I recently got a request to become a fan of a Facebook page called "97 percent of people have never seen Disney's most shocking hidden message," which plays on the trope that disgruntled Disney animators hid dirty words and images in films including Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid. (The page wasn't working when I visited it, so I remain among that unenlightened 97 percent.) Whether the scattered dust in The Lion King actually spells "sex" remains open to interpretation, but it points to the trickiness of discerning "messages" in films, either spelled out or implied. So it seems curious that the National Tea Party is calling for entries for the Tea Party Nation Conservative Film Festival, to take place during the National Tea Party Unity Convention in Las Vegas in July. According to the Web site, the festival is seeking "feature films, short films, and music videos where there is a conservative message and/or presents Traditional American values." First prize is a whopping $2,500. If anyone creates a "traditional values" music video worth watching, they deserve at least $5,000.
Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether a film that has an intended message is art or propaganda, you have to wonder what sort of entries might qualify. As anyone who's created a work of art knows, creators have no control over how their works are interpreted by the public. That's how a film like Juno, about a pregnant teen, which would seem custom-crafted for liberal hipster audiences, could be co-opted by the religious right for allegedly furthering an anti-abortion agenda (the hero opts to offer her baby for adoption.) Or a movie like Slumdog Millionaire, another film embraced by "liberal elites," could be seen as espousing conservative values such as anti-intellectualism (the hero disdains school for the wisdom of the streets) and American imperialism (he achieves success via that great capitalist export, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.) Or consider the recent box-office hit The Blind Side. Does the tale of a poor black football player adopted by a privileged white family confirm liberal, Democratic notions of America as a land of racial and social injustice and even espouse socialist goals of the redistribution of wealth? Or does it affirm a conservative view of the American Dream as embodied by a wealthy, white, Republican, Christian suburban family?
It's hard enough to make a film with a coherent narrative, compelling characters, engaging visual language, and a believable script. To also smuggle in a conservative message that affirms traditional American values (however you define them) seems beyond even the talents of a master manipulator like Walt Disney, let alone some amateur hack with a beef about health-care reform. Still, if someone does manage to direct Cheney: The Musical!, we'll be the first ones in line.