By David Beilstein
‘The facts of life,’ opined the late Lady Thatcher, ‘are conservative.’
So argued Kevin D Williamson’s piece in the latest issue of National Review, quoting Britain’s arch-conservative, in a review of FX television’s Justified — based on a novella, and several novels by Elmore “Dutch” Leonard. At 87, Leonard is the crime writer’s writer, always nuanced in his view of criminals and their sundry passions.
In his review, Williamson throws down the gauntlet that Justified is just one of many examples of long-form television displacing the medium of film in dramatic storytelling.
I must concur. I began noticing this soon before leaving Vermont for sunnier shores in Florida, bringing with me an allotment of television shows to study. My journey continued when entering film school — five years hence leaving Vermont’s frozen tundra.
The cost of feature films — and their demands for widest audience appeal — militate against in depth storytelling, typically. It is part of the drawback when the goal (for financial sake) becomes creating “something for everyone.”
Good storytelling rarely comes from such a premise.
But Williamson’s piece focuses in on even more salient wisdom. Much has been made of American culture, premised on a tawdry amount of progressive assumptions about our world.
The thinking goes,
“How do conservatives expect the culture to be blasted with progressive ideas, and then, every four years elect conservatives to high office?”
The assumption then becomes, quite reasonably, conservatives have to recapture the culture. But William’s piece goes another way — one I’m in agreement with.
Justified is, says Williams, subtly conservative. It is not based on preconceived ideological positions, but because it documents life truthfully (though dramatically) it submits to reality, thus is conservative.
We need more such cinematic entertainment. The call upon Hollywood should not be conservative propaganda, but cinematic literature, which upon reflection, meets the truth of life with more depth, more moral weight, than existing cinematic entertainment allows.
Television, uniquely, is becoming the place to realise such dramatic storytelling. National Review seems to be on tar these last few months. An article celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Lawrence of Arabia appeared a bit ago, labelling David Lean’s masterpiece, too, as uniquely conservative.
Watched closely, it is.
But it is not superficially “conservative”. Not the banal, vote for the G.O.P., conservatism. Lawrence, like Justified, is conservative in how right it gets people — their complexities, contradictions — ideals, verses actions.
Had the United States government watched Lawrence of Arabia a couple times prior to March of 2003, our nation’s sump into nation building in the heart of the Middle East might have been questioned with more vigour — or abandoned altogether for the obtainable goal of destruction of the enemy, rather than creator of democracies.