Directed by Who Cares
Starring You Dumb Asses
America’s Heart & Soul is so life-affirming, uplifting, positive, and warm-hearted that as the closing credits rolled, I wanted to grab the nearest scythe and butcher at least two dozen schoolchildren. At least! Not having such a weapon at my immediate disposal, I settled for a crusty look thrown in the direction of a sweet old lady. Released by Disney as the anti-Fahrenheit 9/11, America’s Heart & Soul was supposed to offer Americans a good-natured alternative to the allegedly downbeat and cynical attitude of Michael Moore’s slugfest. After all, what red-blooded American, patriotic down to his or her underwear, wouldn’t want to spend nearly 90 minutes with the best and brightest this nation has to offer? The people that work hard, play with their kids, milk cows, attend church, and when in doubt, smile like there’s no tomorrow? But there is a tomorrow, and it’s always a bright day with God and goodness in every bite. Think of it as USA: Now, More than Ever. It’s almost as if the filmmaker said to himself, “By golly, I’ll show them (terrorists, assassins, liberals) what we’re all about! We won’t be licked!”
The film is composed of around twenty segments; miniature “biographies” where we come to know people from all walks of life, that is if you never encounter academics, intellectuals, skeptics, atheists, cynics, activists, or anyone who’s ever had a negative thought. There’s a cowboy from Telluride, CO, who talks about life “without rules or government,” which is his way of saying that he’ll be damned if he gives in to them bureaucrats who are trying to collect back taxes on his mountain spread. And then we meet a gospel singer in Mississippi, a 70-year-old man who puts out oil fires (surprisingly, he’s not a Halliburton employee), a jazzman in New Orleans, and a blind mountain climber. There’s also a grape farmer, although this segment was illustrative of the film’s central problem. In what must have been an editing mistake (after all, we are meant to believe that this man works the land all by his lonesome), we catch a glimpse of a Mexican worker picking the man’s fruit. But before we can ask ourselves about exploitation, we cut back to the farmer and his self-righteous blather about “living a dream.” Hey jerkoff, how much do you pay the Mexicans? Somehow, I doubt your utopia would be possible without the poor and the miserable working for pennies. But that wouldn’t be in the spirit of this film, now would it? For Disney and America’s Heart & Soul, everyone loves what they do! Work, as someone once said, will make you free!
And oh my stars, we meet even more of the wacky and loveable, from a woman who makes quilts (who swears that if you cut open her chest, you’d find a mountain range instead of a heart) to a bike messenger in New York City. And we also get some nutcase in a Colorado mountain town who spends his time shooting balls and slabs of ham from his cannon, much to the delight of the illiterate and easily amused townsfolk. But hell, we love our eccentrics don’t we? That’s what makes this country so grand! Only in the heartland can we appreciate stunt pilots, loons who decorate their cars with every piece of junk they can dig from the dumpster, mentally challenged “artists” who build shit out of rusty car parts, and ex-cons who take up boxing and make it to the Olympics. We also love our Cajun musicians who talk about America’s wonderful diversity, even as they hide away in their retreat without a black face in sight. Or coal miners who do their duty, suffer their black lung, and cheer the end of union wages. After all, we don’t need regulation, protection, or a bunch of pointy-headed politicians telling us how to live. That’s what the local church leaders are for!
In all, the world of this movie is one without dissent, genuine non-conformity, conflict, or pain. No one really dies, but then again no one really lives, as resentments and difficulties are swept aside in favor of spiritual harmony and the power of Christ’s love. No one asks tough questions, debates the issues, or wonders why the only minorities we see are all singers, dancers, musicians, or convicted felons. And it is here, my friends, where the essential difference between liberals and conservatives is revealed. Putting aside the case-by-case disagreements, the two sides can best be defined by their overall worldview. Simply put, liberals believe in “conflict theory,” where a society improves and evolves out of the struggle against injustice, unfairness, and inhumanity. We grow because we are engaged in a never-ending fight against a corrupt, brutal system. Conservatives, on the other hand, buy into the “consensus theory,” an idea that sees the essential goodness in man, which is nothing more than a cynical ploy to keep people quiet. Things are good, they cry, so why rock the boat? And hell, what few problems we do have are nothing that can’t be solved with a little elbow grease. Failing that, we can always blame Bill Clinton.
If you just leave people to do as they will (decorate their homes, plow their fields, rape the land, dump chemicals into nearby rivers and streams), the world will be overwhelmed by good tidings. Needless to say, conservatives don’t actually live this way, but it puts a happy face on their plot, and sets the whole thing to soaring music. They’ll give you spectacular shots of bald eagles, but leave out the DDT that, if they had their way, would still be driving the birds to extinction. They’ll show you green grass, majestic peaks, and proud forests, but sneak through legislation that ensures the only place left to see these things will be your neighborhood movie theater. Our true heart and soul knows no back-breaking labor, mindless minimum wage, inner city neglect, or massive layoffs. The film does mention (briefly) the problems associated with moving jobs overseas, but instead of dealing with the real issue — nasty, treasonous assholes who kill the American Dream through sheer avarice — they put the whole thing in “personal” terms so that we feel for the few faces we see, but ignore the larger problem. Oh fuck, before I forget, I simply must mention the gimp who “runs” the Boston Marathon. In reality, he’s some dude with a hideous case of cerebral palsy that is pushed along in a wheelchair by his father, who of course does all the work. And yet, we’re meant to be inspired by this guy for finishing this big race year after year. Shit, strap me to a bed, shove my ass over a finish line, and let me claim to have competed in one of America’s most prestigious running events. No doubt the young man has a terrible condition, but he’s not an athlete. Wishing and hoping doesn’t make it so. If it did, I’d have my cock inside Catherine Zeta-Jones right about now. And now again.
Still, I don’t want to be overly preachy, even if I find the message of this film simpleminded and distorted. My main objection — as you would expect — is that these people bore the fuck out of me, and I wouldn’t want to spend any amount of time with them. They might be full of “spirit,” whatever the fuck that is, but they’re excruciatingly dull saps; I doubt a probing thought or book has ever crossed any of their paths. They’re the sort who believe in the promise of America, look forward to a brighter dawn, and just might come to your door with a cup of sugar in anticipation of that cake you’re baking for grandma’s visit. You know, the worst kind of people on planet Earth. In a film that romanticizes the small town and the amber waves of grain, I couldn’t help but think that in every case, I prefer the city. Give me noise, traffic, angry crowds, steel towers, grease and grime, and drunks looking for a fight. That’s the only way for me to feel truly alive. They say that if you’re not angry, you aren’t paying attention. For America’s Heart & Soul, paying attention is a risk they’re not willing to take.