In the late 1980s, Martin Scorsese, who had always been an implicitly Christian filmmaker, became an explicitly Christian filmmaker with The Last Temptation of Christ. Evangelicals and conservative Catholics reacted not only with outrage, but with a well-organized boycott. “This is Hollywood’s worst hour,” Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell said. “Neither the label ‘fiction’ nor the First Amendment gives Universal the right to libel, slander and ridicule the most central figure in world history.” Most people on the left quickly jumped to Scorsese’s defense, ridiculing Falwell for condemning a a film he admitted he had not seen.
It’s unlikely that Confederate, the proposed mini-series set in an alternative historical timeline where the south wins the United States Civil War, will rise to the artistic heights of Martin Scorsese’s magnificent dramatization of the controversial novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Sadly, however, many American leftists have descended to the level once occupied by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, calling for a boycott of a show that does not yet exist. Following the lead of April Reign, who created the hashtag “OscarsSoWhite,” progressives and anti-racists on social media declared with an almost unified voice that the very concept of an imaginary world where the Confederate States of American successful established their independence was racist and harmful to black people. “You are essentially asking black folks to wait and see if a show about slavery existing to modern times isn’t offensive,” white, male, feminist social media personality Charles Clymer maintained. “You’re asking black folks to be okay with white people being entertained at the thought of the Confederacy existing now.”
The left on social media is, in fact, so united in its outrage at the possibility that “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would be successful in bringing “Confederate” to HBO that I began to wonder what I was missing. Was I simply suffering from a bad case of “white privilege?” I eventually decided the whole issue was a lot more complex than anybody wanted to admit. I also realized that as different as they are, the evangelical Christian right and anti-racist, social media left share one thing in common. They both believe that art needs to be experienced, not as an individual, but as part of a community.
I used to attempt to argue the Bible, which I’ve read through several times, with Christian evangelicals, often setting “traps” like pointing out how the story of Jephthah in the Book of Judges seemed to indicate that human sacrifice worked, or asking them where in the Gospels Jesus ever mentioned homosexuality. It never had much effect. One of the primary institutions of the Christian right is the “Bible study,” where prospective church members are drilled in the “correct” interpretation not only of the Gospels and Paul’s letters, but in each book of the Old Testament. I was always astonished at just how many Christian evangelicals had a well-thought out answer to any question I could raise about even the most obscure, and confusing Biblical narratives. I suppose I shouldn’t have been. Back when I was an undergraduate at Rutgers they had such an active chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ that I eventually just assumed that any cute girl who chatted me up was just trying to get me into a room full of people who would disabuse me of the notion that Matthew 25:40 was in any way an argument for socialism.
The social media left’s version of the Bible study is the hash tag. Here, “thought leaders” like April Reign and Charles Clymer will instruct their followers in the correct reactions to the Oscars, the popular HBO miniseries of the day, which pop stars are “lit’ or “woke” or “badass” and which ones are “problematic,” and what forms of artistic expression white people should avoid so as not to “appropriate” someone else’s culture. The main difference between me and my fellow leftists is pretty much the same as the difference between me and the typical Christian evangelical. Just as I read the Bible as an individual, and not as part of a church, I also experience “culture” as an individual, and not as part of a community. Unlike most people on Twitter I did not find the idea of an alternative timeline where the Confederacy emerges victorious racist or “problematic” but intriguing. Neoconfederate propaganda rarely depicts southerners as victorious oppressors, but, rather, as defeated, romantic martyrs. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, I imagined, might just blunder into something subversive. What many people on the left want to see, by contrast, an imaginary south where blacks are the elite and whites the oppressed, struck me as fairly standard “lost cause,” neoconfederate propaganda about Radical Reconstruction.
What’s ironic is that if Confederate is successfully produced and aired on HBO, I’m unlikely to watch it. I don’t even have HBO. Many of the people who enthusiastically joined in the “NoConfederate” hashtag, on the other hand, are likely to “hate watch” the show, and contribute to HBO’s promotional campaign by debating it online. In fact, the “NoConfederate” hashtag was timed in order to coincide with an episode of Game of Thrones, a series I’ve never followed, and which has always vaguely disgusted me.