Sunday, August 16, 2009

Culture War: Cruelty To Dictators Edition

Two things were inevitable following Stallone's successful resurrection of the 'Rocky' franchise. One was that we'd be seeing a new 'Rambo' movie, and the second was that liberals would denounce it as the Worst Film Evah!

After all, liberals have successfully cast the first three movies as the epitome of Reagan-era excess, despite a first film that's a perfect slice of Carter-era angst, and even the supposedly jingoistic second and third movies both being predicated on the idea that the troops can't trust Uncle Sam.

Liberals opened their campaign by claiming that the movie unfairly demonised the Burmese government right up until... well, you know.

Fortunately, liberals are unhindered by a sense of embarrassment so they were quickly able to 'draw a line under' that episode and move onto their next talking point: the movie was just too violent.

True, Spielberg was hailed as a genius for featuring graphic violence in 'Saving Private Ryan', but that was then and this was now.

Actually, the humbug runs deeper. Unlike Spielberg, the violence has an actual point. In a world where seemingly everything is a human right, the violence in 'Rambo' serves to remind us that there are parts of the world where 'oppression' doesn't mean 'not getting a government grant to make sculptures out of horse manure' and the battle for freedom involves more than street theatre.

Or, to put it another way, there's this exchange between Rambo and a representative of a humanitarian group near the beginning of the film:
Burnett: Let me explain our situation - our church is part of a Pan-Asian ministry, located in Colorado. We are all volunteers, who around this time of year bring in medical supplies, medical attention, prayer books, and support to the Karen tribes people. People say you know the river better than anyone.

Rambo: They ain't lying.

Burnett: So what I'm asking is that we compensate you for a few hours of your time that will help change people's lives.

Rambo: Are you bringing any weapons?

Burnett: Of course not.

Rambo: You're not changing anything.
Of course, it would be tempting to dismiss all this as more Hollyweird Christian bashing, but two things soon become obvious: these are the type of Christians who don't actually do any of that religion stuff, and their smug, ostentatious moral preeening that makes them sound like nothing so much as....Hollyweird liberals.

Needless to say, it all goes horribly wrong, and so we meet that most libertarian of libertarian archetypes: the mercenary. A team of them are sent up river led by Lewis, a guy described as 'old school SAS' - and you can tell he's a genuine libertarian 'cause every ***** second ****** word is a ******* obscenity.

They quickly deduce that the loonies have been captured and the area is thick with Burmese troops, and so it's time to go home and count their money, until Rambo comes up with the movie's other key line:
There isn't one of us that doesn't want to be someplace else. But this is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something. Your call.
Exactly. Be as libertarian as you want, but you're still going to die. The only question is whether you're going to risk being a sucker, a dupe or a pawn, and do something with your life, or waste it away on sneery, eye-rolling, congratulating yourself on how superior you are to all those 'sheeple' (who actually make stuff happen).

Actually, the movie goes further, drawing parallels between liberalism and libertarianism, for example flagging up the narcissism that underlies both ideologies. But here's the thing: this is not some conservative version of 'American Beauty'. There are no caricatures here. Burnett is a genuinely skilled and compassionate doctor, Lewis is ferociously brave. Stallone isn't saying that these people are necessarily evil, he's saying that their extremism is the problem - they have a role to play, but it needs to be balanced by other people doing their bit. Think Gary's speech at the end of Team America.

To the point: 'Rambo' nails what's wrong with both liberalism and libertarianism - they demand all manner of ends while pronouncing any practical means of achieving them to be evil and/or stupid. All this and lots of guns too!

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