THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX

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D: Marion Lipschutz & Rose Rosenblatt

True love waits. Having sex is like being a dog. Most gays die by the age of forty. God, Family, and Country – in that order. If you are a resident of Lubbock, Texas, you have internalized such “truths” by the time you take your first tentative steps. If you are Shelby Knox, you have believed every word told to you by your conservative parents, your pastor, and even your teachers, yet by the time you reach high school, you begin to question such notions, which of course makes you a pariah in the community, if not your own home. The Education of Shelby Knox, a depressing, all-too-familiar documentary about one girl’s awakening in a culture gone mad, will make some people sick, but is just as likely to make most of the country come to the town’s defense. For every person like myself who sees a film like this and is moved to join any club that advocates the forced secession of the Lone Star State, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of my fellow Americans who see only a deluded young girl crossing the line and starting her own personal journey to hell. And even though I am a fan of Shelby’s by the end (she has started to question everything in her life and is proud to say she’s a Democrat), she’s far from the ideal leader, as she continues to believe in a magical man in the clouds. Still, as she’s lived her entire life in the hellish torment of Texas, perhaps it’s enough that she’s an advocate for sex education in the public schools, while openly embracing gays.

The documentary follows a few years in Shelby’s life; from her revolting “purity pledge” at the Church on the Rock (the event is supremely creepy and likely similar to a Skull & Bones ritual) to her gradual, yet dramatic, turn towards tolerance and the light of reason. After all, she’s fighting a community where the official line is “abstinence-only”, yet the teen pregnancy and STD rates are among the highest in the nation. In fact, 1 in 14 girls get pregnant every year. Gonorrhea, likely believed to be a scourge of less “values-driven” areas, afflicts Lubbock’s young people at twice the national average. Enlightened people all know that the more Christian a community claims to be, the more perversion and hypocrisy there is to be found, but it’s always illuminating to actually visit a place where so much is driven underground, even to the point where an otherwise understanding mother could be moved to tell her daughter that sex ed is one thing, but “this gay issue” is just too much. And when Shelby visits with the local Gay-Straight Alliance, we find the usual suspects in a city like Lubbock: tearful, terrified young people who are full of shame, regret, and bitter rage. And of course, the only reactions we get from the Cunts for Christ are the standard, “Homosexuality is a sin” and “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” At this point with my already declining will to live, the latter remark has become, for me, the one thing most necessitating immediate and unapologetic homicide. It’s just a hair above the other chestnut, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

Shelby spends most of her time working tirelessly for the Lubbock Youth Commission, a group of and for young people who hope to bring key issues to the attention of the community. But as the group begins to push for a more comprehensive policy a bit more complex than “Sex kills; don’t do it”, they are pressured to cease and desist or have their funding stripped away. Shelby’s main competition on the committee is the smarmy Cory, a young Tom Delay-in-waiting who appears to back the more liberal policy, but is clearly taking the politician’s course. In other words, he’ll abandon ship whenever he feels his own limited power is threatened. Shelby eventually resigns from the group, largely due to its overly deferential turn, as it abandons its support of a gay club in order to retain its budget. They even promise to return to a bland “community service” organization, which in Texas means hosting parades, boosting local businesses, and dragging black men behind their trucks. But Shelby, despite bursting into tears a bit too often for this hard heart, will beat them all, as she leaves for the University of Texas and the lone bastion of sanity in a sewage-saturated state: Austin. Cory, predictably, attends Texas A&M, a more suitable college for such a supreme dickhead. And I know this solely because the elder Bush has his library there, as well as his final resting place, which won’t be too soon for this cowboy.

Needless to say, our good friend Fred Phelps and his minions at godhatesfags.com show up to protest the possible adoption of a gay club at the high school, which provokes a small battle between Shelby and her crew and, well, everyone else in town. Fred’s drones even have a little ditty for the occasion, which includes the line, “God hates America….The filthy faggot home.” Most mainstream Christians claim to disavow the tactics and words of the Phelps gang, but I simply don’t believe it. If one believes that homosexuality is a sin according to the word of God, then banishing them to eternal hellfire is in fact the correct judgment, given that philosophical position. As such, I firmly believe that most religious people in this country share Phelps’ blind hatred; only they are prevented from expressing such things by a wish to appear respectable. In addition to the illogic, naiveté, and outright stupidity inherent in their belief system, it is fundamentally and inescapably hostile to the diversity of the human experience. If you don’t live and breathe the fumes of Christ’s nutsack, you are not only different, but inferior. This hidden truth is revealed quite openly by the hipper-than-thou pastor Ed Ainsworth when he tells Shelby, “Christianity is the most intolerant religion in the world.” He’s not being self-deprecating; he’s celebrating a vicious narrow-mindedness that will not budge, evidence or compassion be damned. In that sense, while his words make me want to batter his skull against a street lamp, I must admire his honesty. He gave away Christianity’s dirty little secret and he didn’t even have to have his sphincter tickled.

Shelby also visits with Wayson Gernig, the chairman of the local Family Values Coalition, that typically American watchdog group that patrols the streets of our land to make sure that free-thinking has been consigned to the same ash bin as Communism, homosexuality, and any pretense of church-state separation. Predictably, he’s a condescending asshole, and Shelby might have had a more productive conversation with a toilet seat. There’s also the reliably close-minded school superintendent Dr. Jack Clemmons, a dignified, respectable sort who eventually leaves town after using school time (and school computers) to send a colleague seductive emails asking her to prance around his office naked for $500. All of these dashing gentlemen are convinced that talking about sex in school leads to promiscuous behavior, so they have banished such talk to the streets, where local kids invent a “fuck fest”, whereby girls are rated from 1 to 10 and the boys compete to accumulate the most points via their cocks. No one uses any protection, of course, but it’s just as well, as they know from Pastor Ed that condoms fail just about all the time, anyway. And hell, can’t you get genital warts from a handshake? So yes, let us send kudos to the dear Shelby Knox, for she managed to escape pretty much intact. And let us also sit in awe before her, for in the face of a truly monstrous evil, she used the power of language, rather than the grenades and automatic weapons I would have eventually been forced to stockpile.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
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