It’s been a melancholy summer for social conservatives. Their movement is fighting a rearguard battle in Barack Obama’s Washington. A cluster of family-values politicians — some of whom bunked down in the same Christian-sponsored D.C. townhouse — have spent the last few months confessing to extramarital affairs. And Sarah Palin ... well, you know how that’s turned out so far.
It's funny how the words "adultery" and "lose" are left out of this lament. Sarah Palin is greedy and not very bright. McCain could have picked someone less greedy and more intelligent, but--surprise!--McCain is greedy and not bright enough as well. Sixty percent of Republicans aren't sure or don't believe the evidence that President Obama is American. They are either too stupid to believe evidence or deliberately stupid so they will not have to question their beliefs. Conservatives are, understandably, very upset at being told that they are stupid, but since they can't change they can't learn and are forced to repeat their mistakes into infinity. When you won't let yourself learn from experience because it makes you feel bad about yourself you don't become smarter or wiser or more experienced or more tolerant. You stay stupid.
Speaking of the stupid:
Worst of all, nobody likes Judd Apatow’s new movie.
Don’t laugh. No contemporary figure has done more than Apatow, the 41-year-old auteur of gross-out comedies, to rebrand social conservatism for a younger generation that associates it primarily with priggishness and puritanism. No recent movie has made the case for abortion look as self-evidently awful as “Knocked Up,” Apatow’s 2007 keep-the-baby farce. No movie has made saving — and saving, and saving — your virginity seem as enviable as “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” whose closing segue into connubial bliss played like an infomercial for True Love Waits.
“We make extremely right-wing movies with extremely filthy dialogue,” Seth Rogen, Apatow’s favorite leading man, told an interviewer during the promotional blitz for “Knocked Up.” He was half-joking, of course, and it’s safe to say that you won’t see Apatow and his merry men at the next Christian Coalition fundraiser. But the one-liner got something important right. By marrying raunch and moralism, Apatow’s movies have done the near impossible: They’ve made an effectively conservative message about relationships and reproduction seem relatable, funny, down-to-earth and even sexy.
Aptow believes that loving his wife and valuing his family make him conservative. So does Douthat. That's a very self-flattering portrayal which just happens to leave out everything in Aptow's movies that conservatives see as signs of the Apocalypse: premarital sex, drug use, profanity, divorce, homosexuality, and an almost complete lack of religion in the lives of its characters. But hey, the main characters in the movies marry in the end (and when do they ever do that in Hollywood movies?), so the movies are conservative--as long as you ignore reality.
But there's a liberal snake in the garden, and it's dragging good conservatives straight to Hell.
More than most Westerners, Americans believe — deeply, madly, truly — in the sanctity of marriage. But we also have some of the most liberal divorce laws in the developed world, and one of the highest divorce rates. We sentimentalize the family, but boast one of the highest rates of unwed births. We’re more pro-life than Europeans, but we tolerate a much more permissive abortion regime than countries like Germany or France. We wring our hands over stem cell research, but our fertility clinics are among the least regulated in the world.
In other words, we’re conservative right up until the moment that it costs us.
Douthat's recommendation is, of course, more social shaming and punishment for moral transgressions. That's always his answer and that attitude plainly reveals his fundamental viewpoint: We are sinners and must be punished. This is a strangely un-Christian attitude. Jesus died for others' sins so they would not suffer. Douthat's Catholicism has a system of repentance and punishment for dealing with sins. Yet that's not enough for him. He wants his entire society to be as obsessed as he with sin and guilt and fear. He wants every facet of society to reinforce everything he believes, like all fundamentalists. He wants his personal view to be vindicated and triumphed at all times, and he has managed to convince The New York Freaking Times to do this for him. It's like hiring Jonah Goldberg as the president of Harvard or Megan McArdle as chief of the Fed. It's utterly inexcusable and ought to be an intellectual scandal.
With “Funny People,” though, Apatow is offering a more realistic morality play. This time, doing the right thing has significant costs — but you have to do it anyway. This time, doing the wrong things for too long has significant consequences — and you have to live with them. It’s the first Apatow film in which love doesn’t conquer all. And it’s the first Apatow film in which you get punished for your sins.
In that sense, “Funny People” is the most conservative of all his movies. That’s probably what American audiences don’t like about it. But it’s what makes this film his best work yet.
Aptow grew up the unhappy child of divorce and made two movies about lonely people who long for families. Wanting a family and wanting to be a good spouse and parent is not solely a conservative desire, and it's vain and self-indulgent to declare that only your tribe is moral or has good values. Somehow Douthat manages to ignore those sins while looking for others.