Sunday, September 1, 2013

Blue Jasmine and the Butler

Last week I gave evidence of how American political, intellectual, and cultural elites have been brainwashing themselves through years of reading newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Equally effective in promoting an American ideology divorced from reality have been the film and TV industries.

A few weeks ago my wife and I saw “Blue Jasmine”, a critically acclaimed film written and directed by Woody Allen. I always think it dangerous when one person writes and directs a film. The result is often a personal vision that can be narrow and prejudiced. Blue Jasmine is a perfect example.

The film is the story of a formerly wealthy woman who has spent her life almost exclusively in Manhattan albeit with regular stays in the fashionable Hamptons. She has been married to a real estate mogul played very well by Alec Baldwin whose whole enterprise crumbles when he is revealed to be a Madoff like swindler. As the film progresses we also learn that the man has been regularly cheating on his wife. The wife is played brilliantly by Kate Blanchett who plays her as a completely self centered, even self absorbed neurotic. After her husband’s arrest the government confiscates practically all of their possessions and she decides to go to California to live with her sister.

Allen does a great job of depicting the Manhattan couple. Alec Baldwin is really believable and Kate Blanchett will probably win an Oscar for her starring role. However, Woody Allen seems to be totally clueless about the ordinary lives of people in the rest of the country. Jasmine’s sister and boyfriend are painted as crude stereotypes. It’s almost as if Laverne and Shirley and their friends had been resurrected. Maybe they were meant to be funny but their crudity only exposes Allen’s ignorance of and contempt for ordinary hard working human beings outside of Manhattan.

In a way Blue Jasmine reminded me of the old Seinfield show whose main characters seemed totally lost whenever they ventured outside of Manhattan. No matter if they traveled to nearby Long Island or faraway California (is there anything in between?), they seemed to be in a foreign country. Writer Allen draws his non-Manhattan characters not from experience but from TV sitcoms.

In a similar fashion, the recently released film about the long career of a White House butler seems to have made a cruel mockery of the career of an ordinary man and his wife. I must admit that I have not seen the film that has opened to rave reviews and has attracted large box office receipts. But what I have read makes me want to avoid it.

The film stars Oprah Winfrey and is based on the career of a real butler in the White House. Whoever was responsible for the film felt it necessary to take liberties with the real life story. Michael Reagan, the son of President Ronald Reagan, was critical of the film because of its depiction of his father but also because of the way it had to twist the story of this hard working black man. Here is an excerpt from Reagan’s commentary where he contrasts the life of the real butler to the fictional life portrayed in the film.
Guess which one grew up in segregated Virginia, got a job at the White House and rose to become maitre d'hotel, the highest position in White House service? 
Guess which one had a happy, quiet life and was married to the same woman for 65 years? And who had one son who served honorably in Vietnam and never made a peep of protest through the pre- and post civil rights era?

Now guess which butler grew up on a Georgia farm, watched the boss rape his mother, and then, when his father protested the rape, watched the boss put a bullet through his father's head?
Guess which butler feels the pain of America's racial injustices so deeply that he quits his White House job and joins his son in a protest movement? 
And guess which butler has a wife (Oprah Winfrey) who becomes an alcoholic and has a cheap affair with the gut next door?

In other words, the life of an ordinary man and woman who were loyal to each other for 65 years was not of interest to the makers of this film. They could not see the drama and emotion in a faithful marriage. Neither could they see the heroism of a man who did his job well and served his country faithfully for so many years without complaint. The cultural ideologues cannot understand a man like that.

This Labor Day weekend I tried to think of films or TV shows that have depicted the life of ordinary working men and women. It is very difficult. Hollywood doesn’t know them or else only holds them up to contempt and ridicule.

Eugene Allen, the real Butler with President and Mrs. Reagan


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