Propaganda: A Movie and a Franchise

Brief update before this unrelated post: revised, and revised again, the outline for the proposed book on Catholic education, and began to revise and expand the bibliography. There are maybe 20 core books, and 2-3 times that in more peripheral stuff. Yikes – what have I gotten into? Both the outline and the bibliography will become permanent pages on this blog, to be updated and revised as I progress. But let’s talk about movies as propaganda first:

Image result for lincoln

Maybe my overactive imagination is getting off leash again. Maybe not.

A few years back, I made a few comments on the movie Lincoln here and here. At the time, while bending over backwards to give the man Lincoln every benefit of the doubt in a horrible and horribly complex situation, I complained:

Certainly, Lincoln was in a tough spot no matter which way we slice it. And, since we all seem to agree with his gut feelings about what is right, we tend to overlook how dubious his logic is in many places. The important thing, we say, is Justice: slavery was such an overwhelming injustice screaming out to Heaven that Lincoln – or any man – is justified in whatever he may do to end it. As the speech above suggests, Lincoln would ‘catch at the opportunity’ even if the mechanism by which he justifies his actions are questionable.

In the hands of a man of deep morals and honor such as Lincoln, perhaps we can hope the powers seized will be used only for good, or at least only toward some ultimate good like ending slavery. But the same concepts, having shed the rhetorical splendor Lincoln vested them in, lurk in the claim: “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will.” This is the anthem of the rule of men, not law.

That quote within the quote above is, of course, from Obama, who was sworn in on Lincoln’s personal Bible. (1) This movie came out just as he began his second term, during which, in continuation of the precedent established during his first term, he routinely ruled by executive order. Funny timing, huh?

The entire movie is about the four months leading up to the passage of the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865. Historians evidently refute much of what is presented as Lincoln’s motivation in the movie, where he is shown as desperate to get the 13th Amendment passed in order to ensure the end of slavery once fighting had ended. The Emancipation Proclamation was just an expedient enacted under the President’s war powers, and could, the movie states, be reversed once the South surrenders. So, Lincoln had to do whatever he had to do to get the Amendment passed, including a bunch of stuff that, if the end did not justify all means, would be considered patently immoral and illegal.

But Lincoln is a secular saint, and it all worked out, right? So no harm no foul. Everybody wants to think the evils to be addressed are just like slavery, obvious and vile, and that the guy who violates law, morals, and all propriety to right them is another Lincoln – like Obama, right? It doesn’t even occur to them that he might be more along the lines of the H-man, or even just a Franco, or a Pinochet handing out free helicopter rides. Unlike Messiah-O, those three guys DID face situations as desperate or worse than what Lincoln faced, and did take action to right the wrongs as they saw them. Yet, we very correctly have our reservations, to say the least, about not just their methods, but – and this is critical – their assessments of the problems and required solutions. But I don’t suppose a movie about a well-intentioned hero trying to do the right thing by making a mockery of law and morals, killing people and blowing stuff up along the way, only to have everything turn out just as his opponents warned him would, leading to a situation much worse than where he started, would sell many tickets.

I’d go see it.

The framing stories are of Lincoln’s disregard for the law when it was, in his sole judgement, antithetical to justice. He tells this story in the movie:

Back when I rode the legal circuit in Illinois I defended a woman from Metamora named Melissa Goings, 77 years old, they said she murdered her husband; he was 83. He was choking her; and, uh, she grabbed ahold of a stick of firewood and fractured his skull, ‘n he died. In his will he wrote “I expect she has killed me. If I get over it, I will have revenge.” No one was keen to see her convicted, he was that kind of husband. I asked the prosecuting attorney if I might have a short conference with my client. And she and I went into a room in the courthouse, but I alone emerged. The window in the room was found to be wide open. It was believed the old lady may have climbed out of it. I told the bailiff right before I left her in the room she asked me where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her Tennessee. Mrs. Goings was seen no more in Metamora. Enough justice had been done; they even forgave the bondsman her bail.

(Aside: I observed a similar coincidence when the NYT published an article defending and even praising Tammany Hall for its “honest graft” right around the time a few hints that not all Obama-era actions were strictly speaking composed entirely of sweetness and light. Thugs beating up people and holding the government for ransom are OK, the Times informs us, so long as it makes sure every Paddy get a job as a cop right off the boat – even if it’s some other Paddy that gets beaten up. Well, logic has never been the Left’s strong suit.)

In my extremely fruitful efforts to waste yet more time, I watched the trailer for the latest installment in the very successful Kingsmen franchise, of which I have seen none and have no intention of seeing any. In it, the Kingsmen are explained: “We are the first independent intelligence agency” and “preserving peace and protecting life” and “While governments wait for orders, our people take action.”

Hmmm. Now, while the vigilante theme is as old as comic books and The Shadow, this takes it to a new level: a CIA-like (intelligence agency, remember?) group of spies who answers to no government, but takes action to preserve the peace and protect lives by blowing things up and killing people, it would seem. Of course, it fun and British and all that, but the underlying concept – that the people who protect life and preserve peace can’t be beholden to any government – seems, I don’t know, strangely appealing to certain groups just at this particular moment in history.

Image result for j edgar hoover
J Edgar contemplates the dirt he has on the handsome man to his right.

“Reputation is what people think of you. Character is who you are.” The CIA and its punk little brother the FBI, long having enjoyed the reputation among the non-comatose as, effectively, evil little empires with all the morality and respect for authority of J. Edgar Hoover, are now being framed up as the last, best hope of saving us all from Trump and The End of the World as We Know It ™ (see Severian’s latest for a terrifying yet humorous take on this). Just now, we get a series of movies based on the premise that we need saving and can’t wait for governments to do it! But our freshly scrubbed and loyal and patriotic ‘intelligence community’ can save us! Never let a crisis go to waste!

  1. As was Trump. What a kidder!

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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