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Bulletin: Secretariat = Nazism, the Klu Klux Klan, and *GASP* the Tea Party!

October 17, 2010 1 comment

Recently I read Roger Ebert’s blog post discussing Andrew O’Hehir’s unusual movie review of Secretariat.   Having already heard Rush Limbaugh poke fun at the same review, I wondered what could cause two men who occupy such different spheres (of media AND of political persuasion) to come to the same conclusion: that O’Hehir’s review is nuts.   So I couldn’t resist heading over to Salon.com and reading it for myself.  (And mind you, Salon.com  is a site I tend to avoid since it’s a hub for such unintentionally funny articles as “George Clooney Meeting With Obama To Put Focus On Sudan Partition Vote” and “Cheers to drinking during pregnancy!”)  You can check it out too, right here.  Try to refrain from drinking milk while you read it.

Interesting, eh?  Let us discuss.

O’Hehir’s review is titled “‘Secretariat’: A gorgeous, creepy American myth.”  In case you didn’t understand the title, the lead declares: “Diane Lane shines in a Tea Party-flavored, Christian-friendly yarn about one big horse and our nation’s past.”  Hmmm…

O’Hehir begins by remarking on the “warm golden light” infusing the cinematography, saying that it is “as if the movie is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose.  Or as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn.”  Whoa.  Wait a minute.  So this movie has a hidden purpose so horrible that it warrants a  facetious comparison to the Klu Klux Klan?   “I enjoyed it immensely,” O’Hehir surprisingly goes on to say, “flat-footed dialogue and implausible situations and all.” (Well it was based on a true story…)  “Which doesn’t stop me from believing that in its totality ‘Secretariat’ is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.”  (Secretariat is a more insidious piece of propaganda than Triumph of the Will!)

So what, you might ask, is Secretariat propagandizing?  What form of misplaced idealism could be so vile that O’Hehir is compelled to mock it with Ku Klux Klan and Nazism references? 

Be careful, faint of heart, for the following revelation may do some injury to your nerves.  Steel yourself.  Are you ready?  Here, presented to you by Andres O’Hehir, is the sordid truth behind Secretariat “‘Secretariat’…[presents] a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social dischord.”

But that’ not all:  “In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Chenery are ladies first (she’s like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Überhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn’t human at all.”

So let me get this straight.  This film, set in the 1970s, is a monstrous piece of propaganda precisely because it does not focus on the political and social “dischord” of the 1970s.   It dares to show a charming inspirational story and NOT focus on the evils of racism and dischord and especially Richard Nixon, which is what every single film set in the 1970s must do.  For shame, movie!  FOR SHAME!!

So by O’Hehir’s logic, Secretariat should be like this: it should show a grimey, horrific vision  of 1970s America that makes the London of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street look homey, should focus relentlessly on the evils of RACISM!!!1 and the dischord of the Nixon era, should have as its heroine a thoroughly unladylike and classless bag of a woman who is preferably into feminism, should show a culturally diverse group of Americans picketing against the victories of Secretariat (since according to the O’Hehir the idea that all Americans were united in championing this racehorse couldn’t possibly be true), and should show Secretariat himself as a deeply flawed yet human individual who is wrestling with his sexuality and a drug problem against a background of, er,  political multiculturalist turmoil.

Much better.

Further on in his review, O’Hehir does what far too many people of the liberal bent tend to do: find RACISM!!!1 where it doesn’t exist.  Of the character Eddie Sweat, who by the way was a real groomsman who took care of Secretariat, he says: “Eddie dances and sings. He loves Jesus and that big ol’ horse. He is loyal and deferential to Miz Penny, and injects soul and spirit into her troubled life. I am so totally not kidding.”  A talented, Christian groomsman who is a good employee and a good friend–BUT WHO HAPPENS TO BE BLACK!!   Good sweet potato pie, this must be RACISM!!!1

Of Diane Lane’s lovely performance, O’Hehir’s would only concede that it’s “weirdly compelling.”  He says,  “She renders Penny Chenery as an iron-willed superwoman, striking and magisterial but utterly nonsexual, illuminated from within like a medieval saint.”  Utterly nonsexual?   Let me add more to the description of how Chenery should be portrayed in O’Hehir’s version of Secretariat: as a thoroughly unladylike and classless bag of a woman who is preferably into feminism and is involved in a great many NC-17-rated scenes.  After, this character much easier to take seriously than a classy woman who leads a classy life.

Happily, my hero Ebert has stepped forward to say: Really, Andrew?  Really?   “In its reasoning, his review resembles a fevered conspiracy theory,” Ebert writes in his October 7th blog post. “…O’Hehir’s reading is wildly eccentric, and commits a logical error best outlined as: A is evil because it does not acknowledge B. Or perhaps: Although A and B are represented as separate circles, they should overlap.”  I agree wholeheartedly.  (Man, how does Ebert do it?) 

A day after the blog post was written O’Hehir himself stopped by to comment on Ebert’s splendid exercise in rational thought.  Here’s where it gets even more interesting: “Well, gee,” he says with slightly disgruntled amusement.  “Thanks, Roger. (I think.)…I appreciate that you opened and closed this piece with some kind words, and I have great respect for you as a man and a critic. That said, I think the only place where we agree here is when you say, ‘O’Hehir’s reading [of “Secretariat”] is wildly eccentric.’ I’ll cop to that happily — my review of the film was willfully hyperbolic, even outrageous, in hopes of getting people to look at a formulaic Disney sports movie through fresh eyes…My hyperbole in the ‘Secretariat’ review was supposed to be funny, and also to provoke a response. I appear to have succeeded brilliantly with the second part! The results on ‘funny’ are more mixed.”

So to paraphrase: “It was just a joke!”  Really, Andrew?  Really?  You pull out “It was just a joke!” as your defense?  Far too predictable!  But in spite of that, I do think he is sincere.  The problem is that “It’s was just a joke!” doesn’t help his position at all.  O’Hehir may have been using hyperbole in order to get his points across, but that doesn’t change the  CRAZINESS OF THE POINTS THEMSELVES.   For instance, he may not literally think that Secretariat is a piece of master-race propaganda worthy of Riefenstahl, but that doesn’t change the fact that he thinks it’s a piece of propaganda.

I think what saddens me most about O’Hehir’s review is not just that it contains a bonkers interpretation of Secretariat, but that it’s so cynical.  “You could hardly pick a period in post-Civil War American history more plagued by chaos and division and general insanity,” he writes earnestly, “…but our heroine’s double life as a Denver housewife and Virginia horse-farm owner proceeds pretty much as if the 1950s had gone on forever.”  Have beauty, classiness, and good values really been so absent from your life that you refuse to recognize them even in an idealized fictional setting, O’Hehir?  Or have you been steeped in anti-Western civilization, pseudo-college-campus, elite groupthink for so long that you can’t see good values as being anything but sentimental hogwash?

O’Hehir’s controversial review ends with: “Horses don’t go to the movies, and this movie is about human beings, and our nonsensical but inescapable yearning to find the keys to the future in stupid ideas about a past that never existed.”  I’d call this is more of a sobering revelation about O’Hehir’s dismal worldview than a statement about Secretariat.~

And so it begins…

September 30, 2009 1 comment

It came upon me quite suddenly, like a flash of light, or a parting in the clouds, or a sneeze.  It would be a wonderful idea, one that would be my first step into the vast arena of the public eye.  Yes, my friends, your suspicions (if you have any right now) are correct:  the fabulous idea was that I would START A BLOG.

(I occasionally like to type words/phrases in caps.  I think they add a quirky, slightly humorous emphasis and charm, similar to the kind you find in British books for children.  Don’t ask me why I think this.  I feel sorry for you all already.)

So why did I start this blog?  I can get pretty caught up in the news of the day and I love to read reviews of all kinds–TV, movies, etc.  I’ve always thought it would be fun to put out musings on the news and reviews and such of my own for other people to read.  And one evening, as I sat there in an icy auditorium listening to that slightly dry university lecture on the pros and cons of allowing commenting on news stories (it results in a virtual cesspool!), I hit upon it:  start a blog!

(Rather: START A BLOG!)

It was perfect!  I could write about what I like and others might enjoy reading it.  And fortunately for you, my interests are vast.  They are also somewhat eclectic: books, TV shows, movies, music, book/TV show/movie/music reviews, nature, Catholicism, Minnesota (can you guess where I’m from?), antiques, baking, cooking, film history, photography, the 19th century,  pets, The Phantom of the Opera, decorating, scrapbooking, Roger Ebert, costumes, travel, Sweeney Todd, current events, pop culture, Twin Cities life, etc.  Hopefully there will be a little something for everyone.  Oh, but just so you know, I don’t care as much about sports that don’t involve the Olympics, although since the last PGA I’ve found golf quite interesting.  *many stop reading*

What else should you know about me?  I love beauty, particularly less obvious beauty.  I love innocent fun and am incorrigably sentimental.  And I procrastinate.  Which doesn’t bode too well for a blog, but I won’t be too obsessive about writing schedules. 

If you’ve come this far, thank you.  I think we could be friends.~