Easy moralism

Two quick things about this op-ed by Ross Douthat. First, he has an extremely shallow view of liberalism's moral theory:

Don’t laugh. No contemporary figure has done more than Apatow, the 41-year-old auteur of gross-out comedies, to rebrand social conservatism for a younger generation that associates it primarily with priggishness and puritanism. No recent movie has made the case for abortion look as self-evidently awful as “Knocked Up,” Apatow’s 2007 keep-the-baby farce. No movie has made saving — and saving, and saving — your virginity seem as enviable as “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” whose closing segue into connubial bliss played like an infomercial for True Love Waits

I know, liberalism doesn't have a specific moral theory.  But it does involve moral stuff, etc.  Douthat seems to think it's all about hooking up.  Really.  Now having said that, he also doesn't get the joke he just set up:

Both “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” were designed to hit this worldview’s sweet spot. There were threads of darkness in both stories, but for the most part they made their moralism look appealing by making it look relatively easy.

Still a virgin in middle age? Not to worry — you’ll find a caring, foxy woman who’s been waiting her whole life for an awkward, idealistic guy like you. Pregnant from a drunken one-night stand? Good news — the oaf who knocked you up will turn out to be a decent guy, and you’ll be able to keep the baby and your career as a rising entertainment-news anchorwoman. Frittering away your life on porn and pot? Fear not — your wasted twenties won’t stop you from being a great dad.

Seems like that's part of the joke, I mean, the easy moralism–it's fun and funny to watch the stoner try to be a dad, but seriously folks, that's the joke (sorry stoners–no offense).

10 thoughts on “Easy moralism”

  1. There is a danger to presenting an unrealistic worldview that idolizes “hooking up” to teens though.  I mean an adult gets that it’s funny because it’s surrealist, but at times it gets a bit “too real” (especially in Knocked Up) for it to appear that this is intended as pure comedy.  Slipping world views into comedy has become one of the latest trends in the propaganda wars of politics, and recognition of this is not in any way an indication of a lack of understanding of comedy.

  2. 1.  Movies have ratings for a reason.

    2.  The claim “Slipping world views into comedy has become one of the latest trends in the propaganda wars of politics, and recognition of this is not in any way an indication of a lack of understanding of comedy.” certainly misses the point of comedy as people have been using it since ancient Greece.

  3. It doesn’t matter what the movie is rated, it matters who it is marketed to, and these movies were marketed to teens.  To your second point, I did not meant to imply that the use of comedy as a means of stating what one can not say seriously without ridicule was a recent development.  I was stating that one should be aware that comedy for comedy’s sake is not always so, and more often then not political satire or ideologically charged comedy will find ways to present views that one might find questionable.  Stating outright what those views are (which is what Ross Douthat attempted to do here) is commendable, as the rating system is ambiguous at best.  After all there is no rating saying, “Will present of a view of sex that minimizes the consequences of promiscuity and presents individuals who build their dreams around porn and weed as normal people.”

  4. I think I got your point about comedy–it’s just terrifically wrong.  Comedy has always been about politics and about stating “questionable” views or whatever–that’s not some kind of new development, that’s what comedy has always been.  (This is not to say that there are forms, of course, of comedy that have nothing to do with social commentary).  Comedy may present social commentary you don’t agree with, but so what?

  5. I’m not decrying comedy, or saying that people shouldn’t have the right to express their views through it (far from it.)  I’m saying that when one criticizes the views presented in a comedy, the defense of “It’s only comedy” is not a defense at all, as you have said comedy is often meant for social commentary.  And because of the nature of comedic representations, there are many criticisms that work as comedy, when a serious argument would have no rational footing.  Thus, the danger of comedy is that in can cheapen a serious discussion, while it still has the power to influence people’s perception of serious issues.  I am not against comedy, I am saying that when one (in this case Douthat) criticizes comedy, by taking the views presented in one seriously, that is a valid argument for why one might dislike a comedy.  I am simply stating that people should not ignore the potential didactic affects of comedy and applaud Douthat for implying as much.

  6. 1.  You seem to imply Douthat criticized the Apatow movies when he, in fact, endorsed their message, as he (mistakenly) understood them.

    2.  Everyone knows comedy can make a political point.  You’re right “it’s just comedy” is no defense.

    3.  Not liking the views a comedy expresses seems to be an ok reason for not liking it. 

  7. Yes, the questionable thing seemed to me to be that Douthat takes the “conservative” message as the message of the film, and then suggests that this is a “rebranding of conservatism.” Now I don’t deny that we can read the films in this way, but the idea that this is a rebranding of conservativism seems a bit stretched. You might was well read The Breakfast Club as a rebranding of Marxist class war since lower class kid gets the rich girl at the end. Sure, you can say that, but does anyone really need to pay you that big fat salary to say that?
    And, to the degree that Douthat seems to be taking this as some sort of knock-down refutation of the core moral principles of liberalism, his column goes from the uninteresting to the fallacious.

  8. I guess I’m not really seeing how Douthat is trying to use the films to bash liberal or leftist values here, or insinuate that it’s all about “hooking up.”  He never actually uses the term “hook-up” or democrat, left or liberal in his article.  Well he does say that we have liberal divorce laws, but that’s it (and I’m not sure I agree with that assertion.  yes in New York state, but not everywhere.)  Where are you seeing this?

  9. I think it’s fairly obvious that Douthat brands any kind of non-licentious and abortive sexual mores is the very definition of conservative values, that means liberal sexual mores are fairly described as one-night-stands, non-virginity, and abortions.  There is also a link which itself includes links to his other writings on matters of sexuality, etc.

  10. What’s really going on? Is a filmmaker like Apatow grabbing a conservative message and presenting it as a comedy? Or are various conservatives trying to claim universal “family values” as “conservative values”, causing Douthat to become confused. If a columnist accepted in a knee-jerk fashion the pretense that marriage, family, child-rearing, fidelity, responsibility, etc., are “conservative values”, concluding that “liberals” must necessarily believe in the opposite, it’s easy to see how Apatow’s films (or, for that matter, pretty much any Hollywood film) would confuse him. Never mind that it sometimes seems that, although great at “talking the talk”, a lot of “family values conservatives” walk the walk in the manner of a drunken sailor.

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