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Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit 
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Post Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
We're told that there's a liberal bias in film criticism, but that's something that never bothered me. In fact, I think it's the only way to be a film critic. If you're the type of person who says "GAY SEX! BAD!" then you're unable to judge a film on its merits and can't be a worthy critic. You can't be a food critic if you don't like all seafood, and you can't be a film critic if you're closed off to certain types of film. That always made sense to me.

But I feel there's a second type of liberal bias in criticism that is much more problematic. And that is the belief in the sanctity of the progressive vs. the horror of the reactionary. Films that are ahead of their time (when talking about past cinema) are praise-worthy and films that are conservative or backwards from a modern perspective are worthy of scorn. Films that echo current liberal values are good, and ones that don't are bad. This strikes me as, frankly, bullshit.

Take Dirty Harry. It gets all kinds of flak for not caring enough about due process and civil liberties. Why? It has no bearing on the caliber of Dirty Harry as a film (.44 magnum...ZING) and in fact helps make the film better. After all, Dirty Harry Callahan needs to exist in a world which warrants a man of action, who can cut through the bureaucratic rigamarole. Or, on the other hand, take Frozen. It gets all manner of praise because of its seemingly progressive gender politics. Whoopdee-shit. Beauty and Beast isn't nearly as modern and hip-womanny but it's a far better movie

Now there are obviously exceptions. If a movie is ABOUT, say, race relations, then I find it acceptable to criticize a film like The Blind Side for its hopelessly dated interpretation of them. After all, the film is about race, so its treatment of racial politics is germane to its success or failure as a film. But Gone with the Wind is a big, sweeping romantic epic set in the Civil War south. Complaining that Mammy is too much of a "happy slave" archetype strikes me as counterfeit. After all, does that mean the film would have been materially better if only Mammy had run away once or twice to prove she wasn't a happy slave?

So I'm curious what you guys think here. I'm not trying to say that we have to love movies, regardless of what their political message is. I'm just saying that giving a film or book the seal of approval because it's "progressive" is ridiculous -- a work of art should be judged on far more than whether it conforms to the political norms of modern intellectual liberalism.

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Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:24 am
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
A film's political leanings doesn't bother me on its own. I think there are very good ways, and likewise very bad ways, films get their messages across.

It pisses me off when someone like Matt Damon seem to manifest his own politics through his films. Even Bourne. I remember a few years ago Damon was slagging Bond off as reactionary and blah blah blah. Yeah that's right Matt. Bourne kills scores of people - but they're all bad guys right? They were probably quite sexist, and used un-PC language, oh yeah, and they were murderers too. And it's not your fault anyway because you were programmed by the US government. You'd be curing cancer or saving orphans if it weren't for the bloody US government. Fuck right off, mate!

And lets face it. Actors are to varying degrees prostitutes. I bet a pious liberal would play any character in Atlas Shrugged if it meant he didn't have to give another blow job to a producer's fat Uncle. Likewise you'd get a struggling Republican playing Harvey Milk's campier long-lost Brother for the same.

Bottom line, there are skilful ways to get politics across.

South Park for instance. It demolishes any commonly held opinion that is profoundly stupid - left or right. That's how to do it

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Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:35 am
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
I don't agree at all that liberals are better at separating bias from objectivity. In fact I'd argue the opposite in almost every way. However, I do believe that certain personality traits tend to make some people better at some jobs than others are. Generally speaking, people with liberal traits tend to be more passionate when it come to artistic pursuits. Since a film critic requires analytical skills, literary skills, and translation of feelings into prose, I'm generally of the opinion liberals are more likely to be better for the task. The communication of the experience is more important than the analysis to most consumers - in my opinion. I don't care about the reviewer's bias much - after I've seen a few of the movies reviewed I can calibrate the reviewer to my own likes and dislikes.


Mon Jun 16, 2014 12:40 pm
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
CasualDad wrote:
I don't agree at all that liberals are better at separating bias from objectivity.


I didn't say that they were. I said that they are able to appreciate a gay film whereas a conservative critic would not.

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Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:01 pm
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
JamesKunz wrote:
CasualDad wrote:
I don't agree at all that liberals are better at separating bias from objectivity.


I didn't say that they were. I said that they are able to appreciate a gay film whereas a conservative critic would not.


True (that they are more likely to appreciate a gay film). However, what you said was "If you're the type of person who says "GAY SEX! BAD!" then you're unable to judge a film on its merits and can't be a worthy critic."

It says nothing about appreciating gay films, just that people who think gay sex is bad can't judge film on merit and are unworthy of being critics.


Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:54 pm
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
I like to judge a film by the standards of the time it was made. To use Dirty Harry as an example, it is very much a reflection of the attitudes of the "Silent majority" Richard Nixon spoke of in the late 1960s. Harry Callahan is a very Nixonian character, and the film as a cultural artifact is essential. I find it interesting to compare the attitudes of Dirty Harry to prevalent attitudes in the present; in my opinion Harry's brand of justice would be welcomed with open arms today. Harry is a Nixonian (and a Reaganite if you examine the sequels as well), and his personal approach to policework reflects the attitudes of Nixon/Reagan/Bush; he is concerned with justice but not interested in due process, he shows little concern for minority rights, and his treatment of those who break the law reflect little concern for human rights in general.

I personally like the film because it is well-made and thought provoking. I have always been of the opinion that just because a film's politics are right-wing, it doesn't mean it's a bad film. The Dark Knight Rises is a fascist film if there ever was one, but it too is exceptionally thought-provoking and well made. But I've explained my stance on that one already.

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Mon Jun 16, 2014 2:06 pm
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
I appreciate Frozen for what it is, but I don't love it(don't really love Beast either though)

I agree that films shouldn't be condemned for simply having a conservative viewpoint, I actually like quite a few films with what some would call a "jingoistic" viewpoint like the Rambo sequels, the Transformers films and Iron Eagle, and I certainly wouldn't get to the point of giving a film 0 stars just for it's politics like Roger Ebert did with "Life Of David Gale"(which has other problems anyways).

I do think people have legitimate reasons for being disturbed by Gone With The Wind's take on race relations(same with Driving Miss Daisy), though I personally dislike that film for several other reasons.

I have no problem with Damon manifesting his own politics in his films, conservatives have done that plenty of times(I.E. John Wayne in The Green Berets), I may disagree with his take on Bond, but it's just his opinion, so I wouldn't take what he says so seriously or tell him to "fuck off"

Personally I don't think South Park is all that "smart" when it comes to politics.

Also there actually were some deleted scenes in Dark Knight Rises which pretty much went against the "facist" notion, but I still see where you're coming from.

One conservative film that largely failed as satire was "An American Carol", the film was occasionally funny, but the humor was incredibly lazy when it came to making of fun Michael Moore and whatnot, it didn't seem to have anything clever or insightful to say at all beyond "Moore is fat and anti-American!", that's basically what 50% of the jokes were and it got pretty tiresome after a while.


Mon Jun 16, 2014 2:25 pm
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
Sexual Chocolate wrote:


I personally like the film because it is well-made and thought provoking. I have always been of the opinion that just because a film's politics are right-wing, it doesn't mean it's a bad film.


I should hope so! The fact that this statement needs to be made illustrates my point. Master and Commander is a deeply, profoundly conservative film. It believes in class and order and everyone knowing their place and the glory of the British empire. What part of that should make it a bad film?

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Mon Jun 16, 2014 4:16 pm
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
I try to approach all films apolitically and as a result tend to prefer films which are themselves apolitical.


Mon Jun 16, 2014 4:33 pm
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Post Re: Progressive vs. Reactionary vs. It's Bullshit
MGamesCook wrote:
I try to approach all films apolitically and as a result tend to prefer films which are themselves apolitical.

Agreed. I prefer films whose messages are open to interpretation and thought provoking, as opposed to those that ram a preconceived rigid viewpoint down your throat and selling it as some sort of absolute truth. That isn't to say I'd automatically hate such a film - particularly when it happens to align with my own views. However, some nuance goes a long way.


Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:21 am
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