Mar 2, 2010

Do you remember the Shire?

It seems so strange now that the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out when it did. Seen in retrospect, it looks like the praised and popular epic promoted and held up the best ideals of American conservatism at the very moment -- the exact time -- that conservatives chose to abandon them for good.

The trilogy has to be among the most conservative films ever produced, with its platform the twin planks of distrusting power -- the corrupting, warping force of power -- and valuing the life of simple labor, communal spirt, and peaceful living (this imagined and idealized agrarianism). This is, I think, the best of what American conservatism had to offer,* but the conservative epic came out in theaters in 2001, 2002 and 2003, right at the time that even the most conservative of American conservatives seemed to gladly embrace power, get giddy with it, love it instead of anything simple or peaceful, and insist, even, on using it in every horrible way possible.

To paraphrase the words of the movie's Aaragon, the day came when the moral courage of men failed.

Or, put it another way: Dick Cheney was Gollum and we gave him almost all the power he wanted.

*Watching it again, now that I'm not a conservative, I also see that the trilogy is deeply marked by one of the worst and most insidious and insistent elements of conservatism, a deep racism. I had heard this critique in 2001, but totally did not see it at the time. Now it's unavoidable: the Aryan images, which are held up as glorious ideas, the species-based social divisions and identities, the grotesqueness of the hordes who always fit into groups of racial stereotypes, and even the imagery that gets used (Gandolf, describing the afterlife, says you go "to the white shores") all adds up to an ideology of white power. I realize, for me, that this was difficult to see, but now pose my past self the question: what part of this depiction of a society would a white supremacist have a problem with?