Elysium is a thinly-veiled promotion of a rather liberal political agenda, especially with respect to immigration and healthcare reform.  One can gather that quickly by watching the movie or reading the reviews of moviegoers on yahoo.  But I would have enjoyed the movie anyway if it had been more complete.

Sorry to spoil the rather unoriginal and predictable plot, but here it is in all its simplicity: 150 years into the future, our planet Earth is ruined by overpopulation and poverty such that the entire earth looks like a third world country.  Everyone in LA speaks Spanish and/or is Hispanic.  The elite of the world (wealthy, intelligent, educated, etc.), build a huge space station called “Elysium” to, and I quote, “preserve their way of life” (though the film does little if anything to show what that “way of life” looks like; we are supposed to assume it’s ideal with whatever that might mean to us–kind of like Heaven, I suppose).  Elysium has free (and perfect) healthcare in the form of body-scanning machines that can heal a person from essentially every malady short of complete death (it can even do reconstructive facial surgery and restore someone who had his face blown off by an explosive, looking good as new after the healthcare scan).  To get the bodyscan, a person needs both to be on Elysium and be a citizen of Elysium.  They refer to all non-citizens as “illegals,” and Jodie Foster’s character heads up a group called “Homeland Security” (yes, the metaphor is that obvious) to protect Elysium from intruders, but the dark-skinned “president” essentially undermines the Homeland Security efforts, leading Foster’s evil character to stage a coup to protect Elysium.  Meanwhile, Matt Damon’s character lives on earth, gets sick, has 5 days to live, and needs to get to Elysium to get that body scan to heal himself as well as his friend’s daughter, who has leukemia.

There was potential for this movie but they didn’t explore the pertinent questions arising out of such a plotline nearly enough.

For instance, were the people on Elysium happy in their isolated (and supposedly trouble-free) world?  What was life like for them?  Did they at least have “first world problems“, or was this a symbolic utopia of sorts?

Was it immoral for the citizens of Elysium to build Elysium at the outset and/or to take the best and brightest from the world and stick them up in Elysium? (If so, it’s likewise immoral for America to allow the best and brightest of other nations to emmigrate to the U.S., contributing to brain-drain in third world countries, which could actually mean permitting unlimited immigration would sometimes be immoral, not benevolent).

Is the existence of Elysium itself (or the imbalance of wealth in any closed system) an instance of injustice?  If it didn’t exist at all, apparently no one would have healthcare, unless the best and brightest of Elysium were somehow forced into providing healthcare to everyone everywhere (and how would we force them to do so without paying them–making them elite, the kind of elitists that we from the outset held were an example of injustice–or forcing slavery, which we also find disgusting?).

To put that last question another way, more broadly: is it unjust that Oprah owns eight homes while I only rent one (and some people are entirely homless, or living with multiple families in the same dwelling)?  Is an imbalance of wealth itself an inherent injustice?  Is it immoral anytime any of us earns more than the median world salary (a small number that will shock your conscience) and fails to donate the entire surplus to those below that line to even things up?  Isn’t this movie saying that the general imbalance of resources and happiness between Earth and Elysium is in itself immoral (notwithstanding that everybody who helped make that movie likely lives an extravagant lifestyle, at least from a world-wide perspective)?  If the movie is saying that, does it not also suggest by implication that we are a nation of hypocrites and psychopaths, but not much else?

Were there scarce health-care resources on Elysium, such that the masses on Earth would consume up the health-care “machines”, creating an underclass of the unhealthy anyway? If there was no such scarcity, why did the people on Elysium keep those machines from being delivered to earth rather than sending reproductions (or even just one or two) of these impersonal machines (which apparently did not even need maintenance or a personal expert to operate, or at least the movie did not indicate such a need)?  Were the citizens of Elysium presumed to be psychopaths with nothing but contempt for all outsiders (and in fact a positive desire to harm or starve outsiders), rather than protectors of their limited goods?  (Even in wealthy America, we participate in and fund global relief efforts, however effective or ineffective that may be.)  If the citizens of Elysium were that evil, shouldn’t we just blow the whole edifice up rather than allow these Stalin-like creatures to continue profiting from building such machines?  Or would we disapprove of forcing them to labor on our behalf here on “Earth” (the third world country)?

Additionally, as a somewhat irrelevant side note, imagine how long the wait lines would be on an overpopulated earth seeking to exploit the machines that were built only to serve an elite few rather than billions.  Can the machines break from overuse?  Will people harm each other to cut in line?  Will the gate-keepers of the line allow their friends and family a place of privilege so that they get the best machines and spend the smallest amount of time in line?  These machines are unlikely to turn the third world Earth cesspool into a utopia just through healthcare.  At least, the problems of poverty and crime would still persist.

There are just way too many unanswered questions. This movie might have been an ambitious mini-series on TV, and I would love to have seen these issues explored (even if with a liberal or other agenda), but the movie fails to deliver in an intellectually-satisfying way.  That’s unfortunate.

Update:  It just occurred to me, this movie could be seen (ironically) as a pro-life metaphorical argument.  The citizens of “earth” could be unborn humans, whereas the elites on Elysium could be people who have been born.  The people on Elysium (metaphors for mothers) are entirely in control of whether the earthlings (metaphors for unborn babies) can have healthcare and live.  However, the earthlings pose a threat to the comfortable way of living for those on Elysium, and the citizens of Elysium want to “preserve their way of life.”  When someone from earth finally “gets through” against the will of those on Elysium (say, for example, a child of a failed abortion), that person fights with all his/her might to end the denial of life for the earthlings.  In this interpretation, the movie metaphor wouldn’t even go far enough, because mothers and their unborn babies have a far more intimate (and morally obligatory) relationship than that between the citizens of Elysium and Earth.

Congratulations to Sandra Bullock, who last night received an Academy Award for her role in The Blind Side

I’ll admit that I was skeptical when I went to see it several months ago.  I hoped not to see a sappy, overused rags-to-riches story.  What I saw was indeed a holiday-style feel-good film, but with a twist.  It’s a true story of an under-educated high school kid from a bad part of town who is taken in by a family when the family mom sees the boy walking on the street on a cold night in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.  The boy is given a place to stay, and eventually tutoring, educational opportunity, and an opportunity to capitalize on his natural athletic ability (but he can’t play football unless he improves his grades so that he can be academically eligible).  This Hollywood story might be unremarkable, except that it’s true, and the mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, happens to be a white, wealthy suburban Christian woman in Memphis, Tennessee, and the boy, Michael Oher, is a black kid from the projects who didn’t know his father and whose mother’s life had been ruined by habitual drug use.

A rich white Christian helping a poor black boy reach success, just out of the goodness of her heart?  Not exactly the stuff Hollywood scripts are made of.  But it’s a true story, and the people who played out this drama are alive and well, because the movie ends with the 23rd overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.  Hard to dispute the facts. 

Even so, the movie is not without its critics.  In fact, I remarked to a family member shortly after the movie, “I bet this movie gets criticized for being racist, for suggesting that black people can succeed if they become like white people, even though that obviously was not the message of the movie.”  I described a law professor I had in law school years ago—he was a Jewish neo-Marxist that had been a member of the Black Panthers in college (no, I’m not kidding)—who decried that kind of “paternalism,” arguing that such integration erodes the valuable black culture. 

Indeed, the Dallas Observer published a piece entitled The Blind Side: What Would Black People Do Without Nice White Folks?, in which the writer argued that “Blind Side the movie peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of blacks who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them.”  A commenter on Yahoo added, before even seeing the movie, “It’ll still probably be racist, though, because it’ll probably portray the young black boy Sandra Bullock adopts as being ‘better’ than other black people in the film in some disgustingly charming way, with all the other black people treating him badly and Sandra Bullock having to come running to his rescue.”  The same commenter argued, “This is a movie about white people, for white people, that lets white people feel good about themselves.”  (This movie did not make me feel good about myself, it humbled me because I find Ms. Tuohy’s actions to be so much more compassionate and loving than anything I’ve ever done.)

Turns out that such criticisms reached the ears of the movie’s director and prominent star Sandra Bullock.  They had some rather positive things to say.  Director John Lee Hancock remarked:

“There will always be a certain camp that will say, ‘Oh it’s paternalism; its white guilt; its another one of those stories that says an African-American can’t make it on his own.’ I think its all balderdash,” said Hancock. “Even though there is a racial component, I looked at this story as more of a discussion of haves and have-nots and nature versus nurture. This is a kid who been discarded by society, especially from an educational standpoint. And his story goes to prove what having a safe bed to sleep in, having a family unit, having loving, interested parents can do. Lo and behold, this kid who was falling through the cracks is on the dean’s list at college. It’s like a miracle, and I think that’s a far more interesting element than any racial aspect of it. Leigh Anne Tuohy didn’t stop that car to pick up that kid because he was African-American. She stopped that car to pick up that kid because he was cold.”

Sandra Bullock added:

“One of my biggest issues has always been people who use their faith and their religion as a banner but don’t do the right things, yet still go, ‘I’m a good Christian and I go to church and this is the way you should live your life,'” said Bullock. “And I’m like, you know, do not give me a lecture about how to live my life when you go to church every week but I know you are still sneaking around on your wife. And I told Leigh Anne in a live interview, one of my largest concerns getting involved with this project was that whole banner-waving thing because it scares me, and I’ve had experiences that haven’t been great with people like that. I don’t buy a lot of people who use that banner as their shield. But she was so open and honest and forthright with me I thought, wow, I’ve finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach.”
 
Bullock’s next comment suggested that the Tuohy’s newfound fame has provided them fresh opportunities to impact others with the hope that they have. “I now have faith in those who say they represent a faith,” Bullock commented. “I finally met people who walk the walk.”

The kerfluffle does raise an interesting question.  Let’s say that the Tuohy’s “white culture,” whatever that is, actually did have more wealthy yet responsible and philanthropic individuals than Oher’s “black culture,” whatever that is.  And let’s say that the “black culture” had more child abandonment, drug use, crime, and poverty.  If that were true, would it be wrong to encourage the “black culture” to be more like the “white culture” in that respect?  Is the “black culture” equally valuable as the “white culture” if the “black culture” turns a blind eye to such atrocities?  Not to say American “white culture” doesn’t have plenty to work on itself, or that it is the standard against which other cultures must be measured.  But, as I wish I had asked my law professor, can one culture be more valuable—more right—than another?  I’m inclined to say yes, and it only takes pointing a lazy finger toward Nazi and Stalinist “cultures” to demonstrate that some cultures must be erradicated, or at least radically broken and rebuilt, to rise to the level of other more valuable cultures. 

But in any event, The Blind Side really attempts no such cultural commentary.  It’s just a true story of a rich white Christian woman coming to the aid of a homeless black kid, and the resulting interracial family.  Had that kid been white, the critics would have no basis for labeling the movie “racist.”  So in an odd way, the critics would apparently prefer either that (a) rich white Christian ladies not help black kids, but to stick to their own kind, or (b) the stories of rich white Christian ladies helping black kids not be told, because they might foster (perhaps accurate) stereotypes about blacks, or (c) that stories that challenge (perhaps inaccurate) stereotypes about rich white Christians not be told.  None of the critics make any effort to demonstrate that a large segment (but not all) of the black community is not afflicted with the problems depicted in the film.  But the critics would rather rest comfortably in willful blindness of the truth than be forced to admit the less-than-politically-correct problem.

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2009

Posted this a few weeks ago, but it deserves another post today:

Merry Christmas everyone.

This week, President Obama’s speech at West Point (announcing a renewed war effort) preempted the annual broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas on national television.  It’s a real shame, so I must post a link to the traditional cartoon.  Please click here and it’ll take you directly to the full 25-minute episode:

http://www.fanpop.com/spots/christmas/videos/12319/title/charlie-brown-christmas

If you’re pressed for time, fast forward to the 20:00 mark and watch to the end.  That’s the best part.  If you’re even more pressed for time, here’s a taste:

Merry Christmas everyone.

Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Heaven by the rockband Live (not a Christian band):

I don’t need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe
I don’t need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive

My goodness.  I heard about the 2001 PBS documentary “The Merchants of Cool” a few years ago, but hadn’t watched it until today.  I urge each of you (especially parents) to watch this.  Follow the link and click on the first segment (“Hunting for Cool”):

The Merchants of Cool

[Update: While I recommend you watch the whole program, I found the following clip, which shows a significant part of the problem.  The link above will also lead you to a higher-quality version of the movie, but you’ll get the idea.  Warning: Rated R language!]

Read the rest of this entry »

I thought that title might grab you.  I got to thinking about it because of a recent NCIS television episode wherein one character references Islamic terrorist bombing and another character responds that it’s no different than an abortion clinic bombing.  But isn’t it?

I certainly have no plans to bomb any buildings, but anyone who skims this blog will quickly figure out that I am decidedly pro-life.  That means I believe that an abortion is a murder of a full-fledged, innocent human being.  Whether or not you are pro-life, indulge if you will for just a moment the presupposition that an unborn person is every bit a human person entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that you and I are.  Imagine that there are buildings where innocent living children, or even adults, are taken against their will and murdered, sometimes even having their limbs yanked off without anesthesia.  Once you indulge the pro-life position on unborn human beings (i.e. step in my shoes), you must admit that an abortion clinic is the moral equivalent of a gas chamber within the confines of Auschwitz. 

Would it have been moral to sneak into Auschwitz and blow up a gas chamber?  Empty, or even with the guilty Nazis in it?  Those questions, considered in isolation from any reference to abortion, would surely give the Hollywood script writers a bit more to think about.  Indeed, when a black man murders a white redneck who might get away with raping the black man’s daughter, he is heralded as a hero in the fictional movie A Time to Kill.  It is not as though the Hollywood writers are unfamiliar with or opposed to the concept of justifiable homicide.  This fact underscores that the Hollywood writers assume the pro-choice position to be correct (also implying that the pro-life position is nothing more than “crazy”) when writing their stories; the snide abortion-clinic bomber remarks prove nothing but to evidence the writers’ unsupported presuppositions. 

But the question of whether it is morally permissible to blow up the Nazi gas chambers (the instruments of death), or even the entire death camps, with or without the killing of Nazis (perhaps the bombings could take place at midnight while empty, or perhaps with Nazi guards in them), requires much examination, and I do not intend to answer that question here. 

I need not answer that moral question to address whether abortion clinic bombings are justified.  Whether or not the bombings would be morally permissible if they prevented abortions and saved lives, the fact is that such bombings do not prevent abortions and do not ultimately save lives.  Even if the abortion clinic bombers blew up all the clinics and killed all the abortion doctors at exactly the same time (thereby preventing some abortions and causing more live births), more doctors and clinics would immediately replace them, and public support would swiftly turn to the abortionists’ favor.  The abortion war in the United States is at the present time a public relations one, not one of force like in Nazi Germany.  Bombing abortion clinics only gives pro-choice media forces more ammunition, and we see those messages sent out in televisions shows (like the NCIS episode referenced above) and even in the news.  The media and the pro-choice movement have been capitalizing on these incidents since at least 1994.  If one wants to prevent abortions, one must work on changing public opinions and changing laws.  This war cannot be won by force.  Therefore, the use of force against abortionists, even if it could be justified in other circumstances, is unjustified in the U.S. on a macro-scale because the purported justification is illusory.

(Note: my argument above does not support the common argument that abortion should not be made illegal because “they will happen anyway.”  Making abortion illegal will without question reduce the number of abortions and save a great number of innocent lives.  The fact that some women will ignore the law and commit crimes is not a reason to curtail the law to accommodate criminals’ behavior.)

Tonight we also witnessed an Academy Award given to the writer of the screenplay Milk.  That screenwriter told of how his parents moved him away from a conservative Mormon environment where he could learn to accept “who he is”.  While there are plenty of philosophical problems associated with someone claiming “it’s who I am” (about anything), which I won’t go into, I found it interesting that he promised all the homosexuals out there that the marriage license would soon be extended to homosexual “marriages” from a federal level.  I’m guessing that the screenwriter is no lawyer, but he may suspect that the U.S. Congress is largely powerless to regulate state marriage laws (or at least it is supposed to be).  However, the federal judges, none of whom are elected, have been known to strike down state laws by declaring them unconstitutional, whether or not there is any sound reasoning or any text in the Constitution to support such a decision. 

The screenwriter reveals an interesting attitude: we just lost an election, but no matter, we’ll run to the courts to fix it.  And if we lose in the state courts, we’ll go to the federal ones.  And as soon as we get that precedential decision we’re looking for, it won’t matter what people vote for, because judges (by co-opting the constitution) trump democracy (and perhaps can trump the citizens’ attempt to amend their own constitution). 

Of course, setting aside the justice or injustice of the homosexual movement, any democratic process can produce unjust laws.  And yes, it would be nice to have all of those unjust laws overturned by some other governmental entity.  However, that other body can likewise produce unjust decisions.  So, in the end, we must recognize that someone will have the last word, and that person or group may produce unjust laws. 

Thus, the question becomes who should make that last and final decision.  As to the federal level, should it be the unelected Federal Judiciary or a democratically accountable Congress and President?  Of course, the homosexual screenwriter may place tremendous hope in Congress and the President (and that is probably a justified hope), and he may be unaware that the Congress and President are generally not supposed to dictate state laws.  Even so, as of now, it would appear that the California state courts will be the next arena for this debate, regardless of the express will of the people in the state of California.  And if those judges decide that the people of the state of California cannot amend their own state constitution to reflect their will against homosexual marriage, when can we stop calling ourselves a democracy?

Because I am a voter for Proposition 8 (the California ballot measure to restrict marriage to heterosexual monogamous relationships), Sean Penn apparently wishes shame on me and the majority of other California voters, as he said in his best actor Oscar acceptance speech for his role as a gay activist in the movie Milk (I don’t have a video of that speech, but here he is wishing shame on blacks and Mormons for their role in Proposition 8).  However, like every other anti-Proposition 8 activist, he didn’t give me a coherent reason to feel shame. 

It’s one thing to throw around a word like “shame”, or similar pejoratives like “hate”, “homophobic”, “discriminatory”, or “intolerant”, but it’s another to back those words up with an argument, including a reasonable, respectful acknowledgement of an opponent’s most intelligent reasons for disagreement.  I’d love to see the anti-Prop 8 crowd attempt a defense for their beliefs in the disputational method of Thomas Aquinas (which involves posing a question, then giving the opponents’ answers in the best possible light, and then answering those most powerful objections). 

I would especially like to see someone, instead of arguing against the Proposition 8 movement, argue in favor of homosexual marriage in the abstract.  How is recognition of homosexual marriage good for society?  How does it benefit the society is such a sufficient manner that it’s worth privileging that relationship on a governmental level?

This is not to say that Sean Penn had the time to set forth such an argument in his Oscar speech; I’d just like to see these arguments, and a recognition of the strength of the opponent’s arguments, addressed somewhere in the popular media, without using words more fitting for a soundbite than for an intelligent discussion.  Of course, given the nature of his comments at the Oscars, I doubt Penn is up to such a challenge. 

[Personal note: Slumdog Millionaire was outstanding, and very deserving of its many awards.]

A public television station in Columbus pulled a Christian television program from its lineup (it was a special to be aired only once) even though the Christian organization had already paid for the air time.  What’s funny is that the station did so at the request of a few homosexuals to avoid offending them, but in the process proved the substance of the tv special.  The special was about media bias and censorship against Christians.  Something tells me the irony is lost on the station owners. 

This isn’t the first time.  A Catholic group paid for a Superbowl advertisement (the most coveted commercial airtime in the nation) timeslot, but the ad was subsequently yanked by television network NBC:

It’s obviously pro-life, but it never mentions abortion.  Powerful stuff, even though the philosophical underpinnings of the ad have been questioned (I think the criticisms are unwarranted).