I feel bad for poor Matt Damon. Foreign oil interests paid hundreds of millions of dollars to get Al Gore, but as liberal novelties go, Damon was a clearance-rack discount item. The United Arab Emirates got him for a relative pittance when they got involved in the anti-fracking propaganda film “Promised Land,” currently bombing in theaters.
Steve Maley at RedState wrote a potent and concise takedown of “Promised Land,” which leaves the impression that its creators were not merely dishonest, but remarkably lazy. They didn’t think they had to get many of the details right. And they were probably correct in that assessment.
Even though the movie isn’t doing very well at the box office, it’s still selling thousands of tickets. Granted that many fewers will already be among the environmentalist faithful, and others won’t think about fracking any more after exiting the theater than they did going in… but some significant number of viewers will come away with the impression the filmmakers desired. And it’s probably a greater number than the amount of people who have been persuaded in the other direction, by even the best-made, most honest defenses of fracking.
In this particular case, no great tipping point may be reached. Perhaps the fracking industry will roll on unscathed. But it’s a sobering reminder of the power of mass media and popular culture: one Hollywood film, even if it’s not a big hit, can exert more popular influence than a dozen high-voltage think tanks.
There is simply no substitute for pop-culture influence, and its importance grows even more profound as the politicized world grows larger and more complex. A lot of people are looking for pre-packaged, cool attitudes, not mountains of data. They want to know how to feel about issues they don’t have the time, or appetite, to thorougly dissect. It’s long past time for big-money conservative donors to put more effort into securing positions on this hazy battlefield, where so many issues are truly decided, long before any great number of votes have been cast on them.
Update: One of the forces conservatives must seek to reverse is the pop-culture presentation of the Left in the role of prosecutor, while their target of the hour is always put on trial as a defendant. There is a huge presumption of benevolent public interest associated with leftist groups – they’re devoid of self-interest, and they just want what’s best for everybody. Meanwhile, their capitalist targets are expected to begin the public debate by proving they’re not heartless, perhaps even murderous, exploiters of the little people, and the Earth they toil upon.
It cannot be overstated how important this advantage is to the Left. It’s so deeply ingrained that they don’t even lose it when they’re proven to be mendacious or hypocritical, like Al Gore and his global warming clergy, or the anti-fracking zealots and the oil barons who used them as a club against their competitors in the hydraulic fracturing industry. With great effort, it is possible to convince the public they are objectively wrong about some important matters, but they never lose that presumption of selfless community interest. Their targets may win one “trial” in the court of public opinion, but the next set of defendants are promptly marched into the dock.
Much of this atmosphere has been constructed through emotional manipulation. Emotional appeals do not require lying. There is no reason to feel ashamed of making emotional appeals because one is also armed with reasoned arguments. Emotion can amplify reason, rather than obscuring it.