Why Does Preachy/Safe Book and Movie Writing Fail So Badly?

Okay… I’m going to try to put a stop to this, because my focus on movie writing lately has taken my blog WAY off topic, almost to the point of Hollywood Advocacy, and it needs to stop. So hopefully this will be the end of it. However, there were some things that I needed to get off of my chest about the effects of political correctness, ‘safe writing’, etc. and movies are perhaps the more glaring examples… thankfully!

Anyway, here goes. I covered this a little in my topic ‘Why do we cater to Political Correctness in our Writing?‘ but I wanted to delve into this a little more. Think about it. Look at the movies and books that are overly politically correct, that cater to Social Justice demographics, and are extremely preachy in their message. Name one that really did all that well… Can you? Maybe I don’t see enough movies or read enough, because I can’t.

Now, let’s go and take a look at movies that weren’t ‘safe’ and weren’t necessary politically correct, and trusted their audiences to make their own determination…

Well, that’s easy for me. Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre Dame tops the kid’s movies list. Think about it, it’s dark, it deals with Christianity and the Christian God… which is something we don’t usually see in visual media much any more. Think about it, the main characters came under the protection of the church, and it’s even because a priest steps in that the Hunchback even survives!
The movie goes even further, prejudice against gypsies, hypocritical blind faith, lust and the dark side of desire, murder, and even genocide  are prevalent themes of the movie. It is edgy, interesting, and an absolutely beautiful film which still remains very high on my favorite movies list.

When this movie came out, was it panned by critics? Did people flock to social justice for protection? Hell no, the movie was a critical success and became the 5th highest grossing film of 1996. The audiences absolutely loved it! Heck, some even went so far as to say that the movie didn’t go far enough with the dark themes that are in the original source material.

Another good example? Well this one is a little more obscure, but Nuremberg, starring Alec Baldwin is a little-known gem that can be watched on Youtube. Too often today, we see historical bad guys needlessly over-vilified in order to drive the point home that they’re the bad guys. (Japanese pilots firing on the Hospital in ‘Pearl Harbor,’ which didn’t actually happen, is a perfect example of this). Nuremberg was the story of the trials surrounding the top Nazi’s that survived the war, and focused greatly on Hermann Goering. I’ve seen many movies that deal with this subject, and one thing that makes this movie different from so many of the others… is that not only do they humanize Goering, but they actually make him likable. Seriously, if you didn’t have the historical context of what he and the Nazi Party of WW2 were responsible for, you might actually find yourself hoping that this character is found innocent.
To be clear, they don’t do this to try to deny the Holocaust or try to downplay how evil this people were, far from it. The movie shows them, in my opinion, as they were. When I think of Nazis, I don’t think of vicious killers covered in blood running around like barbarians… well… okay I don’t think of the top Nazi officials and High-Ranking officers that way. No, I think of them as charming, soft-spoken, deceptively polite, manipulative, and even on some level, even likable. I know that sounds awful, and it is, but think about it… how did the Nazis come to power? Did they seize control? Did they attack the Reich in a violent coup and take control of the government? No, they tried that and failed. They actually took over almost completely legally through voting and politics. You cannot accomplish this by being a rude, hard-lining barbarian. You have to suave, you have to be likable, and you have to be able to be able to bring people over to your side. That is how this movie portrays them. It let’s you see things from their perspective, it let’s you develop a relationship with these characters because it trusts its audiences to remember that, even though Goering can suck you in with his charm, he was still an evil, despicable, man who was responsible for the deaths of literally millions of innocent people.

So the question then is… why do safe movies that cater to the Social Justice crowd fail, often overly politically correct, fail so miserably? Honestly… It’s because they don’t respect their audience! They don’t trust their audience to be able to handle controversial subjects and fear the threat of backlash. It’s sad, but that’s how it goes. People go to the movies for an escape, they want to be drawn in to fantasy worlds and allowed to use their minds to a certain extent while following the story. Unfortunately, too often, that’s not what we get…

Think about it… Do you think Disney would put out a movie like ‘Bambi’ today? Would they really risk showing the scene that launched a thousand tears with Bambi’s Mom getting killed? Well… maybe, but I somehow doubt it. That was a different time. At that point, the studios trusted their audiences. They trusted children to be able to handle things like that and respected them to be able to process it instead of coddling them like ‘pweshous widdle snowfwakes,’ but what’s more, they trusted us parents to be able to raise our kids and put everything into context so that they know, ‘Okay yes, it’s terrible, it’s awful, but that’s life. Yes it’s bad, but it’s something that happens.’ instead of sending them angry letters saying ‘Don’t show our kids bad stuff, we don’t actually want to have to parent them!’
Today? If you need proof that studios like Disney don’t trust their audience to put things into context, look at ‘Song of the South.’
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I own one of the few legal VHS copies that pop up from Europe on Ebay every now and again and I can honestly say that the movie is harmless. It’s a pleasant little story, dealing with mythos and the stories passed down by freed slaves in the south. Again, it doesn’t hold back. It speaks of race relations and shows the difference in living conditions and status of the different races during The Reconstruction Era… and Disney refuses to release it. Why? Because they view it to be racially insensitive and are concerned about backlash. The problem here? YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO RACIALLY SENSITIVE WHEN YOU’RE DOING A PERIOD PIECE!! If you’re going to do a movie about the Reconstructionist South, you’re going to be showing racism. You’re going to be showing black poverty and the different in living conditions. You’re going to show racial epithets… and you know what? Even in a kids movie, you shouldn’t be ashamed of that! Let us show the movie to our kids and put everything into context, TRUST US TO DO THIS!

As for the controversy surrounding this movie and the fear of backlash? What backlash? The movie received mixed reviews and the only complaint of racism came from Walter Francis White, the executive secretary of the NAACP:

“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognizes in “Song of the South” remarkable artistic merit in the music and in the combination of living actors and the cartoon technique. It regrets, however, that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the north or south, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery. Making use of the beautiful Uncle Remus folklore, “Song of the South” unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”

Okay, now my own opinions of the continued relevancy of the NAACP aside, White later admitted that he’d never even seen the damn movie! So there goes the backlash. One complaint from an ill-informed individual, who wound up making himself look like a fool.

Did Gone with the Wind face the same criticism? Did it fail? No, it’s a time-honored classic? Okay then.

Moving on…

The other reason these things fail is because people don’t like being preached to. We don’t like being told what to think and how to do things. We read stories and go to the movies to have fun and get a little vacation from reality. I cite an example that happened to me a few years ago…

When District 9 came out in theaters, it was advertised as  Sci-Fi movie, that was on par with Star Wars. The trailers certainly backed this up and the marketing was great, so I went to see it… The result was a grotesque movie that was essentially a metaphorical docudrama of Apartheid. I was furious. I tried to give the movie a chance, but couldn’t. It was horribly written, unbelievable, and completely unforgivable. I marched out half way through the movie and demanded my money back. The manager came out and talked to me, trying to explain away why he can’t give me my money back. I told him that the movie was falsely advertised as a science fiction movie and there  was no mention of a political documentary and I wanted my money back. In the end, they gave it to me… mostly I think to shut me up.

This is what I’m talking about… if you wanted to make the movie as a political metaphor, fine, great, TELL US! Don’t trick us and then preach at us. People don’t like that. The movie had a good premise, but unfortunately went to a director who is known for his one-note stories that deal strictly with class warfare and apartheid. It shows you one side of everything and does not give the audience a chance to make any decision for themselves. No, you’re going to sympathize with the Aliens without any thought to ‘How did we get here, why are we at this point?’
No, we’re given a narrative story, told how to feel, and given no opportunity to decide anything for ourselves.

Sadly, things like this have been happening for a while now… so why am I so vehement about it? Well because when we don’t let the younger generation deal with Bambi’s death, when we aren’t respected enough to be able to take care of our families and think for ourselves … that’s when the thought police and the disrespectful coddling become relevant and even more so PREVALENT in our society… I don’t even want to think about what the end result will be when people who have been treated this way, or those who have been raised this way, attempt to stand on their own two feet against a cruel world when they’ve never been given the chance to even grow strong legs.

So what do you think, readers? Am I right, am I wrong, am I misguided? Let me know what you think, below…

Thanks!

(P.S. You may notice that I didn’t touch on the censorship of Mark Twain’s writing… well honestly, that’s because that is a separate issue all together, yes it touches on the points I made about people not being able to handle the terse language, but that’s dealing with more of a 1st Amendment issue and really I could write a full blog piece about that alone.)



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

You can also add me on Twitter!

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!
Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

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7 thoughts on “Why Does Preachy/Safe Book and Movie Writing Fail So Badly?

  1. Wonderful piece, and I agree completely.

    Like

  2. AlanMiller says:

    Thanks for posting. Can’t agree more. Haven’t seen Song of the South, it is however used as a common example of racism that no one can fact check cause so few copies exist.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. StCyril says:

    I actually enjoy the movie. It hasn’t aged well, mind you, but I love Uncle Remis, and the Briar Rabbit stories are engaging.

    … and yes, I have shown it to my oldest child.

    Like

  4. Very nice post and I agree. People are too sensitive nowadays. And I’ve never seen hunchback of notre dame so I had no idea it was a dark movie with religious themes. Definitely wanna watch it now

    Like

  5. I found this a most interesting and well balanced post.
    What bemuses me is that whereas there is such tippy-toing around the place in some cases, in others such a Saw, Clockwork Orange, Silence of the Lambs , Seven etc we are sort of expected not to mind the fact that the central characters are vicious, cruel , killers. True some of these are technically well crafted films, but the depiction of cruelty? Sorry not buying it (literally).
    The Goering aspect was interesting as amongst that group he was the most self-indulgent, not-very-bright, sybaritic character who popped in from time to time to make boastful claims he could not deliver. I could see how the film would work; must see it some time.
    Thanks again

    Like

  6. […] levels. First, people don’t like being preached at. I’ve covered this in a previous post. No one is going to read your book/watch your movie if you bad mouth them for their beliefs, or […]

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