Monday, June 18, 2012

Conservative #Martybator: Ben Stein

Stein's big movie complained
that Creationists were being
treated unfair. The free market
laughed him out of theaters.
I skim the American Spectator because (A) it's free and (B) it's a good idea to see what the political opposition is thinking. Who knows, maybe on some subject they have an original idea and maybe they're even right on something. You'll never know if you ignore them or only listen to the arguments they direct at you like weapons.
AS is reliably funny, but not on purpose. Today I read "Perchance to Dream" by former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, a sad man whose Creationist movie "Expelled" was laughed out of theaters. His column of sentimental vaporings ending up with the conclusion about film:
"...I find it fascinating that these sci-fi movies, made under the capitalist system, in studios led by capitalists, are relentlessly anti-capitalist. Blade Runner had as its main villain not the replicants but the capitalist Tyrell (not Bob Tyrrell). Avatar had as its main villains capitalist mining companies. The heroes were semi-animals. (Maybe they have something there.) And in Prometheus the villain is an extremely old capitalist magnate who has spent a trillion dollars to find eternal life, not caring at all how much human life is lost. I am sure I am missing a lot here but I simply cannot recall a movie that has heroes and villains where the villain was not a super rich businessman...."
I find it quite amusing for someone to boldly state his ignorance as a badge of honor. With no effort at all I can reel off:
  • 5 of the 6 Star Wars movies
  • Most of the Star Trek franchise
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  • Iron Man (?Tony Stark - anticaptialist? it is to laugh!) and most of the rest of the Marvel franchise
  • The  Indiana Jones franchise
  •  Godzilla 2000: the villains were a giant lizard and the French government!
What Stein has is a perfect case of martyrbation: The pleasure of complaining about being persecuted, when practiced by people who aren't actually being persecuted.
Stein makes his living toadying to the fantastically wealthy, and a lot of that toadying is telling them that their critics are so very unfair. He tells them and us that Hollywood is unfair to corporations, not because it's true, but because it's how he earns his pay.
Certainly there are corporate villains in action movies. But so what? there are also aliens, gangsters, governments and supernatural threats to all that the hero holds dear. The whole point of being a Big Bad is that your are powerful enough to be a threat, and the corporate form of organization is very very good at amassing power.Not to have at least a few corporations behind The Big Conspiracy would be a strange form of censorship. Heck, who should be the motive force behind Prometheus - the USSR? the Saddam Hussen? Yassr Arafat? All the classic baddies are dead and unlamented.
Looking at Hollywood generally, we should be struck by the solicitude that it holds for corporations. Check out the 2011 Academy Award list for Best Picture:
  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse
In not one of them is the Big Bad a corporation; in fact, the whole point of Moneyball is that the game of baseball is most effectively played by corporations applying money logic.

Then there's the 2010 Academy Awards:
  • The King's Speech
  • Black Swan 
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit    
  • Winter's Bone
Inception is about a battle between corporate agents preying off each other, so it not only doesn't fit Stein's thesis, it assumes the correctness of corporate power. You might as well complain that Rocky shows boxers as people that hit each other.
And the Social Network? It's a nice celebration corporate capitalism that Stein should be cheering ... if he weren't so busy being sad.
You know what would be a fair example of Hollywood attacking capitalism? That scene in Titanic where it showed the designers cutting back on the number of lifeboats so it could make more money hauling passengers ... without telling the passengers of course! Or there's the scene where cheap rivets are purchased, making somebody a whole lotta money ... with the evidence conveniently at the bottom of the Atlantic. Hollywood could have turned Titanic into the anti-capitalist screed that Stein complains about, but it didn't, and that's not for political reasons; it's because putting the audience to sleep doesn't sell tickets.

Now, I doubt that very many people are going to read Stein all the way to the end; his writing is unoriginal and lacking in wit, larded with namedropping and frankly weird observations (of Walter Reed, he writes "....They have put the medical part, the rehab part, and the administrative offices all very near each other, which is surprisingly uplifting."  WTF?)  It is especially repulsive that he tries to make points by praising maimed soldiers and in the next paragraph discusses with Karl Rove the chances of restoring the Administration that lead to their maiming.

Truly, it is important to read these guys, but you have to use disinfectant afterwards.

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