Monday, October 11, 2010

A Horse Is a Horse, Except When He's an Undercover Fascist Tea Party Spy

(Mrs. Clancy and I went to see “Secretariat” this past Saturday night. We both liked it. But this isn’t a review. TRC).

Some folks are forever being accused of “Islamophobia.” Depending on who it is hurling the charge, “Islamophobia” can mean anything from criticizing Islam -- at all -- to drawing attention to the rising mountain of evidence that there are a very large number of Muslims on the planet in love with the idea of either reducing us to slavery or killing us.

What is never meant by the term “Islamophobia” is what, logically, should be meant, which is a strong irrational fear of something that poses little or no danger, in this case, Islam.

I’m no psychiatrist, but I’ll bet there are few case histories where an arachnophobic actually has video of 19 spiders knocking down two 100-story towers full of people or suicide-bombing a bus full of Jewish schoolkids.

That aside, there is something like a strong, irrational fear of Christians going around, and it’s getting worse. Time was it took a depiction of a babe in a manger or a cross to constitute an intimidating crossing of the line. Now people are going over the edge if a female movie lead wears a pearl necklace or a black character plays his role in the script without once keeping it real about how his brother was shot down by police in a case of racial mistaken identity.

As one example of this heightened paranoia, I point out last week’s review by Andrew O’Hehir of Salon of the new Disney film, “Secretariat”, "Secretariat": A gorgeous, creepy American myth. In his review O’Hehir believes he recognizes “a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.”

Roger Ebert, the film reviewer at the Chicago Sun Times, found O’Hehir’s review so “bizarre”and “insane” he felt the need to write a response. O’Hehir’s review, writes Ebert, “resembles a fevered conspiracy theory”:

In this example , we do not find proof that Obama is a Muslim Communist born in Kenya. No, the news is worse than that. It involves Secretariat, a horse who up until now we innocently thought of as merely very fast. We learn the horse is a carrier not merely of Ron Turcotte's 130 pounds, but of Nazism, racism, Tea Party ideology and the dark side of Christianity.

Oh, and I forgot the Ku Klux Klan: “The movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose,” O'Hehir writes, “ if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn.”

O’Hehir also finds it awful that “Secretariat” -- which is set in 1972-73 -- devotes insufficient screentime to the Vietnam War and the Watergate hearings taking place at the same time. But that’s not really phobic, just an example of a liberal’s political filter at work. (“You could hardly pick a period in post-Civil War American history more plagued by chaos and division and general insanity (well, OK -- you could pick right now.”). When you view all reality through a lens of progressive values, no story is a “true” story unless it drags in meaningful references to race, gender (sic), homelessness, war, AIDS, and the environmental crisis. For that matter, I, too, also picked up on the way “Secretariat” failed to include any references to the wildly popular “Sonny & Cher” TV show.

Ebert, when he’s finished taking apart O’Hehir’s review, confesses “I have no theories about why it was written.”

Well, I have. O’Hehir had a phobic reaction to this film. He feels films like this are inviting audiences to believe in something, “believe in -- well, in something unspecified but probably pretty scary.” And the manifestation of his phobia is his genuine belief that “Secretariat” is a propaganda tool chockfull of subversive Christian themes and Tea-Party values.

Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in "The Blind Side" (where it's more like text, period), "Secretariat" actually goes much further, presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord. In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Chenery are ladies first (she's like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Überhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn't human at all. . . . Big Red himself is a big, handsome MacGuffin, symbolic window dressing for a quasi-inspirational fantasia of American whiteness and power.

Look, write this shit in college it only means you’re sucking up for a good grade; write this way in middle age and you have a seriously distorted point of view. I’m only surprised O’Hehir overlooked how Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, played by Diane Lane, has a last name diabolically only a single letter away from that of The Devil Himself -- Bush-Chenery, anyone? -- now how’s that for subtext?

Ebert does a much more effective job of describing O’Hehir’s breakdown than I could do, except he keeps flashing his own liberal credentials, (“I am a liberal” . . . “a lifelong liberal”. . . .”an admirer of Darwin”. . .), and takes an unnecessary shot at Sarah Palin (who, like “Vietnam” and “Nixon”, is never mentioned in the film).

And you can count on it, it’s Palin who terrifies O’Hehir, and behind Palin, the Tea Party, and behind the Tea Party, Christianity, even in its most vestigial form as the erstwhile teacher of basic morals and manners to the secular culture. O’Hehir wants you to know it was Randall Wallace who directed this movie, “one of mainstream Hollywood's few prominent Christians, [who] has spoken openly about his faith and his desire to make movies that appeal to "people with middle-American values.”

Spoken openly about his faith? Go figure, it’s Hollyweird, right? Why not just French kiss Mel Gibson at the Oscars? (Oh, yeah, Gibson’s not welcome any more). Wallace’s shamelessly “out” Christian faith is why O’Hehir thinks “it's legitimate to wonder exactly what Christian-friendly and ‘middle-American’ inspirational values are being conveyed here, or whether they're just providing cover for some fairly ordinary right-wing ideology and xenophobia.”

O’Hehir even imagines that the film’s antagonist, “...the villainous, swarthy and vaguely terrorist-flavored Pancho Martin (Nestor Serrano), trainer of Sham, Secretariat's archrival. (Even the horse's name is evil!”), was planted in the picture, probably to get middle Americans to oppose the Ground Zero mosque.

Ebert’s measured response is that the actor really does look like Pancho Martin. “And as for the hapless Sham, the horse with the evil name, for Christ's sake, O'Hehir, that was the horse's damn name.”

What we’re witnessing is nothing other than O’Hehir’s phobic reaction to Christianity, even if it’s a watered-down, harmless version of the faith as a source of homely virtues like perservence, loyalty, and family affection. We’re at the point now where if some critics so much as glimpse a “housewife” onscreen pouring her husband’s coffee, there’d better damn well be a reference to race riots or My Lai or a pair of mopey homosexuals nearby to provide balance and “context.”

Otherwise, it’s just middle-class xenophobia. Otherwise, you may as well just be reading to us out of the Bible.

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