We were under assignment this week (or next) to watch one of two movies. I chose to watch Tom Shadyac’s self-discovery opus, I Am. I loved it, and I hated it. I’ll explain.
I loved the main points of the movie. For me, these were:
- The voyage of self-discovery can be enlightening and fulfilling;
- What I do matters, both in my own life and in society as a whole;
- The power is in me to do good and to do well or to do poorly and to do ill; I get to pick;
- I am connected with all of God’s creations, including all the world’s people;
- It’s not OK to project one thing on Sunday at church and something else the rest of the week; and
- Acquisition and achievement offer no guaranties of happiness.
Take those messages to heart, and you have a foundation for connection, self-actualization, peace and happiness. That’s wonderful, and I heartily endorse that journey. After all, in that, Shadyac mirrors Haanel’s assertion that the primary human needs are for health and happiness. Acquisition, beyond what one considers essential or beneficial, adds nothing to one’s happiness.
My dissatisfaction with the movie was in the subtext. Subtext is often the most powerful part of the message of a piece of art. This is because most people are not prepared to guard the gates of their minds, and the subconscious is the intended target of a movie’s subtext. In this case, I found the subtext noxious, offensive, unenlightened and stupid. You’re welcome to disagree, of course.
Here’s what I saw:
- Shadyac naiively buys off on the ridiculous, laughable, patronizing “Noble Savage” ideal as applied to Native Americans. There are things to admire about all cultures. However, Native American cultures were neither monolithic nor uniformly peaceful. There is a good reason many sports teams have had Native American warriors as mascots.
- I found it even more patronizing to assert that an Anglo-European view of private property is mentally ill. Acquisition and notions of ownership are cultural values. Private property rights are at the core of American prosperity. That Shadyac had the resources to create this film at all is a testimony to his embrace of that system.
- The Church came in for criticism in the film as well. Shadyac, bless his poor benighted soul, failed to learn the lessons that gave rise to such noble souls as Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He lauds them in the film while criticizing the American church which teaches the same doctrine. That is a typical human nature reaction to finding that one’s habitually practiced values are not in line with one’s new, re-born ideal. Response: blame the teacher rather than take responsibility for having been a poor student.
- America is further caricatured in I Am as a greedy, competitive, materialistic ogre, spreading consumerism and economic mayhem across otherwise pristine, saintly cultures abroad. The hardscrabble, persistent, inventive individualism that is at the core of American exceptionalism is completely ignored and discounted. Again, Shadyac displays his unwillingness to accept responsibility for having adopted much of the worst of what America offers while rejecting much of the best.
America is the most generous country on the planet both in terms of gross donation dollars and per capita donations. That little nugget seems to have escaped Mr. Shadyac.
It also seems to have escaped the dear director that America was the first country on earth to have voluntarily ceased the practice of human slavery. Native American cultures did not do that. They were forced by subjugation to make that change.
I could go on, but you get the point. We are responsible for being guardians at the gates of our minds. If someone secretly offers me a pot-laden brownie, I can spit out the first bite and refuse the rest.
My conclusion: I Am‘s buffet was loaded with BS, but it did include a few tasty, suculent morsels. Those I consumed with joy, and left the rest alone.by