The Princess Bride is arguably the most quotable movie of all time (by arguably the best screenwriter of all time, William Goldman). Lines from this movie are appropriate at every stage of life, from love (“This is true love”) to weddings (“Mawwiage…”) to child-rearing (“Is this a kissing book?”). I would be mute much of the time were it not for this movie. (No cracks, please.)
One of the best scenes in that movie, maybe the Best.Scene.Ever, is the one with Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie. At one point, Valerie (Carol Kane) speaks the name of Max’s (Billy Crystal) arch-nemesis, the nefarious Prince Humperdinck. She chases Max through their little hovel as he covers his ears and cries, “I’m not listening!”
We may have no personal gripe with Prince Humperdinck, but there are plenty of things we don’t want to hear about. When it comes to injustice and suffering in our world, many of us follow Max’s example. We might not run away and shout, “I’m not listening”, but we have our own ways of shutting out such issues and avoiding responsibility. Ignorance in this case is indeed bliss. Denial is just as effective. If you know too much, you’re culpable.
I run into this personally when I try to tell people about what I’ve encountered in Haiti. Extreme poverty, much of it created through the exploitation of wealthier nations such as the US, is not a welcome topic in civil discourse.
The church that I attend does a good job of trying to keep people aware of needs and injustices in the world. That is, after all, one of the main tasks of the Christian church. (Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.) Recently, they showed a movie about slavery and sex trafficking in the world today. In spite of the fact that slavery is a bigger problem today than ever, only a couple dozen people turned out.
Because it’s invisible, i.e. is far away, slavery doesn’t exist to the general population. In recent years, however, it has become a hot topic in movies, with widely varying degrees of success.
The slick 2008 thriller Taken raked in a fortune, probably because it had a marketable star, a cliche-driven plot, and a naively upbeat resolution. The other factor that helped was that the victim was an attractive Caucasian girl. Would people have forked over their hard-earned bucks to see a homely Thai girl rescued from sex trafficking?
I wonder how many viewers realize that such events occur on a daily basis, albeit usually to faceless poor girls in third world nations. They rarely conclude with such a conveniently happy ending because there is no real life Liam Neeson to take the bad guys to task.
Far less successful were two more gritty flicks, The Whistleblower and Machine Gun Preacher. Going against these movies is the fact that both are real life indictments of the status quo. We don’t want the truth of our responsibility held up before us.
The fact is that slavery exists today to an extent never seen before in world history. Not only does it exist, but we as American consumers support it. “We’re not listening” when someone tells us to change where we buy our coffee, jeans, chocolate, or a host of other mundane products. If we hear it, we have to live with the fact that we are funding slavery that is every bit as evil (or more so) as the kind we decry from two centuries ago.
Are we listening?