In answer to Commentary’s question about the future of Conservatism “in the wake of the 2012 election,” Academy-Award-nominated screenwriter and cofounder of Pajamas Media Roger Simon issued a challenge. “Move to take back the arts and entertainment,” Simon proposed.
“Conservatives whine incessantly about Hollywood. Stop whining and do it. Learn to make movies and TV shows that are as good as theirs. As a film professional, I know how difficult this is, but it can be done. Like the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall, all it takes is practice, practice, practice,” Simon declares.
Conservatives and libertarians cannot avoid culture, nor can they afford to pounce on every perceived slight with church lady outrage. Making inroads into the collective consciousness means embracing trends and using them, having a sense of humor about ourselves and our approach, and taking to heart that the core value of entertainment is to entertain. Will conservatives ever be among the recognized and revered? Maybe not. But if the track record of tangentially conservative-focused enterprises (like, for example the Blue Collar Comedy Tour) has taught us anything, they will be rich. Which means they’ll be powerful.
I was thinking about these questions while watching the Golden Globes and specifically after following the “controversy” over Ben Affleck’s film Argo.
Affleck’s movie is the terrific real-life tale of CIA agent Tony Mendez, who in 1979 devised an outlandish plan to extract six US embassy employees who had taken refuge in the Canadian Ambassador’s residence in Tehran, after the American embassy was taken over by Iranian revolutionaries. Mendez smuggled out the six by portraying them as members of a Canadian film crew.
If the main business of Hollywood is telling entertaining stories (as Zanotti suggests), then Argo’s success both at the box office and among critics, not to mention its Golden Globe wins for best director and best movie, would seem unsurprising. And yet the film has stirred some controversy, along with the Osama bin Laden assassination movie Zero Dark Thirty, as evidenced by the fact that neither director, Affleck nor Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow, received an Oscar nomination for best director.
The reason for the snubs is commonly agreed to be about the two movies’ positive portrayals of the CIA and its methods. During his acceptance speech at the Globes, Affleck was unapologetic. “Look, I don’t care what the award is, when they put your name next to the names that [presenter Halle Berry] just read off, it’s an extraordinary thing in your life.” During his speech, Affleck was also emphatic in his praise for Mendez, the clandestine and foreign services, and all those serving in the armed forces for defending America.
Affleck’s embrace of a great story that happens to show a single CIA agent in a positive light is worth appreciating, but it also newsworthy because it is exceptional. Neither Zero Dark Thirty nor Argo are pro-American propaganda films, but when for thirty years many of the worst movie villains have been CIA agents, (not to mention FBI, corrupt cops, and dirty politicians), it comes as a huge shock when a movie–or two–break that mold.
What should motivate those of us who agree with Simon and Zanotti is to realize that while it is refreshing that a big star like Affleck chose to make a movie that’s somewhat positively disposed toward the men and women who defend the homeland, subsisting on such fare is like claiming that crumbs are a banquet.
Abby W. Schachter is a Pittsburgh-based journalist and blogger. Follow her on twitter.com/abbyschachter