The plot against leakage

Frank Rich has written another excellent article about the moral values scare.

He notes that a PBS affiliate in NY has rejected an add for the movie Kinsey because of the film’s “controversial” subject matter. This is not unlike the reaction of the NYT in 1948 who refused to carry ads for Kinsey’s breakthrough study, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male. Another public broadcaster refused to allow a women’s group to use the phrase “reproductive rights” in an on air announcement. And of course no one will carry the United Church of Christ’s ad welcoming gay couples to its congregations.

Such rapid-fire postelection events are conspiring to make “Kinsey” a bellwether cultural event of this year. When I first saw the movie last spring prior to its release, it struck me as an intelligent account of a half-forgotten and somewhat quaint chapter in American social history….Such history, which seemed ancient only months ago, has gained in urgency since Election Day. As politicians and the media alike pander to that supposed 22 percent of “moral values” voters, we’re back where we came in….But not unlike Philip Roth’s “Plot Against America,” which transports us back to an American era overlapping that of “Kinsey,” this movie, however unintentionally, taps into anxieties that feel entirely contemporary. That Channel 13 would even fleetingly balk at “Kinsey” as The Times long ago did at the actual Kinsey is not a coincidence.

Rich goes onto note that the “pop cultural revolution” begun in Kinsey’s era is in no danger but that the reaction to these cultural texts is indicative of more insidious measures being implemented in health care and eductaion.

No matter what the censors may accomplish elsewhere, the pop culture revolution since Kinsey’s era is in little jeopardy: in a nation of “Desperate Housewives,” “Too Darn Hot” has become the national anthem. A movie like “Kinsey” will do just fine; the more protests, the more publicity and the larger the box office. But if Hollywood will always survive, off-screen Americans are being damaged by the cultural war over sex that is being played out in real life. You see that when struggling kids are denied the same information about sexuality that was kept from their antecedents in the pre-Kinsey era; you see that when pharmacists in more and more states enforce their own “moral values” by refusing to fill women’s contraceptive prescriptions and do so with the tacit or official approval of local officials; you see it when basic information that might prevent the spread of lethal diseases is suppressed by the government because it favors political pandering over scientific fact; you see it when basic information that might prevent the spread of lethal diseases is suppressed by the government because it favors political pandering over scientific fact.

Although Rich calls his article “The Plot Against Sex in America” it is not just sex that is under attack. The folks over at Crooked Timber have been discussing the film adaption of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and note a London Times interview with the director where he says the anti-religious overtones will be cut from the film version of the book. The battle against an evil all powerful church is essential to Pullman’s novel. But according to the Times:

Chris Weitz, the director, has horrified fans by announcing that references to the church are likely to be banished in his film. Meanwhile the “Authority”, the weak God figure, will become “any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual”. The studio wants alterations because of fears of a backlash from the Christian Right in the United States…

Weitz made these controversial remarks in an interview with, one of the many His Dark Materials fan sites. He said: “New Line is a company that makes films for economic returns. You would hardly expect them to be anything else. My job is to get the film made in such a way that the spirit of the piece is carried through to the screen and to do that I must contend with the fears of the studio.

“Needless to say, all my best efforts will be directed towards keeping the work as liberating and iconoclastic an experience as I can. But there may be some modification of terms. You will probably not hear of the church, but you will hear of the Magisterium. Those who will understand will understand.”

He said that he shared Pullman’s view that the Authority could represent any repressive establishment — political, totalitarian, fundamentalist or communist. “This gives me a certain amount of leeway in navigating the very treacherous issues that beset adapting His Dark Materials for the screen.

Meanwhile the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the European film industry is not being cowed.

Films about euthanasia, abortion and the hardships of immigrant life bagged the top prizes at the 17th European Film Awards today.

Head-On, about a young Turkish woman in Germany who escapes her strict Muslim home through a difficult marriage with an older man, won the best film award in the competition dubbed the “European Oscars”.

Spaniard Javier Bardem won the best actor prize for his role as a paralysed man who fought for three decades for the right to die in The Sea Inside, a true story.

Briton Imelda Staunton took the best actress statuette for her turn as a working-class mother who performs illegal abortions in the harrowing drama Vera Drake.

What is interesting in all these instances is the play of resistances. Kinsey, Pullman, Vera Drake are certainly “cultural bellwethers” as Rich suggests. But they produce resistance largely because they represent “leakage” – neither the message of the moral values crusaders nor the message of change makers can be easily contained. Any notion of consensus reality or dominant ideology is much more fluid than either of those two terms suggests. Even Weitz explicitly states that he intends to produce the Pullman film in such a way as its ambiguities leak a range of messages.

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