Recently, renowned gothic filmmaker and best friend of liberal superhero Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, went on the record discussing diversity in Hollywood. The comments, which can be found here, essentially cry afoul the concept of “diversity for diversity’s sake”. Burton is an artist, and thereby allowed to create art as he sees fit. His most recent film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is based on a book that takes place in an imagined place well in the past in the historically white country of Wales (nearly 94% white as of 2011). Despite the fact that Burton did cast one black actor in the film (namely Samuel L. Jackson, because he is in everything), and has had one film with a black protagonist, Burton has run into a serious problem: Neoliberals.
After his off-the-cuff comment (which this clearly was since there is no complete interview to source), Neoliberals are swarming on the internet and calling for his head like vultures. While many of colleagues have yet to produce one film with a black protagonist (David Lynch, James Cameron, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, just to name a few), Burton’s comments have made him the scapegoat for a problem this arguably “above his pay grade”.
Many of the problems with diversity in film draw on deeper cultural issues relating to the production of films in general. Burton, like so many other filmmakers, produces art for a particular audience. His films are greenlit by film executives looking to capitalize on movie audiences, just like every other film in Hollywood, and furthermore, he is an artist. If he doesn’t feel like adding diversity to the cast of his gothic-niche film, shouldn’t it be his decision (even though it most likely is not solely his to make)?
Enter Neoliberals. Loudmouths on the internet have taken one paragraph from Tim Burton that was originally quoted on a third-rate digital rag (the original comment was first featured on Bustle.com which seemingly has no other context) and extrapolated it to understand that wholly Tim Burton is a racist. How can anyone draw conclusions so verbose from such a small instant in this man’s life? Just because Tim Burton has an opinion about forced diversity in his art, he’s a racist? Because he doesn’t want to craft his art to appease public opinion about what his art should be, he is a monstrous bigot? This kind of narrow-minded groupthink is deplorable, and is becoming a big problem for the American left.
The Neoliberalism movement truly coalesced and gained its voice as a part of Bernie Sanders’ Revolution. Forged by educated liberals, it became a movement of universal tolerance, but sadly has become ever hypocritical. The Dalai Lama once said “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher,”, yet this lesson seems to have been dismissed by the ultimate movement of tolerance.
Neoliberals have created an “us & them” toned discussion regarding complex, nuanced social issues akin to Neocons just before the second Iraq war, and the melodrama playing out around Tim Burton is perfect example of it. Decrying a man as racist because his opinions on forced diversity are not congruent with social progressives is just as intolerant as the racism being decried.
In some instances, such as Affirmative Action, forced diversity is necessary. Affirmative Action is a system set in place to correct societal / government structures that are known to practice prejudice and directly affect the lives of Americans. But to apply the same standards we apply to our government to an individual’s creative endeavors is anti-American. It using political correctness as a mask to stifle creativity under the guise of protecting everyone’s feelings or making people feel included, and it is this overly self-righteous, smug form of pushy liberal rhetoric that created a right wing backlash and is ostracizing moderates from the political left.
While the idea of “over-the-top” political correctness is nothing new, the pushiness of progressives can be directly tied to the rise of these, predominately young, Neoliberals. There is a growing “intolerance of intolerance” that has caused rhetoric coming from the left to grow increasingly volatile.
While at this point I feel obligated to stress that I am as about as socially liberal as possible on social issues, I do so in fear of the exact kind of backlash that I am writing against. Political correctness for political correctness’s sake is inherently un-American, and directly opposed the tolerance and freedoms that make our country great. There is something inherently oppressive about the idea of censoring and harassing opinions we don’t agree with. This is America; there is no safe space.
Our country was founded on being forced to deal with people who you disagree with (among other things, but I digress on that…). While we have the right to have an opinion, so does the person we disagree with. When Neoliberals go on the internet and bash people who disagree with them in droves, it perpetuates the “us & them”, and can actually make the inclusive left look elitist and not so welcoming. While it is easy to blame Trump supporters for the tone the national debate has taken, the pushy social agenda of the left is just as much to blame. Being intolerant of intolerance still makes you intolerant (if you can follow that).
So what am I saying? What is the ultimate point I am trying to make? Basically, it is that we all have a right to our own opinions, and to do things the way we see fit. While I may not agree with many conservatives, and have a great deal of disdain for racism, sexism, and all of the other negative -isms, we cannot suffocate these opinions with arbitrary, self-righteous ideas of political correctness.
True socialism is free from oppressive judgment. It doesn’t limit speech. It doesn’t silence critics through online intimidation. It doesn’t censor people. It is an agreed social understanding that we are all in this together, that we all share something through national unity. American Socialism cannot be the socialism of Europe. It must be more inclusive of differing opinions, because ultimately, we cannot unite our country if we continue to belittle individual beliefs, regardless of our opinions of those beliefs. It is our job as liberals to rise up above such hateful rhetoric and respond only with love and acceptance.
I argue that the famous quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall must become our rallying cry. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”
Capitalism unites us all under the umbrella of consumerism, and divides us into sub-categories according to the way we consume. To change our system, we must break those constructs and unite as a whole. American Socialism must be unifying, not divisive. Uniting as a whole means being able to agree to disagree, to shake hands with individuals with differing opinions, and to cooperate with one another. Until we on the left stop pushing others away and start hugging our enemies, the divide in this country will continue to grow into an unrepairable schism. If we are as liberal as we claim to be, we are obligated to listen to opinions that oppose ours. If we do not, then we are no better than the intolerance we are fighting.
Sean McGill @seanmcthrill