Freedom of Association is alive and well in Brooklyn
There’s yet another superhero film coming out soon, but instead of the endless Spider-Man or Batman retreads, Wonder Woman is being brought to the big screen.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has managed to call attention to its showing of the film by hosting several women-only screenings that will raise money for Planned Parenthood. Of course this has produced a needless shitstorm of controversy as any explicit expression of identity politics is wont to in these contentious times.
Raising hackles against the screenings is a lot of pointless blather. This is at best a cheap publicity stunt (that has so far worked brilliantly). If it really bothers you, you should be extra sure not to give the organizers the attention they crave.
And it obscures a larger issue that this gives us cause to address: Freedom of association is a universal human right.
It’s a right of all free people to live as they choose among whom they choose. It’s a building block of any community. Because just as a community of free people defines who they are, they also define who they aren’t. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is not taxpayer-funded or given exclusive license of any kind by the government. It’s a private business. If it wants to ban men for a few screenings or a week or a year or forever, it can. There’s a distinct difference, not commonly understood, between the obligations of a publicly-funded entity and the rights of individuals.
Private businesses have a right to be as discriminatory as they like. You don’t have to let Mexicans into your house or fat people into your store. We agree that this kind of blanketed bigotry is morally wrong. There’s a quintessentially American value to want judge all people by their individual merits and not by some tribal calculus. But we all have the freedom to live however we want, and if that means being prejudiced, then that’s an individual’s right over their own private property and life.
Let’s use this as a “teachable moment” as they say, and point out that the same right women have to hold a women’s only event applies to both genders and any other personal classification you care to make. No one coming to the defense of the Alamo Drafthouse would have a leg to stand on should some of their critics hold a “men only” event. I don’t want to attend a sausage party movie screening just to make some kind of\ point, but if that’s your scene, have at it. In a free country, you have the right to be a bigot if you want to be, whether that’s based on gender, race or anything else.
Freedom of association is a universal right. That means if you believe in human rights, you have to defend the exercise of that right, even if you condemn the sentiment behind it. If you try to stop people from exercising their rights, no matter how virtuous your intentions seem, you are the villain.
I don’t think the powers that be at the Alamo Drafthouse hate men; in fact the owners are men. I think they are savvy businesspeople who managed to wring a ton of free publicity for their screenings of yet another superhero film. The public will likely forgive this strategically-timed chauvinistic bent; and they’ve won the hearts of a lot of women who may occasionally go out of their way to bring them business.
We will make some real progress if these screenings can make our more progressive friends “woke” to the fact that freedom of association is a great freedom to have and has to be protected.
Happily out of the pop culture loop
Judging by what I see on my much-too-frequent perusal of social media, many of my friends and acquaintances have taken great lengths to see the latest Star Wars movie. I’ve read some excellent reviews and fully intend to see it, but this may be the first time I have not seen a Star Wars movie in the theater. It’s not because I don’t like Star Wars, it’s because I no longer put the same value or effort into pop culture.
I am the oldest person in the small office where I work. I’m even a few years older than the manager, my boss. I work with people who were born while I was in high school or college. It makes me feel old. Very few of them own a SLAYER CD, if they own CDs at all. I recognize some of the names of the people or musical groups they say they listen to, but I’m definitely plugged into another era. This summer my wife and I were talking to her teenage niece about what music she listens to. She mentioned several popular bands that played large venues and I had never heard of any of them.
I am not attuned to what is popular with today’s teenagers and young adults. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I am glad that I’m out of touch on these things and out of the loop, and not because today’s pop culture is all crap and the pop culture of my time was so much better. I watched Morton Downey Jr. and listened to Howard Stern habitually when I was a teen and young adult, I honestly have no business looking down my nose at people who follow the Kardashians (but I still do).
One can make the argument that that pop culture of today is overly sanitized and bears the telltale signs of patchwork social engineering. Because our society’s mass media is trying to appeal to a multitude of cultures in a divided and tribal world, any cultural authenticity has been discreetly purged from it. But pop culture is always a remnant and a reflection of its times, and human beings have a tendency to romanticize the past.
Being unfamiliar with today’s popular culture doesn’t bother me because I ought to be spending my time more wisely than familiarizing myself with it. There was a time that I was very much immersed in pop culture, but life goes on after high school and college.
It’s a natural part of aging, to be out of touch with the latest in pop culture. If I was well-versed in what is trendy among the younger generations, I’d be a pathetic middle-aged clown desperately trying to cling to some shred of youth. I want no part in that. Acting your age is part of embracing life and living it to the fullest.
The music I listened to and the movies I watched when I was steeped in the pop culture of my time are now decades old and being rehashed for profit. I don’t want to spoil the memories I have of those times by trying to relive the days of my youth with self-congratulating sentimentality. I don’t need to see a movie about N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton album; I had the album on cassette when it came out.
Let’s not be close-minded and refuse to pay attention to worthwhile contemporary art and culture, but let’s be comfortable with who we are and with our stage in life.
Ars Gratia Artis
The gay community is a collective rainbow huff over the movie “Ender’s Game” because Orson Scott Card, the author of the novel on which the movie is based, holds conservative views on gay marriage and homosexuality. Lots of gays refuse to see the film and some have organized boycotts.
I have not read the book or seen the movie, but I understand it to be science fiction and that it does not overtly or metaphorically address any gay rights issues. It was written decades ago before issues of gay rights were as ubiquitous in our public discourse as they are today. The author is indeed outspoken against gay marriage and gay rights etc.
People are welcome to boycott any film or book for any reason, but there’s one important element I think that the boycotters are missing. That is: Enjoying a work of art is not an endorsement of the political views of the artist.
I’m all in favor of gay marriage and treating gays equally under the law in all relevant respects, but it’s not something I’m going to let get in the way of reading a book or seeing a movie.
You are free to decide what you want to see or read based on the political views of the creators. But at some point you are going to paint yourself into a corner. You will at some point find yourself patronizing the work of an artist with whom you disagree vehemently.
And even if Card penned a violent homophobic screed that called for some kind of lavender holocaust, reading it or watching it doesn’t mean you agree with it. Everyone should be willing to challenge themselves and purposely seek out opposing viewpoints in art, politics, religion and all aspects of life. If we can’t listen to the opposition, we can’t form our own arguments thoughtfully.
But let us also enjoy art for art’s sake. If “Ender’s Game” is a shitty book and movie, let it fail on its own merits, not because you hate the religious or political view of the author.
I was disappointed to learn Pablo Picasso was a communist and Louis-Ferdinand Céline was a fascist. It broke my heart to see ZZ Top play the George W. Bush inauguration and to read about Julianne Moore shilling for illegal immigration amnesty. Should I boycott all the works of these artists? No. I disagree with them but my patronage of their work is not an endorsement of their views.
The case of Alec Baldwin, a bona fide leftist who recently issued a mea culpa for calling a reporter a “cocksucking fag,” scrambled the minds of the powers that be at MSNBC, which suspended his TV show for the offense. But no matter how disgusted you are with him for whatever reason, you can’t deny his acting skills. Does watching his films mean you endorse his leftism or his gay slurs or his unique (gay) marriage of the two? No. You can watch “Glengarry Glenn Ross” guilt-free no matter what your political persuasion.
An artist’s goal is to make art that is powerful enough that it can overcome and outlast the foibles of the artist. Only time will tell. Did Robert Johnson approve of homosexuality? Did Nathaniel Hawthorne believe in equality between the races? Those questions are completely irrelevant to those men’s contributions to the world.
At some point art and politics must go their separate ways. Whatever your politics, can we least agree that one of the biggest sins of all is limiting your intake of art?