Monday, June 27, 2011

TEACHING WITH WORLDVIEWS

"We need a hero, couragous sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero, people line up for 'em, cheer for them, scream their names, and years later tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who told them to HOLD ON a second longer. I believe theres a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble. And finally gets us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want most, even our dreams. "
-May Parker, Spider-Man 2

On Friday I wrote a bit about worldviews, popular culture, and why it is that despite having such fine thinkers and think tanks, conservatism has such little impact on government and culture. Eric wrote in the comments that he's seen some efforts to bring conservatism to popular entertainment and its been awful, which is often true. Even when it isn't lousy, its often just sub par, boring, or poorly done.

Movies like An American Carol push conservative ideology (and engage in a bit of wish fulfillment with a Michael Moore character being humiliated and instructed in the truth) but were just not very good. The problem is that they were ideologically conservative rather than conservative in worldview.

Here's what I mean. A few years back, The Telegraph put out a list of what they thought were the top 10 conservative movies of the last decade and a few years before that, National Review put out their list of top 25 conservative films. These lists were not movies that were overtly conservative, but rather movies that presumed certain conservative ideas to be true in their story and dialogue.

Instead of teaching or lecturing conservatism (or Libertarianism, ala Ayn Rand), these movies just tell a story, and tell it well. They simply are well made films that just happen to believe and presume certain basic things instead of others that the left do.

Consider some of the choices, such as Groundhog Day. This movie has a message, but the message is a natural and reasonable result of the circumstances. A selfish, pompous jerk learns to care about others and appreciate small town life through a bizarre time loop in which he lives the same day over and over. Yes his girlfriend is a super leftist softy, but the overall themes are that neighbors, caring about others, doing right, and simple joys of life are superior to money, power, fame, and focusing on yourself.

You just don't really notice that message so much because the film is so entertaining, funny, and interesting to watch.

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World is a powerful, epic film with amazing acting, effects, design, settings and story. You're so pulled in by the tale of friendship and one man's apparently mad fixation on destroying an enemy that you don't notice that the friendship is a demonstration of giving up what you want to do what is right and an examination of duty above self interest. These are themes that everyone, everywhere need to be reminded of, but today's movies are almost always the opposite. Which brings me to another example...

I love the first two Sam Raimi Spider-man movies because of their incredibly powerful conservative message of self denial. Peter Parker wants to follow his own dream and marry the girl he loves, but he finds out through his experiences that doing what is right and showing responsibility trumps personal desires. Yet these movies handle these themes in such a way that they aren't preached, they are just presumed and demonstrated through a natural, reasonable sequence of events and reactions. Spider-man isn't a hero because he has spider powers, he's a hero that happens to have spider-powers.

These movies demonstrate principles that reject the norm in popular entertainment. Instead of glorying in the self and pleasure, instead of telling people to follow their dream and be themselves, they tell people that they are responsible to more than just their own id, and that they must do what is right, even when it costs you.

Movies like Blast From the Past do an excellent job of contrasting modern sensibilities with those of long ago, while movies such as Ghostbusters show the woes of government drones and the truth of life on campus versus life in the real world. The Dark Knight showed that doign right will often earn you animosity, and that people will pressure you to give up and give in but you must not.

A film that is simply preaching or about ideology ends up unlikable and pedantic rather than entertaining. You cannot change people by "preaching at them," (in the modern use of the term, not proper, real preaching), you can only change someone's worldview by forcing them to confront what they've not considered before and demonstrating a better way through example.

As I said last week:
Worldviews are philosophical in origin, but usually created by culture and stories, by emotion and experience than thought. Worldviews are the mental patterns by which we understand the world around us, but they are rarely examined and understood, we don't tend to think through why we hold the presuppositions and presumptions that we do.

So our worldviews tend to be more formed by what reaches us subconsciously and surrounds us more than what makes sense or how we've been taught unless we were raised specifically to shape our understanding of the world (in religions, for example). For most people, that's through entertainment and popular culture: music, television, movies, etc.
Entertainment can and must be used, along with all other methods and media, to reach people with a better way and with the truth. That means making films and songs and television shows and writing books and so on with a worldview that challenges what they presume in an entertaining, consistent way.

One more illustration, this time in reverse. The anti-war film A Bridge Too Far showed the horrors of war and how things can go terribly wrong. The final scenes of the movie are of a dutch household so overflowing with wounded young soldiers that they're lying out in the yard moaning and bleeding alone, helpless.

The final images you're left with are the waste and terrors of war, how it can be so very awful. Instead of glory, these men met agony, death, and mutilation. Instead of excitement and adventure, they found terror. They trusted their commanding officers, who let them down in such a ghastly way that in the end, Market Garden delivered over 15,000 allied casualties in one 9-day battle. That's more than three times as many as died in Iraq over six years.

A Bridge Too Far showed heroism and failure, struggles to do right, great acting, great storytelling, great sets, great effects, and an overall wonderful movie that people still enjoy today, almost 35 years later. The movie didn't set out to show war is evil, only to show how this battle worked out and you walked away realizing how horrible war could be.

Compare that with, say, Redacted, or Lions for Lambs, or In The Green Zone, or any number of leftist anti-Bush films cranked out from 2004-2008. These movies set out to show that President Bush was an awful person and that the Iraq war and rebuilding was not just a mistake but an evil conspiracy to enrich certain people at the expense of young lives.

They sucked, and made less than a million dollars between them all, despite costing tens of millions to make. They were not entertaining stories, they were tracts, they were the worst sort of sermon, pounding you with the message which nobody wanted to believe to begin with, and few walked away convinced or even leaning toward their intended conclusion.

The reason they didn't work is the same reason overtly conservative movies don't work and why 90% or more of "Contemporary Christian" music sucks. Because its about the message and being part of a specific ideological group rather than being a quality artistic effort that just happens to also have Christian themes or conservative themes or leftist themes.

There have been some really well made, really leftist movies out there. Platoon was a great movie with a hard left, anti-war, anti-conservative theme. Well made, well acted, well shot, well written, and hard leftist. It worked because the movie was from a leftist worldview with leftist presumptions telling a story rather than the other way around.

And that's what it will take to reach out to popular culture: well made efforts with a good worldview that happens to be in and behind them rather than didactic sermons meant to hammer people into shape.

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