Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Constitutes A Conservative Film?

Originally posted at Big Hollywood: LINK

It may sound strange to assert that many conservatives don’t understand what makes a film conservative, but the evidence is all over the web. More and more conservative websites are listing their top conservative films, but few of the films they list can actually be considered conservative. It’s as if they just picked films they like and then struggled to find something. . . anything they could call conservative within each film.

Indeed, you’d be amazed how many people identify leftist propaganda as conservative because “that film rocked” or because it has a tough guy or advocates revenge. When was conservatism ever about revenge? And many are mistaking errant lines of dialog for conservative themes. . . a serial-killing, eco-terrorist Marxist does not become a conservative hero just because he spouts off that he doesn’t trust the federal government to provide quality health care.

“I’m just not sure ObamaCare will work?”

So what are conservative values?

Well, surprisingly, this is where people get lost. Many simply want to attribute everything good to conservatism and everything bad to liberalism. Others claim things like patriotism, bravery, and even religious belief as conservative values. But these aren't uniquely conservative values. Indeed, many liberals have fought bravely and died for this country, and there are even leftist churches, and the truth is that both sides claim to believe in these things. . . they just see them differently. It's in that difference where we need to look to decide whether a film is conservative.

To bottom-line it, conservatives believe in the individual over the collective but temper their belief in individuality by requiring people to act according to a code of conduct based on traditional morality. Liberals believe in the collective over the individual and, where they allow individuality, they disdain traditional morality or personal responsibility. Thus, uniquely conservative values tend to be centered around:

(1) faith in individual rights over collective rights,

(2) an acceptance of cause and effect, and a willingness to let people bear the good and bad consequences of their actions,

(3) an unwillingness to excuse misbehavior as something beyond the control of the individual, i.e. society made me do it,

(4) the idea that respect and dignity are earned, not a right, and must be maintained through appropriate behavior,

(5) a belief that truth is absolute, not relative,

(6) an acceptance of human nature as it is and not as something that can be changed by government tinkering, and

(7) support for rule of law over nebulous concepts of supposed “fairness.”
Hence, a film that advocates individual rights over collective rights will generally be conservative (e.g. 1984 or 1975’s Rollerball.... yes, Rollerball), as will films where characters learn they have to earn the respect of others (Drumline??) or where they accept individual responsibilities (The Blind Side).

But don’t look for just one aspect in isolation. To be a conservative film, a film must have conservative values deeply ingrained throughout the film. The positive characters must act according to those values and they must be rewarded for it. The film can’t mock conservative values or treat them as social outliers, and it can't reinforce the leftist propagandized view of the world, e.g. minorities can’t succeed without the government, religion is a tool of oppression, capitalists are evil, etc.

And the key to deciding if a film does this is to look at how the film defines good and bad, i.e. what gets rewarded, what gets punished, and what does the film say about how we are supposed to solve our problems.

For example, a film about a character taking responsibility for their own life is probably conservative, especially if they are breaking out of a history of dependence on government to regain their lost human dignity. That’s a pretty powerful conservative message. But if the form of “responsibility” they choose is to become a thief, and the film rewards that behavior, then it’s not a conservative film. Even a film about a pedophile priest can be conservative, if they do the right thing with it. Showing how the priest has betrayed the true meaning of his religion could send a powerful conservative message, but slandering the religion because of the conduct of the priest would not.

Liberal films, by comparison, tend to be anti-conservative-bogeyman films (Avatar) or involve characters pushing for collectivist solutions (Norma Rae), usually government intervention (Erin Brockovich), and will excuse personal failure as somehow the result of societal pressures (Friday).

And don’t be fooled by the packaging. Liberal films often blur what their hero really wants to make their goals seem more conservative because audiences would react poorly to a character who is simply trying to get the government to step in. Hence, they present their heroes as brave individuals struggling single-handedly against all-powerful organizations (The China Syndrome) and they end the film the moment the hero is told they have won (Philadelphia). Yep, a real triumph for the individual! Only, what the victory actually entails (the part they don't show) is that swarms of government bureaucrats will now descend and regulate the "all-powerful" organization. Thus, what they sell as David beats Goliath, is really David calls in Super Goliath to control Goliath.

“Help! My antagonist is winning!”

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of this issue. Hollywood defines modern American culture. There’s no escaping that. It influences the way people see the world, how they solve their problems and whom they look to for solutions. It is the parent that so many parents are not. And unless conservatives want Hollywood raising a generation of reflexive liberal thinkers, we need to depoliticize the film industry. The only way to do that is to support conservative films and reject liberal films to re-establish a balance. To do that, we must understand when a film is or is not conservative.

So what are your favorite conservative films? And what makes them conservative?


AndrewPrice said...

I'll post these here for people who have problems with Intense Debate. Feel free to comment here or there! :-)

Anonymous said...

I looked at the comment count when I got home from work... wow!! A few trolls but some actual good conversation going on, including one gentleman who suggested that Back to School would fit the bill as a conservative film (which is something I've thought about).

"Listen, Sherlock. While you were tucked away up here working on your ethics, I was out there busting my hump in the REAL world. And the reason guys like you got a place to teach is 'cause guys like me donate buildings."

My favorite bit in the film (that doesn't involve Sam Kinison).

Other than that, you've addressed all of my comments. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Yeah, I was very pleasantly surprised. Both by the turn out and by the quality of the discussion. There was a lot of good thinking going on.

I'll have to give Back to School another look. I barely remember it.

BTW, I was surprised that no one objected to Drumline and some people even pointed out conservative parts of the film I'd forgotten!

Koshcat said...

Great article. By the time I got a chance to read it there were hundreds of comments. I think it was so popular because it gave such a good platform for discussion. I hadn't thought of the issue that some movies throw in a conservative sounding line or scene to sort of fool you. I will have to think about what would be the best. Mostly what I can think of are recent movies. I liked the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Bale's character makes his decisions in life not to improve himself but his family. This selfless approach motivates those around him without long speeches. Even affects Crowe's character to be less selfish, at least for a little while.

Prefer to read it here. I don't mind someone disagreeing with (Lord knows I have had a couple with people) but they tend to be intelligent and respectful. Trolls just annoy.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Koshcat! I'll post everything I write at BH here as well because I know some people have problems getting the BH site to load and some people can't comment over there.

People definitely ran with the article and I was thrilled with the discussion because it brought out some very thoughtful answers (not just one liners) and it seems to have spawned some debates that turned out to be very interesting. Hopefully, it will also get other contributors thinking bigger?

On the issue of the one-liners, I never really thought much about it until I started seeing the lists of "favorite conservative films" all over the web and I realized that people were literally latching onto minor moments or throw-away lines or things that had nothing to do with conservatism.

I even saw someone list Platoon as conservative because Tom Berrenger's character "did what had to be done". Uh... he's the villains folks. He's made out as a monster. That's like saying Star Wars is pro-Emperor!

That's when it struck me that too many people had no idea how to judge the politics of a movie. So I set out to figure out how to lay out a sort of test for people.

The real trick I think was in describing conservatism -- as that's actually an area of some dispute and can really get ugly between social conservatives and libertarians... which is too bad because they are much closer than they realize.

I think the seven points should be acceptable to both groups, though with each probably putting more or less emphasis on different points.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. The one thing that did absolutely amaze me was the lack of liberals who showed up to claim some of these values. There were some trolls, but they were pretty standard trolls as compared to just average liberals.

I would have thought some liberals would have shown up to claim that they are the ones who genuinely represent freedom and individuality and we're the evil lock-steppers. I guess there either are no liberals reading, or they didn't see how to attack the article?

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Outstanding post, Andrew!

It was great to see all the responses! I think most folks (conservatives/classical liberals/libertarians anyway) enjoy writing that, like yours, is both interesting and gets them to think!

BTW, I know libertarians and conservatives agree more often than not but one belief that most libertarians have: that our liberties and rights come from man rather than from God (or at least Nature), is a big difference IMO and something most libertarians have in common with lefties.

Also, the libertarian idea that (some? or most? I have no idea really how many believe this) borders, boundaries, rules, and laws are somehow antithema to liberty is, frankly nutty.

I'm not saying all boundaries or laws are good or helpful (particularly the so-called hate crime laws or many stupid and not well-though out modern laws our Founders would've shuddered at) but the ones that are sound actually enhance liberty, not diminish it.

IMO, and I've seen this happen among more than a few conservatives too, many libertarians can't distinguish liberty from mere freedom.

And many libertarians also think that adults should be legally free to do anything as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.

Unfortunately, a lot of the freedoms they want legalized would hurt someone else (such as legalizing hard drugs).

Those who think it wouldn't ain't being honest. And this is just one example of many.

It also is idiotic for any libertarian to believe that the vast majority of social or religious conservatives want some sort of theology or wanna shove their relgion down everyone elses throats.

For one thing, the left tries to do this all the time, and have been for decades.

And for another, I challenge any libertarian to name one time since prohibition that social or religious conservatives have shoved anything down anyone's throats...and there has never been a theocracy of any kind whatsoever in the U.S. even when most folks were much more religious than they are now, so that's clearly a strawman argument.

Okay, mini rant over. I have many friends that are libertarian or constitutionalist and I appreciate we can agree on most issues (some actually agree with me that some libertarians are, as they put it, kooky or nutty in their pursuit of anarchy).

I know thyere are some things libertarians and conservatives have to agree to disagree about and that's cool.
But I think we can all agree that Obama and, indeed, any leftist is far worst than any conservative or even (gasp!) religious republicans.

I tried to comment a few times at BH but I gave up after about a half hour so I'm glad you're reposting here. :^)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Er..."theology" should read theocracy. Natch.

BTW, It's difficult to think of any modern era films that are conservative that hasn't already been mentioned in the comments at BH that meet all of your criteria.

I know you mentioned that some movies can't incude all 7 criteria (due to it's limited scope) so would I be correct to presume that those that are conservative within the confines of what they are, would be considered conservative?

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

PS- I know it's impossible to reply to every comment (especially when you have over 400! Wow!
But I don't think I'm the only one that appreciates that you do try to reply to a lot of commenters and to every good point.

Thank you! I know it can't be easy, but I also know that more folks tend to respond when they know the author actually reads their comments and that tends to help draw better commenters, as well as having a great post that is.

I think of your comments as mini addendums to your post, filling in the stuff you didn't have the space for.

Anyhow it's rewarding to read the comments (yours as well as the good commenters and there were many) along with your post.

After identifying the few kooks n' trolls it didn't take too long to read all the comments. :^)

Although I must say it's a bit easier here since we ain't got any kooks (Okay, T-Rav might be kooky sometimes but in a funny way, which is quite different than the boring kooks without the funny).

That's the major difference between kooky and just plain kook.
Gomez (the original Adams Family) was kooky (and funny, I might add!).

Obama is a kook.

See? Huge difference.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the article! :-)

On the libertarian v. conservative thing, I think both sides have their nuts. Most libertarians I know don't sit on the whacko end of the spectrum, though some do. And as I've noted with my articles on drugs and on gay marriage, they are wrong to support both issues because they are only looking at one side of the equation. So they are actually advocating less freedom in the name of "freedom."

That said, the social conservatives have their nuts too -- and many of them do advocate using the federal government to impose their views of morality on the rest of the public.

I tend to dismiss the nuts in all movements and look at the more mainstream people. When you do that, you see that social conservatives and libertarians basically agree on 90-95% of issues. The 5-10% is definitely hot button stuff, but they should still work together on the other 90-95%. Unfortunately, there's been this war between the two fringes of each movement that have soured the two groups on each other -- and opened the door for leftists to remain politically competitive.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I think it's important to comment. For one thing, I want people to know that I do read every comment. Secondly, people raise issues about the article that do need to be clarified. So I think it's the author's duty to get in there and explain what they meant.

Also, it seems rude not to respond to people who took the time to comment.

I've noticed that a lot of people who run websites don't respond and I think that's a mistake. I go to one sports website everyday where I love what the guy writes, but he never responds to comments and that's soured people on him. I think it's a mistake to ignore your audience.

And yeah, 400+ wow!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I concur, Andrew.

It's strange that the libertarians I know are really classical liberals like our founding fathers but most I see commenting on blogs are quite different.

I think part of the problem is that many libertarians have some things in common but have no common creed so to speak (like I said, some libertarians hold the Constitution, bill of rights, Declaration, etc. as their set principles while others make up their own).

This creates a lot of confusion (then there's that litlle l and big L thing).
I believe this demonstrates the importance of the self evident truth's our founding fathers talked and wrote about and that it must come from God or Nature.

Because if it's all relative it becomes a mess. This is why a few of my friends became Constitutionalists.

And you're right about the fringe, self-described conservatives that see everything through the prism of their view of God who they try to contain in a narrow, anti-free will manner.
It's a flat, two dimensional theology that has gone off the rails of reason.

That's not an attack on them but merely an observation on my part.
I hope that fringe conservatives and libertarians can see that conservatives and libertarians in general are not their enemies and that trying to form a third party will never work and only weaken their voice as well as ours.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I agree. I think the problem really is at the fringes. A lot of the people you see online are fringers who have really twisted something like libertarianism or Christianity to fit their views rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, these people tend to be so vocal and it's so hard to tell who is legitimate and who is just hiding behind the label, that people have come to associate the fringes with the ideology in general -- and that's a mistake.

I've found very few people who accept what their own fringers are saying, yet most people seem willing to believe that the other guy's fringers speak for the majority. That's a problem.

In truth, I think there is a similar problem between conservatives and liberals. Most liberals are not as far gone as the people you find on line (or leading the Democratic Party). And conservatives certainly are not what they are portrayed to be by the left either.

On Constitutionalists, by the way, they have just as many fringers -- people who read one line out of context and then base their whole view of the document on that. The Constitution simply cannot be meaningfully read in that manner. Indeed, that kind of reading lets you read anything you want into ir.

Koshcat said...

The Dirty Dozen might fit your definition. Yes, the men had done bad things but there is faith that each might do the right thing to atone for their sins. I think it is also a good message that sometimes you have to give up some of your individuality for a larger purpose BUT each has to want to do it to make it work.

After your article, now I keep thinking and looking around for movies that fit. They are rare and seem to be the older movies. I did like Nolte's best left wing movies, some. Liked others I hated (Dances with Wolves). I know it's a lefty movie, but for some reason I like Platoon.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I'm glad you're still thinking about the article!

I've found that a large number of older movies (sometimes even with "liberal ideas" like civil rights) tend to follow these conservative guidelines. It isn't until the late 1960s early 1970s that you begin to see the real divergence toward modern liberalism. And that shift actually fits with the shift of liberalism toward identity/victim politics following the 1968 riots and Vietnam.

It is interesting how few modern movies follow conservative principles. There are some, but the vast majority studiously avoid these principles.

I agree about "The Dirty Dozen." It's not obviously conservative because its subject matter seems non-political and involves "bad guys" as good guys, but if you think about it, you've got a group of men who are being given a second chance (redemption). They work hard not only to go on the straight and narrow, but also to improve themselves, i.e. they earn their redemption -- it's not given. They learn traits like loyalty -- which is a huge theme in the film -- heroism, self-sacrifice, and they absolutely earn the respect of everyone around them. That's all very conservative turf right there. Liberalism would be more concerned with seeing them as victims of the system.

On the issue of collectivism v. individuality, someone asked that yesterday in the context of "Armageddon". They said, "you've got individuals sacrificing themselves for the collective, doesn't that make it a pro-collectivist film?" Here was my response, which I think is worth repeating:

AndrewPrice said...


There are two things to remember. First, not all films will cover all the principles. For example, you could make a version of "1984" that just deals with the struggle between the individual and the collective without ever delving into the other values mentioned above. You could also do a family drama that never touches upon the issue of individualism v. collectivism. So it's not necessarily true that you will find each issue addressed in every film.

Films like "Armageddon" really don't delve into the individual v. collective struggle -- to the extent they do, they just affirm the fact that it's the individuals' choice to act or not, i.e. the government isn't ordering them to the asteroid (which would be a liberal idea). Instead, these films tend to talk more about the traditional values aspect of the liberalism/conservatism debate. And it's possible they aren't even doing that -- some films just don't have much of a political message.

In terms of traditional values, self-sacrifice has long been considered a heroic virtue, which makes it something that fits well with conservative beliefs. Liberals claim it as well, though they simultaneously disdain the idea of genuine heroes. So that's a bit of liberal doublespeak. Still, the mere fact some character sacrifices themselves does not make a film conservative or liberal. I would say you need to look for more support within the film before you can say it is one or the other... or neither.

Does that answer your question?

thundercatkp said...


Conservative or Liberal...can any film or series be classified as either one or the other? At least any good fims.

I was thinking about the TV Series "Jericho"...I'm going to rewatch the series on Netflix.

On one side they have the towns people just trying to survive. Then Jennings & Rall show up with their private military company Ravenwood...basically with carte blanche.

I don't know? How do you take a complex series or film and break it down to be either conservative or liberal?


AndrewPrice said...

thundercatkp, Actually, a feel needs to be one or the other otherwise it become a real mess because its the two worldviews conflict. Thus, if it tries to be both liberal and conservative in it's world view, it will contradict itself over and over.

It can pick one or the other and they try to lay some themes over that, e.g. injecting liberal political ideas on a conservative base, but even that will come across as somewhat confused.

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