Saturday, January 21, 2006


So you know someone who doesn't do the right thing. What do you do to have them change course?

At the moment I am considering the distinctions between two methods. Imagine a ship. If you were at the helm, would you try to turn the wheel in an approximate direction, or would you try to get the ship's navigation computer to accept precise coordinates? Obviously the latter.

For people this is different. If a person were a ship they would have a habit of resisting and rejecting the coordinates, even though they are correct. We cannot tell the complete truth all of the time because, due to psychology, counterproductivity is the result (and probably the start of a lasting resistance). The sought moral correction is not attained. Appeals, therefore, to what the person is already committed to, are the order of the day. But this has the downside of not giving the person the end at which they aim, and they can feel manipulated or feel the discussions arbitrary as a result. A person consciously and in a hands on fashion leading another person psychologically is a fairly repulsive endeavor in any case due to abuse, and other issues of dependence.

Deciding between the two methods would seem to imply answers to the follwing wuestions: When do you trust a person's capacity to change their mind through reason? How do you sense when someone is capable of cutting through their affectations and commit themselves to something uncomfortable?

Last night I considered my personal commitments to discomforting truths about my character - truths that I cannot mend but through experience and repeated uncomfortable and unnatural effort. We tend to find, when our reason identifies qualities as desirable that we do not possess (precisely because the means of possessing these qualities scare us to death of commiting ourselves - as therefore weak, broken, tragic - to them), other arguments that allow us to deny their importance, by affirming the importance of qualities that we do possess.

This behaviour is potent to such an extent that we depict the visions of our future selves by way of it, quite naturally and quite decidedly. I have become able to leave this aspect of my psychology behind, leaving me with darker, more hopeful days. The ability of people to commit themselves to uncomfortable valuations, decisions etc. becomes a question, I now believe, of understanding these 'darker, more hopeful days' - of finding their worth, their honesty, their truthfulness - and offering their occurance in people's lives as better and far more desirable than the usual paradigms.

In this way psychological steering disposes the person toward accepting the consequences of their most inward-looking reason, and the two methods combine into one. The only remaining problem is that the commitment to the new paradigm presupposes commitment to genuine improvement of the person as a goal, both as more important than other life goals that might attempt to crash in on the action, and as general enough to avoid the emotional turmoil (that results from the identification of specific faults) that is so psychologically leading. That conventional living is crap is evident enough even before any effort is expended uncovering the fact. However, a commitment to something general and unspecific requires reason. My task here may therefore be question begging, rhetorical, or deceitful. If only people weren't so stupid.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Do Gay Cowboys Propagandise In The Woods?

"Recently, WND Managing Editor David Kupelian, author of the best-selling book, "The Marketing of Evil," was widely quoted in the news media for his criticism of the new film "Brokeback Mountain." Here, Kupelian explains how and why the controversial movie is one of the most powerful homosexual propaganda films of our time."

  Please read the article for yourself, as I will now do my best to criticise it. Why do I criticise it? This man believes that a Hollywood film about paedophilia could make an undisclosed percentage of viewers become positively disposed towards paedophilia, and that Brokeback Mountain is doing the same for homosexuality. One cannot alter peoples' values so easily, and homosexuality and paedophilia are not equivalent. We are not all so mindless to hang onto the nearest bandwagon - otherwise Dave would find it much easier to convince us all of his opinion, at least until we read a contrary article. This case must be made.


  Happy New Year! I have edited this essay so that it makes more sense. Now it goes through various themes of Dave's article and attempts to argue against them.
  To summarise Dave's thinking - he is religious, and against homosexuality for this reason. In order for him to understand why more and more people - including Christians and those of other religious groups - are accepting homosexuality, he has written this article, much in the vein of the article I have criticised in previous posts.
  Although I contest Dave's thinking on the issue of whether homosexuality is correct, I do concede that he is allowed to think that it is wrong. Homophobia is a recently invented concept. We Western societies have only recently decided to accept homosexuality; there has always been a large religious and secular disgust of homosexual love. Now we are being asked to consider that homosexual love is equivalent to heterosexual love, and not everyone is going to be able to change - especially religious people, who are in most cases more heedful of tradition. I can see why many people are confused. However, to be against gays is, from my standpoint, intolerant of their love, and I do not accept it. I only attempt to understand it, and sympathise with the confusion many people feel.
  I see no reason why religion should not be able to change its stance on homosexuality. It always changes, and always will change, because it is as much human-made as God-made, as much about and for humans as about and for God. I think that religious people should accept this, either that or they must concede that God's will surprisingly changes to catch up with people, and that he wants things to change. (Whether God wants what God wants or what people think a 'God' wants, it is a similar thing.)
In order to be able to both understand the acceptance of homosexuality, and to combat it, Dave concocts untruths and argues badly. This is what I will principally be fighting against. Dave's thinking is abominable, and I wish to show how abominable it is. The themes of his argument are: that homosexuality is being marketed, that homosexuality causes harm to the family and that this is worse than the harm caused to homosexuals by intolerance, that the film Brokeback Mountain is propaganda. In order to support that latter, he espouses the malleability of human opinion, ending up by stating that a similar film could cause a wave of sympathy for sex-offenders if the subject was a paedophilic relationship. Dave's thinking is not just faulty, it is disgusting.

Marketing and the 'Rape of the Marlboro Man'

  Dave believes that the film in question "does it by raping the "Marlboro Man," that revered American symbol of rugged individualism and masculinity". Not that he means that the famous gay cowboys do gayness by sexually assaulting a massive smoking cowboy, but that they pervert his image by using the cowboy's coding of 'rugged individualism and masculinity' to cloak the consensu-anal delights within.
  Cleverly plugging his own book for a while, he concludes that: "The "Marlboro Man" campaign launched 50 years ago. Today, the powerful cowboy image is being used to sell us on another self-destructive product: homosexual sex and "gay" marriage." They are marketing homosexuality. This is capitalist, commercial propaganda.
  I must dispute this rhetoric. One can compare the selling of products, for example, if you were to start 'selling democracy' to other countries as if it were a product - "Here are the benefits! And the cost is low!" - that would be comparable. You can market Christianity - "Save your soul or go to hell, all you have to do is read the bible and come to church!". These are exhortations to spend your money, time, or life differently, in order to procure some result or gain. I believe that this is marketing, and when things use the tropes of marketing, these things can be compared with marketing.
  Is this film, we must ask, marketing? It seems not to be. It does not sell, it shows. It does not ask you to become gay or to support gays, it just plays out a possible story about gay people. There is nothing in there to say, "be gay and enjoy the fruits of your very own anus". I am not sure about the sexuality of the actors, but I don't think either have come out as gay. It is not a 'gay film’; it is the story of two gay men. You can only argue otherwise if you hold to the belief that homosexuality is wrong. If homosexuality is right, it is a valid subject for a film, just as any relationship. If it is not, then it is not valid, and must be trying to 'push' an unpleasant behaviour. Would Dave argue that a more conventional love story, such as While You Were Sleeping, is heterosexual marketing or propaganda? Or is it just a love story? It would be logical for him to argue that it was propaganda, but propaganda for the correct attitude, which would expose his argument as being more deeply about his own dislike of homosexuality. If he argued that a heterosexual love story is not propaganda, however, it would evidently call into question his whole definition of propaganda - probably "anything positive about a subject that I dislike". Propaganda is not defined by its being positive towards something you consider unpleasant, it is defined by the techniques it uses to put across a message in order to educate/indoctrinate, and the intended outcome to do so. This film cannot be either marketing or propaganda unless all love stories are propaganda, all this film can be is propaganda for the wrong type of love. So Dave, I believe, is saying that we should make sure only to be indoctrinated into the values he considers correct, in an essay which attempts to change opinion. On his own terms, I believe he must call his own essay propaganda.
  To dispel the 'Marlboro Man' image, it can also be contested that the cowboy film is at all moral or heterosexual, as John Patterson has. You know, the films are full of bandits and shooting and dying, not exactly an Aesop's fable. And they are called things like Ride Him Cowboy, which is preeeetty gay. The implications? That there is nothing to pervert by invoking the 'Marlboro Man' or the general ideal of the cowboy-who-likes-neither-cows-or-boys, six shootin' his way to town to spend his money on bullets, booze, and big doses of venereal disease from whores. In fact, the film may be, from your viewpoint, freeing the homosexual subtext from classic American stories. For what better reasons should America be land of the free, if there the love that dare not speak its name can unwhisper itself more and more?

Propaganda: "People's minds have been changed"

  The next section of Dave's essay is titled "'People's minds have been changed'". This now talks about the film as propaganda, breaking up the argument of marketing - evidently Dave thinks of them as somewhat equivalent. I have also mixed the two terms together, above, in order to enhance my argument against him. However, I am not at all so sure that marketing and propaganda are the same. I dislike both, but I think they are different. It is interesting that Dave finds them to be the same, at least for the purpose of his argument. I would imagine that he only finds the marketing of things he does not like to be equivalent to propaganda.
  First, I am going to consider his idea that the film obscures a key point about homosexual relationships: that they are harmful to families and to the gay men themselves.

Propaganda: Homosexuality and harm

  An important part of Dave's argument is that the propaganda being used is pro-gay, while missing out the pain of families disrupted by homosexual affairs. He also seems to insist that homosexuality is harmful to the homosexuals: amusingly saying that "As they lie there, suddenly and almost without warning, these two young men – both of whom later insist they're not "queer" – jump out of the sack and awkwardly and violently engage in anal sex." I wonder if he believes that anal sex can be consensual and none-violent? I wonder what his stance on heterosexual anal sex is, considering the female gets much less enjoyment from the act from a male? This rendering of a gay sex scene as violent, is exactly what constitutes propaganda, colouring gay sex to become abusive, a thing of almost-rape, an unnatural act - when it is not necessarily true. Interestingly, many gay men say that they do not require or even like anal sex, and express physical love in other ways. Just as many heterosexual men do!
  Anyway, as Dave expounds, they both have families and the families suffer due to the affairs they have. Ennis is scared because his father took him to see the murdered corpse of a gay man, and fears the same will happen to his lover, who does die. Was he killed or was it an accident, as claimed? "Yes, the talents of Hollywood's finest are brought together in a successful attempt at making us experience Ennis's suffering, supposedly inflicted by a homophobic society. Heath Ledger's performance is brilliant and devastating. We do indeed leave the theater feeling Ennis's pain. Mission accomplished."
  Briefly consider the other possible love-story-propaganda arguments involving a heterosexual affair. All could end with 'mission accomplished'. You feel sad because the love is unrequited? 'Mission accomplished'. Hey, let's cry because they get together despite their differences! 'Mission accomplished'. The Iraq war is over! 'Mission accomplished'. Is this film actually any more a piece of propaganda than any other love story, or is it a study of the possibilities and impossibilities of gay love in a society where it is not tolerated? Is it a study of an anti-gay propagandised society and how they treat men?
  I must now quote a whole paragraph, as it is excellent: "Lost in all of this, however, are towering, life-and-death realities concerning sex and morality and the sanctity of marriage and the preciousness of children and the direction of our civilization itself. So please, you moviemakers, how about easing off that tight camera shot of Ennis's suffering and doing a slow pan over the massive wreckage all around him? What about the years of silent anguish and loneliness Alma stoically endures for the sake of keeping her family together, or the terrible betrayal, suffering and tears of the children, bereft of a father? None of this merits more than a brief acknowledgment in "Brokeback Mountain.""
  The realities for Dave are informed by his faith. Faith is not reality in the same way a cowboy hat is, or indeed a murdered corpse is. Who's life and death is bound up in these realities? The lives and deaths of gay people who are not tolerated? The lives and deaths of those who do not want a Christian film to be released? If Dave is killed by some scenes of fictional anal sex between two apparently heterosexual actors, I'd be the first to offer my sorrow and sympathies. What does he really mean?
  Yes, there are implications for the families of the gay men, just as potent as the implications for the men themselves. Dave points, quite rightly, to the need for more discussion for these implications. Families are of immense importance.
  Yet something about Dave's approach galls me. It is not simply the men themselves who are at fault. Yes, they are having an affair. And in any family, an affair is disruptive. Even a heterosexual affair - and they do happen, I am informed. It is the intolerant society that heaps even more pain onto the gay affair, stigmatising the family, stopping them from, ahem, 'moving on'. It is not only the gay man that is seen as wrong, but the women he tried to be married to, the children he unwillingly conceived. And, hilariously, it is the intolerant society itself that forced this to happen, by expecting it to be the only right state of affairs.
  In summation: I contend that it is the fault of intolerance that gay men must try to subdue themselves into 'normalcy', start a family they are not comfortable with, a family that will be stigmatised and bullied through no fault of their own.

Propaganda: Can we be convinced to accept paedophilia?

  "What is important to the moviemakers, rather, is that the viewer be made to feel, and feel, and feel again as deeply as possible the exquisitely painful loneliness and heartache of the homosexual cowboys – denied their truest happiness because of an ignorant and homophobic society."
  I agree that this is the case, however I believe that all the evidence points to the absolute naturalness and unshakeableness of gay love, just as pure and strong as any other 'normal' love. And if you try to squash it, the collateral damage will harm everyone. The film is about the painful loneliness of the gay male and the family they are forced to live with and lie for. Is this propaganda? Many films make us feel sad because Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are not together, or because a married couple are going through a rough patch.
  But the real point Dave is making here is elaborated soon: that movies are immensely powerful and effective in changing people's opinions, saying that "Co-star Jake Gyllenhaal realized the movie's power to transform audiences in Toronto, where, according to Entertainment magazine, "he was approached by festival-goers proclaiming that their preconceptions had been shattered by the film's insistence on humanizing gay love... But then, said the article, Gyllenhaal jumped to his feel and exclaimed triumphantly: "I mean, people's minds have been changed. That's amazing.""
  Can you unequivocally call this propaganda? Education is meant to in some way develop or, sometimes, change the mind. When I teach that memory is unreliable - forgetting, reconstructive, etc. - is that indoctrination? Dave reckons that "Film is, by its very nature, highly propagandistic. That is, when you read a book, if you detect you're being lied to or manipulated, you can always stop reading, close the book momentarily and say, "Wait just a minute, there's something wrong here!" You can't do that in a film: You're bombarded with sound and images, all expertly crafted to give you selected information and to stimulate certain feelings, and you can't stop the barrage, not in a theater anyway."
  I agree: You cannot walk out of a theatre. You cannot think while it bombards you. When I see a film, my legs are shackled to the chair and I have to pee using a catheter, which directs it right back to the soda machine. If I try to think, an usher shines a hypnotic torch of imbecility into my face, as if I am trying to snog on the backrow, freezing me into compliant acceptance. In fact, this is why we go to see a film in the first place, so that we can be indoctrinated by this insidious form of mind control. (I wonder if Dave thinks about this in regard to religious films as well? Mel Gibson, watch out, your 'key demographic' is coming to get you.)

  Dave now talks about 'how easily your feelings can be manipulated'. He goes into how major and minor scales sound different, one happy and one sad. Plato's Republic discussion of 'proper' music this ain't.   So we end up with: "Everything from the script to the directing to the camera work to the acting, which in "Brokeback Mountain" is brilliant, serve the purpose of making the movie-makers' vision seem like reality – even if it's twisted and perverse."
  What if this film glorified incest or paedophilia?, he asks. What if your article called for the lynching of the director, Dave? What if I taught the everyone who watched MTV, through an infomercial, to live on the moon?
  This is a sad and silly fallacy. A compelling film can attempt to humanise homosexuality by telling a story in which the homosexuals are human and experience human problems. You can call this nothing more than trickery, and say that the same tricks could work for paedophilia. Try it then, Dave. Edit Brokeback Mountain with some footage of Master Joel Osment as a cowchild, and see if people rush out of the cinema proclaiming that it's ok to have sex with children. Dave thinks this: "Like "Brokeback," it too would serve to desensitize us to the immoral and destructive reality of what we're seeing, while fervently coaxing us into embracing that which we once rightly shunned. All the filmmakers would need to do is skillfully make viewers experience the actors' powerful emotions of loneliness and emptiness – juxtaposed with feelings of joy and fulfillment when the two "lovers" are together – to bring us to a new level of "understanding" for any forbidden "love." Alongside this, of course, they would necessarily portray those opposed to this unorthodox "love" as Nazis or thugs. Thus, many of us would let go of our "old-fashioned" biblical ideas of morality..."
  Can you see what the problem is, here? Films are, simply, not this powerful, for there are, in Western societies at least, usually a surfeit of material arguing differently, and we do not flop around like fish changing our most core beliefs every time we watch the TV (if marketing is so good, why don't I want to buy a car?). It is culture that is powerful, as it defines for us what we believe. Does film inculcate you into a different culture? If I watch a religious film about Jesus, does it raise me for 18 years and teach me Christian values, as religious parents would have? No. And does this film take a religious person away from the teaching they have been subject to and the culture they have either been raised in or accepted and replace it with a fake history of being raised by lesbians? No. Film leaves you with the rest of your life to think about whether what it has communicated is right or wrong, and it does not erase the foundations of your ideology. It is what constructs the foundations of your ideology that must be questioned: is it right to raise children to raise what you believe? Can you help but do so?
  Also, it is hard to teach people that paedophilia is OK by showing it to be equivalent to 'normal', heterosexual love. It is not a consenting relationship between two sexually mature, sexually attracted people. It will involve coercion and power to a greater extent with a more sinister quality - a child will not want to have sex. They can be forced to, however, this is what Western childsex tourists exploit. A child can love an adult, but not sexually; which is why it is wrong. But homosexuality is remarkably equivalent to heterosexuality, and I will discuss this later.
  Dave is indulgently hiding the matter of oppositional values. It is NOT that Dave's views are seen as wrong by other people, or that people can occasionally come to see another view to the one they have previously held, or that people can learn about an issue... it is that they have been seduced towards a lie by some major and minor chords and the behaviourism of relating homosexuality to some nice, smiley Hollywood actors. Hunks + homosex = immediate cultural revolution!
  "This is how the "marketers of evil" work on all of us. They transform our attitudes by making us feel as though our "super uncomfortable" feelings toward embracing unnatural or corrupt behavior of whatever sort – a discomfort literally put into us by a loving God, for our protection – somehow represent ignorance or bigotry or weakness."
  Let us reveal Dave's own "somehow representations". Gayness is abhorrent. It is a disease - addictive, destructive. It is on par with incest or paedophilia. It is not love, it is the love of an addict for the dealer. Films are propaganda. They manipulate your emotions. They do not let you think.
  Is Dave trying to transform our attitudes? It seems so, with his "somehow representations". The sad fact is - you are allowed to choose what meaning is, what values are. You have to choose. In fact, God seems to ask you to choose, the Bible does not explicitly tell you how to live with everything, there is a massive amount of room to think about the rightness of any action for yourself. In fact, what WOULD Jesus do? This prompt is a guide, a rule of thumb, it never provides exact answers - unless we seek to feed a throng with a miracle, or be crucified and reincarnated, or are generally living 2000 years ago in a biblical society while being God's chosen son.
  The question of values entirely permeates Dave's article and this attempted analysis, so I will end by considering it.

Conclusion: The Question of Values

  "Thus are the Judeo-Christian moral values that formed the very foundation and substance of Western culture for the past three millennia all swept away on a delicious tide of manufactured emotion. And believe me, skilled directors and actors can manufacture emotion by the truckload. It's what they do for a living."
  Yes, Dave does at one small point, mid-way through the article, gesture towards the elephant in his living room. People have different values - some people actually try to choose to know what is right, not everyone merely accepts what a film tells them. And it is because of these differing values that he complains so. Many people consider homosexuality and heterosexuality to be equivalent and for both to be normal.
  Heterosexual and homosexuals can both have loving, mature, sexual relationships. There is a remarkable similarity between their relationships and their lives and experiences. This is evident, and I do not need to emphasise it. Tellingly, Dave has not actually challenged this similarity head-on. He has not proven that gay people are made of slime, or that 'normal' Christian families cannot give birth to them. He has merely surmised that God hates them, that they are unnatural. I imagine that he would make much of the fact that they do not have a 1:1 vagina:penis ratio, and that they cannot have children. Neither can many heterosexual couples. I'm afraid sex is nowadays more pleasure than babies, in fact having lots of children is often seen as a terrible vice.
  At one point in the article, Dave says: "OK, I'll bite. Let's talk about love. The critics call "Brokeback Mountain" a "pure" and "magnificent" love story. Do we really want to call such an obsession – especially one that destroys marriages and is based on constant lies, deceit and neglect of one's children – "love"?" What he really needs to do is to prove his premises - is gay love an obsession? Heterosexual love is often obsessive too, and he is not challenging it. Heterosexual love also destroys marriages and can be based on lies deceit neglect. He does not challenge this love. Neither does he show that homosexual love must involve these things. However, an intolerant society can, in fact, try to make sure that homosexual love must involve things through bullying and intimidation. What should he really be speaking out against?

  So what it comes down to is cold, hard, ungraspable values, ones that are in opposition. How can we understand this battle? How must we understand it in order to have a healthy society? This is really my concern - how we are masking and hiding our values in all this argumentation and debate, how we try to take our values and wield them against other values in a way that makes our own look like actual truth. Case in point: a book called Brainwashed : How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth, a right-wing polemic against higher learning. Is his book not in itself indoctrination? Is he really telling the facts or is he imposing his values on them as he writes? The real problem with our society, and the real problem with Dave, is that now it is our values that we must hide. It is values that we do not tolerate. We do not tolerate the values of others, and we do not tolerate our own being seen for what they are. We are evasive about the own illusory nature of our ideologies. What Dave, and those like him, are doing is to call their values truth, and to take the values of others and make them mere 'marketing', or 'propaganda', or those 'agendas' and 'conspiracies'.
  This is not conducive to debate. It is not conducive to self-understanding or the understanding of others, or of humanity, or of the world. It is a convenient lie to indenture our own sense of rightness to support our argument. Why should people hold to a believe when it is merely a 'propaganda' or 'conspiracy' in the first place? If normal people are being convinced, as Dave contends, by films, who then started to make them? Did they do so because they wished to be perverse, or because they were willingly sinful? It must be simply that Satan and his henchman invented homosexuality, and Ang Lee. This is an entirely alien view of the world to me, and I unironically pray for the day that it is finally vanquished.
  The reason that such films are made is because, rightly or wrongly, people have been convinced to support certain values towards and about it. This involves rhetoric, argumentation, 'trickery'; but also questioning the world, observation, honest thought. It is not because we have been indoctrinated, otherwise everyone who accepts gay love would be easily 'de-indoctrinated' by watching Green Card a few times.
And the reason that Dave writes these articles is because that he cannot accept that people would really hold values that are against his own, and he is fearfully defensive. He denies the possibility that people have chosen to support homosexuality for any valid reason, and mumbles about propaganda having taken over their minds. It is the only way he can imagine that people would believe differently from him. But I think we have entirely valid reasons for believing differently.

  Admit your values. Question them and allow others to. They are, in the end, always going to be based, shakily, in a human past that can't quite be uncovered. They mean something divisive and contrary we don't fully understand. You must try to choose them, rather than learn them. You can never be certain they are right. People differ from you, but often for the very same reasons that you don't differ from you. What does this mean? If you don't want to ask this question, pretend that your values are the truth, and everything else is a conspiracy, an agenda, simple propaganda, and allow your world and understanding to be all the poorer.