Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 3, 2007

Unborn in the USA

Filed under: Fascism,Film,religion — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

“Unborn in the USA: Inside the War on Abortion” is a kind of companion piece to last year’s “Jesus Camp.” Both films avoid any kind of editorializing commentary and simply allow the ultra-right religious fanatics to hoist themselves on their own petard. Except for the occasional on screen correction (for example, despite the claims of one of the anti-abortion activists, there is no link between abortion and breast cancer), the documentary takes the fetus-fetishists at their own words.

Indeed, in some ways, it is a film that they might have made themselves. Co-directors Stephen Fell and Will Thompson began work on what would ultimately become “Unborn in the USA” as a student film project at Rice University. Striving for objectivity, they aimed to “be journalists throughout and not have a particular opinion…to superimpose on the film” in the words of Stephen Fell. Given the overall creepiness of this movement, the young directors had little to do except focus their cameras on the subjects to make their opinion clear.

The film begins with a look at college interns being trained at the campus of Focus on the Family, the largest rightwing Christian fundamentalist group in the country. Focus on the Family is run by James Dobson, who has urged support for candidates who would make abortion punishable by death. The campus is near Colorado Springs, Colorado, a state which is rapidly becoming the nerve center of rightwing fundamentalism in the USA. After getting pointers from an instructor on how to get their point across, they pack themselves into two Greyhound buses and descend on a local state college where they are confronted by local students who are outraged by the outsized posters of the bloody remains of abortions on their campus. Some schools have banned these displays, but obviously the Colorado educational authorities have no problem with them, just as they have no problem firing Ward Churchill for making unpopular comments after 9/11.

Despite their fetus fetishism, the Focus on the Family students almost seem normal, at least in comparison with the pond scum that are featured in the film’s middle section. The young directors allow Army of God activists to make their case, which boils down to maiming or killing men and women who perform abortions. To give credit where credit is due, President Clinton pushed for legislation that would put these animals on the defensive. Not only have Army of God type assassinations become more or less a thing of the past, laws now prevent these scum from blocking the entrances to abortion clinics. Their main activity nowadays, according to the documentary, is standing on the street with huge posters of bloody fetuses.

These posters will undoubtedly have little impact on whether a woman decides to get an abortion or not. As is evident from the confrontations between them and pro-choice women who have had abortions, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is not done lightly. What the fetus fetishists are really about is forcing their will on a secular and permissive population that they blame for America’s decline. In turning the clock back to when abortion was illegal, they must think that the USA will be the City on the Hill once again. Clearly they lack an understanding of the ABC’s of capitalist economics.

The film makes clear that the Bush White House and the anti-abortion movement work hand-in-glove. There is an illuminating interview with the CEO of the phone-banking company that raises money for both the Republican Party and the major anti-abortion outfits. He says that the people who make the fund pitches are “zealots” just like him. They are involved with a cause.

Although I don’t share Chris Hedges’s worry that such activists are an immanent fascist threat, I do think that he has captured their thinking and their methods in his recently published “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” These clearly are elements of a movement that might take shape in the future that is psychology suited to atavistic traditions in the USA. Instead of the swastika, the crucifix and the fetus are likely to be the symbols of a totalitarian-leaning capitalism. In an January 19, 2007 Alternet article, Hedges wrote:

The engine that drives the radical Christian Right in the United States, the most dangerous mass movement in American history, is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.

This despair crosses economic boundaries, of course, enveloping many in the middle class who live trapped in huge, soulless exurbs where, lacking any form of community rituals or centers, they also feel deeply isolated, vulnerable and lonely. Those in despair are the most easily manipulated by demagogues, who promise a fantastic utopia, whether it is a worker’s paradise, fraternite-egalite-liberte, or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community to replace the one they lost, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance they are protected, loved and worthwhile.

During the past two years of work on the book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, I kept encountering this deadly despair. Driving down a highway lined with gas stations, fast food restaurants and dollar stores I often got vertigo, forgetting for a moment if I was in Detroit or Kansas City or Cleveland. There are parts of the United States, including whole sections of former manufacturing centers such as Ohio, that resemble the developing world, with boarded up storefronts, dilapidated houses, pot-hole streets and crumbling schools. The end of the world is no longer an abstraction to many Americans.

Jeniece Learned is typical of many in the movement. She stood, when I met her, amid a crowd of earnest-looking men and women, many with small gold crosses in the lapels of their jackets or around their necks, in a hotel lobby in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. She had an easy smile and a thick mane of black, shoulder length hair. She was carrying a booklet called “Ringing in a Culture of Life.” The booklet had the schedule of the two day event she is attending organized by The Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. The event was “dedicated to the 46 million children who have died from legal abortions since 1973 and the mothers and fathers who mourn their loss.”

Perhaps the difficulties facing the neoconservative movement today under the reign of arguably the most unpopular President in American history might signal a lessening of the threat identified by Hedges, not to speak of the despair found within the pages of Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Whatever the future directions of American society, we on the left are compelled to keep track of our enemies. A film like “Unborn in the USA” is necessary viewing from that standpoint. Unfortunately, I received a screener from the good folks at First Run Features after the film had ended its run at Cinema Village in New York. We can assume that it will be released in home video before long. Keep an eye out for it. It is first-rate.

3 Comments »

  1. “Jesus Camp was really excellent. This sounds good too.

    Isn’t it amazing how cynically the Republicans and Democrats exploit that issue? The GOP uses it to get votes from people, who actually believe that stuff about fetuses. No rich GOPer is going to Mexico for an abortion. The Dems use the issue for fundraising.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — July 3, 2007 @ 11:18 pm

  2. Too bad you refer to human beings in your review as “scum”–but what can be expected from someone who is obviously unable to have any pity on the broken bodies of unborn babies—who are so much trash to you.

    Comment by Edmund Miller — July 23, 2007 @ 2:06 am

  3. […] for Armageddon” joins two other documentaries, “Jesus Camp” and “Unborn in the USA”, in lifting up the rock and showing the creepy, crawly things that have begun to play a larger […]

    Pingback by Waiting for Armageddon « The Speed of Dreams — January 21, 2010 @ 7:10 pm


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