Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Horror Double Feature

Last night we watched the two scariest movies ever made. I did not realize how scary they are the first dozen or two times I saw them, but in today's climate these films frightened the hell out of me. Both were made over fifty years ago and both starred Spencer Tracy, a man not noted for horror films. What scared me so terribly is the fact that films made that long ago remain relevant today, in some ways even the more so because, as the saying goes, he who forgets history is doomed to repeat it. The first film was "Inherit the Wind," the great play turned movie based on the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 wherein science and religion clashed head-on over the issue of teaching evolution in school. The film really is about a man's right to independent thought, a concept that is precious to us in this country but relatively recently accepted as the pervue of all men and women. Line after line, thought after thought in that film screams against intollerance. The difference between the fundamentalist Christian Brady and the agnostic free thinking Drummond comes down to this: Brady will not allow for other points of view, while Drummond will. Put another way, when Drummond slams Darwin's book on evolution and the Bible together and carries them off as he leaves, it is an admission by a thinking man that he believes in science, he believes in truth, and he believes in possibility. At one point he says that ignorance and fanaticism are constantly hungry and need feeding. In America the rise of the Creationist movement arrogantly proclaims its own self-importance: no other way is possible. I have known people whose view is even more narrow, that their way to God is the only road available. I believe in what Arthur C. Clarke said, that there are nine billion roads to God; mine might work for me, but you have to find your own, and I encourage you to seek. But do not exclude mine in the bargain. Ignorance and fanaticism need feeding. They also propogate readily, spreading their poison everywhere, a poison that tastes of lies. Adolph Hitler once said, “The art of leadership . . . consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a common adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.” Keep them ignorant, stroke their fanaticism, and hold it together with lies, and they will do anything for you. The second film, "Judgment at Nuremberg," dealt with the consequence of wielding that kind of power over others when you yourself had intellegence and knew the required course of action was wrong. Gandhi said that "non-cooperation with evil is as important as cooperation with good." I follow this solemnly with this unpopular observation: The United States is a warrior nation. Our militancy is the face the world sees. Our actions abroad have become as questionable as the motives behind them. Our unmanned drones kill civilians and no one bats an eye. In fact, we have gone nearly to bankruptcy largely on our extreme military spending over the past decade, and yet Americans at home act as if we have not been at war for the last ten years. WE KILL PEOPLE, and too many of our victims are not guilty of anything -- they were in the way. How do we reconcile that with the good we want to do? Or do we hear Spencer Tracy's words echoing in our heads when Burt Lancaster's Ernst Janning asks for forgiveness and says he had no idea Nazi Germany would come to such horrors -- Tracy said (I'm paraphrasing), "It came to that the first time you convicted a man you knew to be innocent." In some things there cannot be any compromise. Ignorance and fanaticism need constant feeding, but non-cooperation with evil is as important as cooperation with good. Even small people with no power at least can state their opposition, and if the course they object to is the wrong one, maybe they still can turn us onto the right path and promote and protect the greatness of their homeland. If not, be scared, be very very scared.

No comments:

Post a Comment