Alan Klavan’s ‘Liberal Myths’ in and About Movies

Posted on October 19, 2008 at 8:00 am

Writer Alan Klavan calls Hollywood movies liberal propaganda in a provocative opinion piece in the Washington Post.
For the past 30 years or so, Hollywood storytelling has been guided by a liberal mythos in which, for example, blacklisting communist screenwriters during the ’50s was somehow morally worse than fellow-traveling with the Stalinist murderers of tens of millions (“Trumbo”); Che Guevara was a dashing, romantic liberator instead of a charismatic killer (“The Motorcycle Diaries”); and the worldwide violence currently being waged by Islamo-fascists is either a figment of our bigoted imaginations or the product of our evil deeds (“V for Vendetta“).

Hollywood moviemakers, in other words, have been telling lies — loudly, constantly and almost always in support of a left-wing point of view. And these lies are most prolific and tenacious when the Hollywood left is lying about itself.

This seems over the top to me. “The Motorcyle Diaries” was about Che Guevara’s early, idealistic years, as though it was a prequel to “The Godfather” that just focused on the time between the night Michael enlisted and the wedding scene that begins the film. Unless Klavan wants to insist that Guevara was intentionally and inherently evil in his twenties, it seems to me part of what makes the movie so intriguing is our knowledge of what he became when the injustice that troubles him so deeply in this film persuades him that the ends justify the means and he loses his ability to resist the corruption of power. And “V for Vendetta” is an allegory that is intended to be open-ended so that it can be interpreted in several ways. The movie begins with a reference to Guy Fawkes, whose foiled 1605 attempt to bomb Parliament is still celebrated every year. And it specifically raises the questions about whether the main characters can be seen as terrorists or as revolutionaries — or both — and how to respond to fascism without becoming fascistic.
He does make some good points:
But Hollywood supports unions, a stalwart Democratic cause, right? Well, yeah, if you watch “Norma Rae” or “Hoffa.” But in real life, filmmakers routinely outsource their productions to places such as Vancouver and Budapest, where they can avoid paying union premiums. And when the Writers Guild struck last year, we saw studio liberals turn into corporate hard-guys in the blink of an eye.
I would not say that “Hoffa” is a valentine to unions, but Klavan’s accusation of hypocrisy is well-founded, especially when it comes to the writer’s strike, and I am delighted to see someone who is politically conservative speak out on behalf of unions.
However, he makes an enormous mistake by characterizing the new Oliver Stone movie about President Bush, “W.,” without having seen it, based only on the trailers and advance work. A screenwriter should know better.
And his accusation that liberals are not patriotic is hogwash. He says,
The meaning of the word patriotism is “love of country.” If you don’t love your country, you’re not a patriot.
Liberals love America every bit as much as conservatives do, and it is shameful of Klevan to suggest otherwise. Loving America means wanting it to live up to its ideals, ideal of democracy and freedom that transformed the world. The first principle of the founding fathers was their commitment to challenge, even revolution, to keep the country vibrant and constantly renewing itself. In a moment when opposing political candidates are both running on a platform of change, Klavan should realize that we can best show our love for our country by renewing its commitment to the values at its foundation, those same values of freedom of speech that gave him his space in a “liberal” newspaper.

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6 Replies to “Alan Klavan’s ‘Liberal Myths’ in and About Movies”

  1. Terrific take on Klevan’s article! I’m reminded happily of George Clooney–that raving Liberal who has been a consistent advocate for the poor and someone who I believe shows great patriotism as well as compassion. Remember his quote when he won the Oscar: ”
    “You know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it’s probably a good thing. We’re the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I’m proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch.”
    Yes, I keep this quote in my computer file. I think it’s important to remember that films are not just for entertainment, but often for enlightenment and responsible film makers have known that for a long time. Mr. Klevan has fallen into the sad prejudicial trap of many journalists of late–he stresses labels–Liberal or Conservative; everybody’s got a label. Well, when did one “label” or another become a dirty word? And for that matter, what purpose do these labels serve except to divide us as a nation and further the disrespectful non-acceptance of each others ideas or ideals?
    And another thing; I’m sorry, but he can’t criticize a movie he hasn’t seen,just because it may portray his pick for a leader as a flawed human being. We’re all flawed, even the best and brightest and even Mr.Klevan. His criticism of “Motorcycle Diaries” is so off-base. Those of us who read history know what Che sadly became, but it does not negate the fact that this was an excellent film, depicting the epiphany of a young man as he was awakened to the plight of those who suffered injustice. This kind of enlightenment can come to all of us, if we’re open to it. How we react to it and how we allow it to change out lives is up to us.
    There’s always a choice.

  2. If Klavan wants to be a patriot, he should stop writing so much crummy junk and instead write a more uplifting movie. Instead, he spends his time defining who is a patriot and who is not. Anyone who sets this out for his mission is pretty much guaranteed not to understand what patriotism is.
    The sad thing is that someday soon we will have a genuine need for all of the patriotism from our young people that we are currently wasting on false causes and mistaken wars, poorly executed.

  3. Two quick thoughts:
    A better filmmaker would have shown flashes of evil in Che during “The Motorcycle Diaries.” I doubt his murderous ways sprang up overnight. Perhaps it’s a facile comparison, but Lucas should have shown flashes of wickedness in young Anakin in “The Phantom Menace.”
    The upcoming “Che” also neglects to show his murderous capacity, from published reviews I’ve read. How do you leave that out, especially in the latter case which focuses on his adult years?
    Secondly, it’s silly to paint all liberals as America haters. But frankly I’ve argued with a good many of them … and it can be hard not to draw that conclusion at times. In arguments, some hardcore liberals will twist themselves into pretzels blaming the U.S. for all manner of evil, real and imagined, while giving the rest of the world a complete pass. That doesn’t strike me as someone who “loves” his or her country. It’s someone who’s willing to tear it down at will … while never criticizing any other country or people with a fraction of that animosity.

  4. Thanks, Christian. And as the comments on the political blogs here at Beliefnet and elsewhere show, there are a lot of haters in every category. The recent allegations of “anti-Americanism” by current candidates are particularly shameful. All political conversations should begin with the assumption that we all love our families and our country and all want dignity, freedom, and a strong, sustainable economy and we all want to have the United States respected throughout the world. Then our disagreements about how to achieve that will be in perspective and we can discuss them constructively.

  5. Would one excuse a movie called “The Tractor Diaries”, about the carefree youth of Josef Stalin, or “The Sauerkraut Diaries”, a romantic tale of Goebbles first love?

    1. Perhaps your point would be clearer without the sarcasm, and it is not clear to me whether you have actually seen the movie you are judging, but responding to what I believe is your point: Going back at least to Shakespeare and Henry IV, the subject of a character’s early years and the consequences of his choices have been subjects of non-fiction and fiction. Think about “Citizen Kane” or “All the King’s Men,” which show us fictional characters based on historic figures, both beginning with optimism and idealism and becoming corrupt. If you read what I wrote, you will see I used the example of “The Godfather.” Michael Corleone tells us in the opening scene that he will never be a part of his father’s world, but that is where he ends up. We see a lot of movies about people who start out to be evil, but in real life it doesn’t work that way. One of the purposes of narrative storytelling is to help us understand not only how characters end up in places they did not anticipate or intend but how we can re-calibrate our own direction. There’s a difference between propaganda and storytelling that reflects the complexity of the human experience. “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which makes no effort to excuse Che’s later actions, is in the second category.

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