Thursday, July 27, 2017

Spam Takes Over The Menu

An army marches on its stomach. This adage holds the key to understanding how our present globalist masters succeeded where Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin and the other world-emperor hopefuls failed. Whereas Hitler and Napoleon starved their soldiers on exhausting treks into Russia and Stalin skimped on the pleasures of life (all purge, no binge), the corporate giants treat their regulars to an unending buffet of earthly delights.

I am reminded of a haunting scene from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. A family on vacation stumbles on an empty restaurant with heaping platters of steaming, delicious food. Ignoring their anorexic 10-year-old's hysterical warnings, the parents stuff their faces in an orgy of gluttony. Of course little Anna Rexia was right - they quickly transform into huge fat hogs to be herded into the pens of the master spirits that run the place.

"Wow, that's really disturbing, but a great modern parable for the dangers of consumer-powered globalism," I burbled as I chugged down a gallon-sized Disney jug of imported Miyazaki. The anti-globalist revolution should get underway any day now. In fact, we might even get some good ideas from next Sunday's Game of Thrones! In the words of a homegrown possum, we have met the enemy and he is us.

A dictatorship of the proletariat's stomach is upon us then, and our diet is trending towards complete garbage. Remember all those crazy urban legends about KFC about how they used the acronym because they couldn't call their vat-raised GMObominations chicken? Well that's what came to mind when I read today's NY Times piece on the modern movie business.

Reporter Alex French follows producer Tripp Vinson on his Journey 2 the absolute rock bottom of Hollywood's brain-dead IP harvesting. (Note that it's referred to as IP, not intellectual property, presumably because the intellect is gone). Vinson is no stranger to the bottom of the barrel. French charitably describes him as a producer of popcorn flicks. More accurately, he delivers well-casted badly scripted stink bombs that happen to fill the right genre slots on the periphery of major studio slates.

As audiences have largely rejected lazy, soulless genre pieces, Vinson has joined his fellow producers in pivoting to lazy, soulless IP conversions. While the strip-mining rights to the really juicy IPs, like George Lucas' severed brainchild, are already long gone, there's always another layer to frack. Like board games, toys, bad TV shows and mobile games. Vinson struck pay dirt with the popular time-killing app Fruit Ninja, getting the rights and then setting a team BS artists to farting out an ad hoc narrative. Their winning take? Read it and weep:
Every couple of hundred years a comet flies by Earth, leaving in its wake a parasite that descends on a farm and infects the fruit. The infected fruit then search for a human host. The only thing keeping humanity from certain doom is a secret society of ninjas who kill the fruit and rescue the hosts by administering the "anti-fruit." The produce-slaying saviors are recruited from the population based on their skill with the Fruit Ninja game... The action starts after each of the story's heroes returns home after a horrible day and plays Fruit Ninja to relieve some stress... this aligns with the Fruit Ninja brand: "Anybody can play. Anybody can be a master."
That last bit sounds remarkably like the new Hollywood brand: "Any IP can be a movie. Any bot can be a screenwriter." I'm also reminded of the amazing kid's book pitch session from Elf. I'd love to see a tribe of asparagus children team up with these Fruit Ninjas and maybe end up less self-conscious about the way their pee smells.

In the somewhat recent past, we could rely on the English-speaking world having just enough taste to throw dreck like this right out of the theater and into the dustbin known as the HBO movie library. Sure there were embarrassing exceptions, like Adam Sandler's entire career, but for the most part, American audiences and the smaller Western markets on the periphery were pretty good about enforcing a quality standard.

But nowadays, unfettered access to global markets has essentially eliminated American audience's veto power over Hollywood. French references two doozies -  Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Battleship - that were saved from domestic hostility by the intervention angel of consumers from abroad. Last year I was one of the few American masochists to brave the Independence Day sequel and Warcraft. They sucked but international audiences sent them to the moon. Warcraft made more in its opening weekend in China than it did in its entire domestic run in the states.

In the build-up to World War II, FDR answered allies call for help by calling on America to serve as a "great arsenal of democracy," devoting the bulk of American industrial might to the military needs of country in Europe and Asia. Today, Hollywood is converting our cultural might into a great arsenal of mediocrity to serve the least common denominator demands of the global market.

For the moment, America is less than enthused with the development but not yet in open revolt. We still go to see movies, but ticket sales have declined significantly since their peak in 2002. That decline has meant little to nothing to Hollywood however as international markets have more than doubled over the same time frame.

Our situation is growing more and more like the cafe patrons from Monty Python's famous spam sketch. We are seeing our own cultural preferences sidelined to cater to foreigners' preferences for the worst stuff on the menu. Our favorite menu items are gradually being pushed to the periphery or omitted altogether, their places taken by endless reproductions of the same gelatinous mystery meat. And while our current choices may be Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde and SPAM, no amount of domestic protest can prevent the progression to SPAM, SPAM and more SPAM. Take it away, Viking chorus.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Being John Mal... colm X: a Get Out Review

It used to be (and maybe still is) that you could drive critics wild by breaking the fourth wall, especially when lecturing, confronting or otherwise upsetting an audience of bourgeois white people. Hence the critical adulation heaped on Woody Allen and Spike Lee early in their careers: a Jew and a black man busting through stifling conventions and shaking up the white folk. I've never been that impressed - dropping the pretense of storytelling to lecture the audience always struck me as a self-indulgent temptation to resist, not a bold innovation to be emulated.

It is breaking the first wall, the one hiding the writer from the actors and the audience, that I've always found more challenging and more rewarding. Charlie Kaufman is the greatest practitioner of this art, rerouting the shallow and endlessly verbose asides of Woody Allen into outrageously deep and wildly unpredictable plunges into his own psyche. Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich go boldly where no neurotic Jewish filmmaker had gone before.

For a few moments in his just-released Get Out, writer/director Jordan Peele approaches doing for Spike Lee what Kaufman did for Allen, exploring the wild twists and turns of his own grievances and paranoia instead of just rehearsing stale riffs on racial and social problems. Some of this seems to be conscious - while Peele attributes much of his inspiration to novelist Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives), his use of the head portal mechanic from Being John Malkovich and casting of Malkovich star Catherine Keener suggest a significant Kaufman influence.

Unfortunately Peele stops well short of Kaufman's extraordinary self-awareness, blinkering his self-reflexive journey to avoid any serious (or even satiric) self-analysis. The result is an initially tantalizing, unpredictable thrill ride that ultimately devolves into a more sophisticated version of The Purge series' unhinged anti-white propaganda with a hefty dose of black chauvinism. While predictably raking in the raves and the bucks, it utterly fails to fulfill its considerable potential.

Before launching into the relevant elements of the movie, it's important to understand some key facts about Peele. While he rose to prominence as a capital B Black sketch comic, with viral hits from Barack Obama and MLK impersonations, his upbringing suggests an almost total assimilation into white liberal culture. His father was black but out of the picture from early on, so Peele was raised by his white mother in Manhattan, a few blocks from the SNL studio. Upon graduating high school he went to a fancy-schmancy white liberal haven, Sarah Lawrence College, where he studied puppetry (in addition to being the whitest profession imaginable, puppetry was also the trade of Being John Malkovich's hero) and roomed with a white Jewish lesbian. He married a white woman, fellow NYC-based comic Chelsea Peretti (who actually beat Peele to the satiric punch on white liberal racism with her BlackPeopleLoveUs website in 2002).

A Kaufman-style deep dive into the actual Peele's search for a black or white identity would have been fascinating. Get Out's premise flirts with delivering on that potential, setting up numerous parallels with Peele's own situation. Like Peele, Get Out's protagonist, Chris, is a successful black artist in New York City, in a serious relationship with a white girl, Rose (who bears a very slight resemblance to Peele's wife). Like Peele, Chris' father was out of the picture early.

But the similarities stop abruptly thereafter as Peele builds a wall around Chris' black identity. In addition to casting blacker-than-anybody 2nd generation Ugandan immigrant Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, Peele makes heavy use of best friend/comic relief Rod as an ever-present voice for urban black America, always ready and eager to reaffirm Chris' black cultural identity. Chris also seems terrified of white people, dragging his feet over meeting Rose's white family, and openly expressing his discomfort at being surrounded by white people. None of this rings true for Peele; to the contrary, one of Peele's funnier bits is playing off his racial anxiety over sounding too white.

Peele also hamstrings all ambassadors for the white cultural identity after a promising beginning. Rose initially serves as a rival to Rod, pulling Chris into white-world as Rod chirps in warning, Jiminy Cricket style. She pokes and prods at his insecurities, reframing his Rod-fueled paranoia as a silly streak of narcissism. This playful flitting between indulging paranoia and exposing narcissism is Get Out at its unpredictable best, but Peele is too eager to throw all of his weight behind the paranoia to force Chris deeper into his blackness.

Shirking ambiguity and exploration, Peele barrels into outright propaganda, gearing all the story mechanics to validate Rod's essentially anti-assimilation, anti-miscegenation views on race. Not only is Rose ultimately revealed as a malevolent honey trap, every white character in the story is in on the predatory scheme. When they speak of Chris joining the family, they are speaking only of his body. After Rose disarms his insecurities, her uber-ginger, UFC-obsessed brother will physically subdue him, after which her neurosurgeon dad will implant a white consciousness over the black consciousness suppressed by her hypnotist mom. When things get really hairy, Rose can call in her mind-controlled black servants - actually just hosts for the transplanted minds of her grandparents (you'd think the extended family would have included an Uncle Tom too, but no) - to help her out.

The inherent evil of the whites obviously nips any identity search for Chris in the bud. His new mission is to Get Out at any cost and liberate as many blacks from white culture as he can. The metaphors along the way are so cheerfully on-the-nose as to be parody. As Steve Sailer points out, the uber-ginger's unlikely weapon of choice is a lacrosse stick, a likely allusion to the Duke lacrosse hate crime hoax. His stalking and kidnapping of a young black guy lost in the suburbs is also a blatant shout-out to the Trayvon Martin killing.

Meanwhile, Chris' only means of waking up brainwashed blacks is getting them with the flash from his camera - how else is a filmmaker gonna wake up the people? He's able to escape imprisonment and prevent his own brainwashing by literally picking cotton to stuff in his ears. After impaling the great white hunter via deer antlers and killing the rest of the family, Chris even gets a chance to choke out Rose, Othello-Desdemona style.

This gleeful use of over-the-top symbolism, allusion and cliche while taking the easy way out of an existential crisis closely resembles Kaufman's self-parodying conclusion to Adaptation, when he gives up on his lofty ambitions for the story and lets his idiot twin finish off the script as an absurd thriller. But Peele's extensive public statements about the movie, unless he's playing extremely coy, show none of this self-awareness. As he related in one interview:
"Ultimately, the movie ends up talking about the exotification and the love of the black body and culture. It’s just as twisted a form of racism as the darker, more violent forms of racism. It’s all a piece of the same thing…It’s really meant to point out that any time we see color first or we categorize one another as a race, we’ve already lost an important part of what being human should be."
This is self-evident nonsense: the movie does no such thing. To the contrary, the ultimate danger to Chris is his de-exotification, where his distinctly black identity is swallowed up by ultra-bland whiteness. Throughout the movie the "important part of what being human should be" that has been lost is cultural distinctness. It is the utter lack of cultural blackness that Chris finds disturbing about the brainwashed black people. They talk and dress like old white people, they don't recognize his black solidarity cues and they are way too comfortable hanging out with a bunch of rich whites.

True, Peele takes every opportunity to lampoon white liberals for "exotifying" blacks, literally transforming the adoring pedestal into a platform for a slave auction, but little to none of that satiric bite remains for rampant self-exotification and racial categorization among blacks. Their paranoia is validated on every front as is their narcissism. Whites really are out to get them. They want them for their genetic make-up, their sexual performance, their muscles, their cultural cachet, even their eye for art. The conspiracy-theorizing, self-aggrandizing Rod often sets himself up as the butt of the joke, but ends up as the vindicated hero. Instead of the anti-exotification/categorization movie Peele claims he's made, we end up with a slick, witty repackaging of evil white-wing conspiracy plot of The Purge coupled with a light-hearted but still earnest pitch for the black nationalism touted by John Singleton in Boyz n the Hood.

From his own statement about what he thinks Get Out is saying and the ample parallels to his own life, it seems that Peele set out to fall on a double-edged satire, playing on the legitimate and illegitimate fears of a biracial man meeting the parents of his white girlfriend, and facing the prospect of total white assimilation. And yet he ended up with a bloody revenge fantasy, leaving this alternate universe covered in the blood of his own would-be white in-laws and girlfriend and walking into a big "I told you so" from his anti-miscegenation friend.

By Peele's own standards then, Get Out, for all its critical acclaim and box office success, is a catastrophic failure. Ostensibly digging into sensitive territory in hopes of finding a post-racial identity, Peele completely failed to penetrate even the flimsiest of racial barriers. And instead of owning and humanizing that failure, as Kaufman does so effectively in Adaptation, Peele surrenders to the most immature and irresponsible impulses triggered by the subject matter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Knights Who Say "Ni": The Left As Big Business

This post-Super Bowl tweet by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called conservative Twitter's attention to a paradigm-shifting reality: once the loudest voice crying out against the depredations of Big Business, the Left now is Big Business. The Occupy Wall Street movement, framed as a protest against a cruel present, would have been more accurately rendered in the past tense. The massive American multinationals targeted for Leftist abuse, e.g. the storefronts ransacked in the Battle for Seattle, now almost uniformly push the Left's cultural platform.

This is not an entirely new or unexpected development. It was partially prophesied almost 50 years ago by French political scientist Jean-Fran├žois Revel in his book Ni Marx Ni Jesus (directly translated as Neither Marx Nor Jesus). Written at the zenith of New Left agitation at the onset of the 1970s, Revel boldly broke with the fashionable designation of capitalist USA as a reactionary superpower, seeing instead its unmatched potential as an instrument of global revolution. Diverging from the old poor vs. rich dichotomy that animated most Leftist would-be revolutionaries, Revel describes a "centrifugal gyration" in America. Free speech, a free press and free enterprise create opportunities for a whole new revolutionary program that pulls the ideological struggle out of stale class-based antagonisms to create a unique new constellation of social alliances.

The leaders that emerge from Revel's revolutionary centrifuge are the Knights Who Say "Ni" to Marx and Jesus. They reject both the economic strictures of Marxist dogma, with its grim fixation on the working class overthrowing the landed class, and the moral injunctions Christianity, especially its patriarchy, sexual mores and anti-materialist bent. They see commercialized technology not as corrupting but as the ultimate solution to the world's problems, particularly when divested from smelly, pollutant industry. Most importantly to Revel's thesis, they see revolution not as a demolition but a renovation. They've moved on from the political violence of their ideological predecessors, but not from their revolutionary aims. The societal institutions of yore are not to be destroyed, but absorbed and weaponized for culture war.

This revolutionary absorption is evident, indeed blatantly obvious, across the corporate landscape. Consider the huge northwestern multinationals targeted by the (recently resurgent) Black Bloc at the Battle for Seattle in 1999. Starbucks, already a veteran of Leftist causes, announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees in a blatant stab at the Trump's refugee pause. Nike CEO Mark Parker followed suit with an unsolicited condemnation of Trump over the same issue. Nordstrom issued an internal memo panning Trump's policies, almost immediately followed up by dumping Ivanka Trump's fashion line.

This is by no means restrained to the northwest. Silicon Valley and corporate Hollywood have been excelled by none in their zeal for Leftist social causes, with examples ranging from Google's annual outpouring of Lefty Riefenstahl propaganda to the militant posturing of star actors and producers at Hollywood industry parties. This synergy is best exemplified by TJ Miller, the star of Hollywood's eponymous tribute to Silicon Valley, getting arrested for assaulting his Trump-supporting Uber driver on his way between awards shows (he would host another awards show 2 days after his arrest). Completing the comedy of terrors, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick just bowed to Silicon Valley peer pressure and stepped down from Trump's business advisory council.

Not to be outshone, The Big Apple, the financial heart and media nervous system of Big Business, is just as open in its Leftism. Manhattan voted almost 10-1 for Hillary over native son Trump, with hedge fund managers in particular racking up a massive donation imbalance in her favor. NYC-based sports behemoth the NBA has emerged as a leading enforcer of the Left's platform in red states, taking the pressure tactics Apple used to great effect on Indiana after their Religious Freedom Restoration Act triggered LGBT fury and applying them to North Carolina for their transgender bathroom bill. The NYC-based NFL's tacit endorsement of Colin Kaepernick's Leftist agitation, even at significant cost in ratings, is yet another example. The leftward tack of red state dependent industries like sports is likely heavily influenced by the pressure of LA/NY media conglomerates, especially Disney/ABC.

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Knights Who Say "Ni!" waylay travelers and assault them with sacred nonsense words until the travelers cower and give in to their absurd demands (sound familiar?). Eventually their victims turn around and use the same techniques on others even lower on the totem pole. And by the time the extorted goods are delivered, the Knights have moved on to new sacred nonsense with even more absurd demands  - "you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest... with a herring!"

The leaders of today's corporate multinationals have organized themselves into a fraternal organization worthy of Monty Python and their medieval inspiration, combining the high-pitched histrionics and escalating demands of the Knights Who Say "Ni!" with the global financial muscle and sacred commission of the Order of the Knights Templar, the West's first multinational corporation.  Fortunately, like their counterparts in Monty Python and the Templars, this new breed of Ni-sayers has only a tenuous grasp on soft power, bullying largely by the consent of the bullied. Monty Python's knights fell to pathetic cringing when their own tactics were applied against them. The Knights Templar were annihilated by their own vengeful client. Such ignoble fates likely await the multinationals who continue to mistake their consumers for subjects.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Respect and Respectability: Russell Moore vs. Mel Gibson

Since the sexual revolution destroyed Christian hegemony over American culture, the deposed have been debating the appropriate manner of engaging a post-Christian culture. The initial televangelist-led counter-counterculture, epitomized by the late Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat Robertson's CBN, favored straightforward, direct engagement. But a counter-culture headed by a federation of rotund cheeseball preachers and politicians proved to be no match for the Left's slick culture war machine. Though they would go on to notch further political victories, their ultimate cultural failure became evident when Bill Clinton's already strong approval ratings spiked as high as 68% after the Lewinsky imbroglio.  As the culture war defeats have since accelerated in number and severity, two rival approaches to cultural engagement have emerged as candidates to lead the Christian counter-culture out of the wilderness. The clearest way to distinguish these approaches is through their differing goals: respect and respectability.

The respectable side is best exemplified by Russell Moore, author of Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel and President of  the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). As a Southern Baptist preacher, Moore shares a church and a vocation with Falwell, Robertson and a host of other Religious Righters. Indeed, the ERLC is something of a remnant of the Religious Right organizations of yesteryear – it emerged out of conservative revolution in the SBC that defunded its left-leaning predecessor, the Baptist Joint Committee run by liberal minister James Dunn. In his manifesto Onward, Moore breaks from both traditions, at once scorning the erstwhile Religious Right for its worldliness and rejecting the nominally Christian Left's flight from fundamentalism.

This approach shares much in common with the  Benedict Option touted by American Conservative editor Rod Dreher - both welcome (or at least embrace the silver lining of) defeat in the culture wars as a means of returning to the celebrated anti-materialist purity of the early church martyrs and the various silos of Christianity that held out against tremendous pressure from the secular West. Yet, as his title suggests, Moore doesn't share Dreher's inward-looking, anti-modern monasticism. To the contrary, he wholeheartedly embraces a global Church identity, one that eagerly piggybacks on secular global crusades for civil rights and immigration reform while intentionally remaining a "prophetic minority" in the domestic sphere.

Like many utopian visions, Moore's approach is riddled with magical thinking, oversights and inconsistencies. Moore either does not recognize or acknowledge that his secular globalist allies in the fight against the old standbys of racism and nativism view his positions on abortion and, especially, homosexuality as monstrous and repressive. Thus while he rails against the idea of a Moral Minority stretching for a Majority by including prosperity-preaching televangelists, fire-breathing Mormon talk show hosts (ironically, Moore found himself arm-in-arm with Glenn Beck as part of National Review's Against Trump coalition) and "serially-monogamous casino magnates", i.e. Trump, he has no problem reaching across the aisle in the other direction. Hence his courtship of Black Lives Matter, his advocacy for admitting Muslim refugees and his repeated affirmations of the Left's judgement of 1950's America as a morass of materialism, sexism, racism and bigotry.

Viewed as a whole, Moore's manifesto is as full of holes as the "Seamless Garment" pushed by left-leaning Catholics. The Seamless Garment aimed to tie abortion seamlessly into a holistic platform opposing all injustice. In effect the Seamless Garment was, as John Zmirak argues, an attempt at "saddling the pro-life movement with a deadly poison pill: Either embrace our outrageous, implausible, and likely suicidal utopianism, or let us go on murdering a million children per year." Thus the real utility of the Seamless Garment was not in advancing the actual causes it espoused, utopian or otherwise, but in providing cover from criticism from the left and right.

Viewed from this lens, Moore's argument can be reduced to a plea for respectability. Wielding his Christian fundamentalism within SBC circles, Moore can disarm challenges from the grassroots conservatives in ways that an outright liberal like James Dunn could not. When calls for his head came in the wake of Trump's victory, a host of conservatives rushed to his defense, including Dreher. He was only extrapolating from fundamental Christian principles you see. Then when engaging with the leftist establishment in DC and major media outlets like the Washington Post and the NY Times, Moore can present a huge swathe of his most left-friendly extrapolations. Their favorite Moore trick? Lecturing "angry white men" in the Bible Belt for being farther removed from "Middle Eastern illegal immigrant" Jesus than the third world refugees and immigrants they want to keep out of the country.

This approach has undoubtedly won Moore a kind of respectability. The establishment press, always leery of handing over the megaphone to fundamentalist Christians, proved extraordinarily open to his message. In the run-up to the election, he scored op-eds at the Post and Times along with a steady supply of attentive ears in interviews, culminating in an admiring, novella-size profile in the New Yorker the day before the election. The triumphal title - "The New Evangelical Moral Minority" - was by no means one sided: the magazine of the liberal elite was joining hand in hand with Moore and a new wave of Evangelicals to celebrate the political marginalization of American Christianity.

As the sharks circling Moore's island fortress at the ERLC attest, there are many outraged by the ascendance of his respectability-driven model. But the return of a Moral Majority style offensive spearheaded by televangelists and megachurchers seems unlikely. While Moore's diagnosis of a collapsing Bible Belt is premature, and his prescription of an army of hip, tattooed young pastors passionate about prison reform is as ridiculous and painfully naive* as Howard Schultz's pie-eyed "Race Together" stunt, it's hard to get excited about a return to Pat Robertson. To borrow from the infomercial, the televangelist's secular cousin, there must be a better way!

One might be tempted to see in Trump's victory a broader return of 80's-style ostentation complete with larger-than-life Evangelical leadership - call it Bakker to the Future. But a notable subplot in the primary mania was the stubborn ceiling of support for Ted Cruz, an Elmer Gantry par excellence, even among Southern Evangelicals. Trump's primary victory was not because he was the Swaggart to Cruz' Falwell (Moore's analogy - his South-centric analysis extended to dub Rubio Billy Graham), but because he was the wildly irreverent Peter Venkman to a host of sanctimonious bureaucrats. Trump laid an independent if morally tainted claim to respect based solely on his own brand and body of work, blithely dismissing the self-appointed gatekeepers of respectability ennobled and emulated by Moore.

The Bible Belt was willing to look beyond its own waistline and recruit a geographic and cultural outsider to tackle its political agenda in Trump. There is now an appreciable hunger for a champion with a similarly independent claim to American respect to continue the counter-revolution throughout the rest of the culture. As the charisma of Southern Baptist preachers tends not to translate outside their own region, the goal is to recruit from within the decadent post-Christian culture, to intercept a talented enemy on his way to Damascus and win, or at least steer him to the cause. Such was the case with Trump - the once liberal and still decadent New Yorker - and is likely to be the case for his cultural counterpart(s).

Such a Christian counter-culture leader has already been active for most of the new millennium, albeit unwittingly and probably unwillingly. I speak of Mel Gibson. He'd hardly recognize himself as such. His public pronouncements range wildly between affirmations of ultraconservative Roman Catholicism to drunken profane rants to mumbled recitations of PC platitudes. His filmography is all over the place, ranging from hyper-violent nationalist epics to standard liberal Hollywood fare and everything in between.

Since establishing himself as creative force as director, producer and star of the Oscar-winning Braveheart in 1995, however, Gibson has been the single most powerful cultural ally of the Religious Right. Where the "God and country" salvos of the old Religious Right fell short, too heavily larded with country-western hokum, Gibson's electric freedom speech in Braveheart still rings out as a clarion call. The same God and country plus R-rated violence formula was at work in The Patriot and We Were Soldiers. He would also tackle faith more explicitly as the headliner to M. Night Shyamalan's last true hit, Signs. Each of these films foreshadowed Gibson's magnum opus, itself the single most impactful Christian contribution to culture in the 21st century: 2004's The Passion of  the Christ.

It's hard to overstate how unusual the success and mass market impact of The Passion was. Not just groundbreaking as a Christian film - it racked up 15x times more box office than the most successful Christian film of the modern age at that point (the Veggie Tales Jonah movie) - it was a harbinger of the vulnerability of the media elite that had scorned the project. A gifted filmmaker with enough financial wherewithal to self-fund and some marketing savvy in reserve could make whatever kind of movie he wanted and still deliver a Hollywood-grade four-quadrant blockbuster.

The flighty Gibson did little with the domestic momentum generated by Passion, routing his immediate currency into the exotic, pre-Christian Apocalypto. The cottage cheese industry that is the Christian movie business tried to ride its coattails with The Nativity Story and Son of God with little mainstream success. Hollywood too tried a post-Christian renaissance of the Biblical epic (Ridley Scott's Exodus, Darren Aronofsky's Noah and Timur Bekmambetov's B-movie treatment of Ben-Hur) with lukewarm results. Meanwhile, Gibson was busy self-destructing, starting with his infamous 2006 DUI and its accompanying "it's the Jews!" rant, continuing with a $400 million divorce and bottoming with a disastrous break-up with his new baby mama. It wasn't until 2010 that Gibson emerged from rehab to reappear at the fringes of the culture in a series of appropriately dark starring roles.

Adding to his renewed acting efforts, he has gathered the loyal circle of film-making talent nurtured during the making of Passion and Apocalypto and is now returning in earnest to the business of cultural engagement. While violence-drenched explorations of the revenge impulse and mental illness still feature prominently, his recent work is building a strong narrative of the redemption and restoration of the disgraced American patriarch, and with him, a Christian culture.

The first entry in the Gibson renaissance was revenge thriller Edge of Darkness , playing a nothing-to-lose father seeking justice for his murdered daughter. This was followed by his starring role in The Beaver as a terminally depressed husband and father revitalized by succumbing to his driven, super-competent id, taking the form of a hand-puppet beaver. His next vehicle, 2012's Get the Gringo, represented his first return to self-funded film-making, blending the border-fixation of his earlier creative works with a renewed emphasis on rehabilitating a loose cannon into a protective and loving family man. These trends culminated with two remarkable 2016 releases that could signify his return in force to the cultural scene: Blood Father and Hacksaw Ridge.

In Blood Father, Gibson plays John Link, a trailer trash version of himself. He's a violent felonious drunk in recovery, divorced, estranged from his missing daughter, and living in the trailer/tattoo parlor somewhere out in the wastelands of the California desert.  His only remaining human connection is to the local trailer trash AA group and his hick philosopher sponsor (William H. Macy, looking suitably terrible). That AA group, his higher power and the faint hope that he might one day find his daughter are all that keeps him going.

But such rawboned tenacity has a power all its own; one that, when engaged, can accomplish much more than Moore's respectability-driven media campaigns. In Blood Father, Link's wealthy, respectable ex-wife offers everything to their daughter Lydia - all the material comforts plus a fancy education - but it doesn't stop her from running away with her bandito boyfriend. Nor does the ex-wife's six-figure award bounty fetch her back. When her self-destructive behavior earns a far more effective Mexican drug cartel bounty on her, only her roughneck dad can save her. As a man with nothing to lose but the most important person in his life, he fights with a savage determination that puts the fear of God into his enemies and inspires his daughter to beat her own demons.

The Gibson-directed Hacksaw Ridge carries the redemptive arc even further, with combat medic hero Doss already having overcome his violent nature and driven explicitly by his Christian faith to save his fellows without shedding blood. Of course there's still enough blood shed to get Hacksaw Ridge Gibson's typical R-rating, which continues to serve as a dividing line between him and the ghetto of Christian niche media.


This time last year, Tucker Carlson was penning a far-sighted Trump piece that would pave the way for his takeover of conservative media in the wake of Trump's victory. In it he excoriated the "conservative nonprofit establishment" for their complete failure to check their ideological opponents and to understand their conservative base. They craved the respectability to impress their ideological foes in DC and purchased it at the cost of detaching from their base. He concludes that Christians flocked to Trump over his purer conservative detractors because they wanted "a bodyguard, someone to shield them from mounting (and real) threats to their freedom of speech and worship. Trump fits that role nicely, better in fact than many church-going Republicans."

Moore believes such a role should be filled by younger, hipper versions of leaders in his mold, like the young pastors he's nurtured in seminary. Indeed, he is mortally opposed to the idea of an outsider applying for the job. In his WaPo denunciation of Trump and the Religious Right, he summoned his ideal culture warrior: a "30-year-old evangelical pastor down the street from you" who would "would rather die than hand over his church directory to a politician or turn his church service into a political rally." This pastor must not "concede the public space, in our name, to heretics and hucksters and influence-peddlers."

In fact, these pastors and their predecessors have already conceded the public space and the popular culture. As Moore's example demonstrates, the only way they get access to it is by saying what their ideological foes at places like WaPo, the NY Times and the New Yorker want to hear. Without a bodyguard or a broad-shouldered fullback to punch a hole in the defensive line, there's no way to crash the party.

Moore's stated objective of confronting the culture with the strangeness of the Gospel runs directly counter to his efforts gain access to the culture by emphasizing the talking points in favor with respectable society. Jesus was a dark-skinned refugee! The illegal immigrant janitor is a future king of the universe! Donald Trump is a dirty, filthy sinner!  This is not a strange and challenging Gospel but a familiar screeching refrain. It is preaching to the post-Christian choir.

Moore and culture-minded Christians would do well to compare the engagement modeled by his NY Times screed with Gibson's recent appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote his upcoming sequel to Passion. In stark contrast to Moore's clean-shaven Chamber of Commerce profile, Gibson shambled onto the stage looking every bit the half-crazed wildman, with soft eyes dancing manically behind a huge Old Testament beard. His personal baggage could not be more evident. He opened by bragging about a barfight with a rugby team that made him believable enough to get cast as a revenge-driven vigilante in Mad Max. Later a detour into spirituality had him seeing a devil and angel on Colbert's shoulders, with Gibson implicitly and pathetically pleading with the angel not to dig into his dirty laundry. As a public witness, to use Moore's term, Gibson is deeply compromised.

And yet there he was, in the bowels of secular pop culture, getting free media for a Christian movie centering on the boldest, strangest and most crucial tenet of the Gospel: the resurrection. This opportunity was not afforded by moral and political correctness nor abstinence from heresy, hucksterism and influence peddling. On the contrary, Gibson wallowed in the muck and mire of the worst of Hollywood and human nature, only momentarily emerging from it, like King Kong or the Creature of the Black Lagoon, to grab a hold of something pure, beautiful and redemptive. However earnestly a moral minority seeks respectability, it cannot command respect without a champion from within the immoral majority. Sometimes it takes a swamp creature to drain the swamp.

*Another example of Moore's painful naivete from Onward: fantasizing about how amazing a public witness it would be for a church to have a worship leader with Down syndrome and a scripture reader with dementia. How about an emotional equivalent of a 14-year old as president of the ERLC?