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Conversation over hate at Charlottesville, in the New Yorker Movie Facebook Club

Raquel Herrera
The recent horrifying events at Charlottesville brought to my mind a film I very much enjoyed back in the day: I am talking about American History X (1998) starring Edward Norton. Are there any other films that have similarly inspired you to reject discrimination, bigotry?

Patrick McEvoy-Halston The right thinks we are bigoted. We're more emotionally evolved, but overall, the right is right about this. There may well be some amongst us that learned, through exposure to films, to unlearn bigotry, but I can't imagine all that many--especially those under a certain age. So possibly by listing films, we might more genuinely be bragging. The film didn't turn you from pro-life into pro-choice, it didn't change you into being sympathetic and respectful when previously you were ardent racist, it didn't turn you from being nativist into being pro-immigration. They played to your already established sympathies, and you may well have gone to the film intending to juice them up. What they may have done is increased your bigotry to various "out" groups the left has right now--categories of people we are encouraged mostly to despise, through film and other. 

So genuinely, considering how liberal most films are, perhaps we need to rely on critics to help us confront our own bigotry, the satisfactions we gather that prevent us from disabling them. Why is this important? For a number of reasons. One is that if members of the left are losing their sanity (too)--as for example a recent Atlantic Monthly argues--requiring a specific projection of the world to be held out there to help maintain an inner homeostasis they feel is cracking, then they can't be counted to fix at all times entirely on truth because some truths "might simply not accord" with powerful sanity needs, and they can't know that what is causing them mental dis-ease now might end up transforming them into essentially the very people they're currently despising--same source, same pull backwards. If I knew someone loved "Detroit" but also loved "Dunkirk," I'm not quite sure that a couple years from now that what was in them to appreciate the nativism in Dunkirk wouldn't have them taking previously un-embraced stances on immigration policy, for instance, or "traitorous," "their-own-country-disloyal", liberal universities, or the need for strong leaders, walls... in these challenged times, where civ itself is at risk. These people, who'd just become vastly different people, would still of course love "Detroit" and think the only change in them is that they became that much more informed and virtuous.  

Many of us loved "Spotlight." I noticed while watching the film that it touched on how molesting priests themselves were very likely molested, but wanted to keep us from carrying empathy towards them. These priests themselves were survivors, but ones who didn't go on to barely get through life or create advocacy groups, but became perpetrators... but we know that this might not have been about choice, given the age it happened to them and the titanic impact of abuse, about real options: the particular path they went might have been determined for them by their experiences of molestation--some to suicide, others 'to "monsters." "Spotlight" encouraged bigotry, priest-hatred, Catholic Church-hatred, amongst people who already were supportive of victims of child abuse and against the church, and might have served our needs but possibly made us more stupid at a time when the momentum might not be with us anymore, and we're going to need to be fully alert, smart, and not hammering over and over again the same ol' nail, while the same arising hurricane that hit the 1930s and which made shaped many '20s swingers themselves into unconscious nativist bigots, visits us as well. Spotting out obvious Nazis does us no good at all. What helps are films, or as I suggested, critics of films, which/who prompt us to wonder if what happened to all those progressive 1920 people that switched protectionist, nationalist, pro-dictator, and more bigoted, might without our knowledge be swelling about in us too. Do we feel a need to project everything we don't like about ourselves into some target we can deny empathy to?

Armond White is not a favourite critic of mind, but I do think his bit on "Spotlight" helpful for us to challenge the bigotry many of us are actually in thrall to:

Richard Brody's take on it is also useful for encouraging us to see things in films which will help draw attention to what we may currently be oblivious to. A couple years from now, imagine what some might say about us, about how we, so liberally informed as we all are, were goats to assessments of people that left us shortchanged in accurately perceiving their plights (severe childhood abuse, along with a desperate clamouring for love, as is true with every individual who is malformed and monstrous), and how it left us dumb to understand the fantastic drive of the righwing movements around the world.

David Huskey The National Review review of Spotlight appears to come from an extraordinarily biased place. I fail to see nihilism in a movie that celebrates individual courage in standing up to a corrupt and powerful institution. An institution more interested in preserving its reputation, or particular dangerous members, than protecting the children entrusted to its care and moral nourishment is not worthy of respect or belief. Institutions, even religious ones, are no better than the people who populate them. Many religious, political, and other leaders become more interested in preservering their reputation and power than admitting clear fault when crises arrive. I found Spotlight to be a very moving film about the courage to take on wrongdoing; it was about idealism, not nihilism. There are many other stories of great moral courage by religious leaders who relied upon their faith to help them do the right thing. Those people should also be celebrated, and they have been in films like Ghandi and Selma. However, the grave failures of religious leaders should not be ignored by film makers because it might cause some to lose faith in a particular religion. The failure to rationally examine the conduct and practices of instutions based on faith is a recipe for disaster when the leaders are crazy (cults) or venal (prosperity gospel). While the review cited has an interesting perspective, I think it is an example of ideologically driven criticism targeting a specific (and I hope narrow) point of view.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston David Huskey I didn't find the film nihilistic, and I actually overall like the film a lot (you spend time with terrific actors playing enormously likeable characters). What I do like about the review is that it spotted out how empathy had to be staunched in the film, for there's a moment where logic would have us having a difficult time, not stopping, which is easy, but hating the church, hating the priests, hating the institution, and we do in the end--hate those bastards. "It could have been any of us!" How so? For a moment we're lent to see all of the priests as themselves subjects of molestation, and if they are, then the institution itself... is a fantasy built out of compensation of abuse--Christ gets royally screwed, but also God's love out of it. Pathetic, but also a miracle solution if collective origins are sick enough. That's certainly not the "getting inside" the Catholic perspective that Armond wants for us, for certain. But his call is still the right call--see if we can inside their heads. If we can't, we may need to allow that we have to have certain groups we ourselves can detach empathy with. And if we're like that, and not the perfect empathizers we think we are, then can we count on our not getting worse? It's something we really need to know. What will happen when our easy ability to hate on the Catholic Church, on Hillbilly Nation, whom are all regressive, is taken away from us, as collectively it's derided as a passing age's means of providing itself with cover for its own indulgences? Do we go insane?


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