The Agonist Journal

“Evidence Mounts That BLM Works With Demons” screamed the headline of a September 15th Gateway Pundit piece written by Bill Hennessy, a Catholic conservative who proudly states on his Twitter profile that he’s “not some dingus” (correction: it actually says “non sum dignus”). Hennessy, who I think might be drinking too much of his namesake booze, claims that BLM has gained its power and influence by summoning demons, and he’s not speaking metaphorically. He means actual ooga-booga monsters, conjured up by BLM leaders to kill and possess their foes.

“This contribution needs a pullquote”

Now, you either buy into that supernatural demon possession stuff, or you don’t; there’s no in-between.

Similarly, last week Townhall ran a piece by Evangelical radio host Michael Brown warning his fellow conservatives that Trump’s Middle East peace accords might very well “lead to a dangerous, false peace that will only hasten the reign of the antichrist.”

Oh that Trump…if it’s not Putin directing his every move, it’s Satan.

Again, you either subscribe to that worldview or you don’t. And if you’re not a demon-haunted End Times conservative, your ability to communicate with those conservatives will be limited, because you don’t speak the same language.

That’s my problem with a lot of rightists when it comes to movies. I’m a movie guy. I write about politics for a living, but I don’t particularly like talking about politics in my personal life. You wanna chat me up about Rand or Sowell or Kirk or Buckley? I won’t even humor you. You wanna debate whether Peter Jackson’s Braindead inadvertently killed the zombie genre (spoiler: it did), I’m all ears.

It’s not good or bad or right or wrong; it’s just who I am. It’s why I so enjoyed my years as filmmaker David Stein. It’s why I date actresses. I’d always rather dissect movies than politics.

Truth is, I’ll talk about movies with anyone. A few months ago, I was invited to participate in a film vodcast organized by the Scandza Forum. Prior to my appearance, I was warned by a conservative friend that host Fróði Midjord was, like, really far-right. “Oh, you don’t want to be associated with him. He’s, like, a Scandinavian white nationalist or something!” I told my friend I didn’t care; I’ll talk movies with a straight-up Nazi, I’ll talk movies with a straight-up commie. Just as long as we can talk about movies, not politics, unless the discussion of politics is organic to the discussion of a particular film, like when I participated in a recent Facebook thread about whether Lindsay Anderson’s Britannia Hospital is a left or right-wing polemic (it’s the latter, which is surprising considering Anderson’s real-life leftism).

I very happily participated in Midjord’s film series, and it was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had on a vodcast.

I wish I had experiences like that with mainstream rightists, but by-and-large I don’t. Conservatives have a difficult relationship with the movies. They know that Hollywood is generally hostile to the right, both in the content it spews and the voting patterns of those who create that content. Conservatives correctly view Hollywood as “enemy territory.” Discussions of movies as art all too often take a backseat to discussions of the motivations of the filmmakers, the “messages” of the films, and the supposed harm to society as a result of those “messages.”

The feeling among conservatives that movies “cause harm” is influenced to some degree by the same mentality that has rightists on the lookout for BLM demons: movies must be viewed with caution because they can hyp-mo-tize people into turning evil. As demon-hunter Hennessy states in his Gateway Pundit piece, “Saying a demon’s name is how you get demon problems. Don’t do it. Don’t watch movies or read books that contain demons names. You’re playing with fire. Literally, you’re playing with the fires of hell when you mention, read, or think about a demon’s name.”

Note to self: don’t invite Bill Hennessy to my group discussion of the 1967 vs. 1970 versions of Equinox, and how both influenced Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.

Supplemental note to self: get tested for demon possession following my group discussion of the 1967 vs. 1970 versions of Equinox, and how both influenced Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.

Funny enough, as my regular readers know, I’m working on a documentary film about Mel Gibson’s father Hutton, who allowed me to conduct a lengthy interview session with him some years ago. Hutton was more Catholic than the Pope, literally (he founded and ran an anti-Vatican traditionalist Catholic sect). During our interview, I asked him how he felt about his son’s films. In character, in movies, Mel has done a lot of “sinful” things, including adultery, blasphemy, and yes, conjuring ghosts and monsters.

“It’s just movies,” the elder Gibson replied dismissively. “It’s fake, it’s fantasy. Quit getting so worked up about play-acting.”

Good advice for folks on the right, from a purist.

In recent years, the right’s many apprehensions regarding movies have been bolstered by “pedomania,” the hugely popular rightist theory that Hollywood is but a bed of organized, conspiratorial kiddie-buggerers, and all product from Hollywood is in some way in the service of said buggering.

“Pedomania” has made it even more difficult to discuss movies academically with rightists.

All of the right’s fears, hatreds, legitimate concerns, and paranoid superstitions regarding movies came to a head recently over the French film Cuties, currently streaming on Netflix. Cuties is the story of an 11-year-old African girl living in France who finds herself torn between her family’s stifling and oppressive Muslim customs and her secular schoolmates, who are part of a dance troupe that performs highly sexualized routines.

Conservatives have united against this film in a way I haven’t seen since the Last Temptation of Christ protests from 1988. And just as in that case, most of the “critics” haven’t actually seen the movie. But that hasn’t stopped them from denouncing it as the most pedostrophic threat to America since Earl Bradley. Unspoken but incredibly apparent in the rightist outrage is the fact that what conservatives are really lashing out against is Netflix. Leftist, Obama-hugging, social justice-preaching Netflix. From the get-go, this entire shebang wasn’t really about a minor, insignificant French film. It was about a major, influential streaming service that conservatives justifiably view as hostile.

I don’t mind seeing Netflix get a black eye. What I do mind is that I’ve found it difficult to discuss Cuties rationally with my rightist friends. Because I did see the film. And it’s not a particularly good film, but not for the reasons the right is claiming. Director Maïmouna Doucouré comes down firmly against the sexualization of young girls. She also comes down against Muslim culture, which, you’ll forgive me for saying, is a bit brave in a nation where Brigitte Bardot damn near went to prison for daring to criticize Muslim animal-slaughtering practices. So in terms of the film’s theme, it’s anti-preteen sexualization and anti-Islamic customs.

In theory, the film shouldn’t be public enemy number one to conservatives.

But in practice, Doucouré faced a common dilemma among filmmakers who seek to make movies about distasteful things (including films that condemn distasteful things, as Doucouré condemns preteen sexualization): how much of the distasteful thing do you show for effect?

Many years ago, probably around 2001, I saw Miloš Forman at the DGA talking about The People vs. Larry Flynt. Forman explained that he made a choice when making that film to not show porn. He was making a movie about a distasteful guy who did distasteful things, but he decided to keep those distasteful things off-screen, referred to but never shown (Hustler wasn’t like Playboy; its porn back in those days was, shall we say, not pretty).

Forman knew he’d draw a drubbing from feminists, and he was right. “Oh, you defend a PORNOGRAPHER but you’re AFRAID to show what he really DOES.” The charge was cowardice, that Forman, wanting an Oscar and critical acclaim, made a film about a smut peddler, but never showed the actual smut (while happily showing the religious sanctimony of Flynt’s opponents). As expected, feminists slammed Forman for not letting the audience see the ugliness that Flynt produced. Forman wanted viewers to like Flynt, or at least see him as a charmingly amiable if flawed rogue. Forman feared that Flynt’s pornography would alienate the audience. Showing the unsightliness of Hustler porn would’ve made it more difficult to present Flynt in a sympathetic manner. Difficult, but not impossible, in the hands of a skilled sceeenwriter and director. And Forman simply didn’t want to break the sweat needed to walk that tightrope.

It was pure laziness, a case of a filmmaker taking the easy way out.

Maïmouna Doucouré came down as firmly in favor of “show it” as Forman did for “hide it.” And just as in Forman’s case, Doucouré’s choice fails because she came down too strong to one extreme (the opposite of Forman’s extreme). She shows it too much, which opens her up to the charge of being as exploitative as those she condemns. She likewise opens herself up to accusations of secretly pandering to pedos who could be counted on to watch the film for jackoff material, much as Forman opened himself up to the accusation that he was secretly pandering to awards judges, who might have been more hostile to the film had it contained hardcore porn.

I’m not defending Doucouré’s choice, but I am saying that the main flaw with Cuties is not that it’s a kiddie porn peepshow lacking in value or substance, but rather that a young filmmaker faced a familiar dilemma, and erred to one extreme just as the more seasoned Forman had erred to the other.

And I wish I’d been able to speak with my conservative pals about the film in those terms, but Cuties condemnation became a rightist litmus test so quickly, I just stopped trying to talk about it.

Conservatives are never at their best when they do cancel crusades. That’s the left’s shtick; keep it there, where it belongs. More than that, conservatives (and everyone on any part of the right-of-center spectrum) are playing with fire when they advocate the tactic of judging something based on how malevolent people might use, interpret, or misinterpret it. When I’ve tried to discuss the nuances of Maïmouna Doucouré’s intentions, I’ve been told again and again, “It doesn’t matter. Pedos are getting off on the film. Even if that wasn’t the filmmaker’s intent, pedos are using it as porn.”

Fair enough, and true enough. I have no doubt that at any given time of the day, there’s a pedo somewhere whacking off to Cuties. That said, I don’t think it should matter. I don’t believe in judging something by how reprehensible people might respond to it. That’s the root of all cancel culture, and the root of Big Tech censorship of the right: an anti-Affirmative Action screed might “inspire” racist employers to blanket-reject black applicants; a statement proclaiming that there are only two genders might “inspire” a homophobe to go out and bash a tranny. Second Amendment advocacy might “inspire” a schizo to go out and shoot up a school. Opposition to immigration might “inspire” a violent lunatic to shoot up a Walmart.

Dare to criticize black criminality? Well, you’ve just “inspired” a neo-Nazi to shoot up a black church.

Leftists see “racism” as a demon that can be conjured and unleashed, a force that can take possession of people’s minds and drive them to acts of evil. That’s the left’s (and Hollywood’s) demon-haunted pathology. Echoing Bill Hennessy, leftists don’t want any white person to even think words like nigger. “Saying a racist word is how you get racism problems. Don’t do it. Don’t watch movies or read books that contain racist words.”

And any right-leaning film or TV show that even broaches the topic of race from a non-leftist position is accused of “encouraging” racists to go out in the world and do harm. Who cares if that wasn’t the writer or director’s intent? They created content that racists might be attracted to; they are therefore complicit in any actions undertaken by bad actors who are “inspired” by their output.

As someone who thinks that what the world needs right now is more frivolous and offensive racial humor and more serious, purposely provocative and confrontational artistic explorations of race from a right-leaning point of view (to counter the endless stream of leftist anti-white, black deification propaganda), I firmly believe that rightists need to grow the stones to resist the idea that artists should be held accountable for how people with pre-existing abnormalities might respond to a particular work of art.

Even a flawed one.

Cuties is flawed, but it ain’t worth all this outrage. If anything, rightists should embrace the value of “transgressive” art (the opposite of the feel-good Christ n’ cornflakes pap that passes for conservative-friendly cinema these days), and start producing content that can directly counter the race-baiting, hateful propaganda being churned out daily by Hollywood.

And the first step to doing that is to accept the fact that someone might take your content the wrong way.

The second step is not to care.