Based On A True Story : The Myth Of Self Governance
The movie world is buzzing about the Oscar-nominated film The Favourite. It’s a British movie documenting the romantic rivalry between two courtiers in the time of Queen Anne. The women— Lady Marlborough and Abigail Masham— are cousins who both want a place in the Queen’s heart— and bed— at the start of the 18th century.
It’s a well-crafted, beautifully acted period piece whose story of female empowerment is resonating in the #MeToo age. Just one problem. There’s no evidence that the lesbian theme has any basis in fact. Lady Marlborough was known to have strong anti-lesbian opinions, and the aging Queen was sickly and likely had no libido to speak of.
Which did not bother director Yorgos Lanthimos. “I just wanted to deal with these three women as human beings. It didn't matter that there were relationships of the same gender. I stopped thinking about that very early on in the process.” In short, dramatic license.
A few other Oscar favourites have had similar problems. Queen fans have been dismayed at the liberties taken with the life of Freddy Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. The family of pianist Don Shirley strongly objected to the relationship between their father and his driver Frank Vallelonga portrayed in The Green Book.
Again, dramatic license. For generations, artists have gerrymandered facts to suit their narratives. The trite neologism “based on a true story” has come to represent the fungible nature of facts in the entertainment business. And while we permit the re-arrangement of facts in our films we like to think we draw a line on blarney when to comes to public matters of consequence.
But now, the postures of the culture industry have bled into everyday events.“ Based on a true story” has slipped the surly bonds of Hollywood or Harvard and now represents a new standard of self-governance. Like the test audiences for upcoming films we are presented with an array of endings and plot twists in the hope that the producer can satisfy the public mood based on our popcorn-stained response cards. Good luck with that.
I was recently taken aback by a colleague who advertises himself as a conservative and by moderates having a pulmonary episode over the Covington kids, their MAGA hats and their pro-life opinions. “The kid knew exactly what he was doing,” the ‘conservative’ told me. “Another question, how many kids that age would wear that hat unless they had an agenda?”
Another colleague blamed the teenager’s impassive expression when confronted by the drummer. (A theme echoed by accusers who seem to have forgotten their HS yearbook photos.) It was the teen’s fault, another source told me. He should have just run away to avoid a confrontation. Others advocated punching his face. Then expelling him.
This was after the release of videos showing the young Kentucky high schoolers being berated by black radicals who called them products of incest and other niceties. Videos which also showed a native Indian drummer/ street actor who attempted to confront the student, who stood stock still. Yet my colleagues saw another movie. They saw a pro-choice punk disrespecting a native elder. Like The Favourite, they just moved around a few factoids and, voila, they had the ending they wanted for their story.
The Boy Was To Blame. It’ll make a swell movie.
Hardly surprising. In public discourse these days, truth is like your favourite cable-news channel. Each one has a separate version of facts it promotes. Those other guys? Hitler.
The high-water mark for these truth trains running on parallel tracks was probably the Kavanaugh Inquisition. I know, that was so last Tuesday. But with the freshly empowered congressional Democrats, gorged on Rachel Maddow sophistry, ready to keel-haul the good judge for perjury it looks like we’ll have Kavanaugh 2: The Reckoning. Based on a true story.
Fear not, Kavanaugh’s backers in the Senate are urging that his accuser, the hapless professor Blasey Ford, be similarly grilled about her wandering accusations against Kavanaugh— a shabby coat propped up by her friends in the FBI and other nests of anti-Trump fervour. That will be Kavanaugh 3: Deception. Based on some dimly remembered memories from 36 years ago.
Here I must adopt the weeds of age and recall a golden age, when flinty, immutable burdens of proof were considered Hollywood gold. Remember 1973’s Oscar-winning film The Paper Chase? John Houseman’s pitiless command to his students to adopt the Socratic Method? To develop critical thinking skills in students that enabled them to approach the law— and life— intellectually, not emotionally?
The entertainment industry couldn’t get enough of Houseman’s acid commentaries on students who think “based a on a true story” is something other than groupthink twaddle. The movie barons were so impressed they made the film into a TV series. In the Age of Watergate, the culture mavens promoted intellectual rigour. It was box office.
Like Queen Anne, those days are long departed. It’s all emotion all the time. The combination of Tump loathing plus the Cult of expiation sweeping liberal organs of culture has rendered useless hard thinking and unpleasant conclusions. Every man/ woman is now an island of self governance.
Woe to any public person who now suggests his status is not “based on a true story”.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.