Obvious Child

Obvious Child is the name of a new film which seems to be a romantic comedy exploring the lighter side of abortion. Apparently some critics like the idea while most conservatives hate it, along with the audience, whose opinion should matter most considering they are the ones who are expected to buy tickets to see the movie. Jonah Goldberg has some things to say about the wider implications of this film’s failure at the box office which I caught in his column at Real Clear Politics.

In the film Obvious Child, Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who specializes in making jokes about her private parts, with the occasional foray into fart humor. She is about to go onstage. Her friend offers her some encouragement: “You are going to kill it out there!”

Donna replies: “I actually have an appointment to do that tomorrow.”

Donna’s talking about her abortion appointment.

Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. Or if you’re like me, you think it’s not funny because it’s true.

Many critics think it’s funny. One dubbed it “far and away the most winning abortion-themed comedy ever made.” Of course, as an artistic genre, that’s setting the bar pretty low, like serving the best gas-station sushi in the state of Oklahoma.

Since it opened last month, the film has grossed less than $2 million. Compare that to 2007’s Juno, a brilliant film widely seen as pro-life (at least among pro-lifers), or Knocked Up, a raunchier romantic comedy also hailed by abortion foes, both of which grossed more than $140 million domestically. Obvious Child, then, seems less like the cultural watershed its friends and foes make it out to be and more like a barely successful art-house flick.


My late friend Andrew Breitbart liked to say that politics is downstream of culture, meaning that any truly successful political turnaround needs to start by changing popular attitudes. Adam Bellow, a storied editor of conservative books, has a similar conviction and is trying to launch a conservative revolt in the world of fiction.

I wish them great success. Still, I think there’s something missing in this ancient conversation on the right (conservatives have been making such arguments since the 1950s — if not the 1450s, with the publication of the Gutenberg Bible). Conservatives refuse to celebrate, or even notice, how much of the popular culture is on their side.

Sure, Hollywood is generally very liberal, but America isn’t. Judging by their campaign donations, Hollywood liberals are very supportive of abortion rights. But there’s a reason why sitcoms since Maude haven’t had a lot of storylines about abortion. Indeed, nearly every pregnant TV character treats her unborn child as if it’s already a human being.

The Left may be anti-military, but such movies tend to do poorly, which is why we see more pro-military films. Similarly, it’s a safe bet that Hollywood liberals loathe guns. But you wouldn’t know that by what they produce. Not many action stars save the day by quoting a poem. Most Hollywood liberals probably oppose the death penalty, yet they make lots of movies where the bad guy meets a grisly death to the cheers of the audience. The Left rolls its eyes at “family values,” but family values are at the heart of most successful sitcoms and dramas.

I think he is right, as far as it goes and certainly Hollywood is missing opportunities for profit by taking up such a position of opposition to the values of so many mainstream Americans, but I think there is a more fundamental reason why Obvious Child is not doing better at the box office. Abortion is not funny.

Abortion is a serious matter. As with most matters of life and death, it is not a subject that can be taken lightly. For people on the pro-life side, abortion is murder on a large scale and a comedy about abortion is in as much poor taste as a comedy about the Holocaust. People on the pro-choice side may not feel quite the same way about abortion, but except for a few extremists, the sort that Rush Limbaugh used to call “feminazis”, they are aware that it is a serious and controversial subject. Thus, a movie like Obvious Child which seems to treat abortion as of no greater significance then getting a pedicure, is going to offend everyone but those few extremists.

I am glad that Obvious Child is not doing well. The degeneration of our popular culture seems to be accelerating at an ever faster pace and I am glad for any sign that there are still limits to  what we are willing to watch.

The Most Precious Right

What do you think is the most important right that we have? Is it freedom of speech, worship, press, and assembly? Perhaps the right to bear arms? Maybe our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I think that there is one right that is more important than any of the ones I have mentioned. In fact, the right that I am thinking of contains and presupposes all of these other rights. I am thinking of the right to be left alone, to live our lives as we see fit without a lot of busy bodies telling us what we should eat, drink, do or think. Once the right to be left alone is granted, all of the others follow. If a nanny-state zealot like Mayor Bloomberg asserts he has the right to keep you from drinking big gulps for your own good, all of your other rights are in danger.

What prompted these reflections is Jonah Goldberg‘s latest Goldberg File. He says what I would like to say better than I can, so I would like to quote a long section in the middle.

Alas, this is where I then segued, more or less, into a long discussion about the us-versus-them mentality of liberalism that liberals routinely project onto conservatives. I tied it in to the IRS scandal as proof that O’Sullivan’s law is alive and well and simply a manifestation of the liberalGleichschaltung. I’m not going to recreate all of that here for the same reason I am not going to eat an entire five-pound brick of government cheese — because I can’t, don’t want to, and even trying will make me sick.

That said, for those of you who don’t know what I mean by the liberal Gleichschaltung, here’s a quick explainer from Liberal Fascism:

The Nazis had a word for this process: Gleichschaltung. A political word borrowed — like so many others — from the realm of engineering, it meant “coordination.” The idea was simple: all institutions needed to work together as if they were part of the same machine. Those that did so willingly were given wide latitude by the state. “Islands of separateness” — be they businesses, churches, or people — were worn down over time. There could be no rocks in the river of progress. In effect, the entire society agreed to the fascist bargain, in which they bought economic, moral, and political security in exchange for absolute loyalty to the ideals of the Reich. Of course, this was a false security; the fascist bargain is a Faustian bargain. But that is what people thought they were getting.

As for O’Sullivan’s Law (named for its author, former NR editor John O’Sullivan) it’s simply this: Any institution that is not explicitly right-wing becomes left-wing over time.

Now let me be clear: I hate O’Sullivan’s law (I am rather fond of John, however). I hate it for the same reason that I hate the argument that I cannot command an army of cape-wearing super-intelligent flying basset hounds with laser vision: because it’s true.

But let’s be honest about why it is true. Because liberals are the aggressors in the culture war. This Lois Lerner woman, it seems increasingly clear, is a perfect example of a midlevel enforcer of O’Sullivan’s Law, a water-carrier for the Gleichschaltung, a junior officer in Matthews’s “war.” But it’s important to recognize that Matthews’s “war” isn’t about freedom qua freedom or rights qua rights, it’s a war over how freedom is defined. And in the minds of progressives you are free to live anyway you want so long as it’s progressive. You have the right to have me pay for things you want, solely because you want them and progressives say you need them.

Any institution that agrees with progressivism is free to stay clear of the State if it wants to (but, being “progressive,” few such institutions want to be free of the State). Any institution that desires to go a different way must be ground down and forced to conform. It is this act of resistance and not any explicit ideological commitment that renders dissident institutions “right wing.” Indeed “right wing” is often just a liberal word for “non-compliant.”

Jonah Angry. Jonah Want Smash

And since I’m already in rant mode, let me add that it really pisses me off. I resent utterly and totally the politicization of everything. I hate it to my core. It is arguably the single most right-wing thing about me. The idea that people can refer to a left-wing clothing line or a right-wing pizza company strikes me as grotesquely ludicrous and ludicrously grotesque. It’s like referring to a “Presbyterian fastball” or a “Fabian cloud.”

The Catholic Church in America is becoming more “right wing” not because it has changed its dogma, but because under Obamacare the imperium of domestic liberalism is expanding once again. An army of Lois Lerners are spilling over the defensive walls of the Church and demanding yet more compliance.

And, yet, when the Church or a craft store or a fast-food chicken joint resists, they are labeled the aggressors in the culture war. It’s like when the Roman legions would invade Germania. The barbarians would fight back and the Romans would respond “we cannot let this assault on Rome stand!”

I am a conservative because I think politics should infect as little of life as possible. And because I am a conservative I resent to the core of my being the fact that everything must either bend to the winds of the Left or be broken by them. The third choice is to become “right wing” which in itself is a kind of surrender because it accedes to the demand that everything become political. But it’s the best choice we’ve got.

In a sane world, the President of Chick-Fil-A should not have to fear boycotts for stating his private opinion about same sex marriage. The Catholic Church should not have to fight a government that wishes it to act against its own teachings. Celebrities wouldn’t feel it was necessary to express their opinions on political matters they are entirely ignorant of, or if they must, take care to make only liberal politically correct statements to safeguard their careers. I shouldn’t have to fear that the businesses I buy from are spending my money to promote policies and values I detest, in order to keep the activists at bay. In other words, this would be a a better and less divisive country if we didn’t politicize nearly everything and turn everything into a culture war to fundamentally transform the country.

Liberals fear the Religious Right is plotting to turn America into a theocracy. What they either ignore or fail to recall is that Conservative Christian Evangelicals were quite content to mind their own business until they became aware that they were the targets of a culture war. They found their values being mocked by the entertainment industry and popular culture. Their children were being indoctrinated in the public schools. Their government was passing laws to promote an agenda hateful to them. Groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition have all been essentially defensive in nature. They were formed by a people under attack. Much the same could be said of the Tea Party movement and the two movements do overlap to some extent. In both cases these are people who feel, with good reason, that they are being made the enemy in their own country.

The most hateful thing about all of this is that no one has the option of minding their own business any more. In the culture war, you are either for everything that is good and progressive or you are a hateful bigot. If you just want to be left alone, you are a hateful bigot. It is not even enough to just passively go with the flow. Consider that infamous “no pressure” video that British environmentalist produced a couple of years ago.

If you can stand to watch it all the way through, notice exactly who gets blown up. The people who are killed are not people who are actively opposing the global warming agenda. They simply don’t want to get involved in the campaign. They want to be left alone.

Well, if is a culture war they want, I guess we have no choice but to fight it. President Obama can declare the War on Terror over, even though he might want to ask the people out there who want to kill us, but unless we want our country to be fundamentally transformed in ways we do not want, we will have to keep fighting for our freedoms.


The Tyranny of Cliches


If you look around at contemporary political discourse, you might notice that, to an incredible extent, there is very little actual arguing there is. I do not mean that there is not all too much screaming, shouting, and name-calling in our politics and in the media. What I mean is that there are few logical arguments about policies developed from basic premises. There is a lot of heat and light but little real substance. Instead, what we too often hear are talking points, or statements that are platitudes repeated with very little thought as to what they actually mean, or how they apply to a given situation.

These platitudes or cliché’s if you will, are statements like, “it is better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned” or, “I may not agree with what you said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” or, “violence never solved anything”. Such statements as these are not entirely untrue, but they’re not actually true either. They are not real arguments, just words and phrase meant to take the place of real arguments.

Jonah Goldberg explores this phenomena in his second book, The Tyranny of Clichés. He begins by relating the problem of clichés as I have above. This, he asserts, is largely a problem of the Left who are incessantly accusing the Right of being ideologues while their positions are shaped by practical, nonideological considerations. In fact, the Left’s use of clichés undermines that whole idea that their belief are based solely on logic and facts and actually, many Liberals seem to be very bad at articulating just why they believe what they do.


Of course, according to Goldberg, Conservatives really are ideologues. But, he argues, so are Liberals. And, at least, Conservatives, by admitting their ideology can develop their positions logically from basic premises. Liberals, by asserting that they are non-ideological tend to divorce themselves from their theoretical roots and so lose the ability to explain just what their positions are and why they hold them.

After this introduction to the problem, Goldberg then spends twenty-four chapters analyzing these clichés and breaking down their meaning, or lack. He shows just why each cliché really doesn’t mean much of anything with the humor that regular readers of his column will appreciate.

I think that in many ways, The Tyranny of Clichés is a better book than Jonah Goldberg’s first effort, Liberal Fascism. Goldberg seems more comfortable this time around and more willing to be himself. I think that most readers will find the Tyranny of Clichés interesting and enjoyable.




About Newt

Jonah Goldberg is still a fan of Newt Gingrich. Well, I’m not. I have no doubt that Newt Gingrich is a very intelligent man. The problem is that as an intelligent man he likes to play with ideas, out loud, and is therefore apt to say the stupidest things imaginable. He simply lacks the proper temperament to really succeed in politics. Next candidate!

Newt Gingrich
Image via Wikipedia

Trump for President 2

Anyone who still thinks Trump for President is a good idea should read this column by Jonah Goldberg. And when you are done with that, read Trumped, the book Goldberg refers to. I haven’t read the book but Goldberg offers this little tidbit,

But how will “the blacks” feel after the DNC starts distributing excerpts of Trumped, an unofficial biography by a former employee who writes that his old boss hated having a black accountant because “laziness is a trait in blacks,” and, “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

Maybe Trumped was written by a disgruntled former employee, but it won’t matter once the mainstream media get ahold of it. I’m sure there is more than enough material there for them to crucify Trump.

I would defend him if he were a real Conservative, but he’s not. He’s a last-minute convert, just so he can semi-credibly run for president as a Republican. There is nothing in his past that would indicate that he is sincere. Back in 2000, in his “The America We Deserve“, he comes out in favor of universal health care, with a single-payer plan.

Jonah Goldberg concludes with an explanation for Trump’s apparent popularity:

Still, I understand why Republicans are so fickle. The GOP field is boring and cautious (though I think boring is an asset in a matchup against Barack Obama), while Trump is a fearless TV-star “birther” having a blast exploiting the media.

I’m with Goldberg. I’d take a dull Cincinnatus over a self-centered celebrity candidate any day.