Although I read Libertas and other conservative sites regularly, on the premise that it's a good idea to know what the barbarians are up to before they get to your gate, I rarely post about stories I read there. This piece they had up yesterday, though, is so blatantly misinformed and misguided that I felt compelled to address it.

The piece is yet another conservative rant against the liberal Hollywood machine. It starts out by linking to an article over on The Daily Standard, deemed by Libertas an "insightful piece on a disturbing trend." That alone set off my inner alarm bells, but I gamely went off to see what insights the Standard had to offer. In his piece, titled "Hollywood on the Offensive -- Child Abuse Hits the Silver Screen," Kevin Kusinitz starts out by attacking two films from Sundance 2007 -- Hounddog, starring Dakota Fanning as a young rape victim, and An American Crime, a dramatization of the murder of Sylvia Lukens in 1965, starring Ellen Page. Kusinitz then goes on to attack Page for her role in Juno thusly:

"By the way, if the name Ellen Page sounds familiar, it's because she was Oscar-nominated this year for her lead role in the zany teen-pregnancy comedy Juno. Because, as many of you parents will attest, there's nothing funnier than when your 17 year-old daughter gets knocked up."

He then moves on to criticizing Alan Ball's Towelhead (aka, Nothing is Private): "Featuring a 13 year-old Arab-American girl raped by -- but of course! -- an American reservist. The difference here is that Towelhead is described as a 'dark comedy.' You're holding your sides, I'm sure."

Based on his descriptions of the films he's criticizing, I can only surmise that Kusinitz hasn't actually bothered to go so far as to see any of them. Fortunately, I don't have to base my own opinions of any of those films on his attacks, because I've actually watched all of them. If he has actually attended screenings of any of these films, he must have been taking an afternoon nap during them, because I can't otherwise make sense of his assertion that "Hounddog, An American Crime and Towelhead are part and parcel of the movie industry's current favorite character, the sensitive pedophile."

Kevin, since you obviously don't have a clue about what any of these films are really about, let me help you out here. Hounddog (which was not a very good film, by the way, but I don't like to see things blatantly mischaracterized) is not about a sensitive pedophile. It's a about a pre-teen girl with an abusive father who gets raped by a teenage boy, and has to find a way to deal with the cycle of abuse in her life without losing herself.

An American Crime
is not about a sensitive pedophile. It's about a young girl who becomes the victim of the gang mentality of a pack of siblings and their friends, led by her foster mother, which ultimately ends in her death. The core question at the heart of that particular film is about how a group of kids can basically turn into animals, attacking another human being without understanding why they're doing -- and if you don't think that has relevance in today's culture of kids being bullied and attacked by their peers, you don't pay much attention to the news. You want to write about Ellen Page and pedophilia, write about Hard Candy, for pity's sake. At least get your movies right.

is also not a story about a sensitive pedophile. It's a story about a young girl's coming-of-age and growing awareness of her own sexuality, and the lines that get crossed between her and her adult neighbor that ultimately lead to him justifying her sexuality as an excuse when he rapes her. The rape is not the key part of the film -- it's really about how a young girl living with her conservative father deals with racism and her own sexuality, and about her father's hypocrisy in dating a white woman who wears low-cut clothes and lots of makeup while trying to deny that his own daughter is wrestling with her own issues around becoming a woman and what that means. If you'd actually seen the film, you might have caught all that subtext.

Oh, and Juno, Kevin, isn't about making teen pregnancy funny. It's about how one girl deals with a very real problem faced by a lot of teenage girls today, with grace and humor. It's about the double-standard around sexuality, too -- how her boyfriend basically gets off without having to really deal with the consequences of having unprotected sex, while she deals with the stares her growing belly draws, and how the two of them deal with that. It's a funny film, yes, but it deals with real issues in a way that young people can relate to. And if you think young people from both liberal and conservative families aren't out there having sex, Kevin, you're spending way too much time with your head buried in the conservative sandbox.

Libertas doesn't have a whole lot to add on the subject, other than this: "I heard Dennis Prager once say that if liberals hated terrorists as much as they do cigarette smokers the world would be a much better place. I would add that you could say the same for child molesters and drug dealers." If they're quoting Prager, I guess I should be glad they left it at that.

I tried not too react to much to the reader comments about Kusinitz's piece -- many of them little more than misogynistic rantings -- on Libertas. When you wave a red flag in front of the teeming masses eager to validate your viewpoint, that brand of reactionary diatribe is exactly what you're going to get. I certainly don't think my own opinions on film are unimpeachable or unassailable, but I do know that they're based on actually seeing the films I'm talking about. If Kusinitz did see these films, he's either being blatantly dishonest with regard to what they're about, or at the very least, he wasn't paying attention to the basic storylines.

I'd be glad to engage in a civil, intellectual debate about culture and sex, culture and sexuality, culture and women, with Kusinitz or the gang at Libertas anytime, but they aren't interested in real discourse. They twist and turn film and culture and refract it through their reactionary lens, and then wave around their misguided red flags to get reactions and click-throughs. Conservatives can wax on all they want about "liberal Hollywood," but film is just a mirror reflecting the issues going on in the society from which it comes. Sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, the war in Iraq, the fundamentalist Christian right, health care, homosexuality, poverty, and a host of other issues. Those issues aren't going to go away just because the folks at Libertas and their ilk want them to disappear. They're there, they need to be dealt with, and films that shine a spotlight on them exist to spur the kind of discourse that heralds fundamental societal change.

Disagree with the perspectives of those films all you want -- that's what free thought and debate are all about, and at least if we're debating the issues, we're talking about them and not ignoring them, and we're one step closer to finding solutions that unite rather than divide us. But let's talk about them honestly, without misrepresenting the subject matter of films just to wave the "We Love Pedophiles" banner around films that don't even remotely advocate that point of view. You want to honestly debate culture, sex and sexuality as those issues are portrayed in film? Bring it on.