Good Night, and Good Luck.

by J.D. Roth

We saw our fourth Best Picture nominee last weekend, the superb Good Night, and Good Luck. I knew little about the film when we entered the theater, and thus was pleasantly surprised to find it tautly written, well acted, and filmed lovingly in grainy black-and-white.

Good Night, and Good Luck. tells the story of reporter Edward R. Murrow‘s campaign against Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film wisely avoids providing detailed background to McCarthy’s crusade against communism; it assumes the viewer has a basic grasp of this piece of American history. Instead, the film focuses almost exclusively on the offices of CBS News and on the men (and few women) who risk their careers to confront McCarthy and his dogmatism. These men are not painted as heroes, but as ordinary fellows doing their jobs. The film uses actual archival footage of McCarthy, letting him damn himself.

This is an excellent film, my favorite non-documentary of the year. (Kris still prefers Crash and Brokeback Mountain.) Granted, there are a couple of opaque points — who is this Don Hollenbeck and why should we care about his story? — but on the whole, the film is tight and cohesive in a way that most modern Hollywood films, with their loose stories and superfluous subplots, are not.

Some other quick points:

More than anything, Good Night, and Good Luck. moved me. It was inspiring to watch the story of a small group of people standing up to a narrow-minded man abusing his power. There are some clear parallels between McCarthyism and the machinations of the current administration. This film made me realize that I need to do more than just complain in this weblog; I need to do something.

Kris was in a foul mood all weekend.

That’s not true: she started the weekend in a stellar mood. We had dinner with Marcela and Pierre (and their beautiful children), which left us craving more of their company. Kris, in particular, finds their conversation stimulating. While Louis and Ella showed me how to play their favorite games (Peanut Butter & Jelly being the #1 choice), the other three adults sat at the dinner table, discussing politics with wine and candlelight. Kris loves this sort of thing: adult conversation about adult topics.

Recently, Kris has been watching a The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. “I love this show,” she tells me. “Everyone is so smart: the commentators and the guests. It’s great to see intelligent people discuss the issues.” (She’s also become a fan of of the Cursor linked news summaries, which you ought to visit if you haven’t already.) I don’t watch the show with her, but she often gives me condensed versions of each night’s stories.

Last weekend the news had overwhelmed her. “I have this seething anger that no one seems to be PAYING ATTENTION,” she told me.

“You know,” I said during one of her sour patches, “you really ought to give Dave a chance. He’s educated, intelligent, and keenly interested in world affairs. Of all our friends, he’s probably most able to carry on the sort of conversation that you crave. When we were at lunch Friday, we had a fine discussion about the decline of oratory in this country. He told me about the book he was reading, a biography of Lincoln. He’s well-informed.”

Kris sighed.

She wishes I were more keenly interested in world affairs. Like Pam, I bury my head in the sand. I purposely avoid exposure to the news because:

The truth is I do have strong opinions about most social and political issues. My views aren’t always popular, however, and I find it pointless — even destructive — to argue about politics, so mostly I am quiet. (This is especially true in-person. I am not a good debater. Unfortunately, many of the people who want to debate — Kris, Dave, Dana — are formally trained in the art so that it’s frustrating to argue with them. Even when they’re wrong, they win the argument.) It’s not worth it to me to speak my mind about, say, abortion, if the price of speaking my mind is a strained (or lost) friendship. I speak my voice in the polling booth, and in the money I contribute to various causes. (Although it is true that most of my causes are non-partisan entities like the Oregon Historical Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.)

I guess what I’m trying to say, though poorly, is that I’ve been thinking recently about my relationship with the world, especially regarding politics and social activism. I’ve tried to suppress these sorts of thoughts, most of all in this weblog, aside from the usual angry tirade about our President. Maybe it’s time for me to change. Maybe it’s time for me to become more informed. Maybe it’s time for me to care.

Maybe it’s time for me to voice my opinion, the consequences be damned.

Updated: 09 February 2006

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