Category Archives: Art

The Importance of Art and Culture in Politics

I have recently engaged in several arguments with a few people over the values of art. Some have complained about why I would waste time on blogs  The Snyder Cut and some have told me they think Shakespeare has no value. Both viewpoints are silly. Now, most people will concede the importance of art for entertainment purposes in their own lives, and maybe for having a message so long as it is entertaining and the message is clear, again in their own life. But art, in almost any form, has far more important functions than just the personal entertainment aspect, it is, as Faulkner put it “It [creating art] is his [the artist’s] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” (Faulkner was talking specifically about literature, but I don’t think he would disagree with having his words applied to all the arts). Specifically, in the context of this blog, art serves to aid in both an understanding of ethics, politics, and philosophy in life.

Art is important for both political and spiritual reasons. Why?  Because ideas have consequences.  Major ones.  And the single most efficient way to convey ideas is through art.  High brow or low, it doesn’t really matter.  Art is ideas, and ideas have consequences.  So, caring about even movies and books you would like to dismiss as silly or trite is an important issue in life.  But this brings up a few issues.  What is the purpose of art?  What makes good art?  How deep should we dig with a work of art?  And finally, why it’s important to look at art as more than just mindless entertainment but rather as a tool for the mind.

Let’s first deal with what the purpose of art is.

The Purpose of Art

As far as I can figure out there are three purposes to good art.

The first is catharsis. The second is what I can only call the ethical or mythic purpose. The third purpose is the philosophical. I will get into exactly what each of these is in a second but I would say that there are many good works of art that exhibit at least one of these purposes, there are a good portion of works that demonstrate two of these, and of course, the rarest of all are the works that can fulfill all three purposes. (And then there is, of course, the question of how well they fulfilled all of these, but we’ll get to that later).

The first purpose is catharsis. Catharsis is a psychological reaction to art that requires an emotional response. We smile. We grip the armrest in anticipation. We laugh. We cry. We scream in fright. We cheer and applaud. We have a strong emotional reaction. In other words, we’re entertained. There is a release of emotion. I dare you to find me a competent piece of art that doesn’t spark some kind of positive emotion. I say this because disgust and revulsions are not catharsis, even though they are the only sane reactions to most works of modern “art” (I use the word very loosely in this case). We may be angry at some movies or books, but if it is righteous indignation then it is a correct recognition to injustice and helps to stoke this virtue in the right sort of way. But emotions like revulsion or disgust are not as psychologically healthy as laughing and crying, and even sometimes anger, are. I would say that any work of art (music, books, film, paintings) should have to meet this requirement or it’s not really art. For instance, a novel that is long-winded and boring, has dull characters, and no enjoyment isn’t art—it’s a waste of paper, no matter what any intelligentsia hack critic says. If it is not taping into the emotions, at the bare minimum if it is not entertaining, then it is not art.

Art that simply covers this area of enjoyment would be the meaningless pop music we listen to, the quickly forgotten sitcoms and action films we see, and the cheesy romance novels some people read. Anything put out by Marvel would be a good example of this; it has no depth, no real insight in characters or society, no grand questions of life, but it is entertaining. And for what it is, that’s fine (but as we’ll get to later, it doesn’t mean that it only impacts is at the entertainment level.)

The second purpose provides a set of clear and simple rules for people and society to live by—ethical guidelines to follow. I call this also the mythic purpose as much of mythology wasn’t so much to explain the workings of the universe, it was to provide examples of archetypal heroism, the standards of ethics of how we should all live our lives. What is right and what is wrong. How should we act and who should we put up as a moral model. The ancients had Achilles, Odysseus, and Theseus. Nowadays we have Superman, Emma Swan, and Frodo. Just because I call this the 2nd level doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more sophisticated than the first level (there are some comedies that serve no purpose other than entertainment that are much more complex and sophisticated than a comic book which does serve the 2nd level purpose). At its best this type of art raises questions about what is right and leaves you for quite a long time in a gray area before offering you any resolution or answer, forcing you to take the chance to think for yourself about ethics and morality—hopefully a habit you use after you have left the work of art behind. And when it forces this self-reflection art begins to move into the third level.

The third purpose is the philosophic purpose. Literature has a habit of raising questions not just of ethics (and by extension politics) but also questions of metaphysics (Revolver, City of Angels, Winter’s Tale), epistemology (Inception and The Matrix), and aesthetics (Portrait of Jenny and more poems than I care to list). The Grand Big Esoteric questions that reality and life are based on. And it’s not just in movies. Go look at Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” it’s not a coincidence that God, the divine intellect, is depicted with a robe that is flowing in the shape of a brain. Might not seem like much now, but in a day when biology and anatomy were on questionable legal ground showing the brain as the seat of intelligence is a heavy philosophical point.

In this respect, Art can make us ponder the meaning and definition of existence and life. What is it all about? (Again, just because it tries to ask big questions doesn’t mean it’s any good…look at any piece of crap directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a man who should be legally barred from ever getting near a camera).

So yeah maybe all movies aren’t that third level of philosophical genius (but really how often do we get that?), but, still, they are relevant. Why? Well for two reasons. First no one is ever going to have enough life experience to cover all possible situations they could come across. The ability to live vicariously through the situations found in art is one of its greatest benefits. In fact, when dealing with the issue of politics you need to know history, you need to know philosophy and you need to know psychology…and when it comes to psychology in addition to actually having experience with people, and maybe taking a psychology course or two, you need art to understand people (especially the masters like Shakespeare, Helprin, Hugo, Hawthorne, Whitman, Tennyson, and Faulkner). Thus art, any kind of art, becomes necessary to understanding politics (the primary purposes of this blog). And as cinema is the primary form of art in this era, I would have to be a damned idiot not to discuss any film that has relevant philosophical, political, and ethical implications.

So, those are the purposes of art.  And for the purpose of art in terms of its social implications and dealing with the fact that ideas have consequences we first have to deal with what makes art good and great.

What is Great Art?

And before we can fully discuss why it is such an important feature, we need to set down some ground rules of how to judge art and decide what makes great art. “But it’s all a matter of opinion”, “it’s all subjective” “you like it but I don’t and you can’t argue that something is good because it’s just the way I feel” some will claim—nope, yes there is personal taste in what you may find enjoyable, but that doesn’t change what is great and what is not—I personally love some truly terrible books and movies, but I don’t for a minute think they’re great; conversely, there are works that I can recognize as great but which have little impact on my taste for them. There are standards that separate the works of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Michelangelo from all the rest and it’s not just personal taste. Whether you enjoy a work of art or not does not determine if it’s great.  So, let’s start with the three purposes of art.

  1. It provides entertainment.
  2. It offers ethical examples.
  3. It offers philosophical discussion.

Now, these 3 purposes lead to 4 different qualities that art needs to be judged by. And these 4 qualities are not just my ideas, you will see these qualities if you review the works of Aristotle, Sidney, Shelly, Faulkner, or Barzun when they discuss what makes great literature, I’m just highlighting and distilling their points. It’s important to have an actual way to judge good art because otherwise, you have to deal with that liberal, post-modern BS that art is purely personal taste or that “well you simply don’t get it.” If you ever hear those words be careful. Sometimes it’s true, Shakespeare for instance, to fully understand Shakespeare takes a lot of time and effort to learn the medium and language, but if you don’t understand the intricacies of the humor, the tragedy and the passion almost always come out if performed by an even remotely competent actor and director. Which is why the first criteria of any art form is that:

1.  Great art creates catharsis; effectively it mixes High Tragedy and High Comedy flawlessly. Good art will leave me with some kind of emotional reaction. With great art basically, I should be crying, either from having my heart ripped out and stomped on or from laughing so hard I’m hyperventilating or on the rarest of occasions because I am struck with a sense of awe…preferably all in the same work. Yes, there is a certain education level required to understand any work of art, but anyone with even a basic level of education listening, seeing or hearing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Michelangelo’s David, Shakespeare’s “St. Crispin Day’s speech” can’t help but be moved. If it doesn’t entertain at some level for someone, it’s not art, but to be great art it must not just entertain it must provide catharsis. This is the flaw of all modern visual art, modernist writers (E.E. Cummings, Pound, H.D., Salinger), and just a disgusting host of pompous movies as the only emotional reaction they cause is disgust or revulsion (and that’s when they cause an emotional reaction at all). If you have something to say but can’t bring it to an emotional level, we have philosophy and journalism and commentary for that—art is by definition something that causes emotional reactions. It can cause mental stimulation, but it MUST cause an emotional reaction to be art, and must provide catharsis, swelling of uncontrollable emotion, to be great art.

Now, this is the part that can be most influenced by personal taste.  As I said already education can have an effect on your enjoyment.  But, so can life experiences.  If you see something in a bad mood, go in looking to have a terrible time, or go in looking for something other than what the work is meant to give you, you might not get the catharsis that a person in the right frame of mind would get.  That’s the reason why so many great novels are ruined by bad high school English teachers—instead of teaching with passion they force-feed words down students unwilling gullets, turning art into streams of meaningless words.  Works that have moved souls for generations do not stir the being of students forced to read it from a teacher who doesn’t really care…but that doesn’t mean the work doesn’t cause catharsis to those open to it.  So, for this criteria more than most we have to look not so much to our own reaction but to the reaction of others, if we don’t particularly feel catharsis because even if it doesn’t move us if it moves a large numbers of others then we have to say that for whatever reason it didn’t move us, it still met the criteria of causing catharsis in others.

2. Great art has a deep understanding of the human psyche. It is accurately said that all good drama is character drama, and good character drama comes from understanding how people actually act. If characters don’t act realistically there can be no suspension of disbelief and thus nothing to do with point one. This is a bit harder to see in forms of art that aren’t literature, theater or film, but this understanding is there. Look at a Waterhouse painting and you will see the wheels turning in the brains of the people depicted there, listen to a Copland piece of music and you will hear the characters and people they represent and how well Copland understood them. The best art reveals something about the human psyche that reveals truth about yourself. Again, back to Copland’s music, the “Fanfare for the Common Man”, for example, reveals not only the greatness that a human being is able to achieve but upon reflection offers us a reflection of the person we should ourselves strive to be. By contrast, a painting by Picasso shows no understanding of how people think or act. There is none of the humanity that one would see in a Raphael, none of the complexity that exists in a Rembrandt, just chaos. And yes, chaos is an aspect of humanity, but it is not the only one.

And this is often the problem of the more pretentious and useless works of liberal drivel (and the little the alt-right produces).  They portray people as these terrible cookie-cutter images that act for motivations that no person has ever felt because these liberal and populist loons don’t actually understand what motivates people.

The other thing to keep in mind here is that you are not the world.  Just because you wouldn’t do something a certain way does not mean that a character is acting in a way contrary to human nature.  The ignorance involved in the hysteria over a character with severe PTSD, which was tied to the death of his mother, being triggered when someone says his mother’s name is just bizarre —  that’s how people with PTSD react.  Just because a work of art actually portrays behavior uncommon from how you would deal with things does not mean it doesn’t have a clear understanding of human nature.

3. Great art must understand how to use the tools of the medium in a skillful way. This is a twofold requirement. It needs to look or sound good depending on the medium. It needs to at some level capture real-life accurately—visual art needs to look as close to a photograph as possible (with deviations from reality only for the purpose of meaning), film and literature needs to accurately capture realistic human experience (again only deviating for theme). But I said this was twofold, the second is the complexity factor. Faces are easier to draw than hands, but the artist who can do both is great, simple tunes like happy birthday may have melody but demonstrate nothing of the complexity of a Beethoven concerto, anyone with a video camera can film something, but it takes great skill to make it have meaning beyond a record of what is happening. Great art has a complexity to it, even when it is simple (look at the levels of some Shel Silversteen poems if you want complex but simple). For poetry, that means the use of language. For music, it means the mixture of the instruments to create melody. For painting and sculpture, it means the ability to create life-like representations mixed with symbolism. The more complex the art form the more elements that have to be mastered. This is the technical aspect. A person may have written deep and powerful lyrics and mixed it with superb music but if they can’t sing, the song is probably not great art (Bob Dylan is the artist I’m thinking of here…he is in the Top 5 of 20th-century poets…but he is not a great musician.) Why must art be technically accurate? Well because art, and especially great art, has layers. You’ll notice that the first two qualifications I had for great art match up with the first two purposes of great art. Well, it is in point 3 and 4 that we get the third purpose of art, the philosophical purpose.

What do the layers of meaning and content have to do with philosophy? As you know, philosophy is the study of reason and the truth (I mean real philosophy, not the hack excuse you get in Philosophy Departments which seem to have abandoned the search for truth and instead sought out in a search for the most convoluted bullshit). Life is not easily understood. The facts are all there around us, but they do not put themselves together on their own. You have to search for meaning in all the little breadcrumbs left for you by the universe and human civilization (especially since I believe there is a higher-order to existence, then looking for the patterns and themes becomes especially important because nothing is a coincidence and there is meaning in everything). And art that includes these layers is what can train your mind to see these patterns and small details that lead to a greater understanding.  Even in the research of the social sciences like economics or politics, there is as much an art as there is a science to looking at data and deducing the motivations and causes of the reports and stats you see.  Without the understanding that comes from seeing the depth of art, you can’t fully understand how humans interact even in the dismal sciences.

Aside from the psychological, moral, and philosophical benefits that art provides this is probably the most important function that art serves—it trains us in how to think. So why didn’t I list this in my three purposes of art…well because I’m not sure most artists think about this when they’re writing. They may be intentionally hiding a message under layers (as Shakespeare hid his pro-Catholic politics under layers of metaphors, tragedy and comedy, character development, and universal themes) but he didn’t think “I’m going to write something that will train people to think.” I don’t think the majority of artists have this thought when they create their works…they may pat themselves on the back for how skillfully they hide a theme, but I don’t think they view the layers qua layers as an end in and of itself. Granted, recently, modernist and post-modernist hacks have done this but, with one exception, I can’t think of anyone who has done that and is any good. The exception to this might be T.S. Eliot who intentionally wanted his readers to wade through the layers of obscure references to make them think about what he was saying…but given that his message was the modern world (i.e. all those hacks) are dead and lifeless and without humanity, he kind of is the exception that proves the rule.

However, I can think of artists who do come up with complexity for the sake of complexity and thus ruin art by doing it. James Joyce and Herman Melville come to mind. Melville, for instance, had a perfectly wonderful 90-page novella about a man bent on vengeance against a whale; it had human drama, stirring lines, and ethical statements. The problem is that Melville never wrote that book, instead, he wrote a 300-page monstrosity that has pages upon pages of information about whale blubber and sailing and harpooning and the history of Cetology at the time of the book. Within all this boring muck is embedded an even more dreary philosophy on the nature of epistemology and some metaphysics. And it quickly becomes one of the most overrated hack works in the history of human civilization. (A basic rule I find for art: the more meaty and in-depth the philosophy you’re dealing with, the more catharsis and emotional reactions you will need to hold your audience. If you’re going to raise in-depth points of epistemology I better be seeing Keanu Reeves in a black trench coat dodging bullets or Leonardo DeCaprio spinning tops and running through dreams, otherwise, just write philosophy and ignore the art because as dry as epistemology can get, it’s better than whale blubber.) But the worst ever in this category of absolutely putting style and layers ahead of content is James Joyce. Joyce wrote Ulysses attempting to write a book that no one would understand. He failed, people got it, though it didn’t really say much. So, then he spent 20 years writing Finnegan’s Wake, and succeeded. No one understands what that thing is about, probably not even Joyce. Frankly, there is no point. In music, you should look at Mozart, technically complex and detailed harmonies, but no meaning, just notes. In visual arts, you see this in 18th-century portraits and 19th-century realism—all very lifelike, all very dull and meaningless. For the film counterpart to this look at the worst of Orson Wells, who valued pretty camera shots over plot, characterization, theme, dialogue, but he had some nice shots. All of these value style over substance, which is what makes them inferior works.

This is an important part of art as it is a process that teaches people to think at deep levels, but the process should never be more important than the message.

4. Finally, great art must have an underlying hopeful, positive, and ethical philosophical base.

I start from the premise that the universe, human nature, and civilization are more or less is intelligible, reasonable, ethical, and leading to continuous human progress and evolution.

This comes from my conservative and spiritual beliefs. As such, for art to be great it must mirror these philosophies—it must mirror the truth. There is an Aristotelian principle that art should capture life as it is (my second and third requirement) and as it should be (this requirement). If you are a conservative in the vein of Burke and Adams to Coolidge, Goldwater and Reagan you believe that life has a purpose. That human beings can rise above whatever their present condition through force of will, self-education, and the goodness of their humanity. You believe that freedom is the highest of all virtues in human society.  That the good society seeks to balance justice, order, and equality and not sacrifice any of those three at the expense of the others.  That the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Moderation, Fortitude, Justice, Faith, Hope, and Charity are what should lead a person, and the political virtues of a rule of law, limited government, free enterprise, and liberty should lead a government.

And art, great art, MUST reflect these values.

Or again, as Faulkner put it:

“The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Why?  Because ideas have consequences.  Most people do not constantly question and reassess their ideas.  So offering small little ideas here and there against what a person might usually believe is like holding a magnet near a ship’s compass.  It won’t immediately take you off course, but after several days you’re nowhere near where you want to be.

Literature, film and paintings need heroes, poetry and music need passion for what is right and good and true…or at least the tragic absence of these things. Nothing else is worthy of being called great art. And any form of art that contradicts these principles can’t be great because it’s endorsing a lie. Now rationally since we don’t know all the minutia of the truth of human existence (if we have a vague idea that it’s in the direction of hopeful, ethical, rational, etc.) we should be willing to give a wide latitude for a variance in belief so long as it does not depict the world as utterly chaotic (the works of Picasso) irrational (the works of Joyce), dreary (the works of Mozart), that humans are inherently evil (the works of Dickens) or that life is pointless (the works of Camus). So, to review, great art must cause a cathartic experience, understand the human condition, show great skill of the form, and point to a higher ideal. There can be good art that meets two or three of these requirements. There can be enjoyable art that meets one or two of these requirements. There can be endless debate about whether or not a work actually meets these requirements. But there is no great work of art that does not meet all four of these requirements. Now we can get on to discussing why art is important to live in a political and sense….

A Question of layers

But we always have to be on guard to give any work the right amount of attention.

Art is something that no person who wishes to think deeply (be it politically or spiritually) can long avoid. One of the often-overlooked reasons that art is important is because of the skills it teaches us. It teaches us to think, to examine to look deeper. No, I don’t mean the philosophical skills. Yes, good art raises philosophical questions of life, ethics, politics and attempts to answer these questions or get us to answer them for ourselves. But I’m talking about something deeper. The peeling away of the layers of meaning one after the other, the stripping away of the surface meaning and even the meaning after that…the analysis of small details, and word choice, and metaphor and symbolism.

Right about now most of you are rolling your eyes. You’re thinking back to your high school English class and your English teacher telling you that the cup on the table, or whatever random and meaningless detail they want to focus on, was supposed to be symbolic of some major political upheaval and you just stared at the page thinking ‘is she on drugs?’ Let me get something out of the way, your reaction was likely not one of ignorance or stupidity…most English teachers are terrible at their jobs. I’m an English teacher and I can tell you without a moment’s hesitation, most English teachers are hacks. They really are. A disturbing portion of English teachers just want to pile onto their students endless heaps of obscure crap and modernist shit that they think is oh so deep…and why do they think it’s deep because they have been taught by other terrible English teachers that anything you can’t understand is deep and meaningful so they parrot what they have been taught and teach crap that amounts to nothing. They believe because they can’t understand it, it must be great. Don’t believe me? Go listen to an English teacher talk about their favorite work. Four times out of five they trying to justify the fact that they don’t get it by saying it’s just so damn wonderful because they don’t get it. And because they believe it is great they search for meaning where there is none, and since they believe it is great they create meaning where there is none. But they have this theory because they misunderstand great art. Art is supposed to be difficult and art is supposed to make you think…but what they misunderstand is that just because you don’t get something on the first round doesn’t make it great…it’s only great if there is something underneath all the work. For instance, both T.S. Eliot and Herman Melville do not give up their depth easily…but where Eliot has some rather harsh and pertinent critiques of human civilization buried under obscure references and complex metaphor, Melville only has pompous musing about knowledge buried under whale blubber. The ideas have to be valid if you’re going to bother hiding them under layers. And then these terrible hacks get into the problem of thinking that everything written must have layers upon layers. Yes, Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever because he hid a pro-Catholic plea to the Protestant rulers of England under universal themes of the human condition under complex character development under rich and exciting plots and great comedy under rich metaphor and language…but just because Shakespeare could master that many levels to be perfectly balanced at all time, that doesn’t mean that it’s in every book or work of art. Sometimes a rosebush is just a rosebush in a story and not a complex symbol for the imprecise use of symbols (and sometimes it is), it depends on the author.

Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot have layers…Stephen King not so much. And in between those two extremes is a whole lot of layers of authors who use different amounts of layers—the intelligent person realizes this and doesn’t try to force more layers on something than it deserves.  And this often has to do with the intent of the artist, they will often signal in some way how deep they want you to go, but you have to get used to a lot of art to recognize those signals.  But back to the central point, good art has layers upon layers, and it does not yield its answers immediately to the first passerby who only gives it a cursory review. Great painting should require hours of study, great music should require multiple listenings, great literature should require you to read it three, four, five times over. Each time finding some new idea, some new detail, some new insight, some new thing to apply to your life or your understanding of the world. Because that is what good art does. It’s important because it is training for life not just to dig through these layers, but to recognize how deep to dig and recognize when you’ve gone too far.

I sense eye rolling again, stop it…This kind of art is important for life because life is not simple. Life does not give up its answers easily—even when they’re staring you in the face. The problems in life for most people come from the fact that they only look at the first level of things. And politics is often the same way.  Real solutions are not simple ones.  Yes, saying that we’ll get rid of the bad politicians through term limits, but when you peel back the layers and look at the data that this has never once led to better legislation in ANY legislative body it has ever been tried in begins to tell us that the problem runs deeper and can’t be solved with feel-good statements like “drain the swamp.”  The same is true of any solution in politics it takes time, research, comparisons to other policies, looking at patterns, at history, at human nature…and this is what analyzing great art teaches us to do, to look for the deeper level and go the extra step in our thinking.  It allows us not to be comfortable with the shallow hack politician who offers catchphrases because our mind has already been trained to look through their words to the deeper meanings.

Why the discussion of art is important.

“Politics is downstream from culture.”—Andrew Breitbart

Before his name became a byword for everything he fought against, Andrew Breitbart realized that the culture wars were more important than the political ones.  Why?  Because the way culture moves determines how politics will.  And unlike every failed attempt to change culture in history which traditionally is thought to only ban things it didn’t like or scream at them—which never works because it only makes the government more powerful thus giving your enemies the power to put you down when they grab the reigns and it makes that which you’re attacking cool for being attacked—Andrew realized you have to confront the ideas head-on.

You have to talk about the ideas being pushed in culture.  You have to offer high-quality alternatives, and you have to defend those alternatives when they are of superior quality but being attacked for the very reason that they do support ideas that those who do stand for virtue support.

Now some will claim that we should not waste our time with popular culture, but that ignores two very important facts.  First that everyone from Plato and Aristotle to Shakespeare to Breitbart realized that it was popular culture, not the distant works of the intelligentsia, that drive culture and thus drive politics.  The second is the lie that popular culture cannot be great art.  Homer was once popular culture.  Shakespeare was once popular culture.  Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Oscar Wilde…all once-popular cultures.  Granted not everything popular is great, but just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s not great.  Thus, we need to look at popular culture because it is where the most influence comes from, and where the greatest works are born.

The number of times liberals and progressives have used culture to further their ideas are so numerous and well known, it doesn’t need to be bear repeating.

But it’s not just the variations of the modern Left, but the return of fascism and fascism’s “useful idiot” populism are there too but less known.

So, what do we see in pulp culture from the other side?  We see shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones which glorify absolute monsters as our main characters…and people try and defend why they love the shows…gee I wonder if treating the ethically deficient as heroes in a story has any effect on culture…I mean it’s not like we would ever put a sociopath of that level in charge of the country, oh wait we did, we elected Joffrey (I realize that is unfair, the Trumps are far worse than the Lanisters).

It’s not like the reboot of Star Trek which turned Kirk from a great leader in the mold of Horatio Hornblower into an inept sex-crazed James-Dean-wanna-be had any effect on what we were looking for in a leader.

The modern obsession with horror films at record numbers helps both the left and alt-right as it helps to stimulate the fear that both sides feed on, but the high levels of zombie survival tales, exemplified by The Walking Dead make some very fascist lessons, like all people not in our tribe our bad, the others cannot be trusted, free trade and relationships built on trust are always disastrous, and of course, might makes right.

And of course, it’s not like a movie that questions the one good thing from Hobbes, the part that Locke and the Founder realized needed to kept around, that is, the Leviathan—the government monopoly on the use of violence—to ensure the stability of society not breaking down into chaos, was questioned and the heroes were shown to be the people who didn’t want to follow legitimate government control on the use of force.  No, he has America in his name, so to hell if his actions are against the very foundations all government since the Enlightenment.  (The other series had the decency to admit that such vigilantism makes our characters “criminals” or showing those with power coming to talk to those in power.)

Nor should we overlook the fact that the villains are showing that getting away with it makes it right in How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and dozens of others.

And dare we talk about the love of idiocy that is reality TV.  Christianity used to be a religion of thinkers and philosophers from Augustine to Aquinas to Dante to Milton to Adler, it has a rich and distinguished history of depth and reflection…and what is put by culture as the pinnacle of Christianity: a bunch of braindead hicks who make duck calls.  The most inane and worthless version of a great tradition lauded as the best and the depth and richness the religion deserved all but ignored.   Do you think this valueless, ethic-less, brainless manifestation of Christianity being put up by numerous different sources helped these so-called Christians, modern-day Pharisees, tell themselves that voting for the deal that would gain them the world at the cost of their soul was a good one?

And those are just a handful of the major examples. The smaller subtler forms are everywhere.  In pandering to the lowest common denominator to try and get every last penny the media has ended up seeking the to the lowest form of perversion: populism and fascism, and all the lies that this entails.  They’re small things, but when an incorrect belief system is reinforced a million different tiny, almost unperceivable ways they do lead up to a death of a thousand cuts for the truth.

There has always been very little that actually speaks to the best in humanity…but now it seems to be attacked.  Granted no movie is perfect, but it now seems that if a movie is actually hopeful and speaks to the best in humanity it is attacked mercilessly (Winter’s Tale, Hancock, Tomorrowland, Age of Adeline, Firefly, Wonderfalls) while movies that speak to the worst in humanity but with far worse flaws are allowed to pass or are even praised (Mad Max, Star Trek reboots, an endless train of teen-novel movies with heroes just as detestable as their villains).  I’m not saying we shouldn’t recognize the flaws in a film, we should, but we should view the work as a whole and balance nitpicking flaws against thematic greatness.  We should think about the films as more than just brain candy—brain candy is nice, but to give our brains only a diet of candy will rot them.  And it’s especially unforgivable when the work that can be both entertaining and deep when if you only take the time to think about them so many films can reveal layers upon layers of depth and when you see the depth you see the quality and easily forgive little things in plot.  (Oh by the way, if you had a bad English teacher you probably think plot is important.  It’s not.  The only thing less important is setting—in serious literature be it in print or on film, theme and character are the most important, plot is merely there to make sure that theme and characters have somewhere to go.)

And these are the works that we as individuals not only need to look at at a deeper level, but which we need to encourage others to do the same, because while most people’s conscious minds don’t run through the philosophy, their subconscious does run through.  Ideas have consequences.  And the idea of popular culture does run downstream into politics, and if the core ideas of progressivism and fascism are allowed to stand as the “great” enjoyable films and anything with depth is attacked and ignored not because it’s lacking in quality but because deep down those who want those progressive and fascist ideals at some subconscious level understand that these are a problem, and those who are just followers understand that these works promote an ethic that requires them to think and act and not just follow.*

Full Circle

So, we return to the question of why care about comic book movies like Dawn of Justice?  Because those are the films that reach people.  Because those are films with the ethics that we need to get more into the consciousness of the culture, those are the work that not just entertain but move us, that provide catharsis and thought.  They are the great works and they need to be treated as such.  To just treat everything as “I enjoyed it” or “I didn’t enjoy it” is to both insult the work of artists and to insult your own brain which is capable of so much more.  Yes, there are some works that can be dismissed as enjoyable or not…but to not treat each work with the level of depth it deserves is to either admit the shallowness of your own mind and your surrendering culture and thus politics to that shallowness, or to willfully not give the work the thought it deserves which means you are actively working for the effects such an action results in overtime.  And that may seem like a rather sweeping suggestion, that something so small can have such great results…but no single raindrop thinks it’s responsible for the flood, and yet those small little drops add up to a deluge.  Small acts of thoughtless behavior by numerous people over long periods of time do add up.  You know that’s true.  And this is one of those small acts we must all work to stop in our own lives and do what we can to convince others to do the same.

*A note here.  If the movie attempts the right ethics but isn’t just flawed in the nitpick stupid way of some very good film, but DEEPLY flawed like those Atlas Shrugged movies where they are so bad they should never have been filmed, those you don’t need to defend.  Real trash should be treated as trash.  Minor nitpicky shit in the face of thematic genius should be discarded.

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Best Halloween Cinema #30: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So begins the list of the #30 best things to watch for Halloween (I by no means claim this is a definitive list and the ordering is rather arbitrary).

We start this month of horror films off with a TV show. But not just any TV show, the single greatest TV show in the history of human civilization (at least up to this point…Whedon could easily come out with something new that would surpass it in a few years). That show is of course Buffy The Vampire Slayer. High tragedy, high comedy, deep understanding of the human condition, skill in writing, acting and directing, and of course a hopeful view of humanity that forgiveness is possible and that people can grow and improve themselves. There is simply no show in the history of television that has dealt such profound philosophical themes without being heavy handed and with characters who were human and never just two dimensional cutouts who were allowed to followed a predictable pattern.

The reason such a great work of art gets put last in this list is that it’s really not a horror story. Yes there are vampires and werewolves and monsters of all stripes. But even though it has all the tropes of horror, it is not focused on death as any good horror story is, rather Buffy is focused on life, specifically the growing up part of life. And in this respect it works as a good counterbalance to everything that’s going to come after, but that does not mean it does not have its horrifying moments.

So let’s do a quick rundown of some of the more terrifying episodes.

The Gentlemen from “Hush”

“Hush”: Possibly the most horrifying episode of Buffy. Corpse like emaciated men dressed in 1920’s style suits come to town, steal everyone’s voice and rip out their hearts. It’s frightening for several reasons. The first is the villains, The Gentlemen. The scariest monsters are always the ones that look human but are just a slight bit off, the fact that they were so concerned with manners and courtesy in their actions toward one another just adds to the horror because it is so out of place when you’re about to cut out a live and awake person’s heart. The other reason that it’s such a terrifying episode is that it takes away from the characters something they take for granted: their voice. The idea of not having something we have been so dependent on that we take it for granted, like our ability to communicate brings up the simple question in our minds: “what would I do in that situation?” It’s not a pleasant question. We use our voice for so many things and the idea that we should have to live without it–not a pleasant thought. And of course there is the fear of death. Few episodes have shown people so helpless as this episode when being killed, they’re restrained almost immediately so they can’t run away; they have no voice so they can’t scream for help and then they feel everything as their heart is cut out. One of the things that frighten people so much about death is that they think it is something out of their control, that it will come in the night without warning or rhyme or reason and there is nothing they can do about it, and they are utterly powerless in the face of the unknown. It’s powerlessness against it that frightens them (it’s why waiting for the diagnosis of cancer is worse than the diagnosis itself, when you know what it is, you have a name, an MRI, an idea you can fight against or give into, it’s your choice—but when you’re waiting you still have no choice about anything). It is this powerlessness that the scenes of death in this episode capture so well, and remind most of us of our own fears of death.
Helpless: People run a lot in Buffy. But either they’re one episode’s extras whom we’re not really all that invested in, or they’re main characters and we know Buffy will save them. But when it’s Buffy who is doing the running because she has had all her powers taken away, that adds a lot more terror. The safety net of “Buffy will save the day” is gone, and being Joss Whedon, we never had any reassurance that he isn’t willing to kill main characters, so there’s not that usual safety net either.

“Restless”: There is something terrifying about the unknown and the bizarre to most people. If they can’t understand and make sense of it, it frightens them. So putting our four main characters in a rather symbolic and random dreamscape with an unknown assailant killing them, is quite terrifying. Oh and there’s cheese (if you’ve seen the episode you’ll get that).

“Fear Itself”: Finally my favorite Halloween episode in Buffy. The Scooby Gang faces off against a demon who makes them live out their worst fears and then face the fear demon itself. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This episode shows how foolish that is. Why? Because the fear demon is three inches tall, which is possibly the most insightful and genius representation of fear I have ever seen in of all of literature. Fear is something small, something insignificant, and something if you use reason isn’t worth worrying about…yet we let it control us because we refuse to look at it. If we did confront it head on we would probably find that most of our fears are so small and so insignificant that they can just easily be squashed and ignored.

Xander: Who’s the little fear demon? Come on, who’s the little fear demon? Giles: Don’t taunt the fear demon.Xander: Why? Can he hurt me?Giles: No, it’s just… tacky

Honorable Mentions:

None these are exactly great films (not that the top 30 are all Oscar Winners) but they get trotted out every Halloween and I would say they do meet my criteria of an unhealthy obsession with death.

Constantine: An epic battle between good and evil with a poorly executed story of redemption.  Fun but ultimately pointless.

Stigmata: It’s not exactly a horror film, (and I’ll probably deal with it later in my blogs about movies for New Agers) but with all the blood and suffering it has many of the tropes of a horror film.

Bless the Child: Certainly not as dense and preachy as the novel it’s based on, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still just a little preachy.  And then there is just the rather low quality direction.

The Shinning (TV movie 1997): You know the Nicholson/Kubric version of the film is actually well done, the problem is that it seems to completely ignore that there is actually a great book that it’s supposed to be based on. The TV movie, while not without its flaws was more true to theme and characters of the book and thus I prefer it to the older version.

Fringe: Again it’s not really about the fear of death, but there are some truly horrifying moments.  Like in the first episode where everyone’s skin is melting off, that’s frightening at levels I can’t begin to describe.  And that 3rd season episode where they guy is playing with a corpse and through levers and pulleys make it dance ballet, that’s disturbing at a level I seldom see.

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Filed under Art, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Death, Faith, Fear, Free Will, God, Halloween, Joss Whedon, Movies, New Age Movies, Popular Culture

Cable TV, A La Carte Purchasing, and its Political Implications

 

Cable TV

And maybe 3 things to watch among the entire bunch…

So there has been a lot of talk lately about the bundling of cable TV stations. For those of you who don’t know, bundling is that part where your cable provider makes you buy all those cable channels in a block whether you want to or not…you want FoxNews, you have to get MSNBC too…you want the Comedy Central you have to buy Animal Planet and quite a few others as well. All of this is opposed to a la carte ordering…I want TNT, USA, FoxNews, and well that’s it. And it looks like bundling’s time has come. Intel and other companies are looking into new technology. Major distributors are pushing for cable companies to not bundle channels. Even that worthless idiot John McCain is pushing for a law that would require cable companies to unbundle their channels.

Before we get into all the implications of this let’s first deal with McCain the Moron’s plan to outlaw bundling. Even when he’s right, he’s wrong. King of the Idiot RINOs, John McCain, is proposing legislation to stop your cable companies from forcing you to buy packages of channels. I like the idea of cable companies selling station A la carte for many reasons, and deeply wish to see it happen. However, USING UNCONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT POWER TO FORCE PRIVATE COMPANIES TO DO SOMETHING is about as immoral, illegal, and idiotic as you can get…in other words everything we have come to expect from this corrupt piece of shit. Market forces should and are already bringing forced bundling to an end, expanding government power is not the answer now, nor should it ever be the first option of convenience rather than the option of last resort when all else has failed. Between Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, online TV shows, Intel developing a device that would allow for people to buy channels a la carte…there’s plenty of incentive right now from the private sector. Even major content producer Time Warner is slowly pushing away from bundling. We needed bundling in the beginning to allow for the infrastructure to take off, but now that that is set it is becoming economically viable to stop doing that and soon you will see the collapse of bundling. Without government intervention! But even if there wasn’t then still the government shouldn’t get involved. You don’t have a right to cable. You can always choose to not buy, and just because RINO McCain thinks that’s unfair it does not give the government the right to say what a company can and can’t sell you.

But while I’m sure McCain’s idiocy is going to die before it ever has a chance to become law, it is all but inevitable that bundling will end. With the success of Netflix shows like Arrested Development’s 4th Season as well as the steady increase in web series, the cable networks themselves will soon demand a la carte options just to stay alive (ESPN, TNT and FoxNews among others are not going to allow themselves to die just because people don’t want to pay $30 for a host of channels they never watch). Unbundling is inevitable.

 

So what does this mean? Well once you get a la carte purchasing, while I’m sure you will still be able to buy bundles if you want all the channels, in reality 90% of us are just going to buy the 5 channels we actually watch. I don’t care if unbundled networks are only about $2….there are dozens of channels people are going to go ‘eh, I just watch one show on that, and it’s not that great, I can live without it.’ Within 6 months of a la carte programming you will see networks die because people just aren’t watching them and they can’t make budget. Is this a bad thing? No. First, because this means that the networks that survive (and especially the ones on the edge of surviving versus not surviving) will buy up the shows that actually do attract ratings. Which means that there will no longer be networks that survive on only one show, but rather you will see extended primetime lineups of good shows. You will also see the death of shows that people might watch if there’s nothing else on (reality TV I’m looking at you) but which might not actually stand up in head to head battles against real programming.

Of course this also means that now with cable channels probably offering better or at least on par programming with the regular networks, and available at rock bottom prices for everyone…you will likely see a much larger than usual hit to regular TV. And what this means is that at least one major network will probably die…hmmm…I wonder which one…probably NBC which had to just cancel half of its lineup for the new season because so much of what they put out is crap.

But, let’s ignore all of that. I said this has political implications. What are the political implications?

Mainly in the fact that this introduction of free market principles will kill the left’s propaganda machine. Think about it. Comedy Central isn’t a strong network. It doesn’t make the top 20 of overall viewers and it only makes #17 during prime time…why? It has exactly two shows people watch. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. How many people do you think are going to look at paying for a whole channel just for two half hour shows? Comedy Central will take a hit. And I’ll bet you anything those two shows will be one of those shows that gets moved to another network (probably to Viacom’s higher rated Spike network)….but in addition to make it a more marketable product (because right now they don’t have to compete for you to actually buy the channel, they’re there if you buy basic cable) they’ll tone down some of the overwhelming leftist tripe (I’d even go as far to say that while The Daily Show will likely survive, Colbert could easily find himself once again just Stewart’s sidekick without a show of his own).

MSNBCAlso, if a la carte buying causes a contraction in the number of networks, you will almost certainly see a contraction in number of cable news networks (i.e. Al Jazeera buying Gore’s Current TV may actually be dead before it even starts). And what cable news network is already falling like a rock and thus most likely to hit the chopping block in this situation: why none other than the ideological inheritor of Joseph Goebbels himself: MSNBC. MSNBC and it’s “The left can do no wrong, and the right is nothing but a bunch of racists” string of lies will die with the advent of a la carte purchasing (and CNN will probably have to be become a little…ahem…fair and balanced…if they too wish to survive). This is especially true as I pointed out that their parent company NBC is also dying…(don’t believe me, they’ve so completely run out of plots they have a show called, “Dracula” coming out next year…I wonder how that ends…but I’m sure there isn’t any scrapping the bottom of the barrel over at NBC…oh they have a show about pirates too!) I’d lay money that the NBC name will be dead by the end of this decade.

 

So without MSNBC spewing lies and Stewart constantly making fun of conservatives 90% of the time, what does that leave the left as a propaganda tool? Well there’ the L.A. Times…oh wait the Koch brothers are buying that and will probably turn it back into a news outlet instead of BS propaganda…and I guess there’s the N.Y. Times which is about to die from lack of sales. Air America? No that’s been dead for years. The fact is that the death knell of leftist hold on media is coming. Now that does not mean that we should embrace all their sins on the right, but we don’t have a track record of it. As biased as the FoxNews or the Washington Times gets the left is a thousand times more biased. We are looking at being very, very close to not having to fight such a biased war of propaganda and rather letting arguments and facts speak for themselves.

Just imagine a nation where the majority of the media doesn’t try to hide the fact that the coward-in-chief left 4 people to die in Libya. Where a reporter who would dare to interject her incorrect opinion into a presidential debate would be fired immediately. Where Rachel Maddow is never heard from again (honestly that alone is worth it).

So what can we do to hasten this?

You’re not going to like it, but, call your cable company and stop all non-news cable channels (you still need information)…or if you’re comfortable getting your news off of clips from the website and reading most of it online…just cancel your cable entirely. And when you do make it very clear you are cancelling because of having to purchase channels you do not want. Explain that you will be more than happy to buy cable channels if you are allowed to purchase them a la carte but until that time you will not buy cable.

If everyone who reads this does this, and shares it with all of their friends and convinces just 2 or 3 of them to also cancel, I’m not going to say we’ll bring the cable industry to their knees…but if we could cut into 5% of their revenue, they’d notice, they’d respond to the already building forces in the market. Come on you’re so behind on your reading (you know you are) and there is enough crap on Netflix to keep you busy for at least two full years. At least. Isn’t missing the newest episodes of this show or that show for a couple years worth dealing a death blow to leftist propaganda?

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Before I go see Into Darkness…

EnterpriseI need to get it off my chest how horrifically, unbearably, atrocious the reboot of Star Trek was.   I’m not being hyperbolic, if you tracked down every single copy on DVD, Blueray, the original film and any other form it may exist in and launched them into the sun, the world would be a better place.

UglyassEnterprise

It’s bulky, clunky, disproportionate. It’s just ugly.

However, before I go into why I loathe this reboot, let me state a few things.  First, as far as I can tell the general rule seems to be that anyone who grew up first with the Original Series of Star Trek rightfully hates this abomination of a film—whereas the culturally bereft among you who grew up first on The Next Generation (or god help us Voyager or Enterprise) seem to be okay with mockery of all things Star Trek.*   Second let me say that I’m sure that even if I hadn’t seen all the Original Series before The Next Generation came out; by the time I was 6 I’m sure I had seen most of the Original Series (and all the movies that had come out by that point).  I’m a Trekkie.  Always have been, always will be.  My early teens were a bit more obsessive about the show than I am now (I have been to one convention 20 years ago, and I have no intention of ever going back, unless I have a booth selling copies of Destiny’s Knights and other fiction novels).

So that’s where my biases come from.

However that does not mean I was meant to hate it.  I could have easily loved the new version.  I liked the Tim Burton Batmans but I acknowledge that Nolan’s vision was vastly superior, and Daniel Craig’s more serious Bond is a major improvement.  If the Star Trek reboot had been better, or even on par with the original, I probably would have liked it…but it wasn’t. This film was inferior on every level.  And not just because it was from the writers who brought you such horrifically bad movies as The Island, The Legend of Zorro, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen…not to mention having been writers for Hercules and Xena (depending on when you grew up you might have some fond memories of the campiness of those shows, the writers of this movie didn’t write the episodes you have fond memories of).

Okay some people have covered some of the major reasons why this was a dumb film… but let’s cover some of the reasons not covered there.

StarTrekposter

Are they all trying to look evil or is just bad acting?

So three-quarters of the film is spent drilling holes into planets (let’s just ignore why a mining ship has more firepower than the entire Star Fleet).  A lot of time is wasted drilling holes.  Why?  So they can drop this plot device called red matter that creates a black hole wherever it is dropped.  So why not just drop the red matter on the surface?  A blackhole will still suck the entire planet in whether it’s on the surface or in the core of the planet.  And in general this is a major problem throughout the whole movie.  Star Trek has always skirted the laws of physics, but it has done it in such a way you usually don’t notice until the second or third viewing.   Usually the story of a Star Trek episode or movie (I’m not counting anything from Voyager) was good enough that you could suspend your disbelief enough to not notice the glaring errors in science.  Here you couldn’t do it.  Not in their crappy understanding of black holes, or theoretical time travel (yeah going through a black hole doesn’t send you through time it only crushes you…this isn’t an advance theoretical physics concept, this is high school physics), or even throwing out your own rules of how transporters work (yeah let’s beam them onto a ship with shields up going at warp speed…why?…because our crappy writers put us in this situation with no way to get us out beyond that little bit of insanity).  One of Star Trek’s long standing virtues was that it tried (tried didn’t always succeed, but it tried) to have a loose understanding of science…but not with this crappy reboot.

SpockandChapel

Do you see this woman? The character’s name is Christine Chapel. If Spock is meant to end up with anyone it’s her.  Might as well write Moneypenny out of Bond or Lois Lane out of Superman.

Oh and then there was the fact that every character is different.  EVERY CHARACTER (except Bones for some reason, way to go Karl Urban for actually doing some study of the character).  And what had changed?  Some captain no one ever heard of died and so did Kirk’s dad.  Yes I understand Kirk’s dad, played by Chris Hemsworth, is Thor, god of thunder…but even that strains belief that he would change how everyone turned out.  Let’s run down some of the differences.  Chris Pike has gone from a man who considered leaving Star Fleet and selling Orion Slave Girls to a sage like father figure who is a couple of magical powers short of Obi Wan and Gandalf.  Spock suddenly became hyper emotional, illegally marooning cadets, assaulting people on the bridge, kissing Uhura (WTF?)…so everything that people loved about Spock, the cold logic, the wry sarcasm, the only hints of emotion…all gone.  Uhura developed a personality.  Chekhov developed some useful skills.  Scotty turned into a comedian…with an ugly Ewok as a sidekick.  Wow, even if you believe in the butterfly effect, it’s a little hard to believe that Kirk’s dad had that much of an effect on the universe.  (Let’s also realize that this reduces all life to nothing more than a B.F. Skinner ideal of all there is is the conditioning of our environment, hell there isn’t even a genetic component to your personality, only the environment…and don’t even get me started at how this implies there is no soul, only a malleable thing conditioned by circumstance…thematically it comes off a tad cold and meaningless when compared to, well, any other incarnation of Star Trek.  Of course really you’d have to have a theme before we use the word thematically, something this movie lacked).

NewKirkSpock

I feel a battalion of tribbles could take these two down.

Oh and let’s talk about Jim Kirk.  The rebel without a cause, purpose, plan, brain, or clue.  And the punchline of numerous jokes throughout the film.  Part of what made the Original Series so good (beside the writing) was that the character of James Kirk (despite questionable acting at times) was, on the whole, an admirable figure.  Like the character of Horatio Hornblower whom Roddenberry used as a model, was a strict and disciplined commander, whom despite his appearance of bravado only cared for his ship and his crew.  This little punk was all ego.  And how the hell do you go from cadet about to be court-martialed one minute and, like a week later, promoted to Captain.   I’d follow him, how about you?  Quite frankly when I first heard Benedict Cumberbatch in the new trailer say he was better than this Kirk in everyway I rolled my eyes and said, ‘well, yeah, it’s not a high bar to reach.’  Nothing about this character makes him admirable, nothing.  You can like Shatner’s acting or not, but you have to admit when the script and directing were good Kirk was an admirable, likable, virtuous character.  This cocky little punk just needs to be punched in the face, often.  (Oh, by the way, Chris Pine will also be playing Jack Ryan later this year…yeah thanks for ruining another of my favorite characters.)

IntoDarknessCumberbatch

“I am better than you…in every way” No shit, Sherlock. Janeway and her bunch of losers were better in every way compared to this lot.

And then, of course, is the relationship these films had to their source material.  Nicholas Meyer (writer of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country…otherwise known as the good ones) said one of the first things he did when given the job of writing and directing Star Trek II was he sat down and he watched all the episodes of the original show.  Doing this he not only discovered the heart of the show was the friendship of Kirk, Spock and McCoy (utterly nowhere in this movie).  Was the original series inconsistent in quality and have some really bad moments?  Yeah.  If a Trekkie can’t admit that “Spock’s Brain” may have been the dumbest episode in the history of science fiction, they’re not looking at things rationally.  But the original series also had some of the best moments in science fiction history as well.  And what made the good movies good was that they respected and took from the best of the series, paying little homages to the source material all over the place.  Meanwhile I’m not convinced anyone associated with this film has seen anything beyond Futurama’s parody of Star Trek.   Nothing.  There is no connection to the original beyond a couple dead red shirts and Pike ending up in a wheel chair.

And before I end this let me talk about the preposterous villain for  a second.  So we have Nero, a Romulan commander.  But not the cool, cold, calculating Romulan Commanders we have come to love…no he’s in charge of a mining vessel.  But don’t worry his mining ship has more firepower than the entire Star Fleet…I knew the Romulans were a paranoid bunch…but really?  So his genius plan is to wait 25 years for vengeance, and apparently this guy, whose command skills were only good enough not to get him assigned to a garbage ship is able to keep his entire crew also hellbent on his personal madness for 25 year and nobody mutinies.  You believe that don’t you?

There is so much more that pisses me off about this movie, from horrible directing, bad acting, truly lazy writing, production values that think you should be blinded by light in every scene…I could go on.  It’s not really that I’m upset that they tried to reboot Star Trek, I’m upset they did such a poor job at it.  Just ask yourself this, if you took away the name Star Trek and changed all the character names…would you call this a great film…or would you compare it to other such sci-fi jokes as Wing Commander or whatever original movie is on SyFy this week?

*I’ve never actually met someone whose first exposure to Star Trek was Deep Space Nine, so I have no way describe their feelings toward the reboot

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Hope, the American Way, and the “Man of Steel” Trailer


So there appears to be some brouhaha over the newest trailer for Man of Steel.  I have seen complaints about this on no less than 3 different political web sites, which seems a bit much for a trailer, but since they want to make a federal case over it, it should be pointed out that their case is baseless.   Namely the problem seems to be with the following lines:

Lois Lane: What’s the “S” stand for?

Superman: It’s not an “S.”  On my world it means “hope.”

Lois Lane: Here it’s an “S.”  How about Super…ManofSteelsymbol

Now the first complaint is that this is changing the story, where it has always stood for Superman.  This is a silly claim, especially for a comic book movie, which is based on comic books that have been restarted so many times with so many variations D.C. comics actually had to come up with a storyline about multiple universes just to keep all the versions straight (still didn’t help).   When you’re translating a story from one medium to another it’s pure insanity to think everything can remain the same.  Further, yes you might be justifiably angry at those changes…but only if those changes make the story worse.  The new Star Trek stripped all the good out of the original series and created a cheap sci-fi film that would never have gone anywhere without banking on the greatness of the original…so there bitching about the changes is justified.  Conversely, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy took the Batman story from a more simplistic action/detective comic and created one of the deepest most meaningful films ever made.  Those changes made the story better, and so whining about purity of the original story is just bunk.  Rewriting stories is a part of literature dating back to when Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides rewrote the works of Homer for stage, nobody in their right mind claims they ruined the stories.  Now it may be that whatever changes Nolan and Snyder have made to the Superman myth in this film may make it better or worse, we’ll have to see, but change is not necessarily good or bad on its own.

The other reason this is silly (and keep in mind I’ve never read a Superman comic in my life, and even I could find this out easily) is that in terms of the meaning of the “S” they haven’t really changed anything.  In the original film starring Christopher Reeve, the symbol stood for the House of El, the Kryptonian family that Superman is a part of. But what about the “Hope” thing?  Apparently some on the Right are having knee-jerk reactions to the word and thinking that this is intended to be a reference to Obama.  It’s not.  This actually is taken directly from the 2004 comic Superman: Birthright written by Mark Waid (Obama had only come onto the national scene at the 2004 Democratic convention in July, the comic came out in September which means it was probably written well before July).  I will shortly come back to why using Waid’s work as a basis for this movie is a very, very good thing.

Finally there are of course the constant complaints still going on about the line from the last movie “Find out if he still stands for Truth, Justice, all that stuff” and how the writers shoved away the phrase “the American Way” and the worry that this will still continue in this film (this of course ignores that the line came from Perry White, the most cynical character in the Superman universe who probably would find the phrase silly).

ManofSteelAfter this trailer I especially find this fear also fairly unwarranted.

Why?

Well what is the American Way?

Contrary to what many believe, it has nothing to do with land, or resources, or economic success, or military prowess, or scientific achievement. America is America because of our ideals.  The ideals of liberty, of meritocracy, that anyone can achieve by their own will.  Or as I have stated before:

We’re the nation that fought to create a republic where the haves and have-nots gave equal measure.  We’re the nation that fought our own citizens to free slaves.  We’re the nation that pioneered capitalism and law that gave liberty and opportunity and progress to more people than any other country in history.  We’re the place where “tired, the poor, the huddled masses” come to be energetic, successful and stand on their own feet.  We’re the country that conquers whole nations so that others may be free then tries to rebuild them and then leaves without tribute or power.  If you don’t think we’re the “shining city on the hill” you don’t know history, philosophy or human nature.  We’re not perfect, we’re not always right, but we are consistently the nation that calls for the best in humanity to put down the worst.

The American way isn’t a habit, or a land, or a race, or even the citizens of this particular country, it is an ideal that believes the best in humanity can always rise above the worst in humanity, that the individual left to their own devices will rise to the pinnacle of achievement and not sink to the depth of depravity.

And just in this trailer alone, we see that way, that ideal.

We see it in Jor-El’s statement

What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended?  What if a child aspired to something greater?

Are you going to tell me a line about how a single individual can rise above the shackles of whatever society throws on them, and achieve because of their own will and merit isn’t at the very heart of America?

Or perhaps Jonathan Kent’s:

I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason.  And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.

The belief that life has a purpose.  It has been seen in philosophy since Aristotle, but it has never been realized until America.  And this quest to find meaning is a personal one, “you owe it to yourself,” not one laden down with obligations to family, or clan, or religion, or state, or culture, or history or whatever other un-American claptrap other nations have followed.

Or perhaps we should go to first trailer, with another line from Jor-El

You will give the people an ideal to strive towards.  They will race behind you.  They will stumble.  They will fall.  But in time they will join you in the sun—In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

Shining city on the hill anyone?  The beacon of hope and light that America is supposed to be.

Oh I said “beacon of hope” which brings us back to the symbol and them taking that point from Mark Waid.  This is important that they are drawing form Waid’s version. Why?  I would direct you to an essay written by Waid in the book Superheroes and Philosophy entitled “The Real Truth About Superman and the Rest of Us, Too.” (It’s an excellent essay which you may want to read.)

The essay covers the thought process Waid went through when the head of D.C. asked him a simple question: “Why does Superman do what he does?  Why doesn’t absolute power absolutely corrupt in his case?”  He quickly found the stock answer of, because he’s Superman, to be unsatisfying to the employer who was hiring him to revitalize the franchise.

What follows is an argument that references two of my favorite philosophical beliefs.

The first is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Waid starts from the premise that even though an alien, he has the same needs in the same order as any human.  Physical needs then Safety needs then Emotional Needs then Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsAchievement needs then finally the need for Self Actualization.  (You’ll find that the American beliefs in liberty and capitalism parallel this order of needs quite well).  Now for Superman, the first two, physical and safety need, aren’t an issue at all.  So that leaves emotional, achievement and self actualization needs.  Now he might gain some emotional connections by just being mild mannered Clark Kent, but certainly not achievement or self actualization.  Which then comes to a question of how much does he need to achieve…and this is where Waid turns to another idea, a quote in fact (which I’m hoping against hope will make it into the movie):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” [Italics on the last part added]

 

It is the realization that Superman is who he is because to do anything less would not lead to his Happiness, and that a central theme of the story has always been that we should all strive to the edge our abilities, as Kal-El does, not just to help others achieve their goals (You will help them accomplish wonders) but to also achieve our own Happiness (you owe it to yourself).

So this is why I’m happy they are pulling from Waid, with the concept of Superman being a symbol of hope, the city on the Hill, because it places the whole story in a very strong and correct footing of spiritual values and Aristotelian virtue based ethics.

Now while Waid, or Marianne Williamson who first wrote this in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on A Course in Miracles, don’t make the connection, it is only through the American Way of personal liberty and personal achievement that we achieve the heights of shining our brightest.  So I feel the need to again point out, that the American Way is being championed in this movie already, whether they say the words or not.

Now, no one has seen this film yet, so it could either suck or make the Dark Knight Rises look like an F film student’s half-hearted attempt…or anything in between. I am merely pointing out that the complaints based only on this trailer are completely unfounded.  This movie appears to appeal to the best in this story, the core ideals that have let it rise above whatever flaws have plagued the various incarnations over the years.

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Filed under American Exceptionalism, Aristotle, Art, character, Faith, Individualism, Marianne Williamson, Movies, Movies for Conservatives, New Age Movies, Patriotism, philosophy, Popular Culture, virtue

In Defense of Intellectual Property Rights

So, no matter how annoying RINO’s and the psycho-Santorum social conservative wing is within the GOP, the fact is that our problems are nothing compared to how the libertarians are going out of their goddamn minds. The argument between libertarians and conservatives used to be over the need for social constraints—libertarians believed we didn’t need any and conservatives believed those needs could be handled mostly by church, private charity, community organizations, and local government (with maybe just a touch of state government in special circumstances)*—but not anymore. Now libertarians are becoming a big tent party that has no ideological center, in addition to old school libertarians, the anti-war left, drug addicts, and anarchists seem to all be flocking to the name libertarian under a truly perverse idea of liberty.

For instance I’m now seeing an attack on intellectual property. This seems to come from the a response to the poorly conceived SOPA and PIPA laws, in addition to the continual and idiotic extension of copyright laws (driven a great deal by Disney Corp.)…but to say because there is bad copyright and patent laws we should get rid of the concept of intellectual property is about as logical and ethical as saying that because you can find some innocent people who were convicted of murder then we should simply stop making murder a crime.

First let’s go over the bizarre argument from the libertarian organization Learn Liberty**

So the argument is that intellectual property isn’t like private property.

Well before we get into this argument let’s look at why you have private property rights in the first place.

To do this we go back to John Locke and the Theory of Natural Rights. The theory of natural rights is always best understood in the context of living on a deserted island. So let’s say, like Robinson Crusoe, you get stranded on a deserted island for 10 years. You build a house, you farm the land, you pick fruit. Everything is yours. Why? Because according to the theory of natural rights you have mixed your labor, something that is most certainly yours, with something that no one had any claim to beforehand (the land, the fruit, the materials you used to build your house). Now let’s say someone else gets stranded on the same island. Do they have to bow down to you because you own the entire island? No. You only have right to that which you worked for. You have a right to your house, the land you farmed, and any fruit you picked up yourself, but the new guy has the right to start farming on any land you haven’t, to build a house with any materials you haven’t used, and to pick up any fruit you didn’t. On the deserted island you only have a right to what you worked for and you can consume it yourself or give it to anyone you wish.
Now moving to actual civilization where all the land is owned by someone and you can’t just mix your labor and property that hasn’t been claimed by because pretty much everything has been claims (anyone (and there are actually laws like prescriptive easements and homesteading), Locke and the theory of natural rights points out, that you are compensated either in money or by barter for your labor. And for the sake of ease, I will simply refer to money as property as well. So even though you are no longer mixing your labor with something no one owns, you are being compensated for your labor at a rate that you agree to. You have a right to all the property that is a result of your labor. Why? Because your labor is an extension of you, thus your property is an extension of you. Which is why Locke’s three basic natural rights were Life, Liberty and Property (which Jefferson later tied to the point of life, Happiness).***

Let me say that again: You have a right to all the property that is a result of your labor because your labor is an extension of you, making all the property you have earned an extension of you and your person.

But we don’t live in the state of nature, we live in a society, under a social contract. And under the basic theories of Locke we have given up a portion of our rights to maintain the rest (because all it takes is one jerk to turn the state of nature from paradise into a living hell, and for all of its potential, society certainly has more than one jerk in its midst). One of the rights we give a little on is the right to property—we agree that a government must be funded with taxes, which are an imposition on our right to property, but better to give a little to protect the rest than to have none at all. I would argue anything over 10% of your income is tyranny and anyone who wants to take more than that should meet the end of Julius Caesar, Caligula, Richard III, Charles I, and the redcoats armies, but that’s another debate for another time—we all agree that we give up a little of our right to property under the social contract, to maintain the bulk of our property. This will be important later so keep this in mind.

Now how is intellectual property different from normal private property? Now if you were to buy the argument of the libertarian/anarchist video above they’re not the same at all. The argument seems to be that you are entitled to the property rights that come from your labor but not from your mind. This strikes me as odd because, according to Theory of Natural Rights, property is yours because it has become an extension of you through your labor. I find it hard to believe that the labor of my physical body can make something an extension of me, but the inspiration of my soul and the creativity of my mind and the works thereof are somehow not mine. I have to say that an individual is much more their soul and their mind than they are their body. So why if the work of their body makes something theirs, but the work of their mind isn’t theirs. From the Constitution, to Adam Smith, to arguments of Friedman and Hayek, to the speeches of Atlas Shrugged, well articulated philosophy and understanding of history and human nature to poorly worded intrinsic understanding, people have understood that if you have the right to the results of your body you certainly have a right to the results of your mind. The work of your mind is even more you than the work of your body. And if you have the right to creations from your body you certainly have rights to creations from your mind. In fact before seeing this video, I knew of only one work in history that valued the works of the mind as lower in value than the works of the body: Das Kapital by Karl Marx. Remind me where that philosophic line leads to. To say you don’t have the rights to the works of your mind is actually worse than anarchy; it is among the most vicious foundations of socialism and collectivism. (This is also part of the liberal ideal that those that work physically are equal or greater than those that work with the mind).

Now the speaker in this video claims that intellectual property rights are intellectually incoherent. But only if you use his 3 part system. Absolute rights, rights created by the government, or no rights at all. What he seems to ignore is what we really have: absolute rights tempered by the needs of the social contract. The social contract does not create rights, it infringes on them here or there so that the bulk of those rights may be saved from the chaos of anarchy. Now taking the traditional view of natural rights, the first view, that intellectual property rights would continue on in perpetuity would actually be correct in the state of nature. In the state of nature your intellectual property rights would be eternal and you could will them to any inheritor you wished or to the public. However because of the social contract, something that is not addressed at all in this video, and actually quite conveniently ignored, we understand and enter into a state where there are certain limitations placed on intellectual property through copyright, trademark, and patent law.

The primary restriction on these rights is time. Copyrights, patents expire after time? Now we know the reason why, so people can build off of other ideas, stand on the shoulders of giants, and further society. No one denies that society is made better by building ideas on each other. But why should intellectual property fade where physical property doesn’t? The answer is quite simple, physical property does fade. Houses decay, land that is not worked produces nothing, business mismanaged fails, and all other forms of physical property decay. If a multi-billionaire leaves their entire fortune to their children, that fortune will not last forever. If the children are idiots they will quickly squander even the most vast fortune. Fortunes are only maintained if the next generation continues to work and continues to produce. All physical items will decay if they are not kept up, and up keep costs money which means either money for up keep will have to be earned, the items will have to be sold, or they will just decay. Physical property decays. Limits are placed on intellectual property not because they are special and should be treated differently from other property rights but so they are actually treated like physical property rights. The parchment Homer wrote the Iliad on has long turned to dust, but the idea still shines as brightly as ever, and thus to make both the physical and intellectual property rights equivalent the intellectual property rights must be given a end date. We can debate what that should be (I like life of the artist + 25 years or 75 years after creation, whichever is longer, for copyright, and 20 years for patents…but that is negotiable). So the argument that intellectual property rights are contradictory is simply intellectually dishonest.

Now the second claim that this video makes against property rights is that to enforce intellectual property rights “You have to interfere with people’s other property rights in real physical objects and to stop them from using those objects as they wish to.” This is just patently false and either a bald face lie or the speaker in the video ain’t bright. If I want to buy a computer, hack into Windows and rewrite as much code as I want I can do that. And nothing is going to happen to me. I have the right to buy anything I want, make modifications or changes to my property. And no one is going to stop me and no one is going to care…as long as I keep my property in my house. The kind of enforcement that he is talking about here is when you take something that belonged to someone else and either share it or try to resell your new product. In either case you’re offering competition to the original creator. Your cutting into the profits they worked for and are not enjoying any of the benefits of. In a lot of cases people are more than happy to have their patents used by others, so long as they get paid. Tesla was more than happy that Marconi got credit for inventing the radio, which Tesla invented, because Marconi had to pay him on 13 patents. Youtube and fanfic websites are allowed to operate and have so much copy-written material on them because it’s free advertising. It’s only when you start cutting into the profit share or start making money that patent and copyright holders start objecting. So it’s not that your property rights are violated, its that your hurting their property rights and they get kind of testy about that. Who’d of thought?

Then of course he makes the claim that you can still have creativity and invention without patents and copyrights. Let’s ignore the fact that Venice and Florence offered a version of patents and copyright in the 1400’s (remind me which cities were the center of the Renaissance in the 1400 and 1500’s) or that England and France have the origins of copyright and patent laws since the 1500’s (again centers of the later Renaissance and Industrial Revolution)…remind me again why the Spanish Empire kind of shriveled up and died intellectually and economically without any kind of those laws (might also have something to do with their love of the gold standard, but again another discussion for another time).

But the inherent claim is that free exchange of ideas leads to better creativity and innovation. By that argument fanfic site should have the highest quality literature in the world and Unix and Linux should be the most effective and user friendly systems on earth. Oh wait. The vast, vast, of fan fiction just sucks and Linux, while praised as a more stable system, is absolutely worthless to anyone who isn’t a computer geek. Also by that argument Open Office should be a better product than Microsoft Office. Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. Strangely enough you get what you pay for, and you can’t pay people for ideas when there isn’t protection for intellectual copyright.

Oh but wait they have a rebuttal that shows an artist can make money even without intellectual property rights.

Their example, Verdi. Since Verdi didn’t have intellectual property rights to fall back on, but still made enough to live off of, this shows you don’t need intellectual property rights. This again conveniently ignores little things, like the fact that Verdi was commissioned (i.e. he got paid upfront) to write several of his operas, and that his operas were quite famous in countries with intellectual property rights which he could fall back on if he had to. It also ignores that before intellectual property rights art existed only when the artist was paid by a patron, and that almost all scientific advancement for most of the dark ages was only in military science, because people were actually paid for that. It also ignores the problem for writers. A musician like Verdi could make money as a performance artist. A writer can’t. If there are no intellectual property rights, then when a writer publishes a book a publisher could theoretically just take the book and reprint it without paying the author and the author would have no recourse (see the history of Google Books)…it should come as no shock that as the patronage system died out the only place you found a lot of writers is in nations that had copyright laws.

One final point. If this video is supposed to be from a libertarian group then they should believe in liberty and capitalism (let’s ignore they already have given up on capitalism as capitalism cannot possibly operate without intellectual property rights). And as such they must believe in the sacrosanct nature of contract law (the current administration may not believe it’s sacrosanct, or even vaguely relevant, but any intelligent human understands that a contract is a contract is a contract). As such, many contracts legally include nondisclosure agreements. Without intellectual property rights I can almost guarantee you that every book, every movie, every album will come with a 20 page boiler plate contract that states ‘by buying this product you agree to not share…blah, blah, blah” having basically the same effect as copyright but taking up much more costs in court time as companies will have to exponentially increase prosecutions for contract violation and the fact that there will not be a standard (like copyright law is) so each contract will be slightly different and the merits of each judged individually. Yes, because I want a system that creates more lawsuits, I’m sure that will be wonderful for the economy.

Yes SOPA and PIPA and Disney’s efforts to keep Steamboat Willie under copyright are bad laws. The system needs correction: we need to reduce the length of time for copyright, to make patents more logical, to stop giving special considerations to fields that don’t deserve it and stop regulating the patents in certain fields out of existence. And Tort reform, we need tort reform to get the companies to stop suing everyone for even the slightest unintended infraction of copyright or patent law. But just because the system needs work and we need legal reform is not a reason to just do away with the natural rights of property to the creations of your mind and soul. The argument of these videos are that because the system is broken we should just do away with everything—throw the baby, the crib, and that entire nursery out with the bath water.

Intellectual property is the heart and soul of capitalism and without capitalism there is no liberty. So Learn Liberty should learn what liberty is based on, things like intellectual property rights.

*Yes I will fully admit that the social conservative wing does not understand this part and that government should not be used to implement these social constraints.
**Whom I usually like, but in this case are out of their gourd.
***Now one last caveat that was more applicable in Locke’s time than in ours. Locke stated that there is a limit to how much you could own, that limit being you only had the right to own what you could use. For instance, let’s say a person could only farm 30 acres, then they had a right to only 30 acres unless they were willing to hire people to help them farm anything above that 30. This is a distinction that really only relevant in Locke’s time because with the advent of capitalism very little isn’t used. That land you own but don’t do anything with isn’t wasted, it’s collateral for future projects. That money sitting in the bank isn’t wasted, it is being used by the bank to make loans. With the advent of capitalism and investment nothing really is lies fallow, resources may not be used wisely but next to nothing is deliberately wasted. Yes I guess there could be a case of someone buying up food just to let it rot, but first I don’t think you’ll find many people that insane who have the capital to do that (at least outside of our government), and second any law you could make to prevent people from not wasting resources would be so impossible to justly enforce that it would likely cause more harm than the evil it wished to stop.

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Filed under Art, Capitalism, Civil Liberties, Conservative, Constitution, Economics, Evils of Liberalism, People Are Stupid, politics

The best and worst movies of 2012

So I have had time to reflect on the few gems among the tripe from this year and once again prepared to offer my Top 10 List of movies of 2012. And like previous years,  I can’t find 10.

I was hoping for a full list this year. But The Hobbit ran too long, focused too much on dwarves eating, paid more attention to effects than character, and then didn’t have an ending. I wanted a dragon, goddamnit, not as a tease but as a character! The Odd Life of Timothy Green was cute, would make a good date movie, but I can’t justify it on a top list. Red Dawn was great in terms of the patriotism and mood, but I’ll admit the production quality, while certainly higher than the first, is still a bit shaky. Brave, while well done, is not as good as some of its other Pixar counterparts. And I know I may be the only one, but I find John Carter endlessly entertaining.

Now just as a quick reminder I have 4 criteria for great art.
Remember I have 4 basic criteria for great art.
1. It must be enjoyable (I have some kind of positive emotional reaction)…so that throws out most of the critic’s picks out.

2. It must understand human nature
3. It must use the tools of the medium well
4. It must have a meaningful and correct theme.

So here we go. The top 7 films of 2012. (For the movies that I’ve done full reviews of, I have them linked in the titles.)

#7. Cabin in the Woods

“Cleanse them. Cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe them in the crimson of – Am I on speakerphone?”

Usually you wouldn’t see a horror movie on any top list because it’s a silly genre. But Cabin in the Woods is a merciless critique of the horror genre and all its stupid tropes. And it is done with wit, with skill and with a wonderful mocking of the horror genre.
This is obviously a little weak at meeting my 4 criteria, but it’s lambasting a genre that never lives up to them, so I think the weakness comes from the source not the material itself.

The Avengers6. The Avengers

“With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old fashioned.”

We all love this film. We all waited for the several years for it to come out. We doubted if it would be any good after we saw how bad Captain America was. But Whedon pulled it out and gave a film that was not only entreating but developed the characters in ways we had not seen in the previous films.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, comic book characters have replaced the myths and legends that pervious societies used to convey ideals of heroism and virtue, and for all the flaws of the individual Avengers, we see something to strive for in terms of human nature within them.

M Bond5. Skyfall

M: Not very comfortable, is it?
Bond: You gonna complain all the way?
M: Go on! Eject me! See if I care!

I would say this is both the best Craig Bond film yet, and the most mature Bond film of all time (I still say that GoldenEye is the best Bond, but that is certainly up for debate). The movie offers us a deeply moving closure to the Bond/M relationship, a chance for Bond to grow as a person, and of course all the final pieces of the Bond mythology (Moneypenny, Q, Martini’s shaken not stirred, not to mention the car from Goldfinger). And at last we had a Bond villain that was both frightening and over the top in the way only a Bond villain can be.

Its only flaw is that it didn’t continue with the plot that the last two films with the Quantum (SPECTRE?) organization. Just one line from Bardem of “I got information from your friends at Quantum, they really hate you Mr. Bond” or something like those lines, it would have kept the plot line alive without ruining the pacing of the film. I can only hope we come back to this plot in the next film.

Now some have complained about the pacing of this film, but I think it’s because they made this film a five act story instead of the three acts we have become so used to. It’s a more complex story requiring a more complex structure.

But this movie quotes my favorite part of my favorite poem. How can I not love that:

Though much is taken, much abides, and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are… One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

4. Trouble with the Curve

Trouble with the Curve
“Now get out of here before I have a heart attack trying to kill you.”

Not Eastwood’s best performance of the year (that would involve a chair), but it is still a great movie. It serves as a great counterpart to last year’s best film Moneyball. Moneyball showed up that in life we must adapt or die. Trouble with the Curve shows that any new innovation shouldn’t throw out all the old tried and true methods—that life is more than just numbers. That there needs to be balance. And it does this with three very unbalanced characters who together grow and learn from each other.

Okay those are the also rans who are on the list because a Top 3 would be rather sad…now let’s get to the three I actually had a hard time ordering.

3. ArgoArgo

“Bad news, bad news. Even when it’s good news, it’s bad news. John Wayne in the ground 6 months and this is what is left of America.”

This is the movie that the best director Academy Award should have gone to (stupid Academy). Affleck manages to have this movie go from a good thriller to a hilarious dark comedy and back to great thriller seamlessly. The skill required to take the tone of movie in radically different directions without making it jarring or seem forced is something most directors are smart enough to not even try. Affleck does it without flaw.
Maybe it’s that Hollywood hates Ben Affleck. Yes he’s made some very questionable acting choices (he’s not a terrible actor but he does pick terrible scripts on occasion). But between Gone Baby, Gone, The Town, and now Argo Affleck has cemented in my mind as one of the great actors of this generation. While I disagree with him on most politics I am more pleased that he is not running for the Senate because this means there will still be more great movies to come.
Anyway Argo is a great film. It shows the creativity of our people in the intelligence services. It shows the unscrupulous and inept people whom an anti-Semite like Carter surrounded himself with (oh, let’s leave them all hanging because of the optics on a mission). Affleck manages to gives us excellent characterization on a large cast for a movie this short. The only reason I would say that this is not the best film is that the theme of this film is not as momentous as the next two films.

2. The Dark Knight Risesdark-knight-rises-cast-1920x1080

“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.”

Christopher Nolan outdid himself again with this film. In this retelling of A Tale of Two Cities we have a skillful critique of the philosophy that says all wealth is evil and an equally damning critique of those who would use this lie to gain power over. And to top it off they give us a philosophical discussion of the nature of fear, heroism and living the good life. I only give Affleck my call for best director by mere fractions due to his ability to switch tones in the film so well, but Nolan is also a truly great director who took a story that was little more than fluff and action and gave us three films of depth and soul. He made us care about Bruce Wayne the person, not just the costume, and he showed us what a hero is and can be.
This film should win best screenplay, but again I fear it won’t.

1. Les Miserables

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Les Miserables Posters
This film does stand a good chance of winning the best picture award it so richly deserves. While I have previously commented on some flaws in the directing and editing this movie still soars above the rest. It gives us salvation and redemption, tragedy and comedy, passion and vengeance. And it does it in possibly the hardest form to work in, the musical. It is without question the best film of 2012.

So what was the worst film of 2012? Promised Land for bad politics? Lincoln for finally proving Spielberg has only hype left and no talent? Life of Pi for taking a book with an infantile understanding of religion and spirituality (I liked the points it made, but it made them so poorly) and let it be directed by one of film’s worst directors? Taken 2 for the plot line of, dad didn’t want daughter to go to Paris because it’s unsafe, but hey, let’s have a family get together in Istanbul, because that’s gotta be safe? Atlas Shrugged II for being even more poorly made than the first even though it had more money (oh please let them recast everyone again for the third)? Cloud Atlas for being a pretentious and tedious attempt to redo The Fountain? Zero Dark Thirty for breaking more federal intelligence laws than any other film in history? Twilight for, well, being Twilight? The Lorax for being useless bullshit? Safe House and Flight for making me realize the glory days of Denzel are over, and I have no hope of them coming back.

No this dishonor of worst film of 2012 goes to Prometheus. Prometheus? Yes, Prometheus. This may come as a bit of a shock. After all, while not the best prequel ever, it wasn’t that bad. It was a great thriller, kept me on the edge of the seat nearly the entire time. It had some pretty good character development. It was well done. So why is it the worst film of the year? Well first I thought the movie was flawed because it asked massive questions about the nature of life, the universe and everything…but it failed to provide even a hint of answer. Which made it unbelievably dissatisfying. But that was only why it wasn’t going on the top of the list. Little did I know when I first saw it that there were answers in the original script. I’m not going to go into how bizarre these answers are, (I only have two words and a link, follow at your own risk: Space Jesus ) but let me just say that if that was the original intent of Ridley Scott then this is by far the dumbest movie I have ever heard of. Ridley Scott has made some of the best films ever created… this is not one of them.

Which movies am I looking forward to?
A Good Day To Die Hard (Mindless fun), 42 (could be pointlessly preachy, I hope not), Oblivion (I’m still unsure what this is about), Iron Man 3 (mindless fun), Thor 2 (mindless fun), Much Ado About Nothing (Whedon does Shakespeare, need I say more), Man of Steel (Nolan please give me a fourth great superhero movie), Red 2 (mindless fun), Ender’s Game (this all depends on the visuals for the game).

As you can see not exactly a list composed primarily of deep films. So it will be a short list again next year in all likelihood.

What do I have no intention of seeing?
Star Trek and Hangover III

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Filed under Art, Movies, Movies for Conservatives, Popular Culture

Reflections on the Election: Why I was wrong, Why Obama Won, and what the GOP needs to do. Part III

It’s been a month since the election…and as you can tell from the limited number of posts, I’m still kind of depressed Obama won, America Lostabout this (and overworked at work, but that’s another story).  I’m still shell-shocked that people could be that stupid—even I, who believe the masses are idiots, can’t fully comprehend that people are so fucking stupid as to vote in a tyrant not once but twice.  It baffles the mind.  If you care about only what you can get you should have voted for the guy who would guarantee a higher chance at raises and better jobs: Romney.  If you cared about other people you should have cared about the guy who would have done the most to improve the middle class: Mitt.  If you care about character it would be the guy who personally does charity whenever he can: Willard Mitt Romney. Intelligence, that would be the guy who got his J.D. and MBA in the same 4 years: The Governor.  Experience, class, vision, leadership, surrounding himself with qualified people.  On every criteria you can come up with it’s a no brainer, but, but, but…

People are really fucking short sighted, envious and dumb.

But are we just powerless to do anything? Are we at the mercy of party leadership to pull us out of this tailspin the country has voted itself in (dear god that’s a depressing thought)?  Luckily no.  Unfortunately I’m not promising anything easy either.

So what can we as individuals do?

Well first I would like to turn back to the exit polls.  Now looking at ethnicity or gender or even age is pointless because there is nothing we can do to change that.   People are what they are.  (Yes, age changes, but it’s not like we have any actual control over it).

2012 exit polls education

Now education can change (complete shocker that Obama the no intelligence/no high school bracket and the no real world experience/postgraduate bracket) but unless you’re a parent most of us can’t really affect people’s education.  If you are a parent, I might suggest that you state you’re not paying for any kind of college education unless they get a degree in the Math/Science area and thus have marketable skills (if they want to get a dual major and have a liberal art as well, well you can negotiate) but parents do not pay for Sociology degrees they are worthless and breed dumb liberals.

2012 exit polls single

Next we turn to gender and marriage status.  A lot of to do was made about women in this election, but as you see it wasn’t really women so much as single women.  And I have seen conservative writers talk about how the single women pose a threat to liberty as they seem to look to the government for the security nets…but it if you look at the data single men are also pretty dumb. The conclusion I’m drawing here isn’t that women are liberal, it’s that single people on the whole are liberal and need to be stopped.  (Yes, I as a bachelor, may not want to throw stones in a glass house, but I’m not as dumb as my fellow singles who voted for Barry…but if you are or know any single, intelligent, conservative, spiritually open women in the Phoenix area…well…my email address is posted…).  Now does this mean we should all go out and get married without standards or relationships, that marriage is an end unto itself. No.  One of the reasons we have a high divorce rate is that people don’t take the time to plan and make sure they’re making a right choice.  So really unless you want to start playing matchmaker which some of us are more qualified than others (this would certainly not be a skill of mine).

2012 exit polls religion

And then we see that Obama did well with the non-religious crowd* and Romney did well with the religious crowd.  Let me put these last two points in context. It doesn’t have as much to do with faith or companionship.  For a lot of people it is an issue of safety.  If you have a spouse, if you have an active church community you have someone you know you can fall back on if things go bad, if you don’t have these things, then the psychology of most people is to seek something you can fall back on: the government.  Now I would rather people evolve and see themselves as their fallback (or at least maybe God) but if we’re going to get there we first have to have an economic system that allows people to take care of themselves (i.e. we need to get rid of liberals and progressives at every level).

So what does this have to do with religion?  Well it means that if you’re a member of a church you need to encourage, push for, and if necessary demand, that your church be more active in the community—charity, public works and improvement projects, fundraisers not for the church but those honestly in need. This should have nothing to do with demonization or dogma.  Only about helping the community and strengthening the bonds of community.

If you’re not in a church, say a New Ager, it couldn’t hurt to find a non-pushy church out there and see if they would like help with those charity projects.

If you’re in a church that does do these kinds of charity projects then see if you can invite people you know to help, don’t proselytize, don’t make it about belief, only about helping others.  (Also may I suggest making your charity functions known to the local middle and high schools—students, especially college bound students, are more and more looking for community service on their resumes—and let them know their parents are invited as well).

This has nothing to do with dogma, it has to with a core tenet in every religion I can think of, charity, community, compassion.

Show people that government isn’t the only source that they can fall back on.  Look at it this way, the way people talk about others often shows how they themselves think.  I call it the “I am the world” fallacy, and I’m guilty of it myself sometimes, we all are.  We tend to make assumptions about the way people act based on our own habits and thoughts.  Conservatives naturally tend to think that the government isn’t needed because we ourselves are more generous and just assume everybody does the right thing.  Liberals assume others are avaricious, cruel, irrationally selfish, and miserly not because they’re saints and know everyone else is stingy, but because they themselves are not compassionate at their heart—they fear they will have no one to fall back on because in their heart of heart they know they won’t help other either.  (Liberals give to charity less than conservatives and they volunteer a hell of a lot less than conservatives, see Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks).

But if we get people who might not usually attend church to come to charity events we can show them that people do care for people and that we don’t need government to care for us…and maybe we can even show them there is personal joy in compassion and charity.  Trust me, a person who does charity out of the joy it brings them never votes liberal, liberals give out of guilt not joy.

So get your church (or any other group that has the resources) involved in the community (if you’re not doing at least 3 events a month, it’s not enough), invite people to come just for the charity aspect, and watch their belief that the government is the only one looking out for them disappear (also with more human contact and larger social circles we might fix that single problem listed above).

Also this process will help destroy that one thing that Obama did well in “He cares about people like me.”

2012 exit polls key points

Charity and a strong community teach us that we are capable of caring for people who aren’t like ourselves.

But that can’t be all we have to do.  Liberals have done a great job with controlling the media.  News, movies, TV shows, you name it there are liberal messages.  But we cannot give in on this.

So there are a few things we can do.  The first is that we can try to pull their funding.  Here at the Conservative New Ager we’re going after that Goebbels style propaganda wing MSNBC.  We encourage people to write to their advertisers and pull their ads.  It works.  If a company just gets a hundred letters asking them to make sure the shows they are advertising on are only reporting the truth, they will either pull the ads or they will use the power their money buys them to get results.  We have already heard from P&G and UPS.

The next thing is that we need to expose people to the truth.  I would recommend everyone use all the social media they have to expose their friends to the truth.  Now you don’t have to repost a thousand articles every day, but don’t be afraid to share something for fear of losing a friend.  For everyone you lose you’ll likely help push a two or three that much closer to the truth.  (And if you’re like me you don’t have many liberal friends left anyway, it’s the middle we’re trying to win, not the ones beyond hope).

Also if you get a real newspaper (there aren’t many left: The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times…if it uses AP articles don’t bother) take it to work and leave it in the break room every day.  It can only help expose people to the truth.

But on that note we need to share the media that is conservative we need to focus on the stuff that isn’t the news and isn’t explicitly political.  Liberals have tried to infect every book, every movie, every show with liberal messages and just habituate people into thinking in liberal terms.  The problem is that most good literature is more conservative in its themes.  Self sufficiency, rational thought, ethical behavior, connection to God.  These subtle themes are in literature everywhere, even when it’s written by artists who are liberal themselves.  George Orwell was a socialist, but 1984 and Animal Farm are scathing critiques of the very state Orwell would likely have supported.   Given time, the truth will out, as a conservative writer once put it. What conservatives make the mistake of doing is trying to give people Atlas Shrugged and Ann Coulter and Thomas Sowell.  It doesn’t matter that we enjoy those, those books only preach to the choir.  If someone isn’t open to those ideas, if they’ve been indoctrinated to think conservatives are evil, Rand was psychotic, Coulter is vicious and Sowell is an Uncle Tom, it doesn’t matter if the facts are there, their emotional reaction to those works will prevent them from seeing the facts.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t share books and TV shows with friends, family, acquaintances. I’m sure we know lots of people who are not conservative but if they were introduced to those ideas the logic and reason of it would come out.  That is why I am putting together a list of books, movies and TV shows that depict the conservative themes and that we agree with, without being explicitly conservative.   The Individual, reason, ethical behavior, long term thinking, the truth.  These are things that bring people close to conservatism.  I would take a look at this list (and keep coming back as I hope to keep adding to it).  Lend these works out to people who you think might be open to them.  Give them as gifts for any holiday and any excuse you can.  And then discuss them with the person after they’ve read or watched it (never give out something you’re not familiar with already!  You don’t want to get caught where they make some silly liberal interpretation and don’t have a comeback for it).  It seems silly but ideas have power, and once they’re in a person’s mind they spread not just to affecting the other ideas of that mind but in the way they behave to others and the way they influence the ideas of others.  And if they get more conservative in their thoughts introduce them to the more explicitly conservative works…but don’t start with those, they’ll just shut people down.

Finally it’s the old stand-bys.  Write a blog or letters to editors.  Donate to organizations that promote your beliefs (right now I would focus on Heritage and Freedomwork because they do not seem overly obsessed with the social issues which are dragging this party down and giving the left too many easy targets), volunteer for campaigns, get involved.  We have four years where we can do next to nothing to save the economy or well being of our allies across the sea.  Nothing.  We have this idiot tyrant in charge and he will wreck the place as much as he can through a combination of stupidity and malice.  Focusing too much on that will be somewhat fruitless for us as individuals—but as individuals we do have the power to influence those around us and help bring them to our side.

*Also Obama did exceedingly well with people who aren’t not affiliated with any religion but are spiritual  you know, the kind of people the Republicans and Reincarnation was written specifically for.  If you know some of these people, could it hurt to give them a copy?

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Movies that show the rich as good #6 Pretty Woman

Vivian: Tell me one person who it’s worked out for.
Kit: What, you want me to name someone? You want like a name? Oh, God, the pressure of a name… I got it. Cinda-fuckin’-rella

We’re going to deviate from the star of the film and focus on the rich people in this film for just a minute (after all that’s what this series of blog is about).

This movie is a little odd in that it actually shows two rich people (arguably three if you count Morse’s grandson, but he doesn’t really play that much of a part aside from being likable) who are decent human beings.

Let’s deal with the minor characters first. James Morse, played by lifetime character actor Ralph Bellamy, is the owner of the shipyard which brings our main rich character, Edward Lewis, to L.A. His shipyard which he has clearly built from scratch through his own genius, effort, blood and sweat, is on the financial ropes (the movie was made shortly after the crash of the late ‘80’s when a lot of industries were on the chopping block for creative destruction…which is actually one of the fundamental principles of a functioning capitalist system.) However, Morse’s company is not so flawed that it is as easy a kill as it first looked. And this is where we see the character of Morse. He is not the kind of man who whines about it being unfair—his first reaction to Lewis’ statement that he intends to dismantle his company is “I’ll buy your stock back.” He deals with Lewis fairly and offers to make him a fair deal that says ‘I’m sorry that you didn’t feel your investment in my company has not paid off. I believe in my company, I won’t bother you with emotional outbursts, I’ll deal with you as an adult and offer you a fair exchange.” His next inclination is to fight for his company and put his own money where his mouth is, like any man of character would. And finally when he sees that he facing insurmountable odds he seeks to cut a deal that will leave those who have been loyal to him in a safe position.

“Mr. Lewis and I are going to build ships together, great big ships.”

Seldom do you see Hollywood portray any of these traits. Often they are depicted as whining, willing to use other’s money and in the end really only caring for themselves. (And sometimes that first trait is viewed as a virtue).

Now onto the movie’s other rich guy, Edward Lewis.* Our first impression of Lewis is that he has problems with his personal relationships, but given the brief but very happy reunion with an ex-girlfriend, who seems to remember him fondly, it is clear that while not a master of personal relationships, he is a very well liked human being. Further at all points when he is honest and blunt with people (except when bluffing about stopping Morse’s defense contracts, but as in all games bluffing is expected).

Now some would claim that being the kind of businessman who engages in hostile takeovers to break up the pieces and sell them off is heartless and evil…of course this ignores the basic fact that by doing so, by engaging in what economists call creative destruction—weak companies die or are taken over before death, their products sold cheap their workers tend to find jobs in the same industries which have been revitalized with new supplies and workers. (Or you can go with the despair of “too big to fail”…yeah tell me how that brings prosperity). But even this claim is far fetched with Edward Lewis. The contrast comes in with two statements he makes, the first is in reference to Morse saying he would destroy Lewis, “I look forward to it sir.” And the second is in critiquing of his slimy lawyer (do lawyers come in any other form?) when, after giving him the beating he so richly deserves, he points out “It’s the kill you love” as an insult of Stucky’s character. Lewis’ character is shown by these two points (as well of a lot of smaller moves) that what he loves is not the destruction of another’s business, as those who obsessively hate the rich might suggest, but rather the challenge his job presents. Like most people who are very good at what they do, Lewis is constantly seeking a challenge, something to push himself even further. And it just so happens that he finds an even greater challenge worthy of his skill in rebuilding a business rather than simply taking it over, which is why he cuts a deal with Morse at the end of the film to help revitalize the business.

But, I will admit it is clearly Vivian Ward who helps him get out of the rut of just taking over characters. Lewis was not able to do it completely on his own. He was getting lost in his habits, and overly influenced by his sleazy lawyer, and it was Robert’s character that broke him out of his trance. But this does bring up a tangential point I would like to bring up. Several people I know hate this film because they think it’s derogatory to women because Ward states “I want the fairy tale.” As if that somehow is sexist and degrading to women. They apparently missed both the nature of the movie where Lewis needs Ward to survive and be happy and be not just a good person, but a great one. The character of Vivian Ward needed 3 grand, a week’s worth of nice clothes (yeah they show her trying on a lot, but she leaves with only a couple of garment bags that she can carry by herself…granted the Rodeo Drive stores probably knock the price tag up to $20,000-$30,000, but really she walked out with a week’s worth of clothes and that’s it). So it took at most $33,000* for her to get her life together, it is clear that while she might not have been as happy, she would have been just fine and done quite well for herself on her own. Edward Lewis needed her. She didn’t need him; it was just an added perk. Everyone forgets, that’s how her fairy tale (and I think the one all sane people have) goes:

“What happens after he climbs the tower and rescues her?”
“She rescues him right back.”

*I’m really going to ignore the ethics of picking up a prostitute. Sexual mores are extremely personal and seldom based on unbiased reasoning (and that goes for people on all sides of these arguments). In the end everything that occurs is between consenting adults and we’re going to leave it at that.
*And before you try to make that out to be a huge sum, keep in mind the clothes have limited value beyond opening more doors than her previous attire. I could give lots of people I’ve known 33 grand in cash and they wouldn’t be able to significantly improve their life. The character of Vivian Ward is the kind who can use whatever she has to make the most of her life, which is why she was never overly impressed or awed by Lewis’ money.

Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.

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Movies that show rich as good #9 Castle

There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking about how to kill people: psychopaths and mystery writers. I’m the kind that pays better.

Before anyone thinks that this is only going to be a list of movies made before 1970 where everyone in almost every film is wealthy and sporting more liquor than I would possibly know what to do with (don’t believe me, watch a Thin Man movie, fish drink less). But have no fear, this is not just a list of classics…

Take our number #9 pick: Castle and its eponymous character Richard Castle. Is Castle rich? Oh yeah, this bestselling author can buy a bar just because he feels like it or put out 100K just to help get a killer. The man certainly qualifies as rich enough to quit working and still have enough to live comfortably. (Which is arguably what he’s done since he’s now only averaging a book a year).

Richard Castle: Oh, I’ve been kicked out of all of New York’s finer educational institutions at least once. The irony is, now that I’m rich and famous, they all claim me as alum and want money.
Kate Beckett: It is just so rough being you.
Richard Castle: My cross to bear.

And what makes him so great?

Well there is one thing, his clear sense of justice…not just in catching the bad guys but in the sense of that this is a man who digs through old case files to see that the true love of a man who breaks his girlfriend out of jail for a crime

And let us not forget that Kate comes from money as well…not Castle money, but certainly from that line between upper middle class and lower upper class…and she is also shown as a hero without equal.

they didn’t commit ends with them being released not both thrown into prison. This is a man who puts his life on the line for friends and never does anything he even remotely considers wrong. (Immature to the nth degree yes, wrong no, and when he has screwed up he is remarkably willing to apologize).

Further, Castle while obscenely generous at times, he also understands the real purpose of money: to use it in furthering happiness. Yes Castle seems like he is irresponsible and devil-may-care…but that’s not because he can’t be mature (he has too many moving scenes with Alexis, Martha and Beckett for it to be that) it’s just that he has earned his second childhood through the hard work of writing over two dozen best sellers. He earned it and he’s going to enjoy it, and that’s more or less exactly what money is for.

Like most good people with or without money, Castle is a good child even to a mother of sometimes questionable skills (while we all love Martha at this point in her life, we all have to admit she was a terrible parent from some of the stories she and Castle tell). But like a good son Castle loves his mother, and for all of his annoyance is always there for her with a shoulder to cry on or a rent free apartment if she needs it.

And of course, forget Beckett and Martha, forget his generosity and devil-may-care attitude, the single most important thing is that Castle is admirable and that he is perhaps the single greatest father in the history of television. The character has raised a mature, self-reflective, high-achieving, self-sufficient daughter who is also well adjusted socially. And it’s just not writers shoehorning these characters in, the writing of the character of Castle is at all times supporting, caring, loving, and encouraging of his daughter and acts in exactly the way you would need to raise and encourage such a young woman. For whatever flaws of ego or clownishness the character comes with, his parenting skills and infinite love for his daughter more than wipe them out.

That is not to say money is a necessity of good parenting (although I think you’re rather selfish to bring a child into the world if you don’t have the money to support it) but the writers of Castle have gone out of their way to show a character who has more virtues than vices (and rather superficial ones as they disappear the second they are inappropriate), and they have made this character very rich without a moment of or scintilla of remorse over his well earned riches.

Like father like daughter?

Honorable Mention

Simon Tam from Firefly.  Yeah, Simon was uncomfortable and out of place.  But he gave us his whole extensive fortune for the love of his sister.  Have to appreciate that.

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Filed under Art, Capitalism, character, Charity, Evils of Liberalism, Individualism, Movies, Movies for Conservatives, politics, virtue

Greatest Patriotic Films of All Time #2: John Adams

Join, or Die

Unite or Die

Appeal to Heaven

Liberty or Death

Don’t Tread on Me

These are the phrases that one sees during the credits for HBO’s John Adams (one wonders what happened to a network that could bring us great TV like Rome and John Adams that it has fallen to The Newsroom and Bill Maher so quickly).  But I think part of this film’s greatness comes from its director, Tom Hooper.  Hooper would later give us the great work of British patriotism, The King’s Speech, and is currently filming Les Miserables which speaks to French patriotism…let’s hope Hooper stops his world tour as films that speak to German patriotism tend to end badly for Poland.

Now there are numerous things in this seven part series to be proud of.  The least of which is an obnoxious, suspected and unpopular man with his outspoken wife doing anything and everything in their power and sacrificing everything they have to constantly do what they know ethics and morals dictate not just for their own lives but for the fate of their nation.  A liberal acquaintance of mine once tried to tell me that the deep love of the Adams was a Hollywood invention, that no man from that era would have held as his chief confidant a woman…clearly this ignorant wretch never had read the letters that John and Abigail wrote often to each other (In reality the show should have been named John and Abigail Adams as few men in history have so relied upon their wives as equals, partners, and true loves as much as John Adams did…which maybe why for all his fault he is possibly the most enviable of the Founding Fathers.).  And these letters are quoted heavily in the movie:

“My Dearest Friend,

Whether I stand high or low in the estimation of the world, my conscience is clear. I thank God I have you for a partner in all the joys and sorrows, all the prosperity and adversity of my life. To take a part with me in the struggle.” –John Adams to Abigail Adams

“Should I draw you the picture of my heart, you would know with what indescribable pleasure I have seen so many scores of years roll over our heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time. Nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the image of the dear, untitled man to whom I gave my heart. You could not be, nor did I wish to see you, an inactive spectator.” –Abigail Adams to John Adams

In their letters she was his “best friend” and his “Portia” to her, he as her “Lysander” (see Shakespeare if you don’t get the references).  I hate to be really mean to other nations, but tell me which heads of state of any other power have had not just a position that was enviable, but a personal life that is almost the definition of what we want in our significant other.  And I may be reaching here, but for all of our problems in society, past and present, at least to me America seems to breed more of these true loves than other nation.

While probably not the greatest of presidents, (you’ll never be remembered for keeping America out of a war it couldn’t afford to fight at the time, only for the wars you get the nation into) there is the fact that it’s nice to think that as lacking humility Adams may have been, when he was in an office it was the good of the nation, not himself that took first priority (even if his abrasive nature may have made many an enemy).

Or that here is a man dedicated to liberty above all other things.

“We have a right to [our liberties] derived form our maker.”


But, of course it is the second episode, “Independence” that stirs the strings of patriotism the most for me.  And for obvious reasons—it is this episode where the Declaration of Independence is created and adopted.  I know I am very odd, but I cannot read or hear the Declaration of Independence with crying.  It is a singular achievement of man and the divine working in harmony…or as the character of Adams puts it:

“This is something all together unexpected, not only a Declaration of our Independence, but of the right of all men.”

And this is what America is supposed to be, not just a nation out for ourselves, but a beacon, a promise, and a hope that one day liberty will reign not just in America but the world over and that tyranny will only be found in history books.

But what also makes this section so stirring is the arguments during the Continental Congress for Independence against John Dickenson and his cowardly and treasonous ilk (at one point in the episode it becomes clear that Abigail would just as well shoot the man for opposing independence if she were to go down to Philadelphia…it’s sad no one in real life had her conviction and wisdom).

“I see hope.  I see a new nation ready to take its place in the world—not an empire, but a Republic.  And a Republic of

Adams, Jefferson and Franklin…the creators of the Declaration.

laws, not men.  Gentlemen, we are in the vey midst of revolution—the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.  How few of the human race have ever had the opportunity of choosing a system of government for themselves and their children.  I am not without apprehensions, gentlemen, but the end we have in sight is worth more than all the means.  I believe, sirs, that the hour is come, my judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it.  All that I have, all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready to stake upon it.  While I live let me have a country.  A free country. ”

This film makes clear Adams’ vision that America and its promise of liberty is worth the fight. Of course what also strikes me is his statement:

“There are persons in Philadelphia, to whom a ship is dearer than a city, and a few barrels of flour dearer than a thousand lives.  Other men’s lives.”

It’s good to know that my current intellectual (I use that word loosely in reference to my opponents) battles with the un-American tripe that is isolationists, cowards, and Paulbots, that their kind isn’t just a recent phenomenon but rather a sickness that has been around for years. And it’s good to know they’re losing power—before they almost destroyed America before it began, and delayed our entry into WWII to save people from genocide…now they’re just an annoying fringe.  Maybe within a generation their evil will be as dead as John Dickenson would been if he had been justly shot.

But it is also one of the last scenes that stirs my patriotism.  Adams’ last words.  His last words in the series and in real life really were:

“Thomas Jefferson survives!” (even though Jefferson had died 2 hours earlier. Both died on July the 4th, 1726, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.  Skeptics would call it coincidence, patriots a higher message in that.)

I’ve always liked to think that Adams, at the threshold of this world and the next, actually knew that the man was dead…but his vision “that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these the right to life, liberty, ad the pursuit of Happiness” not only survived in that moment but for all moments to come (but then again I am a hopeless patriot and man of faith).

My dearest friend whether I stand high or low in the estimation of the world, my conscience is clear.  I thank God I have you for a partner in all the joys and sorrows, all the prosperity and adversity

Should I draw you the picture of my heart scores of years

“Oh, posterity. You will never know how much it cost us to preserve your freedom. I hope that you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.” –John Adams

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The Greatest Patriotic Films Ever # 3 Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

 

“What do you know about laws or making laws or what people need?”

“I don’t pretend to know.”

“Then what are you doing in the Senate?”

 

Frank Capra has this rather naïve view of humanity.  He sees all life as nothing but a battle of extreme good and extreme evil; a war between the Baileys and Potters; where the rich are seldom if ever wise, where the poor are noble by virtue of being poor.  Any single story has flaws that are forgivable (except maybe for when he added the speech of extreme pacifism into Lost Horizon which never existed in the book, good call Frank, add a call for appeasement and peace at all costs in a 1937 film…let me know how that works out in the real world), but taken together they have revealed a view of the world that is a little off kilter.  But as I said if you just take Capra’s films each on their own merit, and ignore the collective body of his work, they are good films.  And Mr. Smith is no exception.

 

The forgivable flaws?  That our supposed hero, Jefferson Smith, has to be the most seemingly ignorant Senator in the history of the body (I say seemingly, because, as we sadly know that most Senators make Smith, for all his ignorance, look like a Rhodes Scholar).  Still the scene where his aide, the real hero of the film Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), has to explain how a bill becomes law is just so sad.  I fully realize that I currently live in a nation where the majority leader in the Senate, the minority leader in the House, the President, and the Chief Justice put together don’t know jack about the Constitution or how a bill becomes law…but I have a hard time finding heroism in staggering ignorance.  Especially for a man who claims to be a patriot.  If you say you’re a patriot and don’t know how a bill becomes a law, well SHAME ON YOU—ENDLESS HEAPS OF SHAME!  Now they claim Jefferson Smith knows the history of our nation and can quote it quite fluently (although they never show it) if you’re going to be a patriot you need to know something about your country, and I think how a bill becomes law is kind of simple (considering, that with the exception of knowing about committees, it’s kind of part of knowing the Constitution).

 

But enough about the flaws…because the strengths do overpower them.

 You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty’s too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.

First there is the point in this film that for all the corruption and flaws, this is a nation of laws.  All the money and the corruption in the world can last for only so long against the law when it is enforced. Granted the Senate rules on filibuster may not be our most revered law, but the point is still clear.  Even corruption is no match for the law when it is applied (that caveat being the important part).  And this is why I think Saunders is the real hero of the film.  She is the one who knows the law, and the one who teaches it to Smith.  And it is in knowing the law that gives Smith the power to confront the corrupt in the Senate.  And it is this moral that I think makes this movie the most patriotic that we have had yet: learn the laws of your nation, with them they give you the power to enforce liberty and justice, without them you are the victim of those who do know them.

 

And of course there is the subtle point here that ANYONE can challenge their government.  Smith may have been lucky enough to get to the floor of the Senate, but any and all can peaceably assemble to “petition the government for redress of grievances.”  (More so now in the day of mass communication and the internet).

And then there is a point about this movie that I find ironic, and I find it ironic because it is the reason so many liberals say they love the film.  The film’s villain is a media mogul who uses his clout to control everything the public sees and hears and thus controls their opinion, and who then uses that power for his own avaricious ends.  Capra seems hell bent on condemning the media.  First for their desire to report on trivial nonsense only for entertainment, as when they tricked Smith into looking like a fool on his first day in Washington.  And second for this monopolistic control of information.  Liberals I know who like this film are very adamant at how evil this second point is….and then in the same breath will critique the existence of FOXNews, the Drudge Report, and Rush Limbaugh.  How dare the media report anything but the left wing talking points! Just a slight irony there.  However, I think it is also this point that will soon date this movie a little out of relevance.  In an age where three major networks, three major cable networks, online journals, blogs, twitter, facebook, youtube, and Wikileaks…in an age where anyone from any strata of society can post a blog that can go viral, where anyone can donate to a SuperPAC that can get the message they believe in out, in a day and age like this is simply impossible to control the message.  Your only option now is to make the more appealing message…and I may be more naïve than Capra, but I feel “the truth will out”, as it did in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

 

 

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The Greatest Patriotic Films Ever: #4 The Postman

“You have a gift, Postman. I saw it back in Pineview. You’ve given us all back what we’d forgotten. You made Mrs. March feel like she could see again. You made Ford feel like he was part of the world. You give out Hope like it was candy in your pocket.”

I know what you’re thinking, The Postman? Really? And I know why you’re feeling that way. It was the first movie Costner did after Waterworld and just about the time you might have forgiven he came out with Message in a Bottle so the hell if you were going to go back and give anything else a shot. I understand completely. And that was the feeling I had when I first watched it but I had nothing better to do and was with family so I couldn’t very well just tell my family to go to hell I wasn’t about to watch what I was sure would be a piece of crap.

And then I watched it and found out it wasn’t crap. It was quite good in fact.

And then you ask, ‘if it’s so good why hasn’t it garnered any acclaim since it first came out?” And the answer is: because it is so patriotic, and you know how the intelligentsia loathes that.

So, while I would recommend you see the movie before I reveal the plot, for any valid discussion I have to go over the plot a little.

The movie follows The Postman, played by Kevin Costner. Yes the character is never actually given a name. This is intentional. A drifter in a post-apocalyptic future (actually its 2013…damn Obamacare is going to ruin everything faster than I thought…I’m sure it sounded semi-reasonable in in1997). The first part of the film introduces us to this world where an army of thuggish marauders, called the Holnists, terrorize and control much of the Pacific Northwest. The Postman is at first captured and impressed into their fascist army, but escapes…and in his escape he finds a crashed US Post Office truck, fully loaded with a bag of mail and the skeleton of a dead postal official (still wearing his uniform). He takes the uniform and mail bag and concocts a story that the US government has been restored back East and he is a federal employee of the Restored United States, hoping this story will get him something to eat from every town he passes. What he doesn’t realize is what news of a Restored United States does to a population that has had all hope ripped away from them. Within only months he soon has his own army of mostly young men and women following him, carrying the mail all over Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Hope returns, people start fighting back…and with his band of very disgruntled postal workers they defeat the Holnist army and turn The Postman’s lie of a restored government into a reality.

So what makes this post-apocalyptic film, a film that shows the United States reduced to rubble, that states the White House had been burned to the ground, a patriotic film?

First it clearly points out what America isn’t. About halfway through the leader of the Holnist army, the psychotic and utterly taken with himself General Bethlehem, gives a speech on what he thinks made America great:

“We had a great nation once. You know what made it great? I can. Till the weak came along, the ‘I Can’ts” destroyed us. But I’m going to make us strong again. I’m going to be the father of a new nation. And do you know why it will be me? Because I can.”

The point here is to show exactly why this wasn’t what made America great. Any bully or tyrant can say “Yes, I can” any mindless mob can say “Yes, we can” but might doesn’t make right. America is great not because of brute strength but because we stand for ideals instead of might, we stand for ethics instead of the club, because the American ideal is “I should” not “I can.” America is great because we look at the greatest obstacles and say “I will” and look to the future instead of the mere tyrant who says “I can” as their only justification. Only tyrants and bullies speak of “I can”…the moral is the best in America speak of “I should.” And this is shown in the film, The Postman is offered a lot of things he “can” do, but it is the fact that in the end he chooses what he “should” do that makes him the emblem of America that he is meant to be.

The next is the very nature of democracy is shown in this film. Power coming from the people is the natural state of governments and it is antithetical to tyranny. After capturing a postal carrier and reading through the mail, Bethlehem’s men dismisses it as “Births and deaths, the weather, gossip. There’s nothing here.” Bethlehem recognizes the threat of people banding together to agasinst his little feudal rule. “Nothing? Everything is here. Am, I the only one who sees that?” People banding together is the greatest threat to tyranny. Always has been, always will be (the next most dangerous is an armed populace). (Granted people banded together can just as easily fall from one tyranny to another, see the Russian Revolution or the Arab Spring, but it always spells a short reign for the current dictator). This is why tyrannies spend so much time and money to control all forms of information, when people begin to associate and talk without government control, not much can stand in the way of the storm that is to come from their banding together. George III found this out, and this is why one of the first things the Continental Congress did after declaring independence is establish a postal system. Communication is essential for liberty and it is antithetical to slavery.

This movie is also patriotic in what it shows the United States, just as a concept is. It is a beacon of hope. Just the words “Restored United States” encourages people to stand up and resist their oppressors, it makes them believe in the future which they had stopped doing. Some of the more cynical are even afraid of what this hope means,

“These people don’t need dreams, Mr. Postman. They need something real. They need help with the goddamn Holnists. Are you going to bring them that?”

But the film does a great job at showing that it is this hope and this ability to believe that the future is worth fighting for is exactly what will give them the help they need. And the movie itself culminates in a personal battle between Bethlehem and the Postman and in a moment of attempting to gloat over his impending victory Bethlehem taunts the Postman with:

General Bethlehem: I know your problem. Do you know why you won’t fight? Because you have nothing to fight for! You don’t care about anything! You don’t value anything! You don’t believe in anything! That’s what makes me better!
The Postman: I believe in the United States.

The Postman immediately proceeds to beat Bethlehem to a bloody pulp. It helps when you believe in something real and something worth fighting for.

And one of the more overlooked parts of the film is a final reason why it shows film to be exceedingly patriotic.

The film ends with a speech given in 2043 by The Postman’s daughter at the commemoration of a statue to him.

“My father saw how fragile we are, how quickly we fell into the hands of tyranny. He saw that ordinary men could reach deep within themselves and find courage. He saw that if we began to communicate as a nation we could become strong again, united, but he never did see St. Rose. He said there was too much to be done. He’d made a promise. And in keeping it he traded one dream for another. With no regrets.”

And it is not only a speech that shows what America is capable of. The scene is not a post-apocalyptic wasteland just recovering. It is a healthy civilization. Prefabricated boats in a marina, factory made clothes on all the people gathered, cameras, electricity, mass media, a society that can spare the time and money to commission a giant bronze statue. It shows an America that can rise from its own ashes in a mere 30 years and recover all of it past glory in only a generation. And this is an accurate depiction of America. Time and time again we have endured depressions, natural disasters, the hell of war, and whatever else the world can throw at us. And each time we come back, stronger, more resilient, and wiser. Name for me a nation that can not only do that once, but time and time again, other than America.

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The Most Patriotic Movies Ever #5 Independence Day

“Welcome to Earth!”


It starts with a picture of one of this nation’s greatest achievements, our reaching the moon (you know I hear China now plans to do that…primarily with technology they’ve stolen from us).  And it just keeps getting better from there.  Yes, it’s not the deepest of films ever made, nor is every scene dripping with patriotism…but we all have to admit it’s a fun film…and that speech.  And I’ll get to the speech but let me cover some of the other things first.

One of my favorite, and often missed scenes is after they’ve come up with the plan to take down the alien force fields* and begin relaying the message to military divisions the world over.  The first group we see get it, which seems to be made up various powers in the Middle East, and for some reason the British, comment:

“It’s from the Americans.  They want to organize a counteroffensive.”

“About bloody time.”

Yep.  Everybody waits for us to do something.  And while that may seem like just an arrogant boast, look at the facts.  In the last 50 years, how often does anyone go into to stop any measure of tyranny or genocide if the U.S. isn’t involved.  The closest we’ve seen is when Tony Blair has to drag us into Bosnia…but then again, Blair always was a bit of an American at heart.  For better or worse, we are the nation that leads and others follow.  And that’ s not arrogance.  I would love it if other nations take it on themselves to realize that tyranny anywhere is an affront to liberty everywhere and not have to wait for others (and Eastern Europe does seem to be on that path, give them another decade to build up their economies and militaries and they may challenge the U.S. as bane-of-tyrants-in-chief…but not today).

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.”

Another distinctly American belief.  We prefer diplomacy and treating everyone as equals in reason, it’s part of our capitalist nature.  We prefer to deal through reason, logic, discussion, and trade for mutual benefit. This is why for the first few years in the early years of the Republic it was the Secretary of State which was the jumping point for the presidency…because the President was supposed to be chief diplomat, which the State Department gave you the most experience.  We prefer peace by nature.  But when  confronted with evil, most, but not all Americans, understand there is only one way to deal with the violent and unreasonable…and it isn’t isolationism or appeasement…Americans, more consistently than any other nation understand that the way to deal with evil is to take it out, and we have few reservations about it (the President’s only reservation is the nuclear fallout, not the annihilation of a whole species of evil).

And of course there is the speech

“Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!’”

It may seem to have nothing to do with America, but in reality it is the heart of America.  We were founded on the belief that “all men are created equal” and that this self-evident truth knows no boundary of nation, race, religion, or creed.  That all are endowed with the inalienable right of “life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” not that they magically stop at the border as modern libertarians seem to be arguing.  And notice the central line “Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation.” First we were fighting for the freedom from annihilation with the largest empire on Earth bearing down on us in 1776, had we lost, American patriots would have been killed to a man.  But notice the idea, that has been behind America since we first called on “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” and then proceeded to time and time again succeed when we should have failed, fate has always seemingly been on our side.  And if fate was behind an event like that seen in this movie, as the speech suggests, it would be to further put the ideals of this nation front and center.

And what could be more American than the last words:

‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!’”

We are a nation that no matter how many times we’re knocked down, just keeps coming back.

*On a side note I love how everyone complains about how easy it was to hack the alien computers, ignoring that arrogance leads to less security and most computer programs would be fairly simple if you were so arrogant you didn’t put any security measures in…but nowhere have I ever seen those who loves to nit pick films has ever commented on the near scientific impossibility of energy shields.  Of course no one ever complains about how badly Jeff Goldblum’s understanding of his pet cause of environmentalism is—he gets really upset about the idea of using nuclear weapons against the 36 alien ships…because it will cause nuclear winter…wow 36 nuclear weapons…a little over 1% of all the nuclear bombs ever detonated…yeah I’m sure that will cause nuclear winter….where the some odd 2,000 bombs before it didn’t.

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The Most Patriotic Movies Ever #6 The Movies of John Wayne

It was just too hard to pick.  Just about every film this man did was inundated with love of country.  So I will say that if John Wayne is starring in a film you will, to one degree or another, see patriotism on display.  Patriotism was on display so much so in Wayne’s films and actions that, apparently, Stalin ordered assassins to take him out (Soviet competency, as usual, reigned supreme and the plan failed).

But since I should focus on a couple of examples of his patriotic movies let me focus on what is probably his best war film, The Sands of Iwo Jima, and his best western, Rio Bravo.

 

The Sands of Iwo Jima.

 

 

“Dear son, I guess none of my letters have reached you.  I thought I’d try again as I’m feeling that this may be the last time I can write you.  For a long time I’ve wanted to tell you many things.  Now that you’re a big boy, I will.  If we’d been together even for a while, I could’ve explained many things much better than writing them.  You’ve gotta take care of your mother, and love her and make her happy.  Never hurt her or anyone as I did.  Always do what your heart tells you is right.  Maybe someone will write you someday and tell you about me.  I want you to be like me in some things, but not like me in others.  When you grow older and get to know more about me, you’ll see I’ve failed…in many ways.   This isn’t what I wanted but things just turned out that way.  If there was only more time I…”


This film shows something that has been lost in modern Hollywood.  Predominantly in modern Hollywood, either you have films aimed at liberals that show the armed services to be little more than ignorant butchers out for the thrill of battle or films aimed at conservatives that show the armed services to be populated by larger than life heroes that appear more recruiting poster cutout than human (there are exceptions, but I think it’s fair to say that they are exceptions, not the rule).  In Sands of Iwo Jima John Wayne and the rest of the cast portray some very human Marines.  Flaws and human imperfection to the last man, but it also shows that for all their flaws they are motivated by their codes of honor and morals, by their belief and the best within them, and it is their actions that make them heroes, not just because they wear a uniform and we’re supposed to have a knee jerk reaction to that.  It’s a much more realistic depiction of why the members of our armed services are worthy of our devotion than what I typically get nowadays.

Rio Bravo

A response to the whining liberal High Noon which Wayne considered un-American, Rio Bravo is probably one of the best westerns of all time.  Unlike High Noon which has a sheriff spending half the film groveling for allies (reminds you of liberals always not wanting to make unilateral decisions), Wayne’s Sherriff John T. Chance actively turns down allies because he understand what his job is and refuses to let innocent bystanders get killed.  Nor does he ever consider running away or not doing what his job and justice demand of him.

And to top it all off you’ve got songs from Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson.

Even the song is uniquely American.  My three good companions “my rifle, my pony, and me”—the American habits of Westward movement, individualism, and willingness to defend yourself and what you believe in.  There is also a strong strain of the American Dream in the song.

A distinctly American attitude.

As with all of the films starring Wayne, you have a hero who embodies character, intelligence and strength of will.  Please tell me which other nation fits that bill for what it values?

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