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Saving us from ourselves

Is it possible that some of the movies we consider classics would never have been made if today’s cultural taboos were applied?  

Consider one of my all-time favorites, “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Starring Clint Eastwood, this classic movie was about an anti-hero constantly put in the position of helping others. Think of how many solid, manly one-liners are in that movie: “Dying ain’t much of a livin’ boy,” and, “Get ready, little lady. Hell is coming to breakfast,” or, “You gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?” It’s a great movie, but horror of horrors, Josey Wales rode for the Confederacy!

Current pop culture is so keen to avoid offense and cover up history that it’s questionable whether a movie hero like Josey Wales, or Rooster Cogburn, or anything played by Mel Gibson, would be allowed to hit the modern big screen.

Movies have always served as entertaining diversions with their smell of popcorn, their crowds lining up to have tickets torn, and their larger-than-life heroes and heroines. Hollywood was about great stories designed to spark the imagination and create a temporary distraction from life.

But not anymore. Movies are no longer a diversion, but a teaching point. Movies must have trigger warnings. We must be saved from ourselves.

One look at the warning labels on certain products will tell you that there is an overtly desperate and ongoing attempt to save us from ourselves. Someone somewhere somehow did the ridiculous and now we all get to pay for it. There’s the folding baby stroller with the warning that says, “Remove child before folding.” (Oh wow.) Or the box of rat poison that says, “Has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice.” (Well, it’s rat poison, sooo…) Or the package of brass fishing hooks that says, “Harmful if swallowed.” (Just don’t tell the fish because that’s kind of the point).

Equally as silly are the warning labels tagging classic movies.

The British Film Institute recently placed audience warnings on two classic James Bond movies to warn audiences that they “may contain outdated attitudes that may cause offence.”

Disney recently began adding warnings to classics such as “Dumbo” and “Lady and the Tramp” to inform viewers that they are potentially controversial – although you may not be able to watch them and figure out why. Disney warns its audiences that the movies may contain “outdated cultural depictions.” The full warning is a paragraph long and actually states that Disney views their own movies as being “wrong then and are wrong now” and goes on to say, “Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” I’m sure that leaving them up for viewers has nothing to do with the fact that they are making money by streaming them for people to pay to watch!

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has joined in and taken steps to warn us against such horrible classics as “Breakfast at Tiffany's,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Gone with the Wind.” TCM starts each movie with a brief roundtable discussion in which a panel of experts discuss the troubling content with context given to the times in which people used to live. You know, back when we used to just enjoy going to the movies for fun! TCM’s charitable largesse and well-meaning advice about the heinous behaviors of Scarlet O’Hara are riveting entertainment with a dose of guilt. I’ll just use that time for a last-minute bathroom break.

Apparently, if you are over age 20 you can’t watch anything that you used to watch without being cautioned that it may have detrimental effects on your mental health. But the warnings are finally wearing thin.

Comedian and commentator Bill Maher recently broke the ice, calling out liberal hypersensitivities through a hilarious skit of fake warning labels for classic movies using the very lines that liberals trumpet. For the “Wizard of Oz” he said, “Warning: A powerful woman of color is murdered by a rural white girl.” For “Sleeping Beauty,” he said, “Warning: A prince kisses an unconscious woman without consent.” And for the Hitchcock thriller “Psycho,” “Warning: Inaccurately portrays the lives of the vast majority of transgender motel owners.” Well played, sir!

I’m certain that if a director, scriptwriter, or producer, took the idea for the great movies of yesterday to today’s studios they would be lawyered into non-existence. Could they get approval for “Blazing Saddles”? Probably not. What about great flicks like the “The Breakfast Club” – were characters diverse enough? Or “Mean Girls” – where someone was bullied, which was kind of the point – or “Home Alone,” which features child neglect and endangerment, or “Tropic Thunder,” where Robert Downey Jr. plays “a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude,” all while wearing black face makeup?

We don’t always have to be saved from ourselves, and we certainly don’t need trigger warnings on “My Fair Lady.” Life is hard, and if “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” scares you, then you should get a helmet.

In the meantime, roll that footage and pop that popcorn, and let’s just enjoy a good movie.

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