You’re probably going to be hearing a lot more about a child fantasy movie called Beasts of the Southern Wild, an extremely disturbing motion picture that’s part of Hollywood’s trend toward what I call poverty porn. It’s getting rave reviews, winning film festival awards and opening this week in select theaters.
Blurring realism and fantasy, like its equally repulsive poverty-themed predecessor, Slumdog Millionaire, which won Oscar’s Best Picture, Beasts of the Southern Wild involves a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy whose childhood takes place in a shantytown in the Louisiana bayou.
Much of Hushpuppy’s story is nonsense that borders on gibberish and the whole film fails to distinguish between reality and fantasy. The unwashed child is depicted listening to animal heartbeats, consuming alcohol with her drunkard father, who is best described as a dying lunatic with a few moments of sanity left in him, and, when she isn’t ripping into fish and animals like a savage, Hushpuppy lives among an unwashed collective near New Orleans that guards its collectivism with brute force and terrorism.
Seriously. In one scene, her father tries to get her to trigger a homemade bomb tucked inside a dead alligator intended to blow up government infrastructure for the sake of the people. If this were a nuclear family in a suburb trying to protect their private property, the media would denounce the movie as dangerous right-wing propaganda.
But this is Beasts of the Southern Wild, apparently made by a collectivist (and, incidentally, distributed by Fox) and the press is going bananas for it. The New York Times’ critic praised it as a brilliant example of magical anti-capitalism. But the rave reviews ignore or evade the fact that charming, little Hushpuppy is physically abused by her father and left to fend for herself.
Alarmingly, none of this – a child using a blowtorch to light a stove, dancing with a prostitute in a whorehouse, sleeping indiscriminately with multiple adults and children – is judged on moral grounds. On the contrary, the impending doom of Hushpuppy’s abusive father, who takes child abuse to epic proportions, is the film’s climax.
Apparently, amid fires, storms, floods, beatings and acts of hedonism, real or imagined, we’re supposed to become attached to the poor, dirty beasts of the bayou, also known here as “the bathtub,” even rooting for them to escape the clutches of those civilized rescue workers and medical professionals who dare to risk life and limb to liberate children imprisoned in scum, filth and misery from self-destructive communes.
For all its pretensions about being raw, magical and brutal at once, Beasts of the Southern Wild spares us the worst sights and sounds of Hushpuppy’s inhuman existence; it is merely condescending toward the poor, giving us an adorable young child where surely a hollow, haunted human would emerge, desperately in urgent need of proper care, cleaning and feeding.
That the child and the collective to which she is forced to belong are portrayed as noble savages explains why the leftist entertainment press revels in this depravity. Never mind that David Koresh and the Branch Davidians did the same thing to children in Waco, Texas, for which decent people rightly deplored them. Don’t even mention the Northern California-based Reverend Jim Jones and his People’s Temple in Guyana, where hundreds of people including children were forced to drink cyanide and kill themselves in the name of collectivism.
Like so many recent movies, this celebrated movie fetishizes poor people and mythologizes poverty as defiant, doomed – and brave. The best of movies about poor people – Conrack with Jon Voight and Madge Sinclair comes to mind – insist that even poverty can’t destroy the best in man. Today’s glut of poverty porn says just the opposite—that being poor is inherently superior—which is why Beasts of the Southern Wild may be this year’s favorite among those who worship a new kind of primitivism.