? As long as you do not infringe on the personal rights or safety of others, you should be free to think how you like. That was supposed to be one of the perks of living in the United States.

I am not afraid of a strong centralized government; if that government truly represents and protects the populace (which ours does not). However I do not like affirmative action initiatives (although I am not sure if that is what you were referring to). But my dismissal of AA is due to sociological issues, in that it does not address the underlying problem of class inequalities. But I see nothing wrong with rewarding businesses who find a way to be diverse; or wish to locate themselves in distressed neighborhoods. There are tools in our tax code that we can utilize to do this. So in short, I think that if someone wants to open an Aryan coffee shop just like you described, then they should be able to do so. That would be a choice that business owner would need to make though; and most business owners are doing what they do to make money, not to further their ideologies. But hey, it could be good for marketing. It could also be disastrous in terms of bad press. I admit, it would be interesting to see if our society would allow such a business to become successful.

Some businesses should not be allowed to follow this model however; such as franchises, real estate companies, schools (both non-profit and for-profit), and health facilities.

Hooters is ok because present social mores determine to it to be ok (unfortunately). It is perfectly fine, even encouraged, to objectify women. Thank G-d, this is not currently the case with racism. Racist attitudes still prevail, but most people do not flaunt those attitudes.

Izgad said...

I was not talking about affirmative action, but I do think that it is interesting that you are against that as well. You are going to have to be careful; people might start thinking that you are a conservative or something. :P
As for the issue of the Aryan coffee shop what is at stake here is whether the government should be able to stop private businesses from practicing discrimination. If the answer is no then you have knocked down a major pillar of modern civil rights legislation and have effectively blown a whole through modern liberalism.
You are willing to grant some businesses, like coffee shops to practice discrimination but why not others. Why can’t Starbucks practice racism while a single coffee shop can? How many stores are needed for a business to become a franchise? If real estate can deal in porno theaters why can’t they deal in racism? I don’t believe that what Hooters does is morally right and I think our society would be better off without it but I believe that Larry Flint has the right to advance his immoral values. I think racism is immoral but people should still be allowed to practice it. Racism does not cause anyone direct empirically based harm.

Miss S. said...

From a business-legal standpoint, there is a defined difference between a small business and other types of businesses. So when you have either a sole proprietorship (1 owner) or a partnership (2 to 5 owners), I think it would be justified to tell the government to not try to impose its cultural standards on your business. In regards to franchises, they reap a lot of benefits for the central headquarters and often the goal is to spread their reach geographically. This sort of goes against the point of having a business with "fringe" attitudes and allowing it to be successful in an area that would tolerate it. There shouldn't be any ways to faciliate spreading these attitudes to other areas. There is a restaurant in Orlando, FL where the staff is rude to you on purpose. Rather they are a franchise or not, I'm not sure. But people in the Orlando area are there for the "fantasy trip"; and will tolerate all sorts of things that are out of the norm. Such a restaurant would probably be flop in a place like Pittsburgh.

If a business deals in real property...or with items where they may be the only vendor of that item (such as homes, cars), then discrimination would be closing off the access minorities have to those items; which is improper. But coffee is available in many different places. I do not know all of the business details, but Pittsburgh has after hour clubs (I don't know if they are legal or what...but they are still going strong), where you either have to be a member or know someone who knows someone to get in.

You know I'm from PA; but I wonder where all the porn theaters and pawn shops are around here? I know there are some...but you really don't see them in plain view. In Miami, there's one on every block in some areas. Tootsie's (and exotic dancing place) is lit up like a casino. There seems to be little outcry about it. I guess some "sins" are more severe than others...

Izgad said...

Why should it be a problem if we have a franchise of racist coffee shops? There are people who wish to engage in their pursuit of happiness by looking at scantily clad women hence there are Hooters across the country. Let bigots across the country practice their racist pursuit of happiness by going to my Aryan coffee house in whatever city they live in.
As for the issue of health care, car dealerships and real estate, why can’t they practice discrimination too? Find me a place in the country where there is only provider of health care, one car dealership and one real estate business, particularly in our internet age. Even if there was such a place, this would merely create the need for an alternative that the free market could easily provide. As I see it we are doing blacks and all opponents of racism a favor by allowing discrimination. I don’t want to do business with racists. If business owners could come out and be openly racist then we would know who we don’t want to be doing business with.

Miss S. said...

Jones vs. Mayer Co. in 1968 spawned Title VIII of the Civil Rights Acts which prohibits discrimation in the sale or lease of real estate and property. So that would need to be nullified if we were to allow real estate companies to engage in discriminitory practices. And I think if that were to happen, there would be rioting unlike the world has ever seen. :-D

Izgad said...

Thank you for pointing me to that website. has a lot of interesting stuff. I recognize that as the law stands now it is illegal for private businesses to practice discrimination. The question though is whether this should be allowed to stand. I read Jones vs. Mayer Co. and I see a bunch of sanctimonious old men trying to enforce their values on other people and stopping them from pursuing their own good in their own way. Particularly since there are legitimate non racist reasons for someone to try to stop blacks from moving into a neighborhood. Having blacks move in is likely to have a negative effect on property values. So when whites try to stop blacks from moving in they are just protecting their own pocketbooks. (I may personally think this is immoral. I think that creating a more equitable and racially blind society is more important than the value of a home. But those are my personal values and I would never try to force them on other people.)
Have you ever seen the movie A Raisin in the Sun? There is a part where this black family buys a home in a white neighborhood. They get a visit from one of the people from the neighborhood and this white person is really nice. He talks for several minutes about tolerance and wanting to get along before he makes the family a very generous offer to buy the house from them and have them not move in. Is this white person racist?
You say that blacks would riot if it became legal to discriminate against them. So what you are saying is that just as southern whites turned to violence in order to fight for their "right" to stop blacks from pursuing their own good in their own way so to would blacks turn to violence in order to protect their "right" to stop whites from pursuing their own good in their own way.