I consider it slightly odd that a film website as august as Moving Image Source would devote so much space to a consideration of Ross Douthat, a young triple-dealing conservative shill whose only lasting contribution to cultural and political discourse is the coinage of the phrase "chunky Reese Witherspoon." But MIS contributor Tom McCormack has given the matter of Douthat some thought, and while he drops a few howlers along the way ("Douthat has an impressive knowledge of American cinema that stretches all the way back to the 1970s," holy shit!), he winds up making the case he wants to make, so good for him. And his final point, which is that Douthat is, well, a triple-dealing conservative shill who's so full of shit that he can commend the depiction of the cardboard commies in Red Dawn and then turn around and tsk-tsk the terribly nuance-lacking portrait of Spanish fascism in Pan's Labyrinth is, while hardly surprising, or anything but self-evident, correct. And if you think Douthat's bad in this category, try reading the guy on birth control some time.
Anyway, the passage in McCormack's piece that gave me somewhat more considerable pause was this one: "Douthat's most significant talent, though, isn't verbal dexterity but his ability to draw out a movie's underlying ideology. This is a rare gambit among journalist film critics. With the exception of Armond White and J. Hoberman, most film critics consider it oddly infra dig to mention politics too directly, as if doing so might sully their prose with the grime of cultural studies departments."
Well. Given that Douthat's movie-reviewing largely occurs in National Review, and that "Hollyweird Is Leftist" is pretty much an article of faith in those parts, the tenor of his readings hardly surprises. And I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that from what I can glean, many if not most of the other film critics working professionally today locate their politics somewhere to the left of Douthat's. But I rather doubt that they don't mention politics too directly because they consider it beneath their dignity. I think they avoid it largely because it's boring. Or, rather, because it would be boring, or it would get boring.
Before I explain why, let me first look at the two other critics McCormack cites. J. Hoberman is, of course, a critic I revere and a human bring I admire. His particular approach draws on ideological investigation, a breadth of aesthetic knowledge, a playful enthusiasm for making disparate connections, and a wry, engaged sense of humor; he weaves all these elements together with a genuine sophistication. While he deeply deplores genuine cruelty, he would never stoop to the genuinely naive fake outrage that Douthat whips out when considering the Hostel films. As for White, he is easily disposed of; his politics and his readings of film politics are incoherent, dribblingly neurotic bordering on the lunatic; just another channel for his never-ending stream of personal resentments.
To my mind the greatest politically-inclined critic was the late Robin Wood, who was unstinting and unsparing in pointing out how not only movies but movie critics were in some sense enslaved to the dominant ideology. The fulminations of the Big Hollywood idiots notwithstanding, almost 100 percent of mainstream film product does, in some crucial respect, if not serve, than at least pay fealty to the dominant ideology. Most professional film critics are employed by companies/institutions whose very existence is, in some way, reliant on the upholding of the dominant ideology. I understand that there's at least one juicy academic paper to be written on the new film Wanderlust, to which I link to my review below. The movie genially lampoons communal life without any thought-out examination of the actual reasons why it might be "better" than the urban rat race its characters are trying to escape from. Its resolution involves a kind of balancing act between two "competing" modes of life that in actuality cannot exist in tandem. It's a fairy tale.
I didn't get into this too thoroughly in my review not because I thought it would be "infra dig" for me to do so. It was because, first off, I don't have unlimited space; second off, or close to first off, having seen the film on a Tuesday evening and needing to file in order for the review to post on a Thursday, I didn't have time to work out my observations about this into a satisfactorily cogent form. And third off, for the purposes of both the audience I'm addressing and my making a living, the observation is kind of beside the point. I don't wanna go "we are all prostitutes" on y'all, because that's not what I believe, but I do believe that I'm working in a system that's in a sense the definition of the dominant ideology. The dominant ideology is our water, so to speak. Douthat, whose conservatism is at odds not just with the post-modern but the modern, can choose to ignore the fact that a particular wrinkle in the dominant ideology of late capitalism is precisely what enables the deviations from conservatism that he finds so objectionable; this is one of the ways he gets to be triple-dealing. For those of us on a different end of the spectrum, digging too deep into the dominant ideology would get pretty damn tedious. I try to imagine what my life would be like if I spent it, say, pointing out how hetero-normative almost EVERYTHING was. You see what I'm saying. And the other reason is, of course, that there's a limit to how much I'm REALLY interested in rocking the boat. Douthat can "rock" the boat all he wants; his masters/allies own it, after all.