Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lena Dunham and Fashion Fantasy

“Everybody’s beautiful, in their own way,” the Grammy-winning but ungrammatical Ray Stevens sang back in 1970. A lovely sentiment, but to say that everyone is beautiful means that no one is beautiful. I think even Stevens knew this, which is why he added the wishy-washy disclaimer, “in their own way.” The harsh truth is that every culture has a standard of physical beauty against which all are judged. In our time, the fashion industry is under fire for pushing an impossible standard, but the truth is more complicated than that.

Hoping to whip up outrage over the industry’s photographic manipulation of the female form, the radical feminists at Jezebel recently offered $10,000 for Vogue’s unretouched photos of Girls star Lena Dunham from a recent shoot. Someone wasted no time forking them over, and Jezebel used them to deconstruct the magazine’s artful depictions of Dunham, who is notoriously dumpy by Paris runway standards.

But Jezebel miscalculated: first, people are no longer ignorant of or shocked by the orgies of Photoshopping that go on in fashion magazine editorial offices; second, Dunham herself was pleased with the results; and third, its obsession with highlighting Dunham’s imperfections painted Jezebel in a worse light than Vogue. In the article’s comments section, readers overwhelmingly condemned Jezebel for making a mountain out of a molehill.

In her response to the fizzled controversy, Dunham no doubt ruffled feminist feathers further by rolling out an inconvenient truth:

A fashion magazine is like a beautiful fantasy. Vogue isn't the place that we go to look at realistic women, Vogue is the place that we go to look at beautiful clothes and fancy places and escapism and so I feel like if the story reflects me and I happen to be wearing a beautiful Prada dress and surrounded by beautiful men and dogs, what's the problem? If they want to see what I really look like go watch the show that I make every single week.

“Yes, Vogue is fantasy,” Jezebel shot back,

but no matter how fantastic the clothes or the setting or the lighting, the people in these images are real — and yet Vogue has to take the reality of a human being's body and make it part of the fantasy too. It's escapism, absolutely, but the message is clear: while you dream of wearing that gorgeous dress, you should also dream of physical perfection as defined by Vogue.

Slate’s Katy Waldman agreed, finding Dunham’s justification “not terribly persuasive”: “[W]hile lady mags do purvey luxuriant escape, there’s no reason why their dreams of ‘beautiful clothes and fancy places’ must also feature punishing, unnatural body norms. Why is that the fantasy?”

That is the fantasy because women fantasize not merely about luxuriating in beautiful clothes and fancy places, but about being beautiful themselves as well. As Dunham suggested, “realistic” women don’t want to see themselves in haute couture; they want to see their idealized selves in haute couture, which is why the industry’s tentative efforts to use “realistic” women in advertising have met with mixed results at best. This is simply human nature, not fashion industry brainwashing, and it goes for men as well, which is why the “unnatural body norm” of David Beckham is a successful male model and a “realistic” guy like, say, Jonah Hill is not.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mark in The New Criterion

"The Age of Arrogance," my review of David J. Bobb's book Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America's Greatest Virtue, has just appeared in the February issue of The New Criterion.

John Schneider’s Tearful Tribute to his Father

Photographer Jeremy Cowart enjoys the glitz and pressure and excitement of celebrity photo shoots, but laments that he never really gets to connect emotionally with his subjects. That changed in a big, unexpected way during a recent photo shoot for the cast of a Tyler Perry-produced show called The Haves and Have Nots.

One of the cast members is John Schneider, a television star known for his Dukes of Hazzard days in the early 1980s and as Superboy’s dad in Smallville during its 10-year run from 2001-2011. Cowart perceived John, like the rest of the cast that day, to be “extremely professional, humble and a lot of fun to work with. He was killing his portraits… smiling, goofing off and he even threw in several impressions of famous actors and presidents.” Cowart was “very impressed by his ability to light up the camera and have a good time.”

But once the session wrapped, John approached him and whispered, “Hey, can you sneak a few more portraits of me? There’s something going on and I just need a photo.” Cowart readied his camera as Schneider walked back on set – and immediately began weeping.

“He was so good at impressions that I thought this was another impression and I thought ‘wow, what an acting talent.’” But soon it became clear that the emotion was genuine. Cowart put his camera down and gave Schneider a hug.

“My Dad died about an hour ago,” the actor confided. “I found out during our lunch break. And I wanted you to capture that for me.” Then he went to the screen on which the portraits were displayed and pointed to the final one. “That’s it,” he said. “That’s my Dad.” Cowart was stunned into respectful silence.  Schneider left shortly thereafter to join his family. He later gave Cowart official permission to share this story and the portraits.

“I was stunned,” wrote Cowart later. “Shocked. And deeply moved, obviously.”

I’ve heard some say that posing for self-portraits is an oddly self-centered sort of tribute – what normal person would react this way to the passing of a loved one?

A similar criticism was directed many years ago at Eric Clapton for composing and performing “Tears in Heaven,” the gut-wrenchingly soulful song he wrote after he lost his young son in a terrible accident. Cynics pointed to the song’s success as evidence of Clapton’s “exploitation” of the tragedy. What those people didn’t recognize is that, put simply, artists express themselves through their art. As a songwriter, Clapton worked through his grief the best way he knew how: by seeking out the melody and lyrics that would give him the catharsis he needed and his son the tribute he deserved. “I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent,” he revealed in an interview, “and lo and behold, it worked... I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Artistic Courage or Humiliation?

I’ve avoided writing about Danish director Lars von Trier’s upcoming arthouse movie epic Nymphomaniac for two reasons: one, such blatant titillation is boring, and two, I didn’t want to give publicity to a film I feel certain will be a degrading experience. But the recent revelation that actor Shia LaBeouf secured his role in the movie partly because he sent pictures of his penis to the filmmakers has compelled me to comment.

If you’re not familiar with von Trier, he’s the provocateur behind such disturbing flicks as Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist, Dogville, and now the sexually explicit Nymphomaniac – which, as the title suggests, isn’t exactly a Disney movie, and which is notable mostly for its unusually creepy marketing campaign consisting of posters of the actors in mid-orgasm. If you have ever found yourself wondering what The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo bad guy Stellan Skarsgaard looks like during sexual climax, well, now you know. As Midwestern storyteller Garrison Keillor once put it, “If it feels good, it probably doesn’t look good.”

I’m not sure why anyone would rush to cinemas to see Shia LaBeouf in full frontal nudity and having onscreen sex, but apparently von Trier thinks he will be a draw for the audience. Mack Rawden at Cinemablend exposed, if you’ll pardon the pun, some eyebrow-raising news about the casting process for LaBeouf, which entailed him emailing producers a picture of his penis. As LaBeouf himself explains in this video interview

I'll never forget this because my entire team reacted with such a fear, you know? The first request on the production end, not from Lars, but from production, was pictures of my penis…

Lars goes, “All right... Send him the (offer) letter.” The letter was, “Are you game?” And so I guess the first test was, “Let's time how long it takes this mother****er to send his dick over the Internet.” It was like 20 minutes. So they were like, “All right, (the) kid’s ready.”

Ready for the challenge? Or just willing to debase himself? The best actors and actresses have a courageous capacity for exposing themselves emotionally; but as much as ones like LaBeouf believe that it shows serious commitment to their craft, exposing themselves physically is irrelevant and unnecessary. And sharing genitalia selfies with the producers at their demand merely reveals a willingness to humiliate yourself for the gig.

Rawden, on the other hand, finds it admirable: “[I]n an age where everyone is so f***ing politically correct and unwilling to go out on a limb, [LaBeouf’s] character trait is actually kind of refreshing.” I wouldn’t call it refreshing so much as depressing, not only for what it says about LaBeouf (and it’s not my intention to single him out; for all I know, his fellow Nymphomaniac actors also submitted to this demeaning casting process), but about the filmmakers and people like Rawden, all of whom seem to believe that LaBeouf’s compliance with this request constitutes artistic courage.

This isn’t the space to solve the whole “is it art or pornography?” debate, particularly without having seen von Trier’s film (and I don’t plan to – I don’t want to see any more of Christian Slater and Willem Dafoe than I already can in their posters). But this revelation about LaBeouf and Nymphomaniac reminds me of a comic short film called, “It’s Not Porn – It’s HBO” (NSFW language), in which actors and actresses are depicted being congratulated and respected for getting roles in what would otherwise be considered porn films – except that they’re for HBO, which somehow legitimizes them.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Let’s End ‘The End of Men’ Conversation

In its “Ideas” section online, Time recently posted “Men Are Obsolete,” adapted from Hannah Rosin’s opening statement at last November’s Munk Debate, itself entitled “Resolved: Men Are Obsolete.” Rosin is the author of The End of Men, a once-sensationalistic title which echoes those of other books in recent years like Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys and Are Men Necessary? All this tiresome talk about men being obsolete and unnecessary – can we stop pretending that it is a serious argument or that the idea is even provocative anymore?

The Munk Debates, held in Toronto, are a biannual series of conversations among notable figures about major issues like the economy and foreign policy. How such a tongue-in-cheek non-topic as “Men Are Obsolete” squeaked by, I don’t know – especially considering that even Rosin herself acknowledged this in her statement: “Are men literally obsolete? Of course not, and if we had to prove that we could never win.”

As Leslie Loftis points out in her devastating takedown of the event at The Federalist, the iconoclastic Camille Paglia, on the “Con” side of the debate, was the only participant whose argument had any intellectual weight and who attempted to address the issue seriously; the others, simply playing for laughs, floated condescending quips to a largely female audience that was so flattered into agreeing with the idea that woman have won the War of the Sexes that there was a 28% swing from Con to Pro in the audience opinion on the topic, according to polling – the biggest swing in Munk history.

Dowd, for example, the author of the aforementioned Are Men Necessary?, smirked: “So now that women don’t need men to reproduce and refinance, the question is, will we keep you around? And the answer is, ‘You know we need you in the way we need ice cream — you’ll be more ornamental.’” Adolescent taunts like that accomplish nothing except to prompt men to wonder if Maureen Dowd is necessary.

Rosin, for her part, pointed to Toronto’s mayor and substance-abusing clown Rob Ford, and to disgraced former politician and poster boy of the genitalia selfie, Anthony Wiener, as “shining examples of modern manhood.” Really? Would I be taken seriously if my argument hinged on holding up former Teen Mom-turned porn star Farrah Abraham and gold-digging prostitute Ashley Dupré as “shining examples of modern womanhood”? I would be pelted off the stage with tomatoes, and rightfully so.

Part of her argument was that “it’s the end of men because men are failing in schools and women are succeeding... Many boys start falling behind as early as first grade, and they fail to catch up. Many men, meanwhile, still see school as a waste of time, a girl thing.” If “many men” see school – and I’m assuming she means higher education – as a waste of time, that’s because these days it largely is, for reasons that have nothing to do with men being lazy or unable to adapt. And if young boys are falling behind and losing interest in school (and they are), then it is because our current feminized educational system favors girls and is hostile to boys’ nature.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An Aesthetic Objection to On-Screen Nudity

TV critic Tim Malloy riled up Girls producer Judd Apatow and star Lena Dunham in a recent interview when he asked them about the artistic reasoning behind her seemingly gratuitous nudity on the show. After attacking Malloy for his “offensive” question, implying that the critic was complaining about Dunham’s less-than-supermodel appearance, Apatow finally got around to defending the nudity as “more honest.” Honest? Perhaps, but is it necessary? When is nudity onscreen justified, and when is it gratuitous?

Some filmmakers like Apatow argue that people are often naked in real life, so nudity onscreen feels more realistic, more honest, as he puts it. But people also go to the toilet often in real life too; wouldn’t it be more realistic and honest to show that as well, even though it served no purpose in the scene? The reasoning shouldn’t be, “People do this in real life, so let’s show these characters doing it”; it should be, “People do this in real life, but if we show these characters doing it, will it advance the story, or will it simply take the audience out of their suspension of disbelief?”

An egregious example of unwarranted nudity is Halle Berry’s bare-breasted sunbathing in 2001’s Swordfish, which served absolutely no function in the story. It was included for no other reason than to stir up salacious attention for the film, and it shows. Berry reportedly was paid an extra $500,000 for flashing her boobs, and in all fairness, for that much money I’d expose whatever the director asked me to; but she claims the money was not a factor: “I did the scene because it showed you that the character was in control of her sexuality and very comfortable with herself.” If so, no one bought it. The scene is notorious for its comically blatant gratuitousness.

Oddly, Berry has also said, “I don't think nudity is ever necessary. I think you can make every single movie and never show anything and it’s fine.” I agree. Let’s be honest – anytime there is nudity onscreen, your brain says, “Whoa – there’s nudity.” It stops you in your visual tracks (if I may mangle a metaphor) and takes you out of the story, unless it’s there for a damn good narrative reason.

Then when is nudity on film appropriate and not gratuitous? Only when it makes emotional sense and offers insight into the character.

Two scenes that come immediately to mind are actually from the same movie – 1992’s Damage, starring Jeremy Irons and Miranda Richardson. In one scene, the young adult son of Irons’ character falls to his death from an upper floor hotel walkway after discovering his father in flagrante delicto with the son’s fiancée. The anguished Irons leaps from the bed and runs nude down the staircase, utterly indifferent to his public nakedness, to his son’s body. It is a painfully convincing expression of his character’s horror and guilt. It would have completely destroyed the scene had Irons stopped to throw on a hotel bathrobe, cinched it at the waist, and then hurried to check on his son.

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to be a Gentleman – and Why

As 2013 wound down, Chelsea Fagan at Thought Catalog posted “24 Rules for Being a Gentleman in 2014,” a call for a revival of “The Age of the Gentleman — that semi-imaginary time we all have in our heads where men you actually wanted to sleep with wore fedoras and treated ladies like ladies.” I don’t think fedoras are necessary, but a renaissance of gentlemanly behavior? Long overdue.

However, 24 rules may seem like a daunting amount of work for apprentice gentlemen, and begs the question: In an age in which pop culture teaches us that bad behavior gets rewarded and quiet dignity gets ignored, why bother? In a time in which – Ms. Fagan aside – many young women take offense at being treated like ladies, what’s the incentive? Why be a gentleman?

Because being a gentleman elevates you above the mass of men around you. Not in the shallow sense that knowing how to order a drink with confidence makes you more suave than the other guys in the bar; but in the substantial sense that conducting yourself according to an honorable code of behavior sets you apart from the crowd and sets the standard for other men. It isn’t about your looks, the kind of car you drive, your financial standing, your education, or any other superficial factor; it’s about, if I may borrow from Martin Luther King Jr., the content of your character. And character, to borrow from Heraclitus, is destiny.

So what, then, is the gentleman’s code of behavior? Ms. Fagan’s 24 rules may have been a bit ambitious; while I agree with a few of her “ground rules for being a modern Cary Grant,” some are more about sartorial flair than behavior (“Do not be afraid of accessorizing”), some have nothing to do with being a gentleman (“Always put a little money away at the end of each month”), some strike me as very ungentlemanly (“Don’t be disdainful of selfies” – actually, you should; gentlemen and selfies do not mix), and some are a bit redundant.

So here is my own quick list of rules for gentlemanly behavior – limited to 8 off the top of my head and roughly in order – which I hope aspirants will find useful (Ms. Fagan does touch on a few of these in her list). They’re hardly original ideals – in fact, they’re rather old-fashioned, which is off-putting to many moderns, but they stand the test of time:

Friday, January 10, 2014

Will Dennis Rodman’s ‘Basketball Diplomacy’ Work in North Korea?

Professional oddball Dennis Rodman is back in the news again – angrily ranting in interviews, praising his “friend for life” Kim Jong-Un (dictator of one-third of the Axis of Evil), and pursuing world peace through basketball diplomacy.

I’ve been reluctant before to comment on Rodman’s antics; he makes himself an easy target, and Acculturated’s Demetrius Minor has already taken him down a serious notch. But Rodman’s no longer just a joke – except perhaps to the North Korean regime – and his blind spot about the totalitarianism of his “awesome” BFF is dooming his endeavors.

You may be aware that Rodman has been trying to use the sport to build bridges between the United States and the heavily armed camp that is North Korea (or so he claims; his true motives, like his interview responses, are fully comprehensible only to him). But as everyone including Rodman now acknowledges, he is no savvy peacemaker.

Asked in a CNN interview last week whether he would raise with Kim the issue of American citizen Kenneth Bae, who has been held for over a year in North Korea for “anti-state” crimes, Rodman exploded and suggested that Bae deserves his punishment: “Do you understand what he did in this country?” Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, found the remarks outrageous. “It’s one thing to play games with his own image, but this is not a game, this is a man’s life,” she said.

Last Wednesday Rodman brought retired NBA recruits to North Korea to put on an exhibition game against the local team. Former star Charles Smith complained that the game was “dwarfed” by the controversy surrounding Rodman. As for diplomacy and politics: in a line that will set the bar very high for 2014’s Understatement of the Year, Smith said that “Dennis is definitely not skilled in those particular areas.”

Rodman’s belief is actually a fairly common one: that cultural exchange is a way for different peoples to get to know each other, pave the way for mutual understanding and then, inevitably, friendship. For Rodman, that cultural exchange is basketball, and he claims it will bring about a peaceful union between North Korea and the U.S.

That’s a wonderful dream. The problem is, North Korea is not like, say, Iran – Axis of Evil #2. Western pop culture, from hairstyles and jeans to rock music and bootleg Hollywood movies, has seduced many Iranians away from the grip of their theocratic regime. Access to the internet, restricted though it is, has helped encourage that.

But the brutalized North Korean people have little access even to food, much less to their rigidly controlled internet. They are fed daily propaganda by the state media about the outside world that paints Americans as suffering in poverty and misery, and that depicts North Korea as a major world power led by the demigods of the Kim family, who actually send economic aid to the U.S. The average psychologically enslaved North Korean citizen probably knows nothing about Dennis Rodman or the freedom and prosperity he represents.

The Geography of Hate

Dr. Monica Stephens, an assistant professor at Humboldt State University whose current work “surrounds geographies of gender, hate, and censorship online,” has undertaken a project to identify the geographic origins of online hate speech. The result is the Geography of Hate map. Check it out, says a writer at the Fast Company website, “if you’ve wondered where the truly hate-filled people in America live.” Well, not exactly.

For the data used to construct the map, Stephens gathered every “geocoded” tweet in the United States from June 2012 through April 2013 that contained one or more “hate words” that she categorized as homophobic (“dyke,” “fag,” “homo,” “queer”), racist (“chink,” “gook,” “nigger,” “wetback,” and “spick”), and disability (“cripple”). Apparently she is saving hate words targeting whites (e.g., “cracker” and its variants), conservatives (“teabaggers”), and black conservatives (“Uncle Toms”) and straight people (“breeders”) for a future map, because they weren’t considered for this one.

The total from that time frame amounted to over 150,000 tweets. But because “computers are poor judges of sarcasm,” Stephens says, “and Twitter is often used in sarcastic ways, or used to quote somebody else,” three of her students first had to read the entirety of each tweet to identify only the ones in which the key words were used in a pejorative sense (they weren’t interested in phrases, for example, celebrating “dykes on bikes #SFPride,” or “nigga” as a very common term of endearment among blacks themselves).

The map ended up showing where people tweeted those offending terms most often, aggregated to the county level. Where there is a larger proportion of tweets that include one of the aforementioned slurs, the region glows red on the map; where the word was used less often (although still more than the national average), the proportion is moderate and appears as pale blue. Areas without shading indicate places that have a lower proportion of negative tweets compared to the national average.

If you zoom in, you can see, for example, that parts of Iowa, Virginia, and Indiana have the greatest concentration of people tweeting the word “nigger,” and that there are higher numbers of people tweeting “fag” in Minnesota and Kentucky. “As you’ll note from the maps,” Stephens says, “racist and homophobic sentiment exists around the country and not just in red states.” [emphasis added] Notice her generalization (can we call it hate-filled?) about the residents of red states, her casual “progressive” assumption that conservative states would naturally be the national repositories of racism and bigotry. Hopefully her research will begin to disabuse her of that, but I’m not optimistic.

Rather than indicate “where the truly hate-filled people in America live,” the map more precisely shows where some people, who may or may not be truly hate-filled (which is a very strong accusation), merely tweet a specific set of slurs. It excludes a range of people who may be much more hate-filled but who don’t fit the project’s parameters. First, it obviously excludes anyone who isn’t on Twitter. It also doesn’t consider people who may not use slurs but are quietly plotting the next terrorist bombing. It certainly doesn’t include people like the New Black Panthers, who are gearing up for a race war. 

Furthermore, Stephens’ research unsurprisingly neglected to catch vicious tweets directed at Christians, conservatives, straight people, law-abiding gun owners, pro-lifers, Sarah Palin, her Down Syndrome son, Michele Bachmann, her 23 foster children, Mitt Romney, his black adopted grandson, and other such targets of a shocking degree of leftist online venom. Now THAT would make an interesting map. But that will never happen in an academic setting.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Forest of Assassins

The Forest of Assassins is an action-packed novel by David Forsmark and Timothy Imholt, based on the still-classified true story of SEAL operations and the beginning of the Vietnam war. In addition to being a FrontPage contributor, Forsmark is the owner and president of Winning Strategies, a full service political consulting firm in Michigan. Formerly a longtime book, movie and concert reviewer for the Flint Journal and the popular culture critic for Credo, his work has also appeared in National Review Online, St. Austin Review and elsewhere. Imholt is a PhD in nuclear physics from MIT who works in the defense industry. Before that, he was an Army sniper. He is a candidate for Congress, running against Niki Tsongas in Massachusetts.

I asked David for some background on, and insight into, the story and the reality behind it.

Mark Tapson:         How did the idea for this novel come about? And why a novel rather than a nonfiction work? How much of the book is fiction?

David Forsmark:   Back when I was doing lots of writing for a local paper, I got a call from a retired Navy veteran who had an idea for a Sand Pebble-style epic story. He had been stationed on a destroyer in the harbor in Shanghai when it fell to the Communists, and had gotten a taste of the great duty the American military had in the International Zone during the heyday of gunboat diplomacy.

We became good friends while working on that, and I realized he had a better true story to tell, but he could not write a memoir. He had been one of the first Navy SEALs. When he was sent to Vietnam it was still an experimental unit, and they were making up doctrine on the fly. Officially, the operations his unit conducted – the “snatch and grab” of Viet Cong tax collectors and cadres who were terrorizing the villagers, and especially the raids along the coast on Russian-built installations – were conducted by the South Vietnamese. Which is laughable as they had no such capabilities at the time.  So, much of the story is still technically classified and he had a Commander’s pension to protect and a sick wife to care for. Also, a liberal administration could always decide to give him up to the Vietnamese communists as there is no statute of limitations on at least one of the true parts of the story.

More than half the story is true.  And the stuff you think is most likely to be made up, probably isn't.

MT:     There’s quite a bit of detail in the novel that lends a real authenticity and immediacy to the characters and their Vietnam backdrop. It feels like it was drawn from personal experience, but you’re obviously too young. How did you go about researching that detail and creating that authenticity?

DF:     When I go back and read this now, I realize that no amount of research could have gotten me this level of detail. But in this case, it was easy. I just had to listen. My friend was an amazing guy. The first time I met him, he was in his 60s, but climbing out of the small lake he lived on having done a lap! When his wife took ill, he quit smoking in one day, after having been a smoker since age 12. He used to say that SEAL training was as much about stubbornness and mental toughness as physical skill. I think he was being somewhat modest about his skill set, but I could see that in him.

He was a born storyteller, even though he never really got to tell his stories. Both he and his wife hinted to me that for a time in the late 60s he was “officially” out of the Navy, though his service jacket fills in those blanks. I never got to hear that story, even though he related this classified one to me. I can only imagine.

MT:     In the book, you tell quite a different story of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the escalation of American troops in Vietnam. Some of the conspiracy types on the left have a sort of a “truther” movement that this was trumped up and our ships were never fired on by the Communists. You say this isn’t true, but you also challenge the official story. Tell us about that.

Study Says Movies Make You Liberal

Conservatives have long known and complained that movies and television shows are shot through with overt progressive messages, although the Hollywood left downplays that concern as paranoid. But they may not be aware that even seemingly apolitical entertainment can contain subtle left-leaning messages, and those messages are effective at nudging audiences – even conservatives – to the left.

The science is settled. According to research published in the December edition of Social Science Quarterly, viewers who are “not prepared” to be critical about what they see onscreen are more likely to experience a temporary politically “leftward shift” when watching Hollywood movies with an “underlying liberal message.”

A team of political scientists at the University of Notre Dame set out to investigate the power of political messages in popular films. Dr. Todd Adkins, the lead author of the studyMoving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes,” wrote that: “Media effects research has generally ignored the possibility that popular films can affect political attitudes,” an omission he described as “puzzling” for two reasons:

First, research on public opinion finds the potential for persuasion is highest when respondents are unaware that political messages are being communicated. Second, multiple studies have found that entertainment media can alter public opinion. Together, this suggests that popular films containing political messages should possess the potential to influence attitudes.

That concept is a no-brainer. The left has understood the power of film to sway audiences at least as far back as the Nazis. Lenin once said that “for us, the cinema is the most important of the arts” – important, of course, in terms of propagating their agenda. Over the decades, the less culturally savvy conservatives increasingly ceded that arena to them; the result is that the left owns the culture, and whoever owns the culture dominates the political arena as well.

Considering what a divisive political issue healthcare currently is in the United States, the authors of the study wondered if subjects watching films with pro-healthcare reform messages would become more liberal on the issue. To test the theory the authors surveyed 252 students at Notre Dame – 54% of whom regard themselves as conservative – on their political views, randomly assigned them one of three films, then questioned them again.

The movies had either a strong and explicit political message (The Rainmaker, in which healthcare is a central part of the storyline), a subtle political message (As Good as it Gets starring Jack Nicholson, in which healthcare is less prominent, but still plays a role in the story), or no political message (Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do!, which has nothing to do with healthcare). The Rainmaker, for what it’s worth, stars Matt Damon, arguably Hollywood’s most politically outspoken big star, considering his support for radical historian Howard Zinn, his many public statements about income inequality, and his appearance in overtly political films like the “Bush lied, people died” action thriller The Green Zone and class warfare sci-fi flick Elysium (both box office bombs).