Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Introducing Michael Ramirez

I've had the honor of introducing many fascinating figures at David Horowitz Freedom Center​ events, and at noon on March 29th I'll be introducing another one: political cartoonist Michael Ramirez at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.

Check it out if you'll be in Southern California that day.

Leftist Heads Explode Over ‘Anti-Muslim’ Terrorism Thriller

The great majority of movie reviewers lean far left politically, so when they sneeringly dismiss a new Hollywood action thriller as “terror exploitation,” “racist, “jingoistic,” “terror porn,” “outrageously propagandistic,” “anti-Muslim xenophobia” and “the perfect movie for Donald Trump’s America,” then you can take that as a strong recommendation for getting to the cinema.
The Gerard Butler action vehicle London Has Fallen opened recently and reviewers are panning it as brutal, cheesy, implausible, and clichéd. Apparently those reviewers are unfamiliar with the genre or feel it is beneath them, because it is generally the nature of action thrillers to be brutal, cheesy, implausible, and clichéd. Moviegoers aren’t drawn to action thrillers for their slice-of-life realism or cinematic aesthetics; they want a two-hour dose of escapist adrenalin, an action-packed, over-the-top fun ride, and on that score London Has Fallen satisfies. The audience I saw it with on opening day applauded at the end.
In this followup to last year’s terrorism thriller Olympus Has Fallen, Butler plays Secret Service agent Mike Banning, who almost single-handedly disrupts a plot, conceived by a Pakistani terror mastermind, to execute the American President on live television. In the process Banning lays waste in various ways to practically an entire battalion of terrorists. The movie is an uncomplicated guilty pleasure with the added bonus of providing the audience with a jihadist-killing catharsis – in other words, just the sort of flick to inspire patriots and raise the hackles of Progressive reviewers everywhere.
The clickbait site Uproxx, for example, declared the movie “unbelievably racist,” although the reviewer’s sole evidence for that is a scene in which agent Banning tells a terrorist to go “back to F**k-headistan or wherever it is you’re from.” That’s not racism; it’s not even so-called Islamophobia. It’s just Banning’s contempt for America-hating terrorists and the shariah cesspools that produce them. But leave it to the multicultural left to cry racism and leap to the defense of evil jihadists.
London Has Fallen draws a line,” the reviewer complains, “and that line is between ‘us’ and ‘them.’” So it should, because there is a line between us – the good guys – and Islamic terrorists – the bad guys – but the left can’t bring itself to make that distinction. Instead, leftists are repulsed by any movie that depicts a clear moral line, unless it’s America, Christianity, and/or capitalism on the other side of it.
The Uproxx reviewer went on to sneer about this being “the perfect movie for Trump’s America” because it unashamedly revels in American power and in the deaths of terrorists, the leader of whom happens to be Muslim (never mind that the left would revel in the deaths of Donald Trump and his supporters). That comment says everything about the left’s allegiance to multiculturalism, their ingrained anti-Americanism, and their smug moral superiority over the red state Americans they perceive to be provincial bigots.
The reviewer at the Hollywood industry rag Variety pulled out all the left’s predictable arsenal of dismissive insults, calling the movie “effortlessly racist” and complaining of its “familiar Islamophobia” and “reactionary fear-mongering.” Islam, as all reasonable Americans know full well, is not a race, so there’s no racism, particularly since the majority of Special Agent Banning’s victims appear to be white. And how is it Islamophobia or fear-mongering if Muslim terrorists are actually trying to kill you in the real world? Just like the left calls 1950s anti-Communist investigations “witch hunts,” it now insists on denying that Islamic terrorism is a real-world threat.
A reviewer at Flick Filosopher completely lost his mind over London Has Fallen. He summarized it as “a Nuremberg rally for 21st-century America. Pure terror porn: racist, jingoistic, thoroughly obnoxious. Donald Trump voters will love it” (again with the jab at Trump supporters). The reviewer actually refers to “swarthy brown terrorists” in the movie, even though, again, most of the terrorists Banning dispatches to Hades seem to be white. The reviewer also sniffs at the “fear-mongered audience” who will be “hungry for blood” after this flick – suggesting that “Donald Trump voters” will leave the theater eager to carry out that violent anti-Muslim backlash which the left has been predicting since 9/11/2001.
The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick called the movie “racist” and “anti-Muslim xenophobia” – without adducing a single instance of racism or xenophobia in the film. I don’t know Lumenick’s politics, but for the left, any Hollywood movie in which a Muslim is depicted as the bad guy must automatically be deemed racist and anti-Muslim, even if the movie also features a good Muslim character, because any criticism of Islam is not allowed. Remember, the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.
“It’s about us winning,” Gerard Butler said of the film. “It’s about what happens when the shit hits the fan, and who stands up to face the challenge. It’s based on heroism and the good guys kicking ass.” Yes, and American heroes kicking ass is anathema to the left. American Sniper, 13 Hours, Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty, Act of Valor, Red Dawn, London Has Fallen – all recent movies about American heroes versus foreign enemies, and all derided by reviewers as racist, jingoistic, and xenophobic.
Leftist reviewers don’t respect the action thriller genre itself for a number of reasons. First, they don’t like guns, which they believe only the government should possess. Second, as I mentioned, their world view rejects moral distinctions between good guys and bad guys unless the latter are social justice targets like greedy white businessmen. Hollywood doles out Oscars to movies with social justice themes; action thrillers in which American heroes deliver bloody justice to evil foreigners don’t make that cut. And third, action thrillers always end on an upbeat note, and reviewers who have been trained to worship the cinematic nihilism of pretentious European auteurs consider happy endings to be a simpleminded, contemptibly American characteristic.
When I saw London Has Fallen, among the twenty minutes of trailers prior to the feature was one promoting an upcoming George Clooney drama called Money Monster. In it, the liberal-activist-moonlighting-as-an-actor stars as the host of an investment advice show. He’s taken hostage on-the-air by an angry, working class young investor whose life savings have been wiped out by white Wall Street fraudsters – the only bad guys Hollywood enthusiastically demonizes. Clooney and the movie will be praised by reviewers for bravely addressing social justice issues like inequality.
But if you want to see an American hero kicking ass, skip Clooney, ignore the reviewers, and see London Has Fallen.
From FrontPage Mag, 3/21/16

‘The Producers,’ the Swastika, and the Tyranny of Feelings

I found it encouraging to hear that students at Tappan Zee High School in Orangetown, New York recently chose to put on Mel Brooks’ hilarious satire The Producers as a school play. An excellent, bold choice. If you are tragically unfamiliar with it, the comedy centers on two theater producers who stage an intentional flop of a musical – the outrageously tasteless “Springtime for Hitler” – allowing them to bilk investors and flee the country. But their best-laid plans go awry when the play becomes a hit.
School authorities have hamstrung the students, however, by decreeing that the play must be devoid of Nazi swastikas, a move that would undermine the satire. Why? For the same reason practically any action is taken in schools these days: some people were offended, including South Orangetown Superintendent Bob Pritchard. “There is no context in a public high school where a swastika is appropriate,” he declared.
Really? Not even in history class? Is he suggesting that, rather than educate students about the symbol and its historical significance, it should simply be banished from their awareness altogether? What if, as the New York Post wondered, the Tappan Zee kids had wanted to stage The Sound of Music or Schindler’s List? Would either of those dramas be as impactful without the oppressive emblem of Nazism looming over the characters?
“I considered it to be an obscenity like any obscenity,” Pritchard sniffed. But the swastika is not like any obscenity. It isn’t even an obscenity in itself, though it represents an obscene ideology. It is a cultural symbol with specific historic meaning, and rather than shield students from it out of a misplaced sense of moral indignation, students should be confronted by it and educated about it. The alternative is possibly to be condemned to repeat the sins committed beneath its image.
B.J. Greco, who handles media for the school district, explained that four parents also had complained about the swastika’s use in the play. “If you come in out of context, you can misinterpret,” he attempted to justify. “The swastika is an icon. It causes different feelings in different people.”
So what? Different feelings can be triggered in different people by just about anything. That is no justification for sending the potentially offending object or image down the Orwellian memory hole, which the “trigger warnings” proliferating on college campuses now are designed ultimately to accomplish. A culture which prioritizes feelings, which are by definition subjective, above reality and reason will soon find itself detached from both and doomed to implode.
As an aside: the comic genius Mel Brooks, who won a Best Screenplay Oscar for The Producers, wouldn’t be able to get a job in entertainment today. Can you imagine the horror with which today’s studios would greet the outrageous racial satire of Brooks’ Blazing Saddles? Our culture has reached a point at which it is impossible to have a sane discussion about race, much less enjoy a politically incorrect comedy about it. Far from helping to close America’s racial divide, the enforced sensitivity imposed upon us by political correctness has exacerbated that divide to an almost unbridgeable degree.
The swastika controversy is reminiscent of the hysteria that swept the country last year over the Confederate flag in the wake of the massacre of nine black Charleston churchgoers by white supremacist Dylann Roof. National anger focused like a laser on what many perceive to be the symbol of American white supremacism, the Confederate flag, which Roof displayed in photos prior to the shooting. Anger became hysteria as the lighthearted 1980s show The Dukes of Hazzard was pulled from the TV Land cable network schedule because its prominently featured Dodge Charger, nicknamed “The General,” sported the flag on its hood. Merchandising featuring the car was even pulled from store shelves. Again, the rather smug impulse was to erase the symbol’s existence altogether as a sign of our moral condemnation.
In related news, Harvard Law School recently caved to student demands that the institution’s longstanding logo be changed to remove an image tied to slavery – because students find slavery offensive and “triggering.”
Yes, of course – Nazism, racism, and slavery are offensive, but this virtue-signaling frenzy to purge our culture of historical symbols deemed offensive, no matter what the context, is not the way to come to terms with those symbols, with the realities they represent, or with the past. If anything, banning them under any circumstances only empowers those symbols and weakens our understanding of them and of ourselves.
Erasing from our cultural consciousness symbols that represent such ugly historical realities is little different from the Islamic State destroying artistic and architectural vestiges of non-Islamic culture because they are offensive to religious sensibilities. It will lead to a cultural and historical amnesia – not to mention further capitulation to this tyranny of feelings whenever someone decides to be offended.

UPDATE: According to Adweek, the news media have distorted the story of superintendent Pritchard banning swastikas from the play. Apparently the swastikas in question were displayed at the school two weeks prior to premiere with no explanation, and Pritchard had them removed for that reason.  The play itself went on uncensored.
As for Mr. Pritchard’s comment that there is no context in which a swastika in high school is appropriate: Atlanta PR exec Scott Merritt forwarded to me an email from Pritchard in which he explains that it was poor wording and did not reflect his full position: “Displaying historical artifacts for the purposes of education in public schools (and universities) should be the norm rather than the exception and I am therefore opposed to censorship,” wrote Pritchard.
I wish to apologize to Mr. Pritchard – a West Point student of military history and self-described Mel Brooks fan – for running with the media’s mischaracterization without confirming the whole story.
From Acculturated, 3/18/16

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Later, Kirk Cameron: Christian Films Come Into Their Own

Faith-based movies may be all the rage now, but in recent years they unfortunately have been divided into two distinct, unsatisfying camps. On the one hand are big-budget Hollywood epics like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, made by non-believing filmmakers whose subversive treatment of the Biblical source material has turned off Christian audiences. On the other are low-budget independent efforts by believing filmmakers whose genuine reverence for the Biblical material has been undermined by heavy-handed preachiness and cringe-worthy acting. But two affecting new historical Christian films are bridging that gap and elevating the genre to higher ground.
Risen, written and directed by Kevin Reynolds of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Count of Monte Cristo fame (as well as Waterworld infamy), premiered last month. It is the story of a first-century, war-weary, Roman military tribune named Clavius, masterfully underplayed by Joseph Fiennes, who seeks a respite from slaughter – a “day without death.” He is charged with investigating the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb after his crucifixion. Pontius Pilate and the local religious leadership pressure Clavius to help them suppress the troublesome new Christian cultists for political reasons, by accusing them of staging a fake resurrection of their Messiah.

But Clavius gradually comes to the realization that Jesus’ followers are innocent and telling the truth – their master has indeed risen from the grave. Clavius himself has seen evidence that shatters his pagan worldview: “I cannot reconcile all of this with the world I knew,” he complains, until he realizes that the “day without death” he craves can be found in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.
Today is the premiere of the somewhat more family-friendly The Young Messiah, a film directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and co-written with his wife Betsy [full disclosure: the Nowrastehs are friends of mine and I have assisted Cyrus on other projects]. Based on an Anne Rice novel and focused on the emotional dynamics of Jesus’ family, the movie depicts a very human seven-year-old Son of God struggling with the budding awareness of his own divine nature, which causes him to question who he really is and why he is here.

Like Joseph Fiennes in Risen, The Young Messiah’s Sean Bean (a familiar face from Game of Thrones and countless others) plays a war-weary, unbelieving Roman soldier whose personal confrontation with Jesus shakes him to the core. Tasked with finding and killing the young boy, whom the decadent King Herod perceives to be a threat, Bean tracks Jesus down in the Jerusalem temple, but is awed – and redeemed – by the child’s undeniable spiritual power.
As Rice herself put it, the film “invites the viewer to reflect on what it might have been like for Jesus to put aside His Omniscience as God and grow up amongst us. The film is an engulfing and entertaining and edifying depiction of the Son of God as a child.” Indeed it is. Rice added that she is “grateful for countless emails from readers telling me [that her] novel deepened their sense of the reality of Jesus, or made Him real for them in a way that was entirely new,” and now the film version will make that same impact on a much wider movie audience.
Even low-budget indie Christian films today tend to do well financially because Christian audiences are hungry for movies, regardless of their quality, that affirm their values. But in Risen and The Young Messiah, faith-based films have finally come into their own as high-quality cinematic storytelling that Christians don’t either have to reject for theological reasons (such as director Darren Aronofsky’s environmentalist revision of Noah and the Ark) or be embarrassed by (Kirk Cameron’s earnest but amateurish Fireproof).
Both Risen and The Young Messiah feature top-notch storytelling, production values, and acting. Both engage audiences with understated, character-driven emotional punches rather than rely on bombastic special effects. Despite their somewhat fictionalized premises, both exhibit a clear reverence for the Biblical message and a respect for the Christian audiences at whom these movies are largely aimed. Both skillfully and powerfully portray unique perspectives on Jesus that we haven’t seen onscreen before – his early years and post-resurrection – and both successfully capture Jesus’ humanity as well as his divinity.
One of the production companies behind The Young Messiah is 1492 Pictures, run by Chris Columbus, the producer and director of blockbusters like the Harry Potter films. He calls the movie “the greatest story never told” and believes that “there’s a huge audience out there for faith based movies.” Having a powerhouse like Columbus behind such a superlative, respectful film as The Young Messiah will help it find that huge audience and encourage Hollywood support for other faith-based projects – and that bodes well for the future of Christian films.
From Acculturated, 3/11/16

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Gentleman’s Club That Turns Boys Into Men

In a trash-talking, reality-show culture that rewards bad behavior and self-promoting arrogance, quiet gentlemen have largely become quaint rarities, charming but outmoded relics of generations past. The news today is dominated by bullying presidential candidates, and the entertainment arena is ruled by foul-mouthed superheroes; unless young boys are taught gentlemanly standards by the males in their lives at home and in their neighborhood, they will be hard-pressed to find role models for them elsewhere in our culture.
Raymond Nelson, the student support specialist at Memminger Elementary in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, isn’t waiting around for our broken culture to right itself. He works with at-risk children, many of whom come from broken homes with no father figure. Grim statistics bear out just what a devastating effect fatherlessness has on boys, who are then more inclined to turn to crime, to take drugs, to drop out of school, and to perpetuate this cycle of failure one day with broken families involving their own children.
Recognizing this, over the recent winter break Raymond Nelson came up with an idea to help the young boys among his students break that tragic chain and become young men better prepared for success at home and in the workplace. He started The Gentleman’s Club.
For once, a “gentleman’s club” is turning boys into men and not the other way around. Every Wednesday nearly 60 students from the first through the fifth grades at Memminger meet to discuss a new topic on etiquette and self-presentation such as how to shake hands, make eye contact, open doors for ladies, and address their elders. Their motto is “Look good, feel good, do good.” They are required to wear ties and jackets, and Nelson has a stash of donated jackets, vests and ties for those boys who don’t have their own. “I was thinking maybe if I have the boys dress for success,” said Nelson, “when was the last time you saw someone fighting in a tuxedo?”
Nelson understands that what you wear affects your attitude and sense of self. With youth fashion tending toward drooping, baggy pants and athletic wear, wearing a suit sets the boys apart as young men. It instills in them a certain sense of seriousness, maturity, dignity, and responsibility, and their behavior changes accordingly. And dressing up affects not only the way they see themselves, but the way others see them as well. “They like the reaction of walking up to classrooms and [hearing], ‘Oh, you look so nice and handsome.’ They just love it,” said Nelson.
But the Gentleman’s Club training goes beyond appearance to include manners, which are also in short supply these days, and to cultivate a sense of chivalry toward girls and women – and God knows that’s largely absent in our culture as well. Because the younger boys are still at the age at which they consider girls to be infected with cooties, Nelson bases his lessons and examples on how they would treat their own sisters, mothers and teachers.
Nelson himself had joined a similar group as a child at his mother's request. “It helped me to be a better man and I could spread the knowledge to the young boys,” Nelson said. “I know a lot of them struggle because a lot of them don’t have men at home, so I just want them to grow up and think of the things that I teach them.”
The seriousness and self-confidence the boys are acquiring in the Gentleman’s Club are also helping them with their schoolwork. “A lot of my students perform well when they know someone cares about them,” said Nelson. In fact, the Club has been so successful at Memminger that Charleston County School District officials say they want other local schools to begin similar programs in their schools.
Our culture is suffering a manhood crisis. The rejection of chivalry as sexism and the decline of gentlemanly standards have left our sons confused about masculinity and led to a corresponding moral degradation of the entire culture. Such standards don’t come naturally; boys must be educated in them and challenged to uphold them, and for that they need role models and teachers like Raymond Nelson. He may be the only such figure in the lives of most of his 60 students. Bravo for him – but how many more boys there must be around the country who, like his students, need a Raymond Nelson to start them on the path to becoming young men.
From Acculturated, 3/3/16