Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stealth Propagandists in the Culture of Death

Those seeking to form the attitudes and outlooks of this culture had better be careful. There's a stealth propagandist working against their post-modern agenda, and it is not only subtly effective but charming and profitable as well.

I'm speaking of Pixar Studios.

First we had the unapologetically pro-family blockbuster The Incredibles, a fun and fast-paced tale of fidelity, parenthood, and right vs. wrong.

Then we had WALL·E, a celebration of the nobility of duty, diligence, and hard work. It not only exulted the lowly and simple - not an uncommon theme these days, but still refreshing to see - but took a Swiftian satirical swipe at consumerism and self-indulgence that made some of us quite uncomfortable.

And now we have Up.

If you didn't see this animated wonder on its opening weekend, I don't want to spoil your fun. You can stop reading now and go see it (the 3-D version is worth it). But if you don't mind hearing a few "spoilers", or you've seen it, feel free to continue.

The movie's protagonist is Carl, whose shares with his life-love Ellie a longing for adventure and excitement. But after their childhood meeting, the story of their adult lives from marriage to widowhood is told in poignant silent form, nothing but vivid visual vignettes of their life together. (There is a similar "silent" stretch in WALL·E - could the world of masterful computer animation be resurrecting the art of silent film?) When the story resumes with dialog, Carl is an old curmudgeon who picks up the earnest young scout Russell, and the main portion of the film progresses.

The first bit of stealth propaganda lies in the scenes that summarize Carl and Ellie's life together. First, their married life is portrayed as a rich and joyous union. Second, children are seen as a complete blessing - envisioned in the clouds, lovingly prepared for, and eagerly anticipated. The brief but heartwrenching scene in which a doctor delivers the news that there would be no children for them causes Ellie to dissolve into tears - and some of the audience as well. The remainder of their story is still good, but clearly only as good as they can make it, living as they are under the shadow of infertility. Ellie's eventual passing leaves Carl with an emptiness which he has no idea how to fill.

Young Russell is simply a kid looking to get his badge requirements signed off, but as he and Carl end up on their adventure and get to know one another, it slowly emerges that Russell's home is broken. His father used to come with him to scout meetings, and they used to sit on the curb outside the ice cream shop and count cars - but now there's Phyllis, and dad isn't around much, and doesn't have time for doing things with his son. Not much is said because not much needs to be said. The topic is not just painful, but shameful, and one can feel Carl's shame that any fellow adult would treat a child so.

So first the movie portrays not just marriage but childbearing in a completely positive, healthy light - so much so that the loss of the childbearing component hits the viewers as the tragedy it is. Then it goes and shows divorce from the child's perspective, laying bare the brutal damage it does to the innocent. Then the film has the audacity to go and get critically acclaimed, even earning raves and a top rating from our local liberal movie reviewer. See what I mean about stealth propaganda?

It's clear from such stories that we humans are hardwired to just know that certain things align with the order of creation. It is right and good for men and women to marry, and to accept children as the incarnation of their love. It is a tragedy, not a blessing, when those children are denied. No boy should ever have to explain to a stranger that his father's companion is not his mother. No matter what excuses our minds and tongues make, our hearts know better, which is why they respond to tales such as this.

Which is why I say that the propagandists of this culture had better watch out. If they're not careful, all the work they've done with their nihilistic comedians and anti-heros will be undone by the story writers and animation wizards of Pixar, who put out stories echoing themes that people just know are right. Stories about lifelong love and fidelity. Stories about the challenges and blessings of raising children. Stories that speak of things like divorce as they should be spoken of - in hushed and shamed voices. Stories that resonate with the human heart, and will be unconsciously absorbed and made part of the viewer's attitudes.

And furthermore, Pixar will make a tidy profit doing it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Opportunity Notre Dame Missed

Again, waaay overdue here, but life keeps intruding. Blog posting is something I do when other responsibilities allow.

This is dead news - the president has returned to the White House, the protesters are gone, and the crucifix covers have been stowed away. In the judgment of the media, Obama suffered no serious political setback, and since that's what really matters, all is well.

But the fact that the Obama Notre Dame Commencement Address / Honorary Degree controversy is history gives me a chance to look back on it, and consider things that matter more. The thing that stuck out most was the opportunity that Notre Dame had, but forewent. Of course, anyone who knew anything about them would have been able to predict that they would have done so, but it was still an opportunity they could have seized, had they the will.

When the controversy about Obama being invited to give the Notre Dame Commencement address broke, the ND administration was swift to point out that inviting seated presidents to speak at their commencements was a university tradition. They had invited pro-abortion (Clinton) and pro-life (Bush) presidents, and they had come to speak. This was not only an appeal to tradition, but a subtle boast about the University's stature (how many other universities can claim a tradition of having the sitting president accept their invitation to speak?) Notre Dame's claim seemed to be that since inviting presidents was tradition, how could they violate that tradition just because Barack Obama was so fiercely pro-abortion?

But therein lay their opportunity, had they wished to truly bear witness as a Catholic university. It was a tradition, and furthermore, everyone knew it. It was expected that Notre Dame would extend an invitation to Obama, since that's what they did with presidents.

All they would have had to do was not extend that invitation.

There were any number of other parties they could have invited to speak. They wouldn't even have had to make a big fuss about it. ("Here is the President of Notre Dame, standing on the steps beneath the Golden Dome, burning the invitation he would have sent to President Obama.") All they would have had do do, ever so quietly and discreetly, was nothing. To those who knew, that non-extension of the invitation would have said what was necessary. Everyone knew that Notre Dame invited sitting presidents to speak at their commencements, why not this year? The intelligent would have been able to connect the dots, and see that Obama's fierce and vocal pro-abortion stand was in discord with the University's Catholic identity.

But that non-invitation would have come at a cost. To take a stand against the Culture of Death, to send a message from the heart of their identity as a Catholic university, Notre Dame would have had to take a blow to its stature as university who can get sitting presidents to come speak. The non-extension of an invitation this year would have surely meant that any subsequent invitations would be discarded, and Obama would never come to speak at Notre Dame. Their string of presidential commencement speakers would be broken, perhaps permanently, and their prestige as a university would have suffered.

Anyone who knows anything about Notre Dame understands that if presented with a choice between speaking the truth as a Catholic institution and bolstering their prestige as a university, the outcome is foregone. This is why I mentioned earlier that anyone who knew anything about them would be able to predict what would happen. But this is the opportunity they forewent. It is truly a pity, since by not inviting Barack Obama they would have been implicitly extending an invitation to an even more prestigious Speaker - one who may not have stood behind the lectern, but whose Presence would have made far more difference.

What a shame they settled for so little.