I was watching the famous scene from ‘On the Waterfront’ and I realized that I can’t remember the last time I saw a contemporary film that was a morality play set in the incestuous, corrupt setting of a Mafia-run union racket.
Now, I know many would say that because this film was released during the era of Hoover and McCarthy, the plot was indicative of the over-hyped red scare propaganda which was marketed to the public to build a consensus against phantom socialists lurking under every bush and around every corner.
And if one checks the background behind Elia Kazan, the director, there is some truth to this. Yet, I believe this brand of cynicism may miss the mark and create an adversarial prejudice in weak minds rather than look at the merits and the broader context of the story itself.
This grifter tale has many facets. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it fundamentally is a story about redemption, betrayal, peer pressure, honor, dignity—and most of all, it also is a tale of the human spirit and its desire to do what is natural and true.
Take for example the aforementioned scene where Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando’s character) has a heart-to-heart talk with his brother (who unbeknownst to Terry, is setting him up for a fall, or at least a losing proposition.). Grift, corruption, compromising one’s principles for the sake of relationship, and the heartbreaking disappointment of Malloy with his brother make known to us the full weight of these circumstances.
It is my view, that this film lays out certain familiar ‘ethics of liberty,’ and I also contend that the disappointment and cynicism of today is one reason why the liberty philosophy is having a sort of renaissance. Incidentally this cynicism also is expressed by Malloy when his brother pulls a gun on him.
How often in the news do we see some top politico taking the fall , conveniently being ushered out of office over a scandal, resigning abruptly, or making a tired attempt to save their own skin? How many times do we hear reports which later confirm or at least compound the suspicions we have over the intrigue involved with these scandals?
I believe, especially since 2001, this sentiment has grown to an all time high. One doesn’t even have to be involved with the liberty movement to be cynical about the state apparatchiks and their proxies. Yet, why is it that I rarely see contemporary films tackle the corruption?
This is of course a rhetorical question. Political commentators have described Big Hollywood (the same Hollywood which releases films like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’) as a propaganda complex ironically similar to the one criticized during the McCarthy era. It is often described as a monolithic oligarchy which has a specific agenda laid out in the types of films they generally wish to see made. I don’t believe this to be entirely true. There is an open market out there and there is demand for justice and just stories.
My fundamental question is: Where the hell are you and why haven’t you released a film or wrote a screenplay yet? I’m serious. How many times have you sat down with a fellow traveler and the two of you ask yourselves why is everyone complacent? Why aren’t people out in the streets over the open sewer that is our system of governance and finance?
I personally try to walk this talk; I am making a cultural stand for my principles and am devoted to it. But as for you, we need films, hard hitting, cynical by choice, moral out of principle; films, books, satire, and music which discuss the refinement of our inner aspirations for freedom and the destruction of evil.
Look at what we’re up against. A bunch of soulless, babbling fools, easily derided and admonished for their profound guile, will to power, and gross incompetence at accomplishing their peculiar form governance and innovation. Why do we allow them to rule over us and set the agenda in our culture? Why? I know some of you personally, you’re not squares. Some of you are rather hip to it. Not bourgeois. You aren’t the type to put out drivel.
I think many of us either have, or are now, growing out of our naivety to the degree that we intuitively realize that the state cannot be reformed. It may be halted for a period, but ultimately it can only be reigned in from outside, by the culture. Those of you who are students of law may be familiar with the idea of culture as an internal governor. A culture of liberty can only be made up of self-governing people. These values of liberty, of true liberalism, must be inculcated within our culture.
I hope I have made a compelling case for this unique and wide open autodidactic solution. Grab a pencil and write something!Published in