Frank Rich, former New York Times theater columnist turned New York Times political commentator and Obama booster, recently ran an article about cultural values and how the left won the war. The primary impetus for this epiphany was the downfall of Mel Gibson being played out in edited tapes on the internet. He then harkens back to 2004- the downfall of America to liberals- and lists the main cultural war battles. He starts with the Janet Jackson fleeting nipple incident and the Fox-led right wing battle against the left’s “war on Christmas.” In between these “cultural battles” was a Presidential election marked by a debate over gay marriage in some states and then his pet peeve- Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”
Here, Rich reverts to the entertainment columnist he once was six years after the fact attacking the movie as blatantly anti-Semitic. We can debate alleged anti-Semitism until the cows come home (it wasn’t a crowd of Romans yelling for crucifixion). Because Gibson chose to- rightly or wrongly- depict the Passion in the manner he did went against the politically correct grain of Hollywood. However, is insinuations that Gibson speaks for all of us right of center is way off the mark. It is like the NAACP branding the Tea Party as “racist.” One can almost guarantee that had Gibson portrayed Jews in a more politically correct light, yet kept the gratuitous (but real) gore and violence (crucifixions were not for the faint of heart or the weak-kneed), this movie would have been called a “masterpiece” which brought to life the brutality and repression of the Roman Empire inflicted in occupied lands- a lesson for today’s leaders with designs on nation building. But it wasn’t and Gibson paid the price among reviewers at the time. It was also the third highest grossing film of 2004 and most of it was in Aramaic for crying out loud.
What brings Rich to his conclusions that the left won the cultural wars was that Gibson is now disgraced publicly. An appeals court ruled against the FCC in imposing fines in the Janet Jackson case. A federal district judge struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. All this happened in the span of one week.
With the FCC case, I always viewed it as much ado about nothing in the first place. The “outrage” brought more attention to something people missed the first time around, but am sure they slowed down the videotape upon review. And it was an over-reaction by the FCC to a single incident. Janet Jackson’s millisecond flash of nipple hardly signals the downfall of Western civilization. Nor does the occasional slip of the tongue with the fleeting expletive by a rock star on a live awards ceremony.
With Mel Gibson, he may very well be ahomophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, sexist wife beater. Assume he is for the sake of argument. Does that make him any better or worse than a black man standing on the corner calling for the murder of white babies? Put another way, is that black man any more representative of African-Americans than Mel Gibson is of conservatives? To do so in either case does a serious disservice to the overwhelming majority on either side of the political spectrum. Nor is Gibson any more a spokesman for the right than the leader of a local chapter of the New Black Panther Party a spokesman for African-Americans or liberals in general. As with any political issue, there will be extremes on either side. The galling part about the left is that they erroneously believe the vast majority on the right are uneducated hicks incapable of making informed decisions. Of course, there are people who are persuaded by charasmatic figues like Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell, Mel Gibson and even Glenn Beck today. But again, arre they any better or worse than those on the other side who fell under the spell of “leg tingling” teleprompter-based oratory of Barack Obama?
Finally, with the ruling on DOMA, Rich would declare this the death knell for those on what he considers the wrong side of the gay marriage debate. Unfortunately, if this ruling is upheld, it is a stake in the heart of the concept of federalism. To most people on the right, the Federal government should simply stay out of the marriage laws or definitions of marriage. These are areas traditionally reserved to the states. DOMA merely codified the concept. It was also a workable compromise between those on both sides of the issue, a lesson both Reid and Pelosi can learn from.
And here lies the problem with the left- and the right- when it comes to these high profile cases. They tend to label the participants in these cases somehow representative of ALL of those on either side of the issue. For example, I am all for civil liberties, but the ACLU does not speak for me. Nor does Mel Gibson speak for conservatives and he is not representative of all conservatives. Organizations like the NAACP and the New Black Panther Party do NOT speak for all blacks. When the press on either side portrays it as this in a tit-for-tat free for all, they do a disservice to all involved and look like idiots, not objective journalists, in the process.
As for Frank Rich’s assertion that the culture wars are won die to some court decisions or recorded tirades by Gibson is ludicrous. A look at any public opinion poll shows that the cultural landscape is, at best, unsettled. For example, contrary to the Manhattan liberal beliefs of Rich, most Americans do not approve of abortion on demand and most favor ideas like informed consent, waiting periods, and parental notification laws. Although a majority of Americans may approve of civil unions for gay couples, the support drops the closer it comes to gay marriage. The bottom line is that in these issues and many more, America remains a right-of-center Nation despite the best efforts of the liberal media and academia. It partially explains their decline in recent years. To assert otherwise is a denial of reality and something that liberals just cannot grasp. In their insulated world of glittered unicorns and choruses of Kumbaya, they cannot understand or fathom this fact. Hence, the name-calling and labels, or in some cases, just plain repressive tactics.
So, Frank Richs’s article is nothing more than a belated opportunity to write a review for a 6-year-old movie that had faded from the memory of most Americans. He may have resparked interest. We’ve been there, done that, and heard that. He is six years late in his review just as “progressive” beliefs and misunderstanding of the psyche of Americans is nothing new. As such, he should consider heading back to Broadway where he can analyze the social ramifications of plays like “Wicked” or “Cats” or some revival. Given Gibson’s almost $1 billion of wealth, perhaps he can treat liberals to the latest showing of “The Vagina Monologues” or “Puppetry of the Penis” to keep them quiet for a while. In the meantime, Gibson should acknowledge he too is a jerk.