December 08, 2004

Against PC Left and Right

Bridgett Johnson is a conservative screenwriter in Hollywood who isn’t happy with the Politically Correct orthodoxy that rules over the film industry. She wrote a guest column about it a few weeks ago for the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal where she makes the following point:

One would think that in the name of artistic freedom, the creative community would take a stand against filmmakers being sent into hiding à la Salman Rushdie, or left bleeding in the street. Yet we've heard nary a peep from Hollywood about the van Gogh slaying. Indeed Hollywood has long walked on eggshells regarding the topic of Islamic fundamentalism. The film version of Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears" changed Palestinian terrorists to neo-Nazis out of a desire to avoid offending Arabs or Muslims. The war on terror is a Tinsel Town taboo, even though a Hollywood Reporter poll showed that roughly two-thirds of filmgoers surveyed would pay to see a film on the topic.

In a recent conversation with a struggling liberal screenwriter, I brought up the Clancy film as an example of Hollywood shying away from what really affects filmgoers--namely, the al Qaeda threat vs. the neo-Nazi threat. He vehemently defended the script switch. "It's an easy target," he said of Arab terrorism, repeating this like a parrot, then adding, "It's a cheap shot." How many American moviegoers would think that scripting Arab terrorists as the enemy in a fiction film is a "cheap shot"? In fact, it's realism; it's what touches lives world-wide. It's this disconnect with filmgoers that has left the Hollywood box office bleeding by the side of the road.

I don’t know about the Hollywood box office “bleeding by the side of the road.” If there’s any evidence for it, she doesn’t cite any. And if she’s right I imagine (although I admit I’m only guessing) that political correctness has precious little to do with it.

She’s on solid ground, though, about movies themselves. Plenty of movies were made with Communist villains during the Cold War. I don’t recall any hand-wringing about how Hollywood hurt the self-esteem of the Russians.

If fictional Muslim terrorists offend certain people, the real ones on the news must give them a heart attack. But that’s not CNN’s fault.

Johnson hopes to see movies in Hollywood made by conservatives.
A liberal friend asked me what conservative filmmaking was, envisioning staid, G-rated pictures. The movement is better described as rebellion from the Hollywood status quo, the dream of being able to make a feature film whose political content won't be altered to make the Republicans evil, in which politically incorrect yet pertinent material won't end up on the cutting-room floor. It's about having faith in filmgoers that they'll eagerly support pictures to which they can relate.
Sounds great. But I’m not holding my breath. This article appeared yesterday at the BBC:
The director and screenwriter of the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is to remove references to God and the church in the movie.

Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy, said the changes were being made after film studio New Line expressed concern.

The books tell of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God.

"They have expressed worry about the possibility of perceived anti-religiosity," Weitz told a His Dark Materials fans' website.
How on Earth can you make a movie about a revolt against God without mentioning God? (Okay, Blade Runner told that story in an extremely roundabout way, but that’s, well, another story.) Replacing Palestinian terrorists with neo-Nazis was silly enough, but this is even more gutless.

Here is the author’s agent from the same article:

Of course New Line want to make money, but Mr Weitz is a wonderful director and Philip is very supportive…You have to recognise that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America.
This is not Bush’s America. This is everybody’s America.

Boo hoo, some movies offend people. And those very same movies are often box office smashes. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police is only the latest example. The very fact that Team America was as raucously anti-PC as it was hilarious was a major part of the draw.

If you’re afraid of the content of the script in your hands that’s a pretty good indication that you need to be making a different movie. Find someone who isn’t a coward and who won’t take a meat-axe to the plot and let them shoot it instead.

Political Correctness is juvenile and asinine. It irritates more people than the number whose precious feelings it saves. I applaud Bridgett Johnson’s stance against left-wing PC. But let’s not forget about the right-wing variety (which is really quite rich if you think about it) at the same time.

PS - Don't forget to vote often for me in the Wizbang blog awards. I'm losing my margin here because Patterico posts a "vote for me!" at the bottom of every single one of his posts. At this moment I'm only ahead of him by 0.1 percent, so you need to go here and make it all better for me. Thanks!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 8, 2004 08:49 PM

This is not Bush’s America. This is everybody’s America.

Hmm. From the Financial Times (sorry, subscriber-only wall), about A British filmmaker being asked to chnage the contents of his film in order to avoid insulting the religious sensibilities of a foreign TV audience:
.. according to Mr Radford, there was "a very curious request which said 'Could you please paint-box out the wallpaper?'. I said wallpaper, what wallpaper? This is the 16th century, people didn't have wall-paper."

When he examined the scenes, he realised the letter was referring to frescoes by Paolo Veronese, the acclaimed Venetian 16th-century artist, which, when examined closely, showed a naked cupid.

"A billion dollars worth of Veronese great master's frescoes they want paint-boxed out because of this cupid's willy. It is absolutely absurd," he said.
Iran? Saudi Arabia? Nope, the USA. Posted by: double-plus-ungood at December 8, 2004 09:07 PM

The reason for righwing pc in Hollywood is purely economic. Most people in the audience aren't going to pay money to be laughed at.

But Leftwing pc is purely ideological. Hollywood wouldn't lose a dime if they showed Arab terrorists.

Posted by: David at December 8, 2004 09:17 PM

I too hope to see some daring, even risky, movies by Hollywood. For too long they have grown comfortable in their assurances, its time to shake things up.

Posted by: FH at December 8, 2004 09:54 PM

I thought the unGod stuff in the third book was kind of a left turn (pun intended). Didn't offend me, really, but it seemed shoehorned in. I really don't see how they could sell a movie where the protagonists quite literally kill God.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at December 8, 2004 10:03 PM

What's rightwing PC? I live in San Francisco, so I certainly know the lefty variety --God, do I!--but what's the righty type like?

Posted by: EssEm at December 8, 2004 10:07 PM

Team America: World Police, which I enjoyed greatly and saw twice, wasn't a box office smash. It did quite poorly actually.

The term "politically correct" needs to be defined a bit. It seems to me that it's misused by both sides. It actually had a meaning well before the late 80s/early 90s when its current vogue started. I remember seeing it used in books written in the 19th century. As I understand it, being "politically correct" simply meant following the fashionable liberal opinions of the time. Since the wars over campus speech codes etc. started more recently "PC" has acquired the very specific meaning of using euphemisms, or outright censorship, to force everyone to act as if they have the proper, "liberal" opinion. More recently, some elements on the hard left, such as ZOG conspiracy theorists, have co-opted the term to dismiss any objections to the conspiracy theories or anti-Semitism. Any intimation that some criticism of Israel can be anti-Semitic is dismissed as "political correctness".

By definition, or at least by original definition, political correctness is a left-liberal phenomenon. My eyes kind of glaze over when I see people on either side talking about "PC". They use it such a myriad of ways that it's hard to know what they're talking about. Also tiresome is the idea that just because something isn't politically correct it's automatically bold, original, daring etc., when it might simply be stupid, racist, gross or whatever.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at December 8, 2004 10:18 PM

EssEmm: What's rightwing PC?

Don't commit blasphemy. Don't say bad words. Don't show a tit on TV.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 8, 2004 10:20 PM

Oh, please, Michael, surely you aren't that naive. The only thing that has ever driven Hollywood is profits.

You state, "Political Correctness is juvenile and asinine." Of course not. "Political Correctness" is terminology behind which Hollywood hides. Instead of half-heartedly validating this excuse (while excoriating its cowardliness), you'd better serve the cause of honesty by acknowledging PC for what it is -- a shield for moral posturing by those whom simultaneously reap profits by appearing in direct opposition of.

Abetted by such as you who (without conflating motivation) grasp at excuses for such actions.

Posted by: Carol Johnson at December 8, 2004 10:24 PM

Don't commit blasphemy. Don't say bad words. Don't show a tit on TV.

I realize I'm really picking a nit here, but that's exactly what I'm saying. That's not PC. That's something else. Depending on the context, it's possibly something undesirable, like, say, censorship. There was something in a Safire language column recently where he quoted a guy who said that words and phrases eventually all lose their descriptive character and eventually become merely evaluative, that is to say, they merely mean good or bad. By this point, PC just means bad. Initially by definition it was a left/liberal phenomenon. There's really no such thing as right PC. There may or may not be attempts to censor things because they are anti-religious, but that's another matter.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at December 8, 2004 10:32 PM


I hear you.

PC has come to mean, basically, that which offends no one. It may not have started out with this meaning, but that, at least, is how most people (including me) use it today.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 8, 2004 10:35 PM

I know it was before 9/11, but Arnold's "True Lies" had Arab bad guys...and Tia Carerra
* vroom *

Posted by: spc67 at December 8, 2004 11:11 PM

Don't commit blasphemy. Don't say bad words. Don't show a tit on TV.---MJT

While this might be true for SOME members of the VRWC,I would have thought that a truer statement would have read:
Don't commit blasphemy. Don't say bad words. Don't show a tit on TV.--- Merely gratuitously for a tawdry 'shock'effect or because the writer is too lazy and/or biased to do something more interesting.

What offends many about the current culture is the constant moral and intellectual dumbing down and 'objective'debasement of the milieu,not the 'artistic' exploration of human themes.I know this is a difficult subject,but the distinction between these concepts is nonetheless a real one.Well that offends me anyway and it that is Right-Wing,then RW I proudly am.
As for leftist PC---- Gaaaaaah !!!

Posted by: dougf at December 9, 2004 04:09 AM

Interesting you mention Tom Clancy, I was a fan of his early books and noticed the poor guy always seemed to be switching villains, particularly in his "American Hero" Jack Ryan series !

The Hunt For Red October (1984) and Red Storm Rising (1986) were typical Cold War novels. Then glasnost appeared and Patriot Games (1987) switched to the IRA, a brief return to Communist hardliners in Cardinal In The Kremlin (1988) before the Berlin Wall came down, so a switch to Columbian drug barons in Clear And Present Danger (1989), then with the second intifada we have Arab terrorists in The Sum Of All Fears (1991), after the Gulf War we go to Japan in Debt of Honor (1994) and then back to a generic Islamic enemy (rather than just Arab) in Executive Orders (1996), then finally China in The Bear And The Dragon (2000).

You can probably draw a parallel with James Bond too.

Spare a thought for these struggling writers, they need a continuing supply of baddies to survive, all this PC stuff is killing the industry !

Posted by: Ian at December 9, 2004 04:34 AM

Forget about PC, wtf ever happened to allegory in story telling? Not only is it a good way to avoid directly offending someone or group, it is also an excellent way to make a point to a broader audience because it creates an emotional distance from which to view a potentially inflammatory topic.

No offense MJT but I would argue that "Blade Runner" didn't tell the story of confonting God "in an extremely roundabout way", it told the story in a symbolic way.

The "Cruciable" was a story about witch hunts and symbolically impugned McCarthyism. "The Lord of the Rings" despite Tolkein's protestations to the contrary, is widely believed to be an allegory about WW II and nuclear weapons.

To me, telling stories in that fashion (historically, think "Gulliver's Travels") is vastly superior to the in-your-face realism that many artists/movie producers seem to favor these days. That said, I did really enjoy "Team America", but being a "South Park" fan I knew what to expect.

Interestingly enough, look at the outrageous economic success of LOTR. This came precisely at a time when the people of America and much of the rest of the world were heatedly debating 9/11, the WOT, and radical Islam. Examine the good versus evil themes of that story; see the Fellowship of banding against a common enemy; think about the idea of giving of oneself for the broader and long term good. Now explain to me why New Line - and any other movie studio - is right to worry that their economic success might suffer because some people might be offended.

Pussies, that's what they are, not PC.

Posted by: too many steves at December 9, 2004 05:12 AM

“Oh, please, Michael, surely you aren't that naive. The only thing that has ever driven Hollywood is profits.”

That is simply incorrect. Many movies are made to impress their liberal peers. Ever hear of Madonna? The profit motive takes second place. It is my understanding that the percentage of ticket sales are dropping every year. Only our increasing population masks the problem.

Posted by: David Thomson at December 9, 2004 05:29 AM

Just don't forget that F-911 by Michael Moore was a brilliant, tolerent, truthful film and that the Passion of the Christ was a pornographic, racist, deeply evil film.

Posted by: Andrew Sullivan's Doppleganger at December 9, 2004 05:50 AM

Well, I for one think that is silly not to have blockbuster movies painting the Arab extremists as EVIL.

After all, our boys are dying in Iraq, why should Hollywood worry about being killed for writing an anti arab-extremist movie?

Maybe it's evil left-wing PC, maybe it's a bit of self-preservation. I don't know.

I'd be happy if Hollywood just made movies with internal consistancy, good writing, good acting and good plot. Beyond that, I could care less if they make movies about Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Mars or Sherlock Holmes. In fact, screw Hollywood, I'd be happy to see good writing and acting on TV.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 9, 2004 06:59 AM

I second dougf on at least one of his points. As a card carrying member of the VRWC, I don't object to 16th Century frescoes showing cupid naked - it's called art. I do object to Justin Timberlake molesting Janet Jackson during the half-time of the superbowl - it's pornography (albeit of a very mild form). Art creates things of beauty that endure throughout the ages. Pornography does not appeal to peoples' aesthetic sense - it appeals to their lust. Appeals to lust belong on ppv, not network airwaves.

The larger problem with network television is the infusion of cheap sex. Rather than attempting to be clever and witty, the typical sitcom is permeated with cheap jokes about sex. "Reality" TV is generally equally tawdry. Whatever happened to programming geared toward being enlightening or ennobling? There certainly is a place for light entertainment, but what the networks have now is largely trash.

Posted by: Ben at December 9, 2004 06:59 AM

I think one of the real problems here is that the left so misunderstands the right that they are projecting problems where there are none.

The kind of person who would object to the nudity of a cupid in a work of art in a film, glimpsed for a few seconds, is also the kind of person not at all likely to go to see a film in the first place - they would be practicing self-censorship. So this is a hysterical miscalculation by the left about the right's agenda. We also saw this kind of over reaction in the TV stations that refused to play Saving Private Ryan because they thought someone might complain to the FCC about the cursing. These are simply miscalculations, I believe, about the other side. But they lead to a whole lot of mythology about what the Right is imposing on the Left, which in fact is sourced in the Left's paranoia about the Right. This kind of over-projection about what "extremists" on the right will object to turns these people into the monsters the left already believes them to be. And fuels ongoing paranoia about the extremism of today's current right-wing culture.

His Dark Materials is a trickier subject because it is a controversial book, and it is aimed primarily at children, as well as adults. But if you are going about making the movie in the first place, one way to up end that problem, instead of the absurdity of destroying the whole plot of the book, is simply to expect beforehand that the film will be controversial in some quarters in the US and to project ahead of time lower profit margins from it.

When they turn the story hollow, this, too, will be loudly blamed on the Right by our leftist friends here and in Britain. When in fact, as it turns out, it's a movie studio decision.

It's a shame, really. If they denude the story of its point, it can't possibly turn out to be a good movie. That's clear enough ahead of time.

Posted by: alcibiades at December 9, 2004 07:25 AM

>Appeals to lust belong on ppv, not network airwaves.

Agree wholeheartedly with this principle. I (and anyone else in America, and this is a standard I'd like to see exported worldwide) should be able to see absolutely anything we're willing to pay for (child pornography and sexual torture of humans and/or animals excepted). I think even basic cable should have absolutely no content restrictions, because the consumer has paid. Network television, which is "free," can be as restricted as the most uptight preacher wants to make it - who cares? But if I'm paying, I expect to get what I'm paying for. Keep your hands off my porn, my metal albums, my gore flicks, and I promise never to sully the pews of your megachurch with my presence.

If only offended Americans could be counted on to simply change the channel, rather than demanding that whatever offends them cease to exist.

Posted by: pdf at December 9, 2004 07:27 AM

This thread sort of reinforces the British impression that to American Conservatives:

Sex = v v v bad
Violence = good or at best neutral.

This, your brothers over the Pond, find most perplexing.

Neil W

Posted by: Neil W at December 9, 2004 07:43 AM

too many steves,
OT but, Tolkien was adamantly against allegory. "I cordially dislike allegory in all it's manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect it's presence. I much prefer history, true of feigned, with it's varied applicability to the thought and experience of the readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory; but the one resides in freedom of the reader, and the other in the domination of the author."
/english geek mode off/

What about Edward Zwick's movie The Siege with Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and Annette Bening. That was about Islamic terrorists.

Posted by: Kim at December 9, 2004 07:48 AM

Hollywood, by and large, is not just gutless but lazy.

And driven by ideology combined with low opinion of the viewing public.

Take Alexander as an example. The movie could've explored the real history of power, war and conquest but rather relied on sordid soap opera techniques to draw viewers and drive the story.

You mention commies as villians. I've noticed very few movies in which commies are true villians during Cold War Hollywood. At least not outside comic book characterizations. There is no example I recall that compares with WW2 movies (think Bogart).

So while Hollywood continues to dream up ways to rewrite old movies and re-package old stories to fit their ideology (think Sabrina and the Manchurian Candidate) there are a host of anti-Communist/soviet stories that could be pulled directly from history that will never find their way onto the silver screen.

The only recent movie I recall off-hand that dealt with the Soviets was "Enemy at the Gate". The German sniper was brutal while the Russians were noble.

Look at Reds, the Motorcycle Diaries, Frieda, etc...

Could they be any more sympathetic to communists specifically and communism in general?

And I'm not suggesting that Hollywood should completely abandon movies like Enemy at the Gate. What I'm suggesting is they've deliberately ignored the other side and history.

I'm waiting for them to re-write The 3rd Man in which the Americans are the bad guys, special effects are the stars and 30 minutes of the original story is cut to allow for lurid sex scenes between Anna and Holly. It would be par for the course.


Posted by: cbk at December 9, 2004 08:16 AM

Tolkein's desire for wonderful, fantastic, "true" feigned history is very on topic. But all history can be interpreted, and is, allegorically in reference to today. When JRRT wrote about Bilbo finding the ring, A-Bombs weren't even known to be possible -- but it was clear that technology could be leading to some superweapon.

Good versus evil requires evil, which can hardly exist without some "absolute" good, roughly some "God". How do atheists & secularists (like MJT) account for evil?

By creating an amorphous PC goodness, which I label Secular Fundamentalism, and to which its radical true believers exhibit many traits similar to those of religious fanatics.

Then the PC meaning of that which offends no one is more clear: if it is in accordance with secular fundamentalism, it is PC and should NOT offend anybody. Those who are offended are ... demonized. Like pro-life Christians who think that human rights should start at conception, and therefore abortion is wrong.

Like those whose sense of Moral Values require behavior restrictions: Don't commit blasphemy. Don't say bad words. Don't show a tit on TV

The PC Inquisitors seek to eliminate all heretics.

Moral Values, Moral Correctness, Political Correctness. See Winds of Change on Politicism. There are similarities, yet important differences.

One of the internal US battles is the determination of what should be both "immoral" and legal, and the borders of the levels. Like promiscuity. And Obscenity.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at December 9, 2004 08:24 AM


We also saw this kind of over reaction in the TV stations that refused to play Saving Private Ryan because they thought someone might complain to the FCC about the cursing. These are simply miscalculations, I believe, about the other side. But they lead to a whole lot of mythology about what the Right is imposing on the Left, which in fact is sourced in the Left's paranoia about the Right. This kind of over-projection about what "extremists" on the right will object to turns these people into the monsters the left already believes them to be. And fuels ongoing paranoia about the extremism of today's current right-wing culture.

As Drudge had linked a few days ago, you might want to read the following:

Some of the more interesting quotes include:

"According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003—99.8 percent—were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group. "

"Through early October, 99.9 percent of indecency complaints—aside from those concerning the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show broadcast on CBS— were brought by the PTC, according to the FCC analysis dated Oct. 1. (The agency last week estimated it had received 1,068,767 complaints about broadcast indecency so far this year; the Super Bowl broadcast accounted for over 540,000, according to commissioners’ statements.)"

And last but not least:

"... the agency... in proposing fines of nearly $1.2 million against Fox Broadcasting ... said it received 159 complaints against Married by America.

But when asked, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said it could find only 90 complaints from 23 individuals.

“All but four of the complaints were identical…and only one complainant professed even to have watched the program,” ... the network and its stations had received 34 comments, “a miniscule total for a show that had a national audience of 5.1 million households.”

Indeed, the problem is not a vast Right Wing Agenda with hundreds of thousands of followers. The problem is a very vocal minority, that seems to have a level of power, well beyond that which they should have in a free democracy.


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 9, 2004 08:35 AM

"What about Edward Zwick's movie The Siege with Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and Annette Bening. That was about Islamic terrorists."

Yes, but that movie sucked. In the end it turned out that the terrorist attacks were all the fault of the US anyway.

"The only recent movie I recall off-hand that dealt with the Soviets was "Enemy at the Gate". The German sniper was brutal while the Russians were noble."

I saw that film. Wasn't there a bit where the Soviet commander is calling one of the front line unit leaders and says "I dont care if you've lost half your men, lose the other half if you have to."? The Russian sniper was presented as being okay, but the leadership came across as a bunch of cynical bastards.

Posted by: sam at December 9, 2004 08:56 AM

Tom Grey,

"Good versus evil requires evil, which can hardly exist without some "absolute" good, roughly some "God". How do atheists & secularists (like MJT) account for evil?"

I disagree that there must be an 'absolute' anything. I am not an atheist, nor a secularist, but I do not think that your supposition is true.

In fact, I would argue that there are many religions where the idea of Absolute good and Absolute Evil simply do not exist. Hinduism is one, Buddhism is another. Also absolute good and evil do not exist in the Jewish Kabbalah system, nor in the Thelemic system. Of course, it goes without saying that the Erisian and Discordian spiritual paths tend to stay away from such ideas as well.

Personally, I think that humanity exists as neither wholly good nor wholly evil. In fact, I would say that hit is not Humans at all, but societies that create the distinction between Good and Evil.

Is it evil to murder? What about if the person you murdered was your father, who had abused you, your siblings, you mother and your children for 30 years, is it still evil?

Was the abuser in the above example evil? Or was he afflicted with mental illness or under the influence of alcoholism?

Were the revolutionary soliders in America Evil? What about when they murdered, tortured and raped Torries? Were the Torries evil? Or were they supporting what they saw as the Legitimate government, against a radical minority?

It is only in some societies, most notably societies that are heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian teachings, that believes in Ultimate Good or Ultimate Evil. Once you check out the other 4 billion inhabitants of this planet, you realize how peculiar this idea truly is.

As a Libretarian, I am extremely surprised by your willingness to promote government intervention into an area which could more easily, cheaply and freely be handled by Personal Responsibility.

I do not want my Tax Dollars spent chasing Howard Stern, when I can simply turn the channel. I do not want my tax dollars chasing after Reality TV episodes, I take personal responsibility for what I choose to allow into my head. Reality TV is trite, most Broadcast TV shows are crap. I choose not to watch them. Everyone else can do exactly the same thing.

If they don't like what is no TV or radio, they can switch the channel or shut it off. How is that not exactly what America stands for?

I used to think it was the whinning liberals who wanted legislation to protect people from personal responsibility, are the Libretarians now joining that choir?

Jefferson ghost is gonna be pissed.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 9, 2004 09:16 AM

Ratatosk: I used to think it was the whinning liberals who wanted legislation to protect people from personal responsibility, are the Libretarians now joining that choir?

No, conservatives joined that choir a long time ago. Rent Lenny. Libertarians overwhelmingly oppose this kind of nonsense.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 9, 2004 10:20 AM

Hollywood probably doesn't want to do a WOT movie because it would cause howls of indignation from activist types.

Posted by: Pearsall Helms at December 9, 2004 10:40 AM


Libertarians overwhelmingly oppose this kind of nonsense

Thats what I thought as well. I had always assumed that 'Liberty' was important to libretarians.

First Amendment

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

SHALL MAKE NO LAW... abridging the freedom of speech, or the press...

Film ratings are not a government requirement, the MPAA took PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to put the ratings system in place. The People, not The Government must take the responsibility that comes with living in a free society.

Even some sane conservatives understand this principle, Rom Paul (R; Texas) wrote in an editorial:

Most politicians were all too eager to appease those demanding that Congress "do something" about racy Super Bowl shows and distasteful radio hosts, especially in an election year. It is clear that most members of Congress gave little thought to the legality or wisdom of the bill, caring only that they be seen as defenders of all things decent.

In doing so, Congress ignored a fundamental truth: government control over radio and television broadcasts is incompatible with a free society. FCC control of broadcast content, whether through licensing, regulations, or fines, is naked censorship that is utterly at odds with the plain words of the First Amendment. It could not be any clearer: "Congress shall make no law."

He goes on to say:

The political right wing has always embraced censorship, believing that government can foster and protect moral values through strict regulation of speech. But this curious attitude conflicts with the central tenet of conservatism, namely a healthy mistrust of government. Why do conservatives feel compelled to have a federal nanny state protect their children from indecency? Why do conservatives, who once questioned and resisted the growing involvement of government in our lives, now trust FCC bureaucrats to determine moral standards?

Conservatives should know that a decent society is rooted in strong families, churches and civic institutions, not government speech codes.

He doesn't spare the liberals either:

The political left is no better when it comes to free speech. The left may be more permissive toward lurid or obscene material, but it has zero tolerance for political, religious and social commentary that falls outside the bounds of rigid political correctness doctrines it created.

Liberals are happy to restrict so-called commercial speech; happy to jail those who commit phony hate crimes merely by speaking their minds; and happy to impose speech codes on college campuses.

Big-government conservatives will learn that heavy-handed federal control of speech is far more likely to result in a rigidly secular, politically correct society than a moral society filled with Christian virtue.

Personally, I prefer to allow people to keep the freedom to say whatever they want (as long as it doesn't risk the life of anyone: i.e. "FIRE!!"). I would much rather choose to not listen to the religio-babble of worshippers of a 2000 year dead Jew and choose not to listen to the crap out of Howard Sterns mouth, than to not have those voices heard, quashed by authoritarian control over something that We The People should NEVER have given them any control over.

Mr. Paul concluded with this:

The First Amendment is worthless if it does not protect unpopular, controversial expression. It is precisely when the sensibilities of many Americans are offended that the First Amendment is needed most.

Many of our cherished religious, political and legal traditions are rooted in once-radical ideas. It's a short step from regulating words and images to regulating thoughts and ideas.

Ultimately, broadcasters air indecent material only if the market demands it. Congress cannot raise the moral bearing of the American people by edict, but it can destroy liberty in the process. When it comes to decency, the American people should stop looking to government and start looking at themselves.

Not all Republicans are lost in a world of totalitarian morals.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 9, 2004 10:47 AM

Ratatosk, do you have a link to that article? I'd be interested in reading the whole thing. Thanks.

Posted by: Pearsall Helms at December 9, 2004 12:25 PM

The editorial I quoted is at :
Also another one in the same vein:

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 9, 2004 12:57 PM

Actually, Team America didn't do "quite poorly." It made back its cost in domestic release; the DVD will be almost pure profit. Not bad at all for a hard R-rated politcal satire using marionettes, really.

Conservatives only wanting G-rated fare is a stereotype, but Hollywood would probably make more money with that strategy. At least two studies I've seen on the 'net show that G and PG films are significantly more likely to be profitable than R-rated movies.

Does political correctness affect profitability? Every major studio passed on The Passion of the Christ. Maybe that's an exception. Maybe there are many other projects that are killed by the studios that we never see because they lack backing from someone with the money and contacts of a Mel Gibson.

Also, I laugh every time I read that liberal screenwriter declaring that Arab terrorism is an "easy target." So easy that no one will touch it.

Posted by: Karl at December 9, 2004 01:22 PM

To more or less paraphrase Michael Medved, these Hollywood types are geniuses (just ask them) and they know all there is to know about making money making movies.
But they keep making losers which "incidentally" are sordid and with egregious, intrusive sex and degradation of people.
The G and PG movies are a better bet, but the geniuses haven't figured that out. Medved thinks the peer pressure in Hollywood tends to overweight the judgment, along with the desire to be known publicly as edgy and progressive and unafraid.
Now that I see an earlier sentence, I may have answered the question.
Making money making movies doesn't necessarily mean selling a lot of tickets, from what I gather, listening to pissed-off writers and so forth. Maybe you can make money on a box-office loser, as long as your accountants are innovative.
"Cape Fear" was a good book and the first movie was good. The second try at the movie made the bad guy an ex-preacher. For no reason that had any basis in the book. Just to be edgy. And pander to those who like to laugh at what are now called red-staters. And lost money. Good.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at December 9, 2004 01:44 PM

The director and screenwriter of the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is to remove references to God and the church in the movie.

Notice how good atheists are able to compromise on their core principles, as seen here for the sake of money vs a christian's inability to compromise on his core principles as with Mel Gibson and the Passion.

It's all relative!

Posted by: David at December 9, 2004 01:47 PM

Years ago when Bill Maher had a TV show worth watching, before he jumped on the Bush-bashing bandwagon (how's that for alliteration?), he defined "political correctness" as "the elevation of sensitivity over truth". Not bad, but he should have been more specific. It's only the sensitivities of certain oppressed groups that need to be respected. One should always feel free to offend the sensitivities of white, male, Christian, heterosexuals.

Posted by: Pervy Grin at December 9, 2004 01:55 PM

And here's what you get when you mix science with relative:

The Island of Doctor Moreau

Posted by: David at December 9, 2004 02:17 PM

Pre PC? Think Rocky & Bullwinkle.
It was great but wouldn't get made under current attitudes.

Posted by: Ed at December 9, 2004 02:30 PM

I am curious about your expectations.

Can anyone offer examples of how Hollywood "speaks out" about anything? Does "Hollywood" often take the sort of positions (commenting on events) that you would like it to? On any side of the issue?

I am wondering if you folks have been watching too many movies about bold media folks. Of course the murder of Van Gogh was horrific and frightening and calls for effective action. But why do so many of you focus on Hollywood? As if all they do is sit around and try to figure out how to sell out freedom?

There are enough problems in the world without having to contrive them.

Posted by: David Sucher at December 9, 2004 05:58 PM

Classic Hollywood is dead only many external views are fixing the place. It is no surprise the most intelligent scripts appear in 3D movies. They are the Roman Empire near end.

Posted by: lucklucky at December 9, 2004 06:31 PM

"Notice how good atheists are able to compromise on their core principles, as seen here for the sake of money vs a christian's inability to compromise on his core principles as with Mel Gibson and the Passion."

Hold on, its the director whos removing the references to God from the film, not the original author. Pullman is an atheist, but I don't know about the director. Given the fact that the orignal author of any work thats adapted for film usually has little control over the film itself, I'm not sure this qualifies as an atheist compromising his principles for money. If the director turns out to be an atheist himself then your right, but I dont see where it says that he is.

Also, I followed the link but came up blank, what was the linked article about?

Posted by: sam at December 10, 2004 07:40 AM


the author, by agreeing to go along, compromised on his core principles. He wasn't about to lose all that cash.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 07:48 AM

Thats why I mentioned the issue of author control. If Pullman already signed over the rights to make this film, then he wouldn't necessarily have much influence over the final outcome. Like in the remake of Cape Fear mentioned upthread, studios can mess around with the original material to a great degree.

Posted by: sam at December 10, 2004 08:02 AM

Interestingly, I've heard complaints that atheists are "shoving their beliefs in the face of the christian majority" and that they should try to avoid offending christians. I haven't seen it here, but I have seen it. Maybe this incident is an attempt to do just that.

Posted by: sam at December 10, 2004 08:18 AM

Oh sam,

what need has an atheist for core principles. It's all relative.

"A spokesman for the author said that Pullman is OK with this, citing the need for the film to make money. "You have to recognize that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America."


Of course, then he blames it on "Bush." Typical Lib. No personal accountability. Always somebody else's fault.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 08:22 AM


it's not about being "sensitive" to christians. Don't be silly. It's about THE MONEY.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 08:23 AM

That statement is from the authors agent, its also quoted in the post here. The first part of the quote is,

"Of course New Line want to make money"

In your post upthread you compared this bit with Mel Gibson's Passion. Just out of interest how much did that film make at thhe box office?

Posted by: sam at December 10, 2004 08:35 AM

In your post upthread you compared this bit with Mel Gibson's Passion. Just out of interest how much did that film make at thhe box office?


I know you're smarter than that; you wouldn't be on this blog if you weren't. So I can only assume you're dancing.

The amount of money the movie makes isn't relevant; what's relevant is the amount of compromise the artists are willing to make on their core principles in order to make that money. Right? Cmon, I know dancing when I see it.

It's well known Mel Gibson gave nary an inch to get his baby to the big screen. Compare and contrast that with Pullman's pragmatism.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 08:43 AM

Interestingly, Gibson made little or no compromise in the face of INTENSE and ongoing opposition. By contrast, Pullman folded in the face of mere rumour and speculation that the movie might not make money. He's a wet noodle relativist.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 08:53 AM

I admit that I'm on a bit of a loser on this topic. Normally I wouldn't have started in on something like this, I think I was just irritated at the bit about all atheists lacking core principles being extrapolated from one individual.

Your right that this was about the money and that Pullman compromised to get the film out. In the case of Mel Gibson, I believe he put up a lot of the money for the film himself after the studios all passed, so he had a far freer hand with the Passion than even the most uncompromising studio director would have had.

I'm posting this from a public library, which is closing soon, so I'm going to have to sign off now. So I'm going to conclude this by saying that I concede the point about Pullman's compromise, just not the bit about atheists in general.

Posted by: sam at December 10, 2004 08:54 AM

PS - Isn't calling someones actions "pragmatism" normally a compliment? I would have thought "moral flexibilty" would have suited your purposes better.

Posted by: sam at December 10, 2004 08:54 AM


thanks for being Frank. That allows me to clarify. I don't think all atheists are wet noodles. But atheism does breed relativism, and relativism does breed wet noodleism. It's a generalization obviously.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 08:56 AM


when it comes to core principles, I don't think the term "pragmatism" is all that flattering.

Yes, Gibson had more money, but he was obviously willing to lose it. It was a project of love.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 08:58 AM

and another thing, Pullman didn't even seemed bummed out by it. He was basically ok with it. No moral indignation, no sign that he only reluctantly went along with it. That might have sufficed. But no, he was ok with it.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 09:03 AM

>Yes, Gibson had more money, but he was obviously willing to lose it. It was a project of love.

Yeah, because making a pro-Jesus movie is such a commercial gamble in America, a country where something like 80 percent of people assert religious belief. What a risk-taker, that Mel Gibson.

Posted by: pdf at December 10, 2004 09:04 AM


you and everybody else is quite the genius in hindsight obviously. If only the investors and distributors had had your foresight BEFORE rather than after the movie was released they could have made tons of money.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 09:19 AM


Come on... we all know that having everyone speak Latin and Aramaic guaranteed a boffo box office!

Posted by: Karl at December 10, 2004 10:16 AM

From what I remember about "The Siege," it was a liberal message movie that argued against police-state tactics in the face of terrorism. But the Muslim groups went nuts about it anyway, 'cause the filmmakers had dared to depict terrorists as Muslim.

Also, the movie version of "Sum of All Fears" changed the book's Islamic terrorists to neo-Nazis, I believe, in the face of opposition from those same Muslim groups.

Posted by: Steve at December 10, 2004 11:28 AM

Hollywood certainly should have more movies with realistic terrorist Radical Fundamentalist Islamofascists.

I've moved from "L" to "l" libertarian; I remember supporting Russel Means to be the Lib President candidate INSTEAD of the Rep-Lib Ron Paul -- partly because Ron Paul is a pro-lifer. (Which I have now become.)

The problem I see today is the idea of absolute Free Speech, but NOT free association and enforcement of contract. Like marriage vows.

In a L-Lib society, it would be perfectly legal for a group of white, Christian people to buy up a big amount of land somewhere, and sell property ONLY to those who are White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, no homosexuals, no drug users, no adultery, no abortions, no promiscuous sex ... whatever fundamentalist EXCLUSIONS they chose. To share insurance policies that exclude high risk behavior, etc. To limit, on their collectively pledged / agreed to private property, with a homeowners association local "government", private schools, etc.

Such freedom of association and discrimination does NOT exist in America -- by (excessive, non-Libertarian) Law.

Without the freedom to associate, and discriminate against obscenity, for instance, I support anti-obscenity restrictions. Yeah, I know it's a case of one bad gov't law leading to another law. But I really believe too much cursing leads to a lot of other disrepectful, and bad, behavior. I also support turning it off; and recognize that it will only be greatly reduced in society when young folk stop thinking it's "cool". In the meantime, I'd rather have slightly un-Lib laws against obscenity than an obscene amount of it being broadcast.

And the PC censorship of the good, sort of boring Christian side of a lot of issues is also old, for me. PC laws against Hate Speech are already, in some ways, worse.

I don't think respect for people EVER goes up, people to people, with more cursing. I DO believe the "in" crowd, cursing somebody who is out of fashion, gets a little jolt of inclusion community.

Posted by: Tom Grey at December 10, 2004 01:03 PM

>If only the investors and distributors had had your foresight BEFORE rather than after the movie was released they could have made tons of money.

Well, the Hollywood folks' problem is they spend too much time talking to each other, and not enough time talking to the knuckle-dragging idiots who are buying all the tickets. The minute I heard that Mel Gibson was gonna make an ultra-violent Jesus movie, I knew fundies across the nation would be tenting their trousers and lining up like Star Wars geeks by the church-bus-full. I don't respect religious people - I think believing in an invisible bully in the sky is kinda pathetic - but I know full well I'm in the minority, and I know that if I ever get the chance (I'm a writer), I'm gonna take those fools' money by the double fistful. Bible-thumpers are a market like any other. Only an asshole sees a vast market segment and fails to find some way of tapping it.

Posted by: pdf at December 10, 2004 01:36 PM

Only an asshole sees a vast market segment and fails to find some way of tapping it.


I can't say I agree with you on much, but I agree with you on this. In a nutshell, it's how I feel about Hollywood.

Posted by: David at December 10, 2004 01:40 PM

Tom Grey - I was going to pick a nit yesterday over this sentence "But all history can be interpreted, and is, allegorically in reference to today" and argue applicability vs. allegory. Tolkien also stated in an interview on the trilogy "It has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or topical, moral, religious, or political." I was also going to suggest his lecture "On Fairy-Stories." It's the master rubric by which Tolkien wrote and taught on epic creation. I stopped and thought that's way too much Tolkien. I just happened by VDH's site and saw he's applied an Ent analogy for present-day Europe.

Posted by: Kim at December 10, 2004 10:34 PM

When Hollywood relies on showing the "TIT" to get your attention, then we can safely say that the art of filming making is dead in America.

Perhaps the American audiences are far more sophisticated and less uptight about sex than the producers, directors, and actors are in Hollywood. Afterall, Hollywood attempted to say that Stone's Alexander the Great is a quality movie because Americans are uptight about homosexuality, when it simply was a very crappy, poorly made film. The entertainment industry as a whole refuses to acknowledge just how uptight they are on sexuality.

Maybe Janet Jackson had to show her Tit because she is uptight about her inability to entertain. Show the Tit, that will get some attention. Sad to say, it worked.

Posted by: syn at December 11, 2004 05:33 AM

Bill Donohue nailed it:

"Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah. Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common."

The Jew-Hollywood-Anal-Sex-Abortion conspiracy revealed!

(via TPM)

Posted by: novakant at December 11, 2004 06:37 AM

Tom Grey,

I agree 100% with most of what you said. I am fully for the right of free association. I would love to see people build communitites that fit what they want. If they want a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant community, I say they should have it. If they want a Black African American Pagan community, they should have it. A buddahist community, an Islamic community etc. etc. etc. (as long as no ones Life, Liberty or Persuit of Happiness is being endangered).

Integration is a great thing. Having a "melting pot" where everyone is exposed to everyone elses ideas is a fine thing. However, just because it is a fine thing, does not mean that it should be a 'required' thing. It would probably be better for most indivduals if they lived in a mixed society. However, America was intended to allow for the isolationism of a private society, I think that a large number of our social ills today result for the stagnation of like-minded communitites. Probably, it would only be the extremists would would move to such communities.

I'd be happy if most of the extreme "you should listen to my views" Christians left and moved to some nice out of the way place. I'd like for the liberal, "pay taxes so this fat twit doesn't have to get a job and we can pay the cops to take your guns" folks to likewise move away.

I heard recently about a town that was being founded specifically for deaf people, anyone who wanted to live there had to learn sign language. It's a pretty basic implementation of the idea, but its a working example of at least a modicum of success.


Posted by: Ratatosk at December 13, 2004 07:47 AM

What the hell? Taking the battle against God out of His Dark Materials is like taking Sauron out of The Lord of the Rings or Voldemort out of Harry Potter. It's the central theme of the trilogy. They're three of the greatest children's books ever written. Jeez. I despair, sometimes.

Posted by: David Gillies at December 13, 2004 10:29 AM

David Gillies,

Wait until you see what they did to the Earthsea trillogy. It went from an epic story about facing your own shadow, to a story about wizards fighting an evil King.

Movies and Television are Cliff Notes for people that are too lazy to read Cliff Notes. We shouldn't expect them to produce quality stories. They produce quality eye candy. The few quality stories come from great epics that the Director is really afraid to touch, for fear of fan backlash. LoTR and Harry Potter have such a fan base, sadly Dark Materials does not.

If you want someone to experience the true message in any book, tell them to read the book, or at least get the book on tape. Expecting anything other than basic plots and computer graphics from Hollywood (or TVland) is sadly naive.

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 14, 2004 12:27 PM
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