Is it just me, or has social justice activism in the United States recently turned its extremism up to eleven? Take just one example, on the subject of differences between men and women:
- Google fires James Damore for pointing out that there are biological differences between men and women (link) that could explain the lack of female programmers in the industry.
- Twitter bans a user for asserting that men aren’t women (link).
- Teenage males are allowed to compete in the female events at Connecticut track meets, as long as they self-identify as female (link).
I have always been grateful that little of that madness occurs in Ottawa believing that it is too staid a city in too staid a country. However, my faith was shaken last Saturday (November 24, 2018) by the publication in the Ottawa Citizen of a ‘woke’ critique of Love Actually, a film that was released in 2003.
First some background. Love Actually is a chick flick. That means no CGI, no car chases, no Bruce Willis taking out a helicopter with a car (Yes he does! It’s awesome! Film-making at its finest! In Live Free of Die Hard. See this short clip).
But even with three strikes against it, I reluctantly agreed to watch it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. And I loved it! It is a heartwarming Christmas movie that follows the path of love of a dozen different characters. Everything is so well done: the multiple story lines, the acting, the dialogue….
Digression: I love the shock of recognition I get when an actor that I know in one role appears in another, completely different role. Love Actually is a cornucopia of those shocks:
- Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead (Andrew Lincoln in real-life) plays a young man who is hopelessly in love with the wife of a friend.
- Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit (Martin Freeman in real-life) plays a porn star.
- Hans Gruber, the villain in Die Hard (my favourite Christmas Movie) (Alan Rickman in real life), plays a hapless philandering husband.
- Victor, the Vampire leader of the Underworld Series (Bill Nighy in real-life) plays a washed-up pop star (and wins a BAFTA for his efforts!)
But it seems that I, and most everyone else who has seen it, have missed the point. It isn’t a fluffy, feel-good romantic comedy where love mostly triumphs. It’s ‘actually about the normalization of winking, sexist, violent attitudes towards women‘. At least according to John M. Richardson, who wrote the aforementioned criticism of it.
Unsolicited advice: Lighten up Mr. Richardson! It’s a holiday movie.
To summarize his criticism, he identifies several different harassment triggers, ranging from Hugh Grant quipping “Now who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?” (clearly declaring open season for sexual innuendo and exploitation in the workplace) to Alan Rickman saying “and advise the girls to avoid Kevin if they want their breasts unfondled” (clearly describing a toxic workplace that is a hotbed of ongoing sexual assaults). He sanctimoniously ends his screed with “As our thoughts turn toward the holiday season, it’s time for viewers to level a critical eye towards movies we watch with our families. The sexism on offer in holiday classics such as Love Actually just isn’t funny“.
Spoiler: Wrong! It’s not even close to being sexist, and Yes it is funny!
- This critique reminds me of the Victoria City Council’s decision to remove a statue of John A. MacDonald because of his support for the residential school system (link). Social activism has apparently reached the point where all the good in a person or a movie is completely negated by any hint of impropriety, regardless of the contortions needed to find it. Where is Mr. Richardson’s sense of proportion?
- Where does it end? Does a movie exist that is sufficiently non-sexist for social justice warriors? How about Barney?
- There is injustice in the world: corruption in the United Nations, misery in Africa, the Paris Climate Agreement, etc. And this is Mr. Richardson’s priority? His hill to die on is perceived sexism in a fifteen year old movie?
- Mr. Richardson is a high school teacher who decided to watch this movie because his students told him that it was their favorite Christmas movie. So he decides to review it through a dour uncharitable lens and correct their wrong-thinking. It’s a good example of pissing in their cornflakes.
To circle back to the original point of this post, I fear that the publication of this article signals the arrival of American-style extremism to Ottawa, and uncharitable critiques of things that brings joy, comfort and happiness to the unwoked will become the norm. I don’t want that to happen.