Why liberalism can triumph through film
The two things which are said about Liberalism currently; first, the right insists on a liberal/left wing elite; second, the media dictates that Liberalism is dying across the world, evidenced by Trump or Brexit. Neither is necessarily true. Indeed, there are a couple of arguments to suggest that these are massive inaccuracies. The origin of the first claim probably comes from discontent in the UK surrounding Tony Blair’s government, and their acceptance of open borders, and in the USA, Obama’s administration. But this should be put in context. While both administrations were liberal regarding social policy, they were not necessarily a sign of a long term liberal establishment. Blair had just led the UK out of consecutive right-wing Tory governments from 1979-96. One of these governments was led by a Prime Minister who should be remembered for her anti-LGBT laws and her refusal to condemn Apartheid.
While Cameron followed the Blair legacy of liberalism in social policy, his party were not quite as enthusiastic, with the majority abstaining or voting against gay marriage. This surely shows that in recent years there has not in fact been a liberal elite, despite socially liberal leaders. Obama came after Bush Jr, which to me, makes it no surprise that he is followed by Trump. But this is where the second claim comes into play, that a liberal establishment is dying. There has never been a status quo of governments being accepting of minorities (this does not of course mean governments haven’t made policies to help minorities). The history of both Prime Ministers and Presidents rather shows that Liberalism is not dying but still finding its feet, the change of our society to a more accepting one is not a simple linear progression, it is characterised by a constantly changing political climate, subject to reactionary voting.
I must confess that I myself am not a Liberal, I would probably identify as a Socialist. But unlike some on the left, I regard Liberalism as extremely important. It is a building block that must be included within the left, we must accept minorities and embrace their freedoms to underpin a morality-based ideology. The progression of Liberalism is almost inevitable. This is not because everyone will immediately see past tabloid claims, I believe it is because of art. Whether we regard art as fine art, literature, or music, Liberalism is present and it is far reaching. This means that a message of tolerance will work past the tabloid headlines of hate and our society can become more liberal.
Liberalism is glaringly present within the film industry. Whether this is in Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globe awards or in films themselves it is hard to avoid. I recently watched the kids’ film ‘Zootopia’, a narrative focussed wholly on providing a metaphor about racism and wider discrimination. The main character, a female rabbit, overcomes the discrimination against her to become a police officer and then realises herself that she had internal prejudices against other characters. This conveys a great message not only against racism but for self-awareness.
Another recent film, ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, is not a movie you would expect to put forward any kind of agenda. In reality, it is brimming with moral messages. The first, and most obvious, is that we must respect our planet and the inhabitants we share it with. Another suggests we should be ready to recognise that actions by an individual are not necessarily representative of a group. But possibly the most striking moment of the film involves soldiers abusing the apes as the stars and stripes is played in the background, before the American flag is later burned. This provides a clear message, that blind patriotism is a danger and we must work towards cooperation not hate.
Examples such as these show the film industry is exceptional at providing a liberal narrative through an easily digestible medium. While literature provides a more dedicated, in-depth perspective (evidenced by writers such as Chinua Achebe), and fine art is visually critical (clear in the art of people like Grayson Perry), film achieves a compromise of both, and reaches out to all. It often is not difficult to watch and is already in the mainstream. It represents a powerful vehicle through which Liberalism can continue to make an impact. This article may seem idealistic and overly simple, but I think art and film especially provides an alternative narrative to the right-wing that isn’t coming from the establishment but outside of it, feeding straight into mainstream culture. Maybe fictional metaphors aren’t as influential as real action, but I believe a liberally-weighted film industry can push some to change their views and this can only be a positive for liberalism, and indeed all of us.