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Can You Identify the Woke Movie?, Part V: Suspicious Minds

Time to bring it on home. We ran down five pairs of movies on Tuesday, and then we ran down another five pairs yesterday. Here's the final quintet, to be followed by a few concluding thoughts:

Matchup 11 (Amoral Tycoons): The Wolf of Wall Street vs. Citizen Kane

Reader Guesses

K.C. in St. Augustine, FL: In Citizen Kane, a young rich dude earns more money by selling false stories to the public. It's the American Dream. So far, so good. He's idolized, runs for office, is humiliated, and dies alone thinking of his lost youth. Bad guy gets a bad ending. What is this? Poetic justice? WOKE.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA: Citizen Kane is, of course, another black and white movie that Republicans have been told is a great film. They think it's about a beloved sled and not a character story of the corruption that vast wealth brings. The Wolf of Wall Street depicts the lewd excesses of the stock-market crowd, which most Republicans know is pure fantasy. To them it's a preachy liberal screed against unfettered capitalism, I mean, how commie can you get? Wealthy New Yorkers should be our God-Emperors and not shown as drug-taking perverts, so I guess that makes it The Woke Wolf of Wall Street. Plus if one in a hundred Republicans knows of William Randolph Hearst, who Kane was closely based on, I would be shocked.

The Answer

The Wolf of Wall Street (Woke): "Portrays capitalists on Wall Street as greedy self-absorbed criminals obsessed with sex, drugs and violence."

Citizen Kane (Conservative): "Conservative for its unflattering exposure of mainstream media moguls and the fall of an arrogant man."

55.9% of readers got this one right.

Matchup 12 (Sci-Fi): Star Trek Into Darkness vs. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Reader Guesses

A.M.S. in Silverdale, WA: Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Woke. Liberals think the aliens will be friendly and want to help us, when in fact we will have to fight back with everything we've got. We need to build a space wall to keep them out!

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY: Star Trek Into Darkness (anti-woke, aliens want to destroy us); Close Encounters of the Third Kind (woke, aliens want to be our friends).

The Answer

Star Trek Into Darkness (Woke): "[T]he film has several anti-War on Terror messages."

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Conservative): "Makes this list because of a hilarious, anti-mask scene in which the actor Richard Dreyfuss is riding on a bus where everyone is complying with a government order to wear a mask, whereupon he rips off his mask and declares that there is nothing wrong with the air."

60.4% of readers got this one right.

Matchup 13 (Supernatural): Ghost vs. Ghostbusters

Reader Guesses

E.B. in Seattle, WA: Ghost co-stars teh woke Whoopi Goldberg, who is also on woke talk shows and woke Star Trek: The Next Generation. By the Wokeness Transitive Property, the entire movie is woke.

C.R. in Vancouver, BC, Canada: Ghost is too "woke": female protagonist. Ghostbusters—well—who doesn't like Ghostbusters? (Unless it's the woke, all-female-cast Ghostbusters.)

The Answer

Ghost (Woke): "The Bible claims ghosts don't exist. Still this film toys with idea [sic] that they do, also it has liberal actress Whoopi Goldberg as a psychic medium."

Ghostbusters (Conservative): "The film fittingly satirizes an unfair (and likely liberal) professor, senseless academic research, paganism, and a villainous EPA regulator."

64.8% of readers got this one right.

Matchup 14 (Indiana Jones): Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark vs. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Reader Guesses

J.M.R. in Muncie, IN: Raiders has to be the woke movie because in that one Indy fights Nazis, while in Crystal Skull he fights communists.

R.D. in San Diego, CA: Nazi bad guys versus a widely-panned sequel. This could go either way, but my guess is that woke won't tolerate a loser, so Crystal Skull would be the woke one. It's easier to focus on "Indy is being generally heroic" and overlook "... by opposing the Nazis."

The Answer

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Woke): "Although the film does depict the Communists as bad guys (to such an extent that the Russian Communist Party in Moscow was angered by the decision), and implies that Indiana Jones is a Republican or at the very least an [sic] Dwight D. Eisenhower fan, the film also depicts McCarthyism in a negative light, with one character implying that the American Government was simply being paranoid and denies there being a sizeable Communist infiltration in America."

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Conservative): "During the Great Depression, archaeologist and adventurer Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones searches the world for artifacts of untold power and, along the way, combats some of America's most infamous enemies, in particular Nazis. The first and third films contain Christian themes since they are centered around the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail respectively, while the second film condemns paganism due to its main villain being a pagan priest."

83.5% of readers got this one right.

Matchup 15 (James Cameron Ocean Movies): The Abyss vs. Titanic

Reader Guesses

T.J. in Columbus, OH: Titanic. An artist radicalizes a wealthy woman into standing up to the patriarchy by outsmarting an arrogant, entitled rich man. The wealthy capitalists in the film are shown to be nasty, misogynistic jerks who truly don't care at all about the poor people on the boat, especially when the ship is sinking. Anti-capitalist and pro-women's rights, this is a woke film.

E.B. in Seattle, WA: In Titanic, the girl chooses the poor artist over the far more eligible rich stuffed shirt. Sure, she doesn't make space on her door (sharing is socialism!), but she feels sad about that later. The anti-woke celebrate their survival while the unworthy perish.

The Answer

The Abyss (Woke): "From liberal atheist James Cameron, this film pushes the absurd claim that global warming is real and that the military is evil."

Titanic (Conservative): "Every life had value and the most powerful men gave up their seats on lifeboats to women and children first; the media and a young RINO are rightly criticized."

39.7% of readers got this one right. We have no idea who the young RINO is. Probably Caledon Hockley, though we cannot think of what he does or says in the film to justify the INO part of that.

Out of roughly 2,300 responses, there were 15 readers who got 13/15 (86%, B) or better. The 13s were:

There were two scores of 14:

And there were two perfect scores:

The mean (average) score was 7.69, which is dangerously close to what the median would have been if every respondent had just flipped a coin 15 times. The median (50th percentile) score was 8, which is also basically a coin-flip result. The mode (most common) score was also 8.

We are both teachers, of course. And given the nature of the job, one is always looking for ways to allow the students to think through the material for themselves, ideally in a way that's somewhat fun and engaging. That's obviously what we were going for here. Several readers sent in comments making clear that they understood the general pedagogical idea. Among them:

M.W. in Austin, TX: My guiding light in making my selections was to put myself in the shoes of the anti-woke moviegoer, who cares not for understanding any of the ideological content of a movie, but rather reacts intuitively to a sense of whether a movie is "for" them, in a culture war sense, or alienating to them... Of particular interest to me was the conundrum of The Passion of the Christ vs. Braveheart. Since both films could easily be considered Great Conservative Films, it's necessary to dig deeper into exactly what flavor of conservative is making these designations in order to pick between them. The quiz contains a clue in the form of The Da Vinci Code. From my Catholic upbringing, I know that to a hugely Catholic conservative, The Da Vinci Code is a woke movie about how the secular mainstream wants to make being Catholic illegal, whereas a Protestant conservative is less likely to care about the movie. I therefore theorized that its inclusion on the list indicates a Catholic influence, and tips the scales ever so slightly in favor of The Passion of the Christ, which is beloved by evangelicals but not so much by Catholics, being the woke movie.

J.M.R. in Muncie, IN: I had a good time with the quiz because I don't know the answers. When I was in ninth grade I sat for a statewide (Ohio) science achievement test and, as I flipped through the first questions, realized I was out of my depth. I had never been taught what an amp, an ohm, or a volt were, and other things like that. I skipped the questions and kept flipping through the test book. Several pages in, I found a question with a drawing of a circuit. The question said one part of the circuit had X ohms and the other part had Y ohms; how much total resistance is in the circuit? I kept flipping and found other questions that revealed previous answers, and only after reading all the questions I started filling in answers, making sure none of my responses conflicted. I ended up being recognized at my school for having the eighth-highest score in the state and the highest in Southwest Ohio. I like my trivia the same way—facts I don't necessarily have but might figure out based on what I do know about the subject of the question. I doubt I'll have a merit-worthy score this time, but your quiz did hit that sweet spot.

Meanwhile, the specific "lesson" of this exercise was pretty plain: "Woke" vs. "Conservative" is a largely meaningless distinction. Indeed, just about any great film (and even most films that are merely good) create enough layers and enough ambiguity that they can be interpreted in either way. Is Patton about the martial spirit (conservative) or about a U.S. Army run by crazies (woke)? Is The Shawshank Redemption about a savvy businessman putting one over on his opponents (conservative) or about an oppressive prison system run amok (woke)? Is The Godfather about the awesome power of capitalism to allow someone to rise from poverty to great wealth (conservative) or about the crushing burdens faced by immigrants, forcing them to break the law in order to survive (woke)?

The readers who wrote in certainly grasped the point. A few of those comments:

B.G. in Atlantic Highlands, NJ: I generally picked the newer film. I don't claim to know what "woke" means but I'm pretty sure it fits entirely within the genre of manufactured outrage and I'm guessing it is both easier and more effective to manufacture outrage about the artists of the present instead of the past.

R.D. in San Diego, CA: So, for a film to be woke, it has to: (1) make well-known Republicans, men, Nazis, cops, and/or rich people look bad; (2) glorify academics/lefties/minorities, or (3) skimp out on the American value of excessive violence.

C.R. in Vancouver, BC, Canada: This quiz was harder than I thought it would be. I think that is, in part, because conservatives and progressives can watch the same movie and take away something completely different from it. It has also dawned on me that there are different kinds of conservatives: there are the Mike Pence types who focus on traditional values and notions of decency; and there are the Trump/DeSantis types who are paranoid, insecure about their masculinity, have misogynistic tendencies, and are obsessed with government conspiracies and protecting their "freedoms," but seem to be okay with taking away other people's freedoms.

C.R.'s comment, specifically about how much of this wokeness is driven by paranoia, was the inspiration for the song title in the headline.

Incidentally, reader K.H. in Albuquerque, NM, submitted the quiz to ChatGPT, and even the AI figured it out: "Remember that movies are complex works of art with multifaceted themes, and their interpretation can vary widely."

Of course, the people who don't get it are the people who made the lists. A few readers knew the right-wing mediasphere well enough to realize that the reviews came from the right-wing Wikipedia clone Conservapedia, specifically the pages "Essay: Greatest Conservative Movies" and "Essay: Worst Liberal Movies." That site is both brainchild and personal fiefdom of Andrew Schlafly, son of anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly, and himself a far-right conspiracist, anti-feminist, anti-abortionist and anti-vaxxer. Oh, and M.W. in Austin is right, Schlafly is Catholic.

Even though they don't apparently realize it, Schlafly and his minions provide, in a couple of ways, the best proof of all that "woke" is arbitrary and void of meaning. First, if you click on the two links above, it's actually not too hard to find films that appear on both lists. Second, part of the reason that we chose Conservapedia is that it's kind of famous as a target of vandalism by left-wingers. Some of the capsules on those two pages weren't written by Schlafly & Co., but instead by liberal parodists disguising themselves as conservatives. That neither we nor the right-wingers can distinguish between actual conservative talking points and faux talking points cooked up by left-wing infiltrators is just about the best illustration of Poe's Law we can imagine. (Z)

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