Romney, Religion, and the Moral Lessons of Superbad
On this day when Mitt Romney gave a speech about Mormonism and the country pauses collectively to consider the larger question of the role of religion in politics, my mind turns to lessons I learned this weekend watching Superbad. For those of you who missed this important artistic treatise, a thumbnail recap: two teenage boys about to graduate from high school try to use the sentimentality provoked during the waning days of senior year as a platform from which to score chicks. It is among the most profane films ever made (I'm waiting for a masters thesis on how it outscores Pulp Fiction in profanities-per-minute), jejune, and cringe-producingly honest. It is also beautifully humane, and yet another retort from Judd Apatow to the Jerry Falwell moralism that has dominated the US for 20 years.
The most potent example of the Apatow oeuvre comes from an outtake that didn't make it into The 40 Year Old Virgin. In a cameo, Apatow himself plays a father who comes to shop at a big-box electronics store for his two-year-old daughter, whom he holds in his arms (played by his real-life daughter). The store is the setting for the movie, and one of the main characters haplessly tries to sell him a high-tech robot even as Apatow protests that robots scare his daughter. Predictably, she begins to cry--causing her father to (unpredictably) roar back a sting of profanity so blue it would embarrass a Marine. He clutches her tenderly all the while. Given the cultural mores of our time, this comes off as shockingly transgressive (no wonder it got cut). What offends is not the behavior--a non-English speaker watching would remain nonplussed--but the profanity. In front of a two-year-old--for shame! Hold that thought.
The Republican Party has become the party of a certain God--the two so fused that it becomes a crisis when a Mormon runs (wrong God) while wholly unremarkable that a front-runner is a parson. Romney's candidacy is viable, perversely, because our current cultural and religious context favors deeply conservative expressions of faith and family. Romney runs as an overtly religious candidacy ("it is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions")--promising to solidify not only the values, but even the status of the dominant faith, to which he does not subscribe. This is bizarre, but also a metaphor for the type of socio-religious expectations the country now holds.Continued at BlueOregon.