They're not like you and me
Which means they must be evil.
That's intolerance -- as distilled in the words of Governor Ratcliffe, the greedy English villain of Disney's "Pocahontas." Such sentiments are alive and well today in Florida, where some religious conservatives have launched a boycott of the Disney empire. What angers the American Family Association, the Florida Baptist Convention and their allies is the Disney company's new policy extending health coverage to live-in partners of gay employees.
Disney, of course, has made fantastic amounts of money catering to middle America with a spotless image of wholesomeness. It also employs a significant proportion of gays and lesbians (as chronicled by a story in Los Angeles' Buzz magazine, "Will the Mouse Come Out?"). What's a corporation to do?
In fact, Disney had resisted the petitions of a gay employees' caucus for partnership benefits -- until its hand was forced by its recent merger with Capital Cities/ABC, which already had such a policy in place. Now the Mouse is in a tough position: stand up to the right and risk losing a slice of its fabulous profits, or cave in to Ratcliffe-like intolerance and betray a portion of its workforce.
The Florida director of the American Family Association says that Disney has allowed itself to become a"a vehicle to influence American society regarding homosexuality being mainstream or normal." That's exactly right. Disney's string of animated Disney megahits over the past decade preach a live-and-let-live ethos -- bland but humane -- that has always been at the core of American family values.
This is what the conservatives are really mad about -- that despite their promotion of prejudice, "middle America" is slowly but decisively moving toward accepting homosexuals as co-workers and neighbors. To boycott a company that chooses to honor the committed relationships of its employees with medical benefits is not just intolerant -- it's positively unwholesome.
Disney's Florida foes need to watch "Pocahontas" again and listen carefully to the heroine's anthem, "Colors of the Wind":
You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You'll learn things you never knew you never knew
A week is a long time in politics. Newt Gingrich may be wildly unpopular today; he could be a hero tomorrow. The same goes, in reverse, for "peacemaker" President Clinton, these days enjoying unaccustomed praise and an uncharacteristically meek opposition.
Nevertheless, there is a sense of underlying shift, one that suggests the GOP revolution is over. The public is full of doubts about the revolutionaries and where they want to take us. The drive to overturn affirmative action has stalled. Moderate Republicans are teaming up with Democrats in Congress to defeat the more radical cost-cutting measures on the environment, housing and other issues. Recent election defeats in Kentucky and Virginia -- both unexpected -- suggest the GOP's electoral tide has halted. Gingrich's intemperate outbursts -- over his seating position on Air Force One and the heinous murder of an Illinois woman and her children -- haven't helped his cause.
What went wrong? Americans discovered they don't really hate "big government" as much as they avow, especially when the cuts slice too close to home. They are all for family values, an area successfully monopolized by the GOP, but they don't like having them forced down their throats. And Republicans forgot one crucial political lesson: how an issue is framed is often more telling than the issue itself. Just as Bill Clinton lost universal health insurance because the opposition defined it in terms of "government meddling," so the Republicans are losing the Medicare fight because the Democrats successfully hammered them on "fairness."
In fact, there is much to admire about the conservative revolution. Cutting Medicare costs, along with broader health care reforms, is desperately needed. The GOP class of '94 deserves credit for having the guts to take on this holy-of-holies, for wielding the knife on spiraling federal deficits, taking Clinton's pledge to "change welfare as we know it" seriously and, last week, muscling through lobbying reform. For all the false notes, their victory in the 1994 congressional election was a necessary change after 40 years of one-party rule.
The downside remains to be seen. How many more people will sink below the poverty line, as states, municipalities and private charities struggle to fill in the gaping holes left by a departing federal government? Such questions are likely to be the real undoing of the GOP revolution, precisely because they were never addressed in the Gingrich guerillas' rush to overturn the status quo. Instead, the revolutionaries came across as mean, unfair, and destabilizing.
"The conservative revolution is incomplete," Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., acknowledged in a Wall Street Journal interview. "We need a second stage ... to offer a positive vision." Increasing numbers of Republicans have come to share that view, but it's probably too late. Every time firebrand Gingrich blames an entire class of economically disadvantaged Americans for an individual crime, or presidential front runner Bob Dole tells the Christian Coalition what it wants to hear, another nail goes into the revolutionaries' coffin.
Do not be surprised in 1996 if the chief beneficiary of the GOP revolution is that master of the vision thing: Bill Clinton.
In the new movie "Money Train," a stringy-haired psychotic New York subway-platform lurker squirts inflammable goo into a token booth. Then he leers at the attendant and tosses in a lit match. It's a gruesome scene -- made more horrifying by the news that a couple of real-life hoodlums committed an identical crime the weekend of the movie's opening.
Plainly, life is imitating art -- or is it? The movie's scenes, it turns out, are based on real-life incidents from the mid-'80s. Life is imitating art precisely where art is imitating life. And the start of this particular chicken-and-egg spiral seems to lie in the realm of real-world evil, not media imagery.
That didn't stop Bob Dole -- who told us last summer that violent movies were bad unless they were made by Arnold Schwarzenegger -- from jumping on the story as another sign of Hollywood irresponsibility: "Those who continue to deny that cultural messages can and do bore deep into the hearts and minds of our young people are deceiving themselves and ignoring reality."
Well, yes -- cultural messages matter. But what is the message of "Money Train"? By contemporary Hollywood standards, it's hardly an ultraviolent movie: there's less machine-gunning than fistfighting, and more buddy-buddy byplay between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson than anything else. Snipes and Harrelson play interracial foster-brothers who alternatingly spar and bond; they're also transit cops, and it's in the course of their work that they encounter the subterranean pyromaniac.
"Money Train" isn't great art, but until it collapses into an improbable action-film finale it's a decent diversion. If it has messages, they're reasonably wholesome ones: Lives matter more than money. Don't gamble. And, above all, we are our brothers' keepers. Compared to "True Lies," which Dole held up as an example of good family entertainment, "Money Train" is positively biblical in its morality.
As for the token-booth torcher, he is presented as utterly loathsome, and his awful stunt is made to seem neither fun nor criminally rewarding. In any case, he's just the film's secondary villain; its real bad guy is a cigar-chomping, pin-striped Transit Authority official who cares more about his revenue-collection train's timetable than the lives of innocent straphangers. Maybe that dose of fat-banker stereotyping is what really ticks Dole off; then again, it's doubtful he's seen the movie.
Like every round of the Right vs. Hollywood, this debate boils down to whether you think the media should hide our society's ills or reflect the times. As today's Republican Congress rapidly scales back all government efforts to deal with social maladies, leaders like Dole have a clear interest in keeping pop-culture representations of those problems well buried.
Inevitably, this campaign to portray the world as we wish it were rather than as it is will lead to escalating absurdities. Does anyone really think the movies should pretend that New York subways are as pristine as the Orient Express?