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FIRST-PERSON: Good sense needed for ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Set in the 1950s, the documentary-tinged drama “Good Night, and Good Luck,” opening in theaters Oct. 21, focuses on a famed TV reporter who, at the height of his power, used his position to fight what he considered a threat to America -– Joe McCarthy.

While I suspect my comrades in criticism will spend the majority of their reviews focusing on the film’s formidable artistic merits rather than the filmmaker’s political assessments, I found its partisan nature worrisome. Here we’ll examine not just how the subject is being stated, but the statement itself.

A likely Oscar contender, with a superb, understated performance by David Strathairn as Edward R. Morrow and flawless direction by co-star George Clooney, the story ostensibly tells of renowned newsman Morrow’s televised verbal war against Sen. Joseph McCarthy. But Clooney’s agenda becomes glaringly apparent as he avoids any commentary other than his own social viewpoint of America’s political history. He’s not just making assertions concerning politicians and mores of decades past, but a thinly disguised one about any naysayer of today’s liberalism. Not since Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” has a film been so unabashedly employed as a tool for indoctrination.

Years of one-sided cinematic portraits of communist-outing during the 1950s may have left filmgoers born in the post-black & white TV era with a jaundiced perspective of America’s fight against communism during that period. Due to the elapsing of time and the obscuring of the subject matter during our matriculation period, we now live in a time when most young people have no real concept of the world’s battle against Nazism, let alone the succeeding one with communism.

The 1950s are often painted in today’s cinema as a passive, downright dull time in America’s evolution. According to many filmmakers born in the 1970s, the ’50s were years of boring tranquility, when there was nothing more on the minds of U.S. citizens than such TV fare as Milton Berle and Lucille Ball.

What these storytellers invariably neglect to pass along is the fact that World War II was still fresh in the minds of the greatest generation.

The Bible points out that there’s a time for war and a time for peace. That generation had every right to expect their time of peace. Hitler and Tojo had interrupted and, in most cases, altered their lives. They had seen the steady rise of Nazism and were horrified that such evil could overtake an entire nation, and nearly a world. What began as a political philosophy, one given uncensored exposition, the Nazi movement became one Germans clung to because it seemed to offer a solution to the financial woes and the directionlessness of their homeland. Soon, however, that fraudulent ideal turned into a monstrous menace. The Nazi movement spread and suddenly those who objected to it found themselves not just blacklisted, but incarcerated and/or eliminated. Nazism was pure evil. It was born out of an unholy alliance and bred by ignorance and complacency.

Today, communism seems a joke as we’ve come to see that its practitioners offer little solution to the world’s needs. Though in theory it may contain some merit, in practice it fails every time. I understand some in Cuba may argue that statement. But those who sail rafts to the shores of Florida generally support my contention with gusto.

Communism, like its insidious cousin totalitarianism, also was born out of a convergence of factors. And during its infancy, it spread even faster than fascism. Yes, many in America feared communism. But it was not an unfounded fear as opponents of “McCarthyism” would suggest. Ah, that’s where the argument begins, doesn’t it?

Some felt that America’s democratic stronghold was too dominant to be undermined by the growing Communist Party. Nor were they alarmed by its members taking positions in industries that wielded influence. But others were apprehensive of political stances that threatened democracy. As time has justified, communistic allegiances had formed in the entertainment industry, as well as the education community. And it can be argued that today’s liberalism is simply about the individual being as important as the majority. Admittedly, that stance has merit -– if the individual’s rights are ignored, will it not soon have detrimental effect on the masses? There’s a fine line between protecting the individual and protecting the entirety.

It’s difficult to defend Joseph McCarthy. Though he may have been right, his methods seemed malicious and self-serving. And Clooney is adroit at using vintage footage of the senator as testimony that he was his own worst enemy. It would have been better had McCarthy not been the poster boy for the anti-communist battle. But over the years, those who feel the outing of communists during that era was a threat to individual liberty have focused on McCarthy’s tactics rather than his arguments.

Ann Coulter defends the senator in her book, “Treason”: “Despite the fevered associations of Joe McCarthy with Hollywood blacklists, ruined lives, destroyed reputations, broken careers, suicides, divorce, and depression, McCarthy’s campaign was somewhat more limited in scope. McCarthy’s contribution to “McCarthyism” consisted exclusively of his investigation of loyalty risks working for the federal government…. His campaign lasted only a few years, from 1950 to 1953, until liberals immobilized him in 1954 with their Army-McCarthy hearings and censure investigation. He conducted his investigations from the Senate Permanent Sub-committee on Investigations, the express mandate of which was – surprisingly enough –- to investigate the federal government. As we now know, McCarthy was not terrorizing people purposelessly. His targets were Soviet sympathizers and Soviet spies” (pp. 55-56).

As a nation we should shudder at the thought of any one political party governing our institutions. While we may disagree with political opponents, we need the thinking of both sides to keep power in check. Viewing “Good Night, And Good Luck,” it becomes disturbingly clear that the media has succeeded in becoming a community controlled by one viewpoint.

Though I disagree with the political views of, say, Barbra Streisand or Mr. Clooney, I have admired and advertised their artistic achievements throughout the years. I have never sought a banning of people because they possessed conflicting ideas or ideals. (Funny, I thought that was liberalism.) Yet, time and again I hear stories from up-and-comers in the entertainment industry about their conservative nature being the cause of their being neglected. A paranoid reasoning for not getting a part? Explain, then, why the majority of cast credits on nearly every film are monopolized by artists who prefer the Democratic Party to that of the Republican?

That said, I do not think this film need be avoided. It is smart and entertaining. As for its viewpoint, well, thought-provoking beliefs should be allowed on film. If you should attend, however, keep in mind that you are viewing a one-sided argument. What’s more, it’s an argument fueled more with concern for utopian ideas than facts.

To discern the media’s misconceptions and misdirections, we must be grounded in scriptural teaching. Along with guidance from thoughtful theologians who study the social and political landscape, we gain communal foresight by personally studying scripture. The Bible is a guidepost for living a lifestyle that keeps us in harmony with the Heavenly Father and with our fellow man.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For further information, go to his website at www.moviereporter.com. “Good Night, and Good Luck,” rated PG, includes two profane uses of God’s name; adult subject matter; a suicide that occurs off-screen; and much drinking and smoking.

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  • Phil Boatwright