Monday, December 17, 2007

An Ugly Place In The Sun

“How Many Times Have I Told You Never To Call Me Here?!

One of the joys of watching classic films is that so many of the plots from them mirror themes and events in contemporary life, giving them an even deeper, more lasting resonance. The clambering ingenue's ugly deposing of the beloved female star in 1948's “All About Eve” would play out in many ways in the real-life Deborah Norville / Jane Pauley “Today” show trainwreck in the late eighties. And there's 1960's “Elmer Gantry”—the then-shocking tale of a self-serving, game-running man-of-the-cloth, that would presage by many years the common knowledge of the hypocrisy and out-and-out double-dealing of too many “stars” of the evangelical movement.

One of my favorite films of all time is 1951's “A Place In The Sun”. I consider it one third of the trilogy of films that opened the second half of the century casting a truly critical eye on the dark side of The American Dream—films that documented the curdling of the sweet milk of what America long portrayed itself to be—how in spite of the sing-song, feel good-ism on our surface, too many of us casually traded values for vainglory. The other two films in that trilogy would handle the newly-plumbed theme too. 1951's “Ace In The Hole” by Billy Wilder spoke to the cynicism and outright venality of the media and press in the way it manipulated news for its own gain. His 1950 gem, “Sunset Boulevard” was a scathing indictment of the rarely-discussed disposability and “souls-for-rent” nature of the Hollywood system. But “A Place In the Sun” is a special case—dealing with the alliances we make for lurid, self-serving convenience, and how hard it is to break them when they're no the price we pay for doing so.

That's a theme we're seeing play itself out in an ugly, but schadenfreude-laced way with the GOP's secular hierarchy's sudden freak-out over the ascendancy of hard-core Christianist Mike Huckabee in the polls. It's coming most loudly from their chardonnay-sippin' (and sometimes harder liquor) set—the Peggy Noonans, Charles Krauthammers, Rich Lowrys, and George Wills of the world. You see, they've come to realize that they can't move forward using the fundamentalists and their faith issues as a wedge any more. The fundie vote scares them because of its narrow-casting, and because that part of “the base” wants something in return finally for the decade they've put in backing the GOP's less scripture-wedded-in-actual-practice candidates—never mind that in the general elections the fundie candidate Huckabee would more than likely lose horribly.

That primary-activated base wants a prize, a bauble for their years of, as we say 'round the way, “giving it up”—a candidate they can call their own—a Huckabee. And fuck the party's powers if they want to ditch 'em for someone more palatable...someone more presentable.

Put on your asbestos long johns and check out the meltdown—Chernobyl by the Potomac, as the “CEO” (“Christmas and Easter Only) Republicans try to acquaint the party's Christianist wing with a close-up of the GOP bus' chassis—via John Cole's Balloon Juice:

It really is pretty awesome watching the Republican panic about Mike Huckabee set in, especially as he moves ahead in the polls in several states. This quote from Sullivan really sums it up:

Every complacent secular Republican who has scorned those of us worried about the fundie right is beginning to squirm in the face of Huckabee’s surge.

And squirm is putting it lightly. Also via Sully, Ace:

Not that what one blogger thinks matters that much, but if Huckabee gets the nomination, I’m voting Democratic. It’s not just an idle threat; I just won’t vote for him and in fact won’t even vote third party or stay home.

Dan Riehl:

That Presidential “R” in 2008 will stand for nothing I believe in. The guy is slick but doesn’t even look competent. And if Republican primary voters are that stupid, they deserve to lose next Fall. To pass over McCain, Thompson, Romney and Giuliani ONLY because someone’s slick and a Jesus Freak, which makes him your average televangelist – forget it.

We will pause for a moment to let it sink in that the Dan Riehl right now views actual social cons as “Jesus Freaks.”

Ohhhhh, my. Now, let's take a look at good ol' “A Place in The Sun”:

(In) A Place in the Sun, Montgomery Clift stars as George Eastman, a handsome and charming but basically aimless young man who goes to work in a factory run by a distant, wealthy relative. Feeling lonely one evening, he has a brief rendezvous with assembly-line worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), but he forgets all about her when he falls for dazzling socialite Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). Alice can't forget about him, though: she is pregnant with his child. Just when George's personal and professional futures seem assured, Alice demands that he marry her or she'll expose him to his society friends. This predicament sets in motion a chain of events that will ultimately include George's arrest and numerous other tragedies...

Now, there's no intentional irony involved my casting of Montgomery Clift—in real life a closeted gay man—as the GOP hierarchy all too willing to ditch the chippie he bagged for kicks. That's just the way the movie plays out. He used the frumpy Alice (the fundies) for his own personal play-toy until he found something “better” and wanted to move on. But if you've ever seen the movie (and you really should!), you know how it all turns out.

SPOILER ALERT! Winters' Alice won't let her man walk away just like that, and puts the screws to him with her demands, especially after he's gotten her “in trouble”. Clift's Eastman, realizing that his hopes for a perfect future will slip away, passive-aggressively does away with the clutchy, desperate Alice...and in so doing manages to utterly wreck his entire world.

I just loooooooove how these old movies foreshadow life...
After many false prophecies, Dean circa 2008 has finally arrived. He is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Not because he will inevitably blow himself up in Iowa. But because, like Dean, his nomination would represent an act of suicide by his party.

We're witnessing that creepy, internal battle Clift's Eastman went through right before our eyes as the Republican party begins to consume itself over its sport-fucking that fundie base and now trying to ditch them when they call in their chips for all that wanton shtupping since '94. And to give the devil his due, Andrew Sullivan's been all over this as soon as the first acrid whiffs of the increasingly over-the-top, and hypocritical religion-bashing from the right's leading lights wafted by.

He sums it up thusly:

And that is why part of me, I confess, wants Huckabee to win. So he can lose. So the GOP can lose - as spectacularly and humiliatingly as possible. If we are to rid conservatism of this theocratic cancer, we need to start over. Maybe it has to get worse before it can get better. But it is certainly too late for fellow-traveling Christianists like Lowry and Krauthammer to start whining now. This is their party. And they asked for every last bit of it.

It's a slo-mo implosion...a frame-by-frame viewing of a black hole at work, sucking at every stitch of matter nearby. Sucking the whole party—moderates tired of grasping fundies, fundies tired of being used by the elites, and the neo-cons caught between the two—down into a failure vortex of their own short-sighted making. Fractious and grasping, crabs in a barrel, tearing at one another until not enough remains to continue. It's war. And they have seen the enemy, and it be them. For all the misdirection on their part, getting people to focus on Clinton vs. Obama, it is their own internal battle that's the real show—that fundamental battle for the very soul of conservatism that makes our side's backbiting look hour-old dishwater tepid.

SPOILER ALERT II!—THE RECKONING: At the end of “A Place In The Sun” Clift's Eastman meets his doom as a direct result of his fecklessness. With so many GOP stalwarts so disgusted by this intra-party rift that many are talking about sitting out the election or even voting for a Dem to spite the ascendant fundie wing, we may be witnessing a similar self-immolation.

Yes...with movies you usually eat popcorn, and I know we all want to nosh away while watching this “roosting chicken” scenario play out, but “A Place In The Sun” wasn't really a popcorn movie. It was melodrama—high melodrama in fact. Something of a morality play. To mull over and maybe learn from.

The rank injection of fundamentalist religion into American politics is fucking the entirety of the political system up—left and right. Let's see if we can learn from the right's present debacle with this. The movie was based on Theodore Dreiser's 1925 book “An American Tragedy”—a much rougher titling than the more lyrical “A Place In The Sun”, but in the end, maybe that much more apt when you think of the situation.

Especially if you're a Republican.