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Hollywood's Moral Role

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Robert W. Tracinski, editor of The Intellectual Activist, wrote that "[there] is an important forum in which we take [our moral inventory] every year...and broadcast it to the entire world. Our moral inventory is the Academy Awards, when Hollywood names the films it regards as its best, most important, most uplifting products."(1)

Each year, the selections represent what "the Academy"considers to be the finest examples of the various aspects of the art and craft of film. Often, these selections provide us with a window into the moral fabric of our culture. Movies are products of this fabric and of intellectual trends that are dominant in our culture. Through movies, we see examples of all sorts of moral trends. One of these moral trends is evident in the popularity of Spiderman, the altruistic hero who literally sweeps in from the sky to protect the lives and liberties of others at the expense of his own well-being. This morality is even more pronounced in Spiderman 2 where the protagonist, Peter Parker, finds that his "responsibility" as an altruistic hero who places the welfare of others before his own is interfering with his life as a productive student and photographer. He is faced with a dilemma: abandon altruism and lead a life of rational self-interest, or don the tights once again and resume a life of self-sacrifice in order to guarantee the well-being of an entire city. Thankfully, Spiderman 2 was not nominated for Best Picture this year.

An example of a movie that represents a diametrically opposing moral trend is Shawshank Redemption (one of my all time favorites). The protagonist, Andy Dufresne, was once a banker (already hinting towards the Capitalist ideal) who becomes wrongfully imprisoned (has his individual rights forcefully taken away). Through rational deliberation, he finally wins back his freedom and justly condemns the "looters" who have imprisoned him and are using cheap prison (slave) labor to exploit the market and undermine fair competition. The protagonist is strongly reminiscent of the Objectivist ideal hero. Towards the end, Dufresne sums up the moral drive behind his actions with the powerful line: "Get busy livin', or get busy dying." Sadly, Shawshank lost the award for Best Picture in 1994 to Forrest Gump, a highly sentimental film about the life of a retarded man who acts without thinking and whose highly successful venture into the Capitalist market is the result of blind luck (his shrimping boat magically survives a storm that demolishes all of the other boats).

Although I can't say that I was completely satisfied with the outcome of the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony, I have to say that I am pretty impressed with the selection of nominees for Best Picture (The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways). I did not see Finding Neverland and will therefore refrain from commenting on it. However, I noticed that the Academy succeeded in nominating at least four other films that manage to portray a sense of life that praises the rational man and rewards individualism. I will provide a brief synopsis of each film:

The Aviator is based on the life of Howard Hughes, the controversial movie producer, pilot, and Hollywood playboy who battles with mental illness to create the fastest plane on earth. Million Dollar Baby is the tragic but life affirming story of a headstrong 30-something year-old waitress who dreams of becoming a professional boxer and finally realizes that dream after years of training and the discouragement of her peers. Ray is the story of beloved piano player Ray Charles, who overcomes blindness, racism, and drug addiction to become one of the most successful black musicians in American history. Sideways is the story of two college buddies who go on a wine-tasting trip while one struggles to publish his novel and, after failing to do so, realizes that in order to be happy he must realize his own self-worth and go after the woman that he loves. This woman embodies his ideals and is independent and ambitious.

With the exception of Sideways, which portrays a very weak man who just barely manages to hold on to his dignity at the very end, all of the films nominated (and I'm assuming Finding Neverland falls into the same category since it is about the author of one of the most memorable characters in fiction) seem to be influenced by Objectivist ideals (in other words, ideals that portray the ideal man as a rationally self-interested individual whose highest goal in life is the attainment of his own happiness). Even Sideways manages to create a character who, at least in comparison to his more obnoxious and impulsive buddy, realizes that there is more to life than rejection and unfulfillment.

Fortunately, Million Dollar Baby ended up winning, although I'd say it was a close call between that and The Aviator. I especially liked MDB because the heroine of the film overcame the adversity and sexism of her peers and went from being a no talent overaged waitress to a professional boxer. She trained like a madwoman, never giving up sometimes staying in the gym after closing to work on her technique. Although the movie has a tragic ending, she maintains her life-affirming message and is proud of herself for accomplishing her ultimate goal in life, something most people will never be able to say for themselves.

If the outcome of the Best Picture category is at all indicative of America's dominant moral trends, then it feels good to be an American.

(Seriously, I haven't been this content since I found out that The Passion of the Christ was not nominated for Best Picture like many people thought it would be).

(1) Tracinski, Robert W. "Hollywood's War on Moralism." Capitalism Magazine 26 May 2001. <http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=431>

[Deleted unnecessary advertising of blog.]

Edited by Felipe
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