Klavan On The Culture

'The Shape of Water' Shows How Leftism Guts Art

The Golden Globe Awards were hilarious. Actresses who covered up sexual malfeasance paraded themselves as heroes who exposed sexual malfeasance. Women who make millions for a few weeks work protested that more popular male stars make more millions. Oprah Winfrey pretended we live in a time when women in America are oppressed but, don’t you worry little girl, a new day is coming because of brave million dollar actresses giving each other awards in very attractive black dresses. Ridiculous.

No one mentioned the girls stripping off their head-dresses during protests in Iran. Risking their lives. Standing up to the genuinely crushing sexist oppression generated by Islam. Don’t interrupt our make-believe heroism for real heroism! Why, that would make Hollywood actresses look like absurdly spoiled little girls playing heroine dress-up.

The empty kabuki mockery of protest highlights the way in which leftism has gutted our artistic community of sincerity and realism. So too did the Best Director award to Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of WaterIt’s a beautiful-looking film, no doubt, and brilliantly acted, but as stupid and shallow as only leftism could make it.

The movie is a remake of Splash, which is a far better film, with a touch of Creature From the Black Lagoon, also a far better film. The plot is: a mute cleaning lady at a science facility in the early 1960’s falls in love with an aquatic creature being held prisoner there.

Lest we make any mistake about the meaning of this parable, the clunky script helps us along. The heroine is handicapped, her best friend is black, her second best friend is gay. The gay man is rejected. A black couple is refused service at a restaurant. The villain of the piece — played by the wonderful Michael Shannon — is a white male who thinks white people are closer to the image of God than black people and that women should be seen and screwed but not heard. You see, children, whether you’re black or gay or a sea creature, you should be accepted. Lefty critics of course fell for this guff hook, line and sinker, so to speak. “The most welcome and notable thing about The Shape of Water is its generosity of spirit, which extends beyond the central couple,” said A.O. Scott of the New York Times. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Aren’t you special?

Now, art, by its nature, is culture critical. That is, it highlights the flaws and hypocrisies that exist in all human systems. Every culture has built-in lies and restrictions, and watching human nature bump up against those societal limits is one of the ways art creates tension and drama. If art had nothing to say about the way we live now, it would have nothing to say.

But leftism only pretends to be culture critical. Because it falsely believes there is a system that will solve the problems of human life, it only criticizes certain things and does not look to humanity to find nuanced resolutions. It is self-satisfied, didactic and self-certain and therefore its approach to human life is sterile and dead. Thus, The Shape of Water masquerades as cultural criticism but is in fact self-congratulation. Who in the audience thinks that black people should be refused service or women should be silenced or gays oppressed? No one. So what the movie is really saying is: Look how enlightened we are. Look how wonderful we are. It kisses itself endlessly for its make-believe “generosity of spirit.”

Leftism guts everything it touches because its essential claim — that state-run life is better than free life — is false. Therefore, it can only operate by attacking and silencing opposing viewpoints. It typically takes over a respected institution — The New York Times, say, or Yale University — empties it of content and wears it as a disguise. You pay respect to what used to be the Times or Yale, but now it’s only leftism.

The same is true of the arts. Leftism empties them of any content but itself. Like leftism, The Shape of Water looks terrific. And like leftism, it doesn’t really work.