Several months ago I began some interactions with one of my most astute– and bombastic– liberal-minded friends, Jim. Via Facebook, I determined to interview him as a means of understanding his perspective. With his permission, I am sharing some of the fruit of that discussion here.
Before I begin, I want to be sure to offer a caveat: this was not intended as a debate (although there are elements of debate involved in the discussion). This was mostly a fact-finding mission. In the wake of the most recent presidential election I wanted to truly understand the fundamental perspectives behind those of the opposing viewpoint.
For that reason, while I will look very forward to your comments and critiques of our conversation, please don’t take it as a forum to call liberals morons. You can disagree with Jim all you want, but in a lot of ways, I have to admit: his brain contains mine.
That doesn’t make him right. But it does make his perspective one that we all have to deal with reasonably and thoughtfully.
George Norman Lippert
First off, Jim, thanks for 1) being willing to be my pal despite our ideological differences. Such things are all too rare, not only now, but probably ever. At least neither of us has called the other a hermaphrodite.
And 2) thanks for answering the following questions. As a conservative who knows reasonable, thoughtful liberals and Socialists (but who is often afraid to engage in actual discussion for fear of being called a hermaphrodite) I have always known there must be answers to the most obvious objections to liberal ideology. There won’t be any “gotchas” in the following– not that I am above trying. This is purely a fact-finding mission, an attempt to prove, to myself at least, that those who disagree are not idiots, slackers or just generally evil.
As a firm believer that “brevity is the soul of wit” and that, when it comes to politics, the number of words and the amount of murkiness are usually proportionally related, I will be working hard to keep this pithy and short.
So let’s start simple: You call your political views Socialist. Can you, in a paragraph or so, define the essential ideology of Socialism as you see it? Do you believe in Democratic Socialism (as hard as that is to define) or good old Stalinist Socialism?
1. No sweat. Heck, I grew up in Indiana and went to Taylor [University]. Most of my friends are Christian, conservative, or both. I would never refer to you as a hermaphrodite. Unless you were one. And were, you know, like out about it, and took pride in it, in which case, it’d be more like a statement of fact instead of an insult. You know. I’d be saying, “Go, hermaphrodite! More power to you!”2. Well, first off, I wouldn’t call Stalinism “socialism” any more than I’d call Hitler’s political philosophy “socialism”, in spite of the fact that that’s what he called it.
When I say I’m a socialist, it means two things: one, that I believe in the right of workers to control the means of production, and two, that I believe government has a central role to play in the lives of its citizens in terms of providing certain essential services.
We’re all socialists to a certain extent. I don’t believe anyone except the real hard-core libertarian fringe seriously suggests putting all the government’s functions into the private sector. The post office, national defense, police, firefighters, schools, public transportation–all of these are examples of state-funded services. And it isn’t a question of the government “giving” them to us–it’s a question of what we, the public, decide to give to ourselves. In a democracy, the government is an extension of the people–the people’s will writ large. I don’t see why healthcare, utilities, and manufacturing shouldn’t also be made public concerns instead of private ones.
In terms of private industry, one could make the very salient case that the government has no right to nationalize all private industry or businesses, and to that, I would agree. But if you reach a certain size, then it’s crazy to suggest that those businesses did it all on their own. You don’t get to the size of General Motors, Bank of America, or U.S. Steel without help from the government in some form or fashion. Megacorporations thrive because of government intervention on their behalf. Why then should the public have no say in how those corporations behave, when they directly affect the lives of the people?
I’m far more comfortable with government control of major industries than I am with private control for two reasons: one, people in government are accountable to the people. Corporations are accountable only to their shareholders. Two, government is, by its very definition, transparent, or should be. Corpocracy is just the opposite.
All too often, what our government does is NOT transparent–and to a great extent, that’s our fault. We need to demand that it is. But at least with government, we do have the recourse to demand it. We do not with corporations.
The mistake that I believe most people make is to conflate “socialism” with “totalitarianism,” and greater government control. This does not have to be the case. Those of us who are not Soviet- or Chinese-style command economy “socialists” (and I don’t believe what those countries have is socialism at all) don’t believe in taking more power away from individuals–we believe in restoring greater power to individuals.
George Norman Lippert
Sounds reasonable enough on the surface, although I imagine there would be a lot of debate about who is better suited to manage any given business– a government mostly interested in how the business can provides jobs and services for its employees, or the business owner most concerned with creating a profit.
Profit has a bad reputation in modern America ( rooted in a relatively new, class warfare-based concept, I would argue) but there’s no question that a profitable business is a business that will continue to hire, continue to provide for its employees, and continue to offer a service or product that the consumer desires. Government, on the other hand, being mostly interested the raw economy of employment, seems historically to view business less as an investment– something that will continue to pay off if managed properly– and more as a fruit to be squeezed, parsed, and ultimately devoured.
Additionally, the conservative would probably argue that transparency is equally as rare in government as it is in the corporate world. Where there is money to be made– and government seems to create a ratio of millionaires nearly as handily as the corporate world– corruption will abound. Although we definitely do have a responsibility to loudly demand it.
Anyway, onward– you mentioned that you have an extreme dislike for former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Is hate too strong a word? To people like myself, I have to admit that, while you (or anyone else) can well disagree with Romney’s policies or opinions, he doesn’t seem like a guy deserving of great animosity. By all accounts, he is charitable, caring, involved in his community, and a good father/husband. The stories told about him during the convention, while certainly politically motivated, seem to imply a sincerely nice guy.
Obviously, political animosity goes both ways. There are loads of conservatives who make a loud noise about hating the president. The difference (in my humble opine) is that the haters on the right are the fringe. In my church this past Sunday, for example, we were encouraged to pray for the government, get along and find commonality with those of opposing ideology (whatever one’s ideology happens to be) and pray more than complain. This is where most of my conservative friends land. The conservative mainstream does not seem to take pride in hating Barack Obama personally, even if they oppose his policies strongly. Only the fringe kooks on the far right do that.
Conversely, on the left, raw hatred of conservatives, especially conservative leaders, seems virtually to be a badge of honor, worn prominently by even the most intelligent and mainstream liberal-minded people.
So basically, disagreement is one thing, but what’s behind the hate?
After 2008, Detroit’s multiple meltdowns, Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldComm, the airlines, and too many other examples to mention, I do not see why conservatives still believe that the private sector is somehow inherently better at running large enterprises. I see an almost unbroken record of failure on the part of big business that requires the government to come in and fix it when things go bad.
I don’t mind that it does, either. When business goes bust, it drags an awful lot of people down with it.
There’s a double-standard at work here, George–everyone praises the military, which is a great example of a large, successful, government-run enterprise, but conservatives then run down a whole lot of other large government-run entities… like, again, the Post Office and Social Security (both of which are not only solvent, but make money).
I do not think for one moment that profit is a dirty word in America. Just the opposite, I’d argue that America has a reverence for the wealthy that borders on idolatrous. As for seeming less interested in business as an investment, again, wholeheartedly disagree. I’d point to large-scale government investment in the railroads, the highways, and the Internet–examples of not only businesses, but entire industries, built largely by the government and then turned over to the private sector.
Hate is not too strong a word for Mr. Romney and his ilk. I utterly despise the man. I think he’s a hypocrite, a liar, and a sociopath. Spin and presenting the facts in such a way as to put oneself in the best possible light is one thing, but Mr. Romney did not shy away from absolute blatant falsehoods (Jeep moving its manufacturing facilities to China, for one thing).
I hate his hypocrisy. This is a guy who was born to extreme wealth and unlimited connections, but who preached self-reliance and pulling one up by one’s bootstraps. His father paid his way through the most exclusive schools in the country. This is a man who couldn’t help but succeed. This is also a man who demonstrated in favor of Vietnam, but whose father scored him deferment after deferment so that he could go on a mission trip to France.
I hate how he made his own personal fortune, by leveraging other people’s money into buying out companies, gutting them, firing the workforce, and moving on. And this isn’t partisan rhetoric–these are Newt Gingrich’s words. Bain Capital’s “vulture capitalism”–again, a Gingrich phrase, uttered in the second debate–left thousands of people out of work and moved their jobs overseas. Ampad, Kaybee Toys, the steel mills in KC–the list is as long as my arm.
I see nothing in this man’s character to admire, laud, or emulate. He is symptomatic of everything I hate about America. And that isn’t necessary a liberal position–it’s shared by David Frum, whose conservative credentials are unimpeachable, and Mike Lofgren of The American Conservative. Frum, in a recent appearance on “Morning Joe,” said that Romney’s message was, “Vote for me so I can gut Medicare for everyone under 55 so I can give me and my friends a huge tax cut, which we can justify by saying that half the country adds nothing to the national endeavor.” That’s a Bush I speechwriter, but I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Now as for the hatin’… George, we can talk about perception all you like, but I need numbers. Your perception is that the hate is worse on the Left than it is on the Right. I don’t see it. You may say it’s on the fringe, but if you ask people who are the most prominent Conservative commentators, my guess is that you’ll get answers like Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter, Savage, et al. You won’t get the more thoughtful guys like Frum, Brooks, Will, Kristol, etc. What you call the fringe I’d call by far the most visible. When you say “seems virtually to be a badge of honor, worn prominently by even the most intelligent and mainstream liberal-minded people”–who are they? How many serious liberal commentators made an issue of Romney’s Mormonism (a legit concern, in my book), as opposed to conservatives ones who made an issue out of both Obama’s (fictitious) Islam and his attendance at Jeremiah Wright’s church?
I’d turn the question around. Whence the hatred? You tell me. After Dubya won his second term, did California, Oregon, and Connecticut threaten to secede?
As for a fruit to be parsed, squeezed, and ultimately devoured–Solyndra? That was an example of government actually investing in private enterprise, not milking it dry. Solyndra went belly up, it’s true. But I’d point out that 24 out of the 26 businesses that ARRA financed are now, in fact, turning a profit–which is a better record than that of most venture capitalists, including Peter Thiel, who says that he fully expects a third of the businesses he backs to go belly up. And Thiel is one of the most successful, and respected, venture capitalists out there.
Perception may be iffy, but numbers-wise, the government’s record of fostering and incubating business is pretty good.
And now, if’n I may, and I’m assuming I may, a little brain-picking for you, George…
Whence the assumption that capitalism is the only good, or acceptable, way? Why is capitalism considered to be the only authentic American economic system? Why are so many Christians unquestionably capitalistic?
George Norman Lippert
Interestingly, I was JUST thinking about this while driving this morning, asking myself what the fundamental difference is between these two perspectives. (And I hope you don’t mind if I include this exchange in the blog article).
Ignoring for a moment the myriad gradations within Socialism and capitalism, let’s just say there are two general perspectives from which those basic ideologies spring.
One perspective views commerce as the purview of the government, a privilege granted its citizens in the interest of fostering an economy and providing sustenance. As such, government is the ultimate arbiter of what is fair business practice, what is in the public interest, and, in a word, what is allowable. For this reason, as you say, larger businesses are increasingly controlled and regulated by the government because of the impact they have on the populace. This, of course, would be (in a much simplified form) the Socialist perspective.
The other perspective– capitalism– views commerce as the natural expression of individuals who are free. Freedom being an innate right and not something granted by governments, governmental intervention in commerce is immediately viewed as a usurpation of power and responsibility from the individual– essentially, an infringement of the individual’s freedom.
This is the Christian’s choice, I would argue, because they believe God (or perhaps even evolution, as I will explain momentarily) has established a natural consequential dynamic that, over time, regulates behavior much better than any government could.
For example, look how this dynamic is evident even in the economics of personal responsibility. As free people, individuals are free to choose things that are harmful to them. The capitalist believes the consequences of those choices are the best teacher, instructing the observant on such virtues as moderation, hard work, compassion, and personal health.
The liberal response to the individual’s poor choices, however, seems to be to assume control of those choices on the individual’s behalf (regulations regarding smoking, salty foods, junk food, large sodas, “meatless Monday”, etc). Similarly, the liberal response to commerce seems to be to usurp freedom from the individual business owners for the good of the whole.
To the capitalist, all freedoms are like free speech– we may not like the choices people make with those freedoms, but they should always be unconstrained from exercising those freedoms. The government may no sooner take control or regulate a business because it grows large than they may take control of a person’s speech because they gain a large audience.
Thus, to the true capitalist, even the government “saving” a business is an encroachment of freedom. Freedom, by definition, means the freedom to fail spectacularly. When a huge tree falls in the forest, it makes room for countless new seedlings to sprout, bringing fresh growth and energy to the area. This is not only good, but should be encouraged. The Socialist says “but look at all the jobs saved by the bailing out of GM.” The capitalist says, “But what of all the new businesses and innovative technologies (not to mention long-term jobs) that might have sprouted had GM fallen naturally, as the economy dictated?”
Amusingly, while many Christians (and thus many capitalists) eschew evolutionary theory, they seem to believe in it very firmly as an economic and social dynamic. Good businesses– those that treat their people well and provide a valuable good or service– succeed, thus contributing to a healthy economy and, yes, a strong tax base. Bad businesses– those that treat their people unfairly or provide unwanted or ill-conceived products– fail. Thus, economic survival of the fittest.
But the bottom line is this: Socialists seem to look at the by-product of commerce– employment– as its sole concern, and couple that with the view that business is a privilege that can and should be regulated for the good of the whole. Capitalists, on the other hand, believe the primary goal of commerce is profit, with the pleasant side effect of providing employment, coupled with the steadfast belief that, however it turns out, it is the sole purview and freedom of the individual.
In short (as if that was possible at this point), capitalists argue for freedom coupled with personal responsibility. Natural consequences– getting fat from eating too many Big Macs, ruining one’s business with poor business practices, smoking one’s self into emphysema– are the ultimate teacher and regulator of society. Not the government.
In fact, the capitalist would contend that as the government protects people from the consequences of making bad choices, business or otherwise, it stunts their natural growth and maturity, thus creating a permanent dependent class. This is what people mean by the term “Nanny State”.
One of my favorite authors is Terry Pratchett, whose Discworld series features Death as a character (skeleton with hooded cowl, scythe, and an inexplicable fondness for kittens). Once, Death grew tired of deathing and decided to try his hand as Father Christmas. He gave a little girl the sword she had asked for, to her mother’s great shock. “But I wanted her to have an educational toy!” the mother cries. “She could cut herself with that blade!”
“Well,” Death answers, “That would be educational.”
This, I suppose, rather sums up the capitalist perspective.
Well, I’d consider that a false equation. I don’t believe in the equating of economic “freedom” with any of our other basic freedoms. That was Milton Friedman’s argument, and it failed spectacularly in regard to both Chile and Argentina, both of which had “free market” economies with some of the worst and most repressive records in the Western hemisphere when it came to basic human liberties. I’ll put Pinochet against Castro any day of the week.
I’ve heard the Social Darwinism arguments, but they fall flat on their faces. Human beings are social animals that evolved within a social structure, and more than one evolutionary biologist out there thinks that homo sapiens reached dominance not because it was the strongest or fittest–it wasn’t–nor because it was the smartest–evidence suggests it wasn’t–but because they had the most advanced social structures and evolved to care for each other and guard the weakest among them.
As for a natural consequential dynamic–no way. Look at 19th century economic history which, since 1830’s, experienced a recession approximately once a decade. The Panic of 1908, the panic of 1893, the Panic of 1884, the Panic of 1872, ’57, ’42, and on and on and on. It’s only when we reached a point of increased government regulation–the 30’s, after the grand-daddy of them all (until 2008, which, again, followed a period of de-regulation) that you got some kind of stability in the economy.
Whom does that benefit?
I’d posit a different scenario. I’d posit that it’s the conflation of Christianity/Capitalism/True Americanism by people like Russell Herman Conwell and Coin of “Coin’s Financial School”–and the appearance of the “godless Bolsheviks” on the world scene that accounts for American fear and loathing of that which it considers “socialist.”
Simply put, a fictitious association has more to do with Christianity=Capitalism in America than there is any basis in either philosophy or fact.
America likes this idea of itself as a rugged individual, and we pine for a mythical history where we were all strong, self-sufficient homesteaders, completely overlooking the incontestable fact that, throughout most of the 19th century, the vast majority of Americans lived in dire poverty–either scraping by as subsistence farmers or in urban squalor.
George Norman Lippert
I’ll have to look into all of this. I appreciate the specifics, but I will admit, perhaps to my own fault, that my opinion on these things is based on a sort of fundamental instinct, arrived at by ongoing examination. That examination is, in fact, the motivation behind conversations like this. Thus I hope you’ll allow a bit of time for me to study the details you mentioned here.
If your politics consist mostly of mocking perceived stupid people on the other side, you are neither insightful nor witty: you are a cheerleader, and a dull one at that. If the presence of stupid people in a political movement was a reason not to vote for it, we’d all have to be anarchists.
Stupidity is eminently, essentially bipartisan. Cheerleading is stupid.
In fact, most people read for the same reason we go to the movies, right? Sure, we all talk about how important certain films are (hint: the important ones are always “films”, never “movies”). We pride ourselves in supporting independent movies, and foreign documentaries, and long, painful biographies about obscure figures. And why do we pretend to like these terrible, boring, tedious movies? Why do we not watch the stuff that we really want to watch?
Simple: peer pressure. With our Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritics and Twit-this and FaceSpace-that, we all have virtually no time to consider some preposterously escapist new movie before the cultural opinion machine kicks into gear and tells us only a tool would go see a movie with such “wooden dialogue”, or “poor character development”, or “boilerplate CG effects”, or “entire cast of female midgets”.
And we all nod knowledgeably and scoff and congratulate ourselves on what fine consumers of media we are, how enlightened we are not to be sucked into consuming such banal Hollywood junk food whilst on our way to doze through another myopic biopic.
But deep down– so deep a lot of us aren’t even consciously aware of it- we miss that junk food. We lust for it. We want to jump into a giant barrel of cinematic french fries and swim around in it, cackling through mouthfuls of greasy, salty awfulness.
It’s an analogy. Just play along.
Lately, I’ve been catching up on my movie-watching. I’ve been doing it alone, after the kids are in bed, and this has allowed me an interesting state of freedom to watch whatever I want, and damn the media opinion machine. It’s been an enlightening experience. I bake up some tater tots, pop open a beer, and settle in to watch stuff that’s… well, stuff that’s often just horrible. At least by the popular standards. And here’s what I’ve decided: the cultural opinion machine is made up of FUDDY-DUDDIES. STICKS IN THE MUD! They’ve become such astute connoisseurs of snark and irony that they’ve totally forgotten that movies are supposed to be fun.
For instance, they liked The Amazing Spider-man. I watched it. It took me three days. I WAS BORED.
“Please, please, don’t make me take the CG lizard guy seriously.”
This is a movie that should have been ridiculous, exuberant, bright, a laugh, with some explosions and bad-guy-punching and eye-popping effects. Instead, the makers tried so hard to appease the modern monocle class that it became the cinematic equivalent of cardboard– flavorless, beige, and a lot of work to chew through. Peter Parker was so forgettable, the bad guy was so tortured, I forgot who I was supposed to root for. Watching them fight was like watching a soccer match on Uni-vision– I knew somebody was supposed to win, but I really didn’t understand why, or frankly care.
And then, behold, I watched Battleship.
I won’t beat around the bush. I expected it to be awful. Because like it or not, I am also a denizen of the Internet, and I knew all the reasons that it was going to be stupid– bad dialogue, a dumb premise, based on a board game, loaded with glitzy CG effects– but I still wanted to watch it, and now I know why. Because deep down the little kid in me– the kid we’ve all forgotten about, but who still really likes to watch movies– that kid knew that those things aren’t the recipe for a bad movie. They are, in fact, the recipe for the rockingest, awesomest movie of all.
And dammit if that little kid in me wasn’t bang-on right. Battleship is a totally, irrepressibly, obliviously great movie.
And here are the five reasons why.
1) It’s ridiculous.
Battleship is completely, seamlessly, wall-to-wall shag carpeting ridiculous. And we’ve forgotten that for a certain kind of movie that is a good thing!
The only thing this needs is exclamation points: BATTLESHIP!!!!!!!
It isn’t that the modern entertainment consumer has totally rejected absurdity as film device. We love us some absurdity in comedy, for example (otherwise there’d be no Monty Python or Airplane). We accept absurdity as an avant garde vehicle in artsy-indie movies that no one understands (even the filmmaker).
But when it comes to straight narrative movies, we’ve decided that absurdity is somehow off-limits. “Sure!” we say, “Give us more angst-ridden experimental flicks about the secret lives of kumquats or terribly depressing Blues Brothers sequels, but absurdity in drama!?? You, sir, have crossed the line!”
But the fact is, ridiculous dramas work in exactly the same way as ridiculous comedies– by suspending all the rules so we can get right down to the business of pure story. Sometimes that means a knight who keeps blithely living even though all his limbs have been cartoonishly lopped off (“Tis but a flesh wound!”), and sometimes it means aliens with the technology to streak through the unimaginable distances of space, dodging asteroids, comets and planetoids, who then manage to crash head-first into a communications satellite a few miles above the earth. Why? Because it makes the story work!
Whether it’s Monty Python or Battleship, the moment we realize that believability is not only being ignored but actively subverted, we are given a pass to turn off our inner critic and simply watch the silliness.
2) It takes itself totally seriously while allowing us to totally not.
We all have that friend who tells completely asinine stories. Maybe it’s about the time he got drunk and totally stole a police cruiser and led every cop in the tri-state area on a five-hour manhunt that ended up on an episode of “Caught on Tape: World’s Deadliest Car Chases!” Everyone knows he’s completely full of crap– if it happened at all, it was probably about a hundred times less interesting– but there’s something about the guileless sincerity of the way he tells the story that makes it so completely, delightfully hilarious. And the best part is, the harder you and your friends laugh, the more earnest and serious he gets, which of course just makes it all the funnier.
That’s Battleship. The movie knows you know it’s completely full of crap, but it simply never blinks, never cracks a grin, never gives you anything but the most guileless, wide-eyed sincerity, even as it asks you to accept Rihanna as a bad-ass sailor chick, and introduces aliens content to restrict themselves to floating death-boats instead of, you know, actual flying ships like the ones the death-boats came out of (what, maybe the aliens were just trying to fit in?) The more we giggle, snort and laugh at the absurdity of it all, the more Battleship insists “seriously guys! That’s how it really happened! And then one of the seven-foot aliens was all like ‘aw no, man, I didn’t just fly twenty-seven light years to let one of these dumb humans trick me into standing right in front of a sixteen-inch cannon while Rihanna pauses to deliver a punchy one-liner’.” And we just laugh and laugh.
“Boy, that trail of Reese’s Pieces was a life saver. Now stand right there and ignore that giant ‘aiming’ sound…”
That’s the fun of a movie like Battleship— its endless narrative sincerity coupled with our perfect knowledge that it’s totally pulling the story out of its cinematic rear end.
3) It embraces the device of visual cool factor over realism.
So why did the aliens content themselves with giant ocean-bound death-boats instead of the more typical city-sized flying motherships? Why did they lob actual hardware bombs instead of the standard issue laser beams?
Simple: it looked cooler!
The original script had them towing a bunch of alien water skiers.
Until Battleship came along we’d never seen aliens skipping around the ocean in giant armored jetskis, and until it happened, we didn’t know how much we wanted it! Lasers? Pfft! How about hundreds of alien-alloy smart bombs that pepper a ship like lawn-darts, pause dramatically for effect, and then explode? That’s what we’re talking about! Who cares if it doesn’t make a damn lick of sense! It looked totally awesome. It was a blast to watch (pun very much ‘hell-yeah!’ intended).
Battleship manages to tap into the sort of movie I would have made back when I was twelve. Observe:
Moviemakers: OK, twelve-year-old George, we need our aliens to be able to attack and destroy stuff from a distance, but fighter ships are too cliche. What do we use instead?”
12-Year-Old-Me: OK. OK. Picture this. The aliens have… like… these giant… metal… balls.
Moviemakers: (not cracking a smile) Huge metal balls. Uh-huh.
12-Year-Old-Me: Yeah! But, like, with metal teeth or gears or stuff all over ’em! And they spin in all directions, like the Tasmanian Devil, just whirring and chomping everything in sight!
Moviemakers: Love it. But how do they get around? Everything else floats on the ocean. We have a theme going here.
12-Year-Old-Me: No, no, no! The giant metal teeth-balls have to fly! They just whiz around through the air! But then when they hit the ground they have to drive around like monster tumbleweeds, but with teeth. You know? Shredding through the other boats, and roads, and people! Everything!
Moviemakers: You, twelve-year-old George, have a gift.
12-Year-Old-Me: Just make the movie! Make it! I wanna see!
They sure aren’t Weebles!
It’s as if, early in the design phase for this movie, the director said “if there’s a realistic way to show something, and an awesome way to show something, tell realistic to take a flying leap into an active volcano.”
Thus, in the very beginning of the movie, when we are introduced to a new satellite array that beams sound waves into deep space, the sound waves look like a freaking doomsday death-beam tearing the universe a new black hole! Who cares if sound is invisible? This is a movie, dammit! We need to see something!! That, from the very beginning, is what tells us this movie is going to be smacking us in the eyeball over and over with awesome, whether it makes any sense or not.
And for a guy who was once a twelve-year-old kid who promised to someday make a feature film called “SPECIAL EFFECTS: THE MOVIE”, that is completely and fabulously fine by me.
4) It has cliche heart and isn’t afraid to use it.
So the aliens blow up all the modern warships with their giant steel balls, boom-boom-boom. What’s left? Why for our heroes to paddle over to Pearl Harbor memorial and recommission the seventy year old USS Missouri, of course! And who better to show us what true American grit and moxy look like on the deck of a world war two battleship than a bunch of by-God world war two sailors! I defy you to have a drop of red, white and blue in your veins and not struggle with the urge to stand up in your living room and sing the Star Spangled Banner when that scene happens. If it doesn’t, go find a genuine world war two veteran and ask him to slap you about ten times.
There’re more cans of whoop-ass in this picture than in a thousand rap videos.
I had a grandfather who fought in the old dubya dubya eye eye, so I can’t help it. Seeing those old guys stepping behind the radar screens and manning the engines made my heart swell with a sort of misty, self conscious pride, even if I knew it was cheesy as all hell.
In a world of seamless irreverence, where sincerity is gasping a last, rattling breath, it’s refreshing to see a movie aim for the heart– and not in an ironic way! Sure, yeah, it’s cheesy. Possibly it was crass and calculating, just a bunch of cynical movie makers tugging at audience heartstrings that have long since atrophied in their own souls. But who cares? Sincere feelings can come from insincere manipulation. Why else would My Chemical Romance be so popular?
5) It’s the only modern blockbuster that’s campy without trying to be.
Campy can best be summed up by the somewhat tired concept of “it’s so bad it’s good”. Movies like Evil Dead 2 and Maximum Overdrive and Plan 9 From Outer Space fall into this category. These are movies that try so hard to be something, and fail so spectacularly, that the failure itself is fun to watch. They are the cinematic equivalent of seeing someone slip on a banana peel, then pretend they meant to do it.
The reason the concept is tired, however, is that sometime over the past few decades, movie makers began to purposely try to make so-bad-they’re-good movies. Which is sort of like watching someone point at a banana peel on the floor, theatrically pretend to slip on it, and then demand laughs.
The beauty of campy movies is that the campiness is all unintentional. The moment a director deliberately aims for campy, the best he/she is going to achieve is a sort of self-conscious self-parody. And really, nobody wants to watch that.
Battleship does not try to be campy. It’s one hundred percent summer blockbuster, with a budget to match, and honest-to-God Liam Bloody Neeson.
And oh my does it nail campy.
It’s the combination of all the above elements that gets it there. It’s so unapologetically preposterous, so geared toward visual overload, and yet so dead-eyed serious and sincere, that it hits that ultimate sweet spot of camp. Battleship plants its huge combat boot square on that yellow fruit-skin, does a full one-eighty in the air, comes down like a garbage truck full of chandeliers, and just keeps right on trucking, not missing a single beat of its preposterous premise.
It’s a glory to watch.
Unless you’re Rihanna. Then you’re just perpetually bored.
Hollywood has always been known as the dream machine. If we wanted to see reality, we’d all just go sit in our backyard, or pop some popcorn and watch our families stumble around through day-to-day life. No, we go to movies to see the preposterous, the unimaginable, the occasionally idiotic, all brought to life in day-glow color, hopefully in IMAX 3D.
Hollywood exists to provide escape from reality.
In celebration of that, we absolutely should not mock movies like Battleship. We should congratulate the people willing to make such unambiguously asinine movies, purely for the love of the big boom, the flimsy premise, the sense of suspended reality that only a ninety minute special effects distraction-fest can provide. We should reward such shameless lacks of pretension. We should totally go see these movies, laugh our way out of the theater high on adrenaline, caffeine and popcorn butter-product, and tell the online snark-mongers what they really are: the internet equivalent of a Victorian prude chastising the world for thinking fart jokes are funny.
They are sticks in the mud! And we can totally, safely stop listening to them.
Except me. Keep listening to me. You’ll thank yourself later.