Are Conservatives Flubbing Their Lines?

Conservatives often have a tendency to misread cues drawn from popular culture.

A few years ago, one particular line from the film A Few Good Men was all the rage among conservative writers: "You can't handle the truth."

That line was spoken by Colonel Jessup, the character played by Jack Nicholson. In the film, it served as the launchpad for a soliloquy dismissing the softer elements of society who lack the nerve and backbone to carry out harsh but necessary actions. A firm, if crude, explication of one aspect of conservative doctrine. So what could be wrong with that?

Well, just to start, Jessup was the villain of the piece, an officer who has orchestrated a cover-up to hide a murder committed during a hazing incident. He's a liar, a manipulator, and a thug. He's also portrayed as something of a racist, and openly contemptuous of women. At the film's climax, shortly after the "truth" outburst, he is dragged ranting from the courtroom after being humiliated by Tom Cruise (that would annoy me, too), having simultaneously lost his sanity and about thirty points of IQ.

Clearly, Jessup is someone that you wouldn't particularly want to know, associate with, or quote, out of the simple and well-founded fear that you'd be tainted by contagion. Which is precisely what conservatives were doing to themselves with the "truth" line. You have to hand it to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who later created the liberal daydream series The West Wing). It's quite a trick to maneuver opponents into voluntarily taking on a repellent caricature of their own position. (Why did conservatives do this? I would hazard that they never actually saw the film and took the words at face value.)

Today we're seeing the appearance -- or rather the reappearance - of another line that is not what it seems: the outcry of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" from the film Network.

Network, which was helmed, as Variety would put it, by veteran liberal gadfly Sidney Lumet, is centered on over-the-hill news anchorman Howard Beale, played by the great Peter Finch, who loses his mind and begins raving on the air while threatening suicide. The problem lies in the fact that his ratings then shoot sky-high, presenting his superiors with a moral conundrum that they fail to address. (Network was one of the last films in a lengthy cycle attacking TV on the grounds that film was high art, whereas TV was trash for the masses. Got that? Okay -- back to Transformers III.)

At one point in his ravings, Beale demands that his viewers throw open their windows and shout that "mad as hell" line at the top of their lungs. This they heartily do, all across the country, creating the possibility that Beale may become a Political Problem, which is addressed by means of assassination.

The line had a lengthy vogue in the late '70s and on into the Reagan '80s with commentators (mostly liberal) who liked to give the impression that they had gained a deep insight into the mentality of the common man through watching Hollywood movies. After what seemed like forever, it attained the status of a cliché and faded out.

But now it's back, as a shorthand method of characterizing the Tea Parties. In other words, the leaders of the Tea Party movement are all as crazy as Beale was, the TPs themselves as stupid, cow-like, and easily manipulated as the "average Americans" of the picture, and it will all end badly.

Now, whatever you might think of the "leaders" of the movement -- Beck, Limbaugh, Palin -- they are manifestly not crazy. Nor are they feeding a bovine mob with cheap slogans. The basis of the TP movement is a contemporary interpretation of Americanism along the same lines as it has been understood for two centuries. The Tea Party members are not the film's belligerent halfwits, ready to go off at a touch. The anger of the Tea Parties is the steady, quiet anger of people whose patience has been exhausted. Their gatherings are marked not by threats and near-riots but with calmness, forthrightness, and a palpable sense of decency. So the "mad as hell" quote and all its baggage is simply a slander, another method of caricaturing the movement and its members.

Now, I can understand liberals doing this, but there are also conservatives quoting this same line, exactly as if it truly does characterize the Tea Parties. (And no, I'm not naming any names this time, since it might well be taken as going from general to particular, which is not my intention.) This is nonsense, and it is dangerous nonsense. It amounts to acting as an echo chamber for left-wing interests, and it needs to be dropped. Conservatives in general should show a lot more care in choosing their popular culture references. In other words, go watch the damn movie first.

On second thought, maybe conservatives should stop quoting movies at all. It just occurred to me what some would do with John Goodman's line "I'll show you the life of the mind!" from Barton Fink. Man, now that is scary.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and will edit the forthcoming Military Thinker. 
Conservatives often have a tendency to misread cues drawn from popular culture.

A few years ago, one particular line from the film A Few Good Men was all the rage among conservative writers: "You can't handle the truth."

That line was spoken by Colonel Jessup, the character played by Jack Nicholson. In the film, it served as the launchpad for a soliloquy dismissing the softer elements of society who lack the nerve and backbone to carry out harsh but necessary actions. A firm, if crude, explication of one aspect of conservative doctrine. So what could be wrong with that?

Well, just to start, Jessup was the villain of the piece, an officer who has orchestrated a cover-up to hide a murder committed during a hazing incident. He's a liar, a manipulator, and a thug. He's also portrayed as something of a racist, and openly contemptuous of women. At the film's climax, shortly after the "truth" outburst, he is dragged ranting from the courtroom after being humiliated by Tom Cruise (that would annoy me, too), having simultaneously lost his sanity and about thirty points of IQ.

Clearly, Jessup is someone that you wouldn't particularly want to know, associate with, or quote, out of the simple and well-founded fear that you'd be tainted by contagion. Which is precisely what conservatives were doing to themselves with the "truth" line. You have to hand it to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who later created the liberal daydream series The West Wing). It's quite a trick to maneuver opponents into voluntarily taking on a repellent caricature of their own position. (Why did conservatives do this? I would hazard that they never actually saw the film and took the words at face value.)

Today we're seeing the appearance -- or rather the reappearance - of another line that is not what it seems: the outcry of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" from the film Network.

Network, which was helmed, as Variety would put it, by veteran liberal gadfly Sidney Lumet, is centered on over-the-hill news anchorman Howard Beale, played by the great Peter Finch, who loses his mind and begins raving on the air while threatening suicide. The problem lies in the fact that his ratings then shoot sky-high, presenting his superiors with a moral conundrum that they fail to address. (Network was one of the last films in a lengthy cycle attacking TV on the grounds that film was high art, whereas TV was trash for the masses. Got that? Okay -- back to Transformers III.)

At one point in his ravings, Beale demands that his viewers throw open their windows and shout that "mad as hell" line at the top of their lungs. This they heartily do, all across the country, creating the possibility that Beale may become a Political Problem, which is addressed by means of assassination.

The line had a lengthy vogue in the late '70s and on into the Reagan '80s with commentators (mostly liberal) who liked to give the impression that they had gained a deep insight into the mentality of the common man through watching Hollywood movies. After what seemed like forever, it attained the status of a cliché and faded out.

But now it's back, as a shorthand method of characterizing the Tea Parties. In other words, the leaders of the Tea Party movement are all as crazy as Beale was, the TPs themselves as stupid, cow-like, and easily manipulated as the "average Americans" of the picture, and it will all end badly.

Now, whatever you might think of the "leaders" of the movement -- Beck, Limbaugh, Palin -- they are manifestly not crazy. Nor are they feeding a bovine mob with cheap slogans. The basis of the TP movement is a contemporary interpretation of Americanism along the same lines as it has been understood for two centuries. The Tea Party members are not the film's belligerent halfwits, ready to go off at a touch. The anger of the Tea Parties is the steady, quiet anger of people whose patience has been exhausted. Their gatherings are marked not by threats and near-riots but with calmness, forthrightness, and a palpable sense of decency. So the "mad as hell" quote and all its baggage is simply a slander, another method of caricaturing the movement and its members.

Now, I can understand liberals doing this, but there are also conservatives quoting this same line, exactly as if it truly does characterize the Tea Parties. (And no, I'm not naming any names this time, since it might well be taken as going from general to particular, which is not my intention.) This is nonsense, and it is dangerous nonsense. It amounts to acting as an echo chamber for left-wing interests, and it needs to be dropped. Conservatives in general should show a lot more care in choosing their popular culture references. In other words, go watch the damn movie first.

On second thought, maybe conservatives should stop quoting movies at all. It just occurred to me what some would do with John Goodman's line "I'll show you the life of the mind!" from Barton Fink. Man, now that is scary.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and will edit the forthcoming Military Thinker.