Vicarious pleasure from movie violence can be cathartic, but what does it say about us?
During an interview by Ta-Nehisi Coates with director Barry Jenkins at The Atlantic LGBTQ Summit in November 2016 in DC, a friend and I applauded when Jenkins mentioned the scene in his film “Moonlight” where Chiron strikes back against the bully.
Coates turned and looked at us. He said he understood our reaction. The scene was crucial to the film but was also tragic, landing Chiron in the criminal justice system. Hitting someone over the head with a chair is not acceptable; but that scene was important because it showed Chiron finally standing up for himself.
We have to assert ourselves against bullies; but we need a more constructive method than violence. One inspired response to bullies was the making of that film, which won an Oscar for Best Picture.
Our republic would best be rescued without recourse to mayhem. But the bullies on the right have shown a penchant for violence wrapped in false patriotism. Their America is a monochromatic fantasy in which everyone looks and thinks like them. They seem to think they can erase all literature and history that doesn’t conform to their blinkered vision.
If we don’t deliver a strong rebuke at the polls — and if the instigator-in-chief does not face consequences — the insurrections are likely to recur. The MAGA horde is still fighting the first civil war. Trump uses them to threaten anyone who crosses him, such as prosecutors. He vows retribution if he regains the White House.
In a MAGA world, cruelty and inhumanity run rampant. We are seeing not just a surge of know-nothingism, but a frontal assault on reality.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s State Board of Education, for example, has adopted standards that require teaching children that slavery benefited slaves by giving them valuable skills. Quick show of hands: how many of you are eager to experience those alleged benefits yourselves? The Peculiar Institution, as it happened, did not give the enslaved a choice.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman tweeted on July 19, “The 14th Amendment was designed to protect and enfranchise Black people. I can’t believe the caucasity of the Supreme Court to use it to limit students of color from accessing higher education.” Those who responded by calling him racist displayed the odd conviction that Black people are not entitled to defend themselves.
Pro-life, did someone say? CNN reported on July 20, “Nearly two years after Texas’ six-week abortion ban, more infants are dying.” Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott showed his concern for human life by installing barriers in the Rio Grande that cause migrants to drown.
On another front, the fear-mongering about medical care for gender-variant minors is not only full of misinformation, it is a cynical diversion, since those stoking panic over it also seek to ban it for adults. This is hardly a surprise given the speed with which the “states’ rights” pose on abortion was replaced with calls for a nationwide ban.
Connecting with people across multiple divides is hard. Sometimes, we do it with music. Beloved singer Tony Bennett, who died on July 21 at age 96, ended his farewell concert with Lady Gaga in 2021 with his signature song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” Despite his advancing Alzheimer’s, he was strong vocally and deft in his shaping of the lyric: “The morning fog may chill the air. I don’t care. My love waits there….” Music stays with us.
Everyone, however, is not stirred by the same music. Look at the controversy over “Try That In a Small Town,” sung by Jason Aldean, which traffics in right-wing paranoia and encourages vigilantism.
It isn’t just lies, grifting, and recklessness that lovers of liberty and justice for all must reject. We must reject the suppression of votes, literature and history. We must reject gaslighting. We must reject bigotry. We must reject the recruitment of fake electors and the incitement of mobs to overturn elections. We must reject corruption in our high court. We must reject the absurd notions that we are terribly fragile and diversity is a weakness.
Let us appeal to people’s better angels and common sense. This was neatly demonstrated in a recent Biden campaign ad consisting entirely of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene describing how Biden is carrying on the work of FDR and LBJ. Greene evidently considers Biden’s efforts to help ordinary Americans shockingly offensive. Let’s keep telling the uplifting truth until her MAGA bubble breaks. A beleaguered republic is in our hands.