How Modern Post-Christian Liberals Watch Movies

As Christianity became less and less a cultural force over the last several decades, one of the great losses is our ability to make art that appeals to our common humanity, largely because a common humanity no longer seems to exist. While this may be a disappointment for the traditionalists among us who can no longer find quality films to view or quality popular music to listen to, it has been nothing short of devastating for the intellectual maturity of the modern progressive liberal, who defines himself by his agenda. For this unfortunate wretch, trying to watch a good film while holding onto one’s rigid ideological views is an exercise in frustration on a truly bizarre level.

This is most evident with classic films. Those of us who don’t see a need to redefine the family or male and female sex roles and the like can easily view a classic film and enjoy it for what it is. We don’t feel a burning need to judge the past by the standards of today, since we largely reject those new standards. The modern liberal is absolutely incapable of this. Liberal individualists achingly search for their personal message in older films and demand it in new films. Thus they are utterly incapable of enjoying the Golden Era of Filmmaking and at the same time are actively contributing to the flat-out mediocrity of contemporary movies.

Did you know young feminist-minded women today are viewing all movies through the prism of a ludicrous, self-marginalizing lens known as the Bechdel Test?

History Lesson: From 1983 to 2008 Alison Bechdel wrote a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For that followed an array of queer characters through twenty-five years of relationship drama, parenting, and political upheaval. In one panel of a 1985 DTWOF, a character created a “rule” to gauge gender bias in movies. The rule has three parts:

1. There have to be two female characters with names
2. They have to talk to each other…
3. About something other than a man.

Think for a moment of all the great films of the 20th century that fail to pass that test. Goodbye “Citizen Kane”, goodbye “The Third Man,” goodbye “The Godfather” … the list is endless. Speaking of “The Godfather,” here’s how one modern feminist struggles with enjoying something that perpetuates a world she is committed to eradicating:

I have mixed feelings about “The Godfather” (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972). On the one hand, it’s a brilliant, well made production with a phenomenally perfect opening sequence. On the other, it’s inherently sexist. I don’t find it sexist because it’s about homosocial bonds or fails a Bechdel test—as I don’t think homosocial privileging narratives are a bad thing in general nor that something must pass a Bechdel test to be a quality work of media—but I do take issue with it promoting a traditional, patriarchal view of gender roles and masculinity especially.

Patriarchal masculinity isn’t attractive to me, but I’m an educated woman and wouldn’t want a partner who believes I’m inferior to him, exist solely to minister to his needs, and am his personal property. Machismo works based on entitlement, an overinflated sense of ego and disrespect for others. It’s gross and psychologically unhealthy, particularly because the men who ascribe to it believe they’re doing right by women by treating them like children or property, yet still warrants study and dissection. Gender studies reached a point where viewing masculinity as the norm and femininity as the other stopped being viable.

How impossible it would be to explain to this woman that this is a film above all about brothers and the fact that, as Michael Corleone famously said, “it’s not easy being a son.” For those of us who have no problem with the traditional family this is a universal message able to be understood and appreciated by all, male or female. For the feminist, this is an unfathomable message alien to her existence simply because her views and her agenda are not being promoted. Never mind that she may have a brother. He does not exist to her except in the way in which his masculinity must be redefined to create her new social structure. That “The Godfather” does not actively push this new social structure makes it a hurtful and harmful film.

For the narrow-minded liberal, the very message of “The Godfather” is that traditional family roles are destructive. Imagine carrying this baggage (see comments) with you the next time you watch this all-time classic:

Well that was interesting—I’d always taken the Godfather as a cautionary tale, not a piece of advocacy: cautionary to both genders, as in this is what society *was* like 30 years ago, and this is what traditional society *will* do to you if you let it.

These kind of mental acrobatics are particularly absurd when we deal with the frenzied push to normalize homosexuality in our culture today. Homosexuality, of course, was far removed from even being on the fringe of American culture until the 1970s. But that will not stop our retroactive obsessives from seeing homosexual messages in even the most benign of classic movie scenes, such as this one from what many critics and viewers consider the greatest film ever made, Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”:

There is also a subtle queer subtext in the character of Kane’s friend Leland. Jebidiah Leland never marries or expresses interest in any female character. Throughout the time he is being interviewed by Thompson, Leland aggressively tries to get the reporter to sneak into the convalescence home where Leland now lives some cigarettes, which he is forbidden by his doctor who cites the health risks of tobacco. What struck me about this scene is that, while a small number of doctors in the early forties believed that smoking posed a significant health risk, it would not be another decade before the first major study linking tobacco and lung cancer would be published. However, the false belief that “homosexuality” did pose serious health risks to gay men and lesbians was very widespread. Furthermore, during the Hayes code, smoking and particularly the sharing of cigarettes was a common way to subtly suggest sexual activity. Basically what I am saying is that the entire scene plays as if Leland is hitting on our intrepid reporter.

The immediate reaction to the above paragraph can only be utter disbelief.

Even films that have something interesting to say about the reality of the idealized American Dream, such as Terrence Malick’s 1973 masterwork “Badlands,” get reduced to single-issue silliness. This highly praised yet still underappreciated gem, noted for its gorgeous cinematography, offers a compelling argument against the comfortable lie that a blue-jeans-wearing James Dean lookalike and your typical girl next door will naturally fulfill the promise of a bright and limitless future in the Land of the Free. Our two protagonists are instead lost and disconnected, with fanzine celebrity following and Cocoa-Cola consumption failing to help them find their place. These are two of America’s children, circa 1958, and somewhere somehow things went awry. How did this come to pass?

This is a theme that should engage the modern liberal mind. But it does not, because it calls on him to think of something greater than himself. Far easier and far better for him to call on his own personal agenda and then discover it over and over again as he watches the film:

As frightening figures show beyond a doubt, gun violence is endemic to American society as it is to no other country. Yet mainstream media fail to investigate the root causes of this violent plague. Nothing better illustrates the congenital bond between gun violence and North American society than the nation’s cinema. […] In “Badlands,” currently celebrating its 40th anniversary with revival screenings around the country, Terrence Malick frames violence under a singular, revealing viewpoint by exploring its inextricability from notions of beauty and freedom. The movie helps put the problem in context.

You see, the film isn’t about the main characters and their actions. No, it’s about this one item of particular significance to the modern progressive liberal. Imagine watching every movie this way. Not only does it sound completely absent of joy or intellectual stimulation, it seems above all like … work. Dull, dreary work.

Which brings us to the movies of today. It’s bad enough that modern Hollywood routinely spits out tepid commercial garbage instead of real stories that entertain and inspire. Now we must have the social engineering front and center. So for those of you who still go to the movie theater today (and why do you?), if you thought Iron Man 1 and 2 had too much testosterone for our post-patriarchal society, you’re in luck. Because Iron Man 3 is a Bechdel Test dream come true:

In a lot of films, there may be more than one woman present, but the women do not interact with one another and again, they are used to advance a man’s story. In Iron Man 3, Maya and Pepper talk to each other and have their own scenes together that further the plot of the movie and their own character development.

Of course there is still much re-educational work to be done but, hey, we’re getting there:

Iron Man 3 does have its pitfalls regarding women however, as there is a scene that uses a problematic and stereotypical representation of Third World Women.

Really now, is this what a comic-book action hero movie should be focusing on? In our brave new age, the answer is … but of course:

To see women break out of stereotypes in this super hero film is really meaningful as Iron Man is one of the most popular and influential franchises in pop culture today; and so for Iron Man 3 not to rely on antiquated and oppressive female tropes, they can help rewrite a highly masculinized genre to include developed women characters that have meaning outside of their relationship with men.

It has taken a while to see the effects of living in a post-Christian cultural milieu, but they should be more and more clear to Americans today. Artistically, we have a creatively bankrupt Hollywood film industry, the wasteland of cable television and a lifeless pop music industry in which emotion and posture trump talent, a quality that is increasingly hard to find. But while we traditional-minded folks can at least look back and enjoy the creative achievements of a better age, the modern liberal is trapped in his clearly-defined box. Liberals don’t want their thought processes challenged by genuine artistic expression or want to be encouraged to step outside of their rigidly structured mindset and dwell on things higher than themselves. They want and expect their particular thoughts and views to be validated by the fake art they consume.

Forget for a moment the negative impact this has on our society. More than anything, it sounds like a horrible way to spend a Saturday night.

Editor’s note: The scene above is from “Iron Man 3” staring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. (Disney-Marvel Studios.)

Joseph Schaeffer


Joseph Schaeffer is the former managing editor of The Washington Times National Weekly.

  • msmischief

    Oh, I’ve heard of the Bechdel Test. The most annoying time, I altered the path of an outline I was working so that the sole named female in the storyline became a male character. It was that annoying.

    • Bono95

      Wow. I’m working on an outline right now that I just learned passes the Bechdel Test in that I have multiple female characters with names (11 to be exact), some of them talk to each other (3 are only mentioned without being quoted), and they do discuss subjects other than men. However, I also have several places where the ladies do discuss guys, and one highly “empowered” female is the villain who gets her just desserts from both other gentler ladies and not a few men.

      • msmischief

        You don’t have to flunk it all the time. Just some of it. 0:)

        • Bono95

          Good to know. I’m sure I do break it further because I have twice as many guys as girls. But one could argue that less girls in a story or movie means they’re more special. More guys mean that some are important major characters, while others are supporting cast or rather generic. 🙂

          • Opinionated

            I hope your not losing focus on the content in order to satisfy a silly test. I would hope any story you write comes from YOUR heart and is not influenced by anyone else.

            • msmischief

              You underestimate how deeply their annoying behavior strikes the heart.

            • Bono95

              It is not at all influenced by this test. I started out long before I’d ever heard of the test with more guys than girls (though again, several of the extra guys are only minor characters and the main protagonist is a girl; don’t worry, she’s not “empowered” or anything like that. She likes, respects, and talks about men, and is on friendly terms with several of the major male characters.) Thanks for the post. 🙂

  • Back in the 90’s, many scholarly journals were filled with the nonsense you describe (“Transgenderism in the American Revolution” and so on) culminating in the parody site “The Post-modern Essay Generator” the random gibberish of which managed to get published in one of those rags.

  • Sarah Morrigan

    “Common humanity” is in no way confined to Christianity. The Japanese once also made great films that appealed to the Westerners and Asians alike, but they were not influenced by Christianity as much as were the American or European movies.

    • Rock St. Elvis

      They weren’t corrupted by postmodernism, either.

  • John O’Neill

    We are living in the age of mass Gnosticism which is a Christian heresy that came from the first century of Christianity. Gnostics basically believed that only they had the true interpretation of who Christ is and was. They had a “special” knowledge as their name indicates that no one else could have unless they were initiated into the secret cabal. Americans in the know who represent the wealthy and powerful political class have in effect established a new alternative to Christianity. The early Church fathers vigorously defended against this heretical misuse of Christianity and triumphed for the most part. Most of the American Gnostics come from Christian backgrounds especially the urban democrats who now profess their fidelity to the new religion and its Americanism. The answer to this heresy was preached by Saint Polycarp who declared that the gospels tell us the truth and that the truth is open to all who accept it and not to an elitist group of Ivy League gnostics.

  • Phloont Manphredsing

    This is confusing. The byline of the article says ‘Joseph Schaeffer’ but in the fifth paragraph the author calls him/herself an ‘educated woman’.

    What is going on?

  • AcceptingReality

    As a man who was raised in a family with a father who was for all intents and purposes a patriarch, I never once had a moment where I viewed women as being there to minister my needs or as my personal property. It has always been my understanding that the patriarch, as embodied by God The Father, views women as people to be cherished, protected and put on a pedestal. That women posses, by their nature, qualities that a man finds lacking in himself. Women therefore receive our adulation and respect. The feminist view is so foreign to me I find that it makes no sense at all.

    • In Vino Veritas

      Excellent Post! I could not agree more.

      • Amy Hunt

        I agree also. I often wonder how feminists view a man opening a car door for them, something that is not done as often as it used to be. Do they accept it for what it is, a sign of respect and caring, or do they put their own spin on it – “Did you think I couldn’t open my own door?”. To all the men out there that still do this for your girlfriend, wife and mother you have my respect and I thank you.

  • Curt Parker

    Man has always wanted to be God. Today he thinks he is.

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  • hombre111

    The “Godfather” movies presented a noble view of the ideal traditional family? Please tell me I am mistaken. Surely, that was not one of the points you meant to make.

    • JSchae

      Hombre, I would say that the “Godfather” movies used the mob storyline as a popular vehicle to explore very human situations. And, yes, these situations had a lot to do with the traditional family. As a young boy with two other brothers, I remember watching the original “Godfather” for the first time and instantly relating to the brother issues involved. The need to find your own identity within the family unit, the need to be valued, the need to not feel inferior to your fellow siblings… I would say at one time or another I’ve felt like every brother in that movie… except, Sonny… I was never much of a hothead.

      • hombre111

        Nice post. Thanks.

  • Tony

    Well, this goes into the category, “You Knew It Was Bad — You Had No Idea How Bad.” I’ve never heard of something so stupid as this Bechdel Test. Out of the window go many of my favorite movies: The Bridge on the River Kwai; On the Waterfront; North by Northwest; Marty; Casablanca; Some Like It Hot; Stalag 17; Born Yesterday; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Lost Horizon; The Manchurian Candidate; Sergeant York; The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; Rio Grande; In the Heat of the Night; and all the great patriarchal family movies — How Green Was My Valley; Life with Father …

    • Uuncle Max

      Not so fast my friend.

      You said “I’ve never heard anything so stupid as this Bechdel test.”

      What to do? Ignore it.

      Actually this piece is rather silly, so let’s ignore both the article and the test.

      That was easy – my work here is done.

  • Lydia

    They are cutting their nose off to spite their face. Their anger eats them up and only destroys them from the inside. Sad, really. Women should bring joy to the world, not more pain and confusion.