Roger L. Simon and Lionel Chetwynd note all the subversively pro-American messaging in The Avengers (in the middle third of this installment of Poliwood):
The spouse and I made it a point to see The Avengers within a week of its release, because I wanted to experience the story before people got sloppy and started letting spoilers drop all over the internet.
I have become a bit of a Joss Whedon fan lately, having discovered that the Firefly series—and Serenity—live up to their billing. Whedon and I are a good match; I am a dialogue-snob, and that is one of his several strengths. Obviously, I have a lot of pleasure ahead of me, catching up with Buffy and Dr. Horrible; how you all must envy me!
I was pretty curious about what a hybrid Whedon-blockbuster production would look like. If one looks carefully, one definitely sees where he is subordinating himself to the Marvel franchise, but that doesn’t take away the joy of seeing his work writ large, with the biggest of budgets.
What Whedon’s politics actually are remains obscure to me, and that’s a good thing. (I have been told that he is an atheist, but that makes no never-mind, either.) Recall the fundamental message that Chetwynd and Simon touch on in the Poliwood sequence, for would-be promoters of free market values in the entertainment industry: Don’t make “conservative” films: make good narrative films with a broad appeal that don’t tear down faith, family, or our national ideals. We don’t want to emulate the most didactic, annoying lefty filmmakers; we want to sweet-talk our way into enough development money to kick their asses at the box office. And when we do, we’ll be far subtler about it than George Clooney is. At least, that’s my hope.
It’s worth noting that both hardcore libertarians and the unfortunates who lived in many of the OWS encampments, protesting . . . something unexplained . . . tend to be Firefly fans. A lot of lefty would-be individualists don’t quite realize how much power they want to give to the state, and so cannot (or do not bother to) reconcile their individuality to their desire for domination by the government. But if there’s one thing Firefly was against, it was government domination.
We on the right are consistent about this, and we are willing to deal with the contradictions that must occur between that and our desire to live with some law and order, with some moral norms. The city park-usurpers don’t.
I really did love The Avengers. This was a beautiful, pro-American, elegant action film. And it used classic comic book tropes without being formulaic—but then, that’s why they hired Whedon. He has his idiosyncracies, but he wasn’t going to give us a warmed-over comic book, and then go home for dinner. He would—he did—make what was classic into something still that. But also fresh and novel.
The movie’s message was a clear one: sometimes, we all have to stand up. Everyone loves to roll their eyes at flag-waving, after all—until the Twin Towers are destroyed, and suddenly it’s cool to wear a flag pin on their lapels again. For a few years. A threat to your country—or your planet—is a time to set differences aside and . . . well, maybe even get along with people you don’t ordinarily like to work with. Including people like Tony Stark who can be real pricks.
Sequences set in the streets of New York City were hard to watch, at times, because the real New York had been the site of a genuine terrorist attack in 2001. But I’m glad that the movie stuck with the iconic city that stands for American commerce. (That’s the rule: if it’s a detective story, the default is Los Angeles. If it’s superheroes, you’ll want to start in New York. Mobsters, Chicago or Las Vegas. Know why you picked the classic location. Know why you went with something different.)
The only real “beach head” conservatives have in the entertainment industry is in action films and TV shows. It appears to be more respectable to be a star (or, in Clint Eastwood’s case, a director and producer) if one is involved in films with the classic heroic storylines that appear in action movies (and war stories, and Westerns).
It’s as if there is a school of thought within the Hollywood establishment that, “well, what can one expect? So-and-so made his money promoting this black-and-white notion that there really is some honest good in the world—and some outright evil—and he (it’s usually a he) has taken it very much to heart.” They make allowances for that “old-fashioned” idea having seeped into the poor unfortunate’s consciousness. Also, Robert Downey, Jr. has undeniable onscreen charisma. As do Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, and Tom Selleck. As did John Wayne. And on and on.
When these types of films succeed, they succeed very well. It would be lovely to see those who made their fortunes in these genres help to fund semi-conservative production companies (ones that employ people across the ideological spectrum, of course, for maximum intellectual cross-pollination). Such enterprises might create other types of narrative films that would reinforce the virtues we see denigrated in popular culture—such as the desirability of family ties, the value of the individual, the human yearning for freedom, the role that faith can sometimes play in personal development, and the need we all have to be more than part of a great machine, or servants to an almighty state.
Again: I don’t care what Whedon’s intellectual underpinnings are. He can be right or left. The important thing is that he is a good writer who is excellent at touching on the themes of loyalty, faith, equality that isn’t sameness, and the need to decide, from time to time, which authorities should be obeyed—and which should be resisted.
That’s the model, Hollywood. Are you ready? Now get going.
“Politics are downstream from culture.”
(X-posted at The Conservatory)