Lynne Cheney and the ‘spiritually correct’ horde periodically lift their heads from Karl Rove’s trough to bray about how America’s in a culture war, and I agree. Since I’m not a corporation, I have no say what happens in my government, so the only way I can wield any armaments in this war is through what I consume, which is mostly entertainment.
I’m starting a battalion right now and here’s our mission; no more bad movies. No more seeing them, no more talking about them, no more reading about them in Vanity Fair, no more watching religious fanatics promoting them while jumping on Oprah’s couch. No more poo-pooing friends who work on them, no more speculating about the reasons behind making them — and most importantly — no more going to see them ‘ironically’, as though we’re somehow ‘above’ their abysmal storytelling and only along for something as vague as its ‘rollercoaster ride.’ I know it sounds tough, but this a war of the cogent against the deranged, and so we need to smarten up. Now.
Bad movies have a way of coming back to haunt you. You show incredible restraint avoiding Miss Congeniality and then it shows up on the plane. You spend three weeks at a Kurasawa retrospective and then, stricken with insomnia, get stuck with 300 cable stations showing Steven Seagal movies. Or Daredevil.
Remember poor old doddering Ronald Reagan (beloved by the Christians though he rarely set foot in a church) going to Europe and standing amongst world leaders - many of them actual veterans — recounting tales of his glory days fighting in World War II, tales which were not merely lies but plots from dreadful films The Gipper acted in while the rest of the free world defeated Nazism? Who thought those films would ever come back to haunt us? But there they were, naked and lame upon an international stage, embarrassing the shit out of any conscious American. It was like someone screened Ishtar at a G-8 conference.
How ‘bout Footloose? High-schooler Kevin Bacon leads a revolution in a God-fearing town where teenagers aren’t allowed to dance because it’s the ‘devil’s language?’ I sat in the theater wondering, ’who on earth would believe a town would prevent teenagers from dancing to stave off the devil? The premise is ridiculous. What kind of moron could propose such drivel with a straight face?’
Bad films, like History and Satan himself, have the ability to change exterior form while retaining the inner stench of death . As quickly as Rocky could be remade into The Natural into 8 Mile and remade again into Hustle & Flow, Footloose is preparing to be reborn. In the era of The Torture President, the Pope condemning Harry Potter as anti-Christian, and a gay male hustler given security clearance and shown deference at White House press briefings, no film premise is too absurd. Enter Part I of the Footloose franchise, The Rick Santorum Story, a cornpone, aw-shucks, down-home humble bumpkin saga so crammed with horseshit it would make a maggot gag.
Like any film franchise, the script needs to follow a classic story archetype, and the GOP producers of this mega-belch have chosen a story arc familiar to any fan of Hollywood; The Righteous Asshole Saga. Perfected by Bruce Willis in countless films, from Armageddon through the Die Hards, from Hart’s War to Hostage, it’s a story arc we know by heart.
Shall we go through the plot points for the two or three of you unfamiliar with every Jerry Bruckheimer movie? A visionary and misunderstood iconoclast who’s been somehow ‘wronged’, a man of unwavering conviction, ignores all the odds—and advice—and instead soldiers on in the face of adversity, common sense, science, human intellectual progress, and global consensus and leaves in his wake the charred remains of naysayers, the enemy, the weak, leveled buildings, towns, even civilizations. A man like Hitler, say. A real story of inspiration.
All the marketing and ancillary promotional toys encourage us to bask in the hero’s moral certainty despite evidence to the contrary, and ignore the catastrophic means to his end. We find comfort in the iconographic imagery provided in the stills, the slogans on the poster, and the headlines of the reviews. So attuned are we to the shoveling of this myth that we rarely notice its promotion everywhere, even on the cups from McDonald’s, the hold music for your bank, or, more recently, as bogus news items or ‘lifestyle articles.’
The New York Times Magazine recently ran one such stealth press release promoting The Rick Santorum Story on the cover of its Sunday magazine, but I wasn’t fooled. Since I stopped seeing bad movies, I’ve gotten really good at recognizing when I’m being pitched to.
Posing as a ‘profile’ of Santorum, the article was entitled, ‘The Senator From a Place Called Faith.’ Whoa, red flag. Read that again, out loud. Doesn’t it sound like a tag line from some craven Oscar vehicle like Pay It Forward or Anna and The King? Has Peggy Noonan started ghost-writing PR for Hollywood? ‘The Senator From a Place called Faith’?! Where is Faith, exactly? Is it next to Pepperidge Farms? Should I turn right at Hidden Valley Ranch? On my way, can I visit the Hallmark Hall of Fame?
Clearly the ‘pre-release pub’ (as they say in Hollywood) is well underway for this, the latest remake of The Righteous Asshole Saga. But those clever people over in marketing have gone one better; they’re already ‘piggybacking’ (another fave promo term) advance press for its sequel, Part II: the Footloose update.
In a recent promotional trinket for Part I-- a press release cleverly designed to look like a book entitled, ‘It Takes A Family’--our Righteous Asshole tripped over his dragging forearms and attacked Bono as Satan. Whoa, red flag. Read it again, out loud. Bono as Satan. Bono, a man whose body of work as a lyricist could reasonably be described as a 25 year conversation with God. The guy who first toured America literally carrying a Bible. You know, the author of those satanic screeds ‘Love And Peace,’ ‘Peace On Earth,’ and even ‘Wake Up Dead Man’ about the second coming of Christ. The man who traveled the globe quoting so much Scripture combating AIDS and relieving debt in Africa he made the Pope chuckle, Jesse Helms cry, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bono as Satan. Suddenly a town that forbids teenagers from dancing doesn’t sound so implausible. Does anybody smell remake? I’m hooked! Bring on the branding!
Let’s check instant replay, from Santorum’s press release, er, ‘book’:
When I listen to the rock group U2’s latest hit “Vertigo,’ which criticizes the dizzying culture around us, a chill goes through me when I hear Bono sing, in a Satanic voice, ’All of this. All of this can be yours—just give me what I want and no one gets hurt.”
Personally, I’ve never heard the voice of Satan; he’s never spoken to me, but clearly he has to Santorum, and only the Dark One himself knows why he chose the Senator from Pennsylvania or what he said, though I would imagine it was something truly demonic, like ‘go into politics,’ or ‘keep the haircut.’
But one of the casualties of bad movies is all those French-sounding words like subtlety, metaphor, and irony, which is a shame, because if Santorum bothered to listen to the rest of U2’s song (in fairness, maybe he was pressed for listening time amidst all his power meetings on The Hill extolling the Christian virtues behind the death penalty, lowering the minimum wage or linking homosexuality with bestiality and incest), he would’ve stumbled upon a heavy dose of poetic irony—and an interesting invocation of God.
Let’s go to playback to see what Bono says immediately after the lyrics quoted by Santorum;
‘…you give me something I can feel/I can feel your love teaching me how, how to kneel..’
Gee, I don’t know about you, Rick, but to me this sounds like a person finding faith and clarity in a dizzying world of Vertigo while others desire everything in sight and threaten anyone who gets in the way. Others like you, say, who threatened Bill Frist and the entire Senate with a de facto filibuster until they agreed to march into the Florida hospice of 59 dying Americans for a photo op with a woman in a coma—against her guardian’s wishes, and the law. And there’s that troubling lyric kneel, in there, and well, isn’t that about humility, as in genuflecting before, you know--God? Funny you would’ve missed that.
One wonders how the studio behind The Rick Santorum Story could allow the talent to make such an obvious elision quoting a song so clearly aligned with his professed faith. Why diss Bono, when so much of his charity work is clearly faith-based and inspired by his Irish/Catholic upbringing? Simple; while Bono’s charitable impulse is faith-inspired, Santorum’s is faith–imposing. In Santorum’s film, er, world, it’s not enough to simply be a charity in order to receive government funds; you have to be a faith-based charity. The needy must accept the dogma; that’s the Santorum brand. You can’t just feed bread to the starving; you have to spread ideology over it first and then ram it down their throats. Gotta get that corporate logo in there.
And this is why the Republican power structure pushes Santorum’s film, because imposing is what they’re all about. Imposing and calling it charity. Making your kid say the Pledge of Allegiance, forcing you to give up your home to private developers to raise your town’s tax base, preventing you from filing class action suits against corporations who knowingly promote harmful, even deadly, products. Imposing, controlling and profiting--but calling it morality, values or charity--that’s their studio brand.
But real, honest-to-God charity, the kind you see in Scripture, without payback? That’s the last thing they want someone advertising. What, no sponsor? That’s The Government Solving Your Problems. That’s Underwriting Welfare Cheats. That’s Creating a Cycle of Dependence.
It’s also Christ-like.
But if you can get people used to an imposed faith, you can get them used to an imposed anything—like, say an ideology or mythology – and that sets the stage for the Fourth Reich, the real dream film franchise of Karl Rove, Donald Wildmon, Ralph Reed, John Bolton and the rest of the brown shirts.
And that’s Satan-like.
So real charity has to be made to look bad, bad movies have to be made to seem good, and songs about searching your soul have to be spun as the voice of Satan. Because if you search your soul, you may find your own innate sense of empathy and charity and, sensing how unselfish it is, you may then look in horror upon the bogus ‘morals’ in The Rick Santorum Story and see them for what they are---product placement of hate and selfishness, like ‘saving’ marriage from gays who love each other, or taking away women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights, or giving polluters greater leeway to destroy the air your kids breathe.
And you rejecting this bad movie and finding this purity in your soul is what terrifies not only Rick Santorum but Dick Cheney. Because once you spot this hypocrisy here, you’ll begin to spot it everywhere. The entire product line goes into the toilet. ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Mission Accomplished’ will begin to look as absurd—and as fetid—as the prequel to ‘The Exorcist’, or Rosie O’Donnell playing a mentally disabled adult. A Carrot Top movie would sell more tickets.
And this is why Bono—who can quote Scripture, and emphasize its focus on charity—has to be demonized by Santorum—who cannot.
So yes it’s a war, and we need to start admitting now we know shit when we smell it, and no amount of stealth spin and press releases disguised as profiles will make us buy a ticket to this tired remake ever again. We won’t collect the cups, pick up the gift bags, or even resell the swag on eBay. We can start with movies like Cinderella Man and Bewitched, but sooner or later our newfound clarity of vision will focus its sights on stinkers like ‘The Senator From A Place Called Faith.’
There’s a showing of Me And You And Everyone We Know, in half an hour. I’ll meet you out front.