Reader “Marc” complains about my cynical take on the Oscar-grabbing Million Dollar Baby, which I had accurately predicted would carry off the most awards even though its box-office performance was only so-so–because Hollywood just loved its politically correct, euthanasia-promoting message. (See my “Million Dollar” Flop, Feb. 28.) Marc e-mails:
“[W]hile ‘Million Dollar Baby’ might give a sympathetic portrayal of euthanasia (a morally and ethically unjustifiable practice), it also tells a story of a hard-luck girl who characterizes the strong, rugged individualism that is the hallmark of American values. And we like her for it. Besides, it is first and foremost a story. Just like the award-winning ‘Ten Commandments’ was a story (my favorite of all time)–not completely accurate, but a story. ‘Close Encounters [of the Third Kind]’ was a story (far-fetched and most certainly warm and fuzzy in its message, but a story nonetheless).
“I find it troubling that any critical journalistic endeavor would shy away from dealing with reality and complexity, and put in its place a boilerplate of tagline politically correct viewpoints. And believe me, political correctness knows no political party and has its share of liberal and conservative opportunists. I would hope that as thinking people, you will take what is clearly a bright, refreshingly conservative blog, and give us something more mentally stimulating than the Fox news outlet. Don’t we hear all the company line ad hominem nonsense from them? Let’s hear a true independent and reasoned voice like the name of your site suggests–one that doesn’t dumb down just to make a good point.”
Ah, Marc, I know that “Baby” is fiction. My point wasn’t to judge the morality of the message but to point out that it’s exactly the sort of message of romanticized nihilism that Hollywood and most movie critics go for–and most movie audiences don’t. Yes, Americans (and nearly everyone else) love a yarn about a “hard-luck girl” brimming with rugged individualism and fighting spirit–and that’s the problem. I’ve read many an account on the Internet from folks who, because the critics carefully omitted “Baby”‘s ending from their reviews, bought tickets to “Baby” thinking the film was going to be another “Rocky,” except with female boxers and a more sophisticated plot. When they walked out of “Baby” after the credit-crawl, they felt duped. The word has gotten around, and even with its pile of Oscars (and even more nominations), people are just not breaking down the theater doors to see that movie.
Meanwhile, our pundits, in an apparent effort to boost ticket sales, keep telling us that “Baby” is good for us and scolding us for not buying its message (here’s a sample from the finger-wagging Ellen Goodman).
The same thing happened two years ago with another oh-so-arty, awful-sounding flick that I refused to spend my money on, The Hours, whose message was that Men Are Beasts, or Marriage Is Oppression, or something like that and which featured Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf with a fake nose, which I thought was too funny for words. Man, did that movie get hyped for weeks in the press! (And Oscar-nominated galore.) And, indeed, upper-middle-class East Coast women duly trooped to the theaters in droves to see it. I remember having lunch with some nice but predictably liberal female co-workers who all breathlessly asked me, “Have you seen ‘The Hours’ yet?” Yet! A few months later I was pleased to read an article in the Washington Post lamenting that “The Hours” had been a box-office flop outside the Beltway because Americans are philistine boors who don’t understand feminism or High Literature or whatever. I predict “Baby” goes in a similar direction.