By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
It appears that Glenn Beck is undertaking a project that has needed undertaking for a long time. My hunch is that Americans under the age of 50 will find it hard to believe that there was a time when the films and television programs with the largest audiences championed patriotism and traditional values. It was not always the case that the “heroes” were scruffy and peevish leftists and the “leading ladies” took off their clothes and slept with whatever passing man caught their fancy. The films of the past were not agitprop for the counterculture.
And that fact helped make the United States a better country. Popular entertainment shapes attitudes, especially of the young. It can affect the culture to a far greater degree than the work of scholars and serious journalists. I hate to say this, but I am convinced that the mocking portrayal of hippies and left-wing professors in the movie Animal House did more to swing American to the right than all the columns of William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk put together. The same can be said of the way the Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry made a laughingstock of the “criminal-as-victim” theories about the causes of crime. I would argue the CBS television series Blue Bloods, starring Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, and Bridget Moynahan, often does the same.
If conservatives and Christians could somehow find a way to refine and ennoble the message that Eastwood and Belushi delivered, it would make a great difference for the better in the country.
That appears to be what Beck is up to; that he is trying to reach the audience that does not watch Fox News or read The Weekly Standard. There is much truth to the old maxim about the futility of “preaching to the choir.” There are many bright and good people who are “not into politics.” They don’t like much of what they see on television and at the movies, and sense — as they tell the pollsters — that the country is “moving in the wrong direction.”
But they don’t read Pat Buchanan or Charles Krauthammer or watch EWTN. The movies and television programs that Beck is planning to produce might reach them, if Beck does this right.
According to a March 10 column by Eliana Johnson on the online version of National Review, Beck has purchased a “sprawling movie studio” in Las Colinas, near Dallas. It is the studio that produced movies and TV shows like Robocop and Walker, Texas Ranger. This means that Beck will have at his disposal the facilities required to turn out a high-level product with potential mass appeal. If, I repeat, he does this right.
In his interview with National Review, Beck stated that his goal is to “resurrect and revive” the “America of decades past,” to help Americans “see good again. We stand for stories of love and courage, where the good guys win. We are a group of people who believe that the good guys actually win in the end.”
It is a noble goal. One can only wish Beck well. The country is ready for a new version of the uplifting films of old, films with modern counterparts of the heroes and heroines of the past. Not that the country would respond favorably to the stylized righteousness and piety of a “Jack Armstrong” or “Hopalong Cassidy,” or the prayerful upturned eyes of Bradford Dillman playing St. Francis of Assisi. Whether it is an unfortunate cynicism and a strained attempt at sophistication, or a praiseworthy impatience with overwrought displays of piety, modern audiences react with disdain at scenes or dialogue they find unrealistic or preachy. They don’t like anything they see as cant.
Remember the scene in Gladiator where the muscular and heroic Roman general played by Russell Crowe knelt in prayer to the Roman gods? The audiences reacted favorably to it. Beck’s films might find a way of depicting members of the U.S. armed forces in an analogous private Christian prayer before going into battle. Such a scene would work with modern audiences if the actors depicted in prayer possessed the attractive physical attributes that appeal to young audiences.
Beck’s films should also be able to depict the posturing, bedraggled, drug-addicted young leftists that we find on our campuses and in the club scene around Hollywood or New York City as the unfortunate losers that they are. If we could bring John Belushi back to life, he would know how to do it — if someone gave him enough money to quiet any counterculture loyalties that still possessed him.
Beck should have an easy time finding someone to play a left-wing professor like Ward Churchill. Remember him? The pudgy fake “Native American” with the ponytail who made the newspapers a few years ago for claiming that the United States deserved the September 11, 2001 attacks because of “ongoing genocidal American imperialism.” I submit that the country would respond well to a movie scene where a strong and attractive young Marine or West Point cadet, home on leave, interacts with these scruffy characters, much in the manner that Matt Damon upstaged the self-important preppies in the bar scene in Good Will Hunting.
We could go on: Imagine a modern version of Donna Reed, in the role of an attractive young wife and mother with traditional values who finds herself interacting with neighbors who live like the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of New Jersey. People watch the Kardashians and those “Housewives” shows because they find the women empty, silly, preposterous, ridiculous. A screenwriter with traditional values should have an easy time taking it from there, coming up with a script that depicts the empty days and nights of the secular voluptuaries, in comparison to the fulfilled life of the Christian wife and mom.
We’ll see what Glenn Beck gives us. He has a lot to work with. The secular left is many things, but we can start out with the fact that they are wrong about all the things that matter. There is a reason why so many of them end up in one form of rehab or another.