What Constitutes a Conservative Film?

Ed. Note: Please welcome longtime commenter Andrew Price to the front page. — JN

It may sound strange to assert that many conservatives don’t understand what makes a film conservative, but the evidence is all over the web. More and more conservative websites are listing their top conservative films, but few of the films they list can actually be considered conservative. It’s as if they just picked films they like and then struggled to find something. . . anything they could call conservative within each film.

Indeed, you’d be amazed how many people identify leftist propaganda as conservative because “that film rocked” or because it has a tough guy or advocates revenge. When was conservatism ever about revenge? And many are mistaking errant lines of dialog for conservative themes. . . a serial-killing, eco-terrorist Marxist does not become a conservative hero just because he spouts off that he doesn’t trust the federal government to provide quality health care.

So what are conservative values?

Well, surprisingly, this is where people get lost. Many simply want to attribute everything good to conservatism and everything bad to liberalism. Others claim things like patriotism, bravery, and even religious belief as conservative values. But these aren’t uniquely conservative values. Indeed, many liberals have fought bravely and died for this country, and there are even leftist churches, and the truth is that both sides claim to believe in these things. . . they just see them differently. It’s in that difference where we need to look to decide whether a film is conservative.

To bottom-line it, conservatives believe in the individual over the collective but temper their belief in individuality by requiring people to act according to a code of conduct based on traditional morality. Liberals believe in the collective over the individual and, where they allow individuality, they disdain traditional morality or personal responsibility. Thus, uniquely conservative values tend to be centered around:

(1) faith in individual rights over collective rights,

(2) an acceptance of cause and effect, and a willingness to let people bear the good and bad consequences of their actions,

(3) an unwillingness to excuse misbehavior as something beyond the control of the individual, i.e. society made me do it,

(4) the idea that respect and dignity are earned, not a right, and must be maintained through appropriate behavior,

(5) a belief that truth is absolute, not relative,

(6) an acceptance of human nature as it is and not as something that can be changed by government tinkering, and

(7) support for rule of law over nebulous concepts of supposed “fairness.”

Hence, a film that advocates individual rights over collective rights will generally be conservative (e.g. 1984 or 1975’s Rollerball…. yes, Rollerball), as will films where characters learn they have to earn the respect of others (Drumline??) or where they accept individual responsibilities (The Blind Side).

But don’t look for just one aspect in isolation. To be a conservative film, a film must have conservative values deeply ingrained throughout the film. The positive characters must act according to those values and they must be rewarded for it. The film can’t mock conservative values or treat them as social outliers, and it can’t reinforce the leftist propagandized view of the world, e.g. minorities can’t succeed without the government, religion is a tool of oppression, capitalists are evil, etc.

And the key to deciding if a film does this is to look at how the film defines good and bad, i.e. what gets rewarded, what gets punished, and what does the film say about how we are supposed to solve our problems.

For example, a film about a character taking responsibility for their own life is probably conservative, especially if they are breaking out of a history of dependence on government to regain their lost human dignity. That’s a pretty powerful conservative message. But if the form of “responsibility” they choose is to become a thief, and the film rewards that behavior, then it’s not a conservative film. Even a film about a pedophile priest can be conservative, if they do the right thing with it. Showing how the priest has betrayed the true meaning of his religion could send a powerful conservative message, but slandering the religion because of the conduct of the priest would not.

Liberal films, by comparison, tend to be anti-conservative-bogeyman films (Avatar) or involve characters pushing for collectivist solutions (Norma Rae), usually government intervention (Erin Brockovich), and will excuse personal failure as somehow the result of societal pressures (Friday).

And don’t be fooled by the packaging. Liberal films often blur what their hero really wants to make their goals seem more conservative because audiences would react poorly to a character who is simply trying to get the government to step in. Hence, they present their heroes as brave individuals struggling single-handedly against all-powerful organizations (The China Syndrome) and they end the film the moment the hero is told they have won (Philadelphia). Yep, a real triumph for the individual! Only, what the victory actually entails (the part they don’t show) is that swarms of government bureaucrats will now descend and regulate the “all-powerful” organization. Thus, what they sell as David beats Goliath, is really David calls in Super Goliath to control Goliath.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of this issue. Hollywood defines modern American culture. There’s no escaping that. It influences the way people see the world, how they solve their problems and whom they look to for solutions. It is the parent that so many parents are not. And unless conservatives want Hollywood raising a generation of reflexive liberal thinkers, we need to depoliticize the film industry. The only way to do that is to support conservative films and reject liberal films to re-establish a balance. To do that, we must understand when a film is or is not conservative.

So what are your favorite conservative films? And what makes them conservative?