Bias in Criticism of Media Bias

Amanda writes about the latest conservative culture battlefield, the movie Happy Feet. James Lileks is annoyed that the movie is about animals endangered by human overfishing. Since that is tangentially related to media bias, he can’t resist making a quip at movies in general.

[Link] I remember when animals were used as stand-ins for humans, to shed light on human behaviors and foibles; now animals are stand-ins for creatures more ethically advanced than humans. (See also, The Ant Bully. Or rather don’t; that movie said it was okay to be an individual as long as you were part of a collective, and no one ever had competing goals or ideas. Muddle-headed twaddle.) If the current filmmakers had made “Ol’ Yeller,” the dog would have been allowed to stay rabid and chew all the locals.

The attack on The Ant Bully is especially rich, considering that the bulk of the part of his post above the bit I quoted is snark directed at movies that promote individualism. But the more general theme of attacking movies that use animal characters as “stand-ins for creatures more ethically advanced than humans” just makes no sense. Using animals that way goes at least as far back as The Jungle Book. The Jungle Book has a human child as a character, but so do Ice Age and Monsters, Inc.

It’s not particularly new for folk tales – and animated films are nothing if not imitations of folk tales – to be about those considered untainted. The theme of the child who proves the adults wrong is well established in fiction. There’s no reason for animals to be treated differently; after all, non-whites, who Rudyard Kipling’s generation analogized to animals, are “half devil and half child” according to Kipling.

For an analysis of the conservative myth of the golden age, when children’s stories were properly virile, nobody had premarital sex, and the people never questioned the state’s military actions, I can’t improve on Coturnix‘s entire corpus of political theory posts.

But there’s another angle here, that of biased criticism. When I wrote about different inequalities, I mentioned that people looked for the forms of oppression they’re familiar with. This also applies here: when people attack Hollywood for being too liberal or too conservative, the evidence they give is colored by the sort of bias they look for. A conservative who sees a movie with a racially and sexually diverse elite military team that solves everything by force will conclude the movie is all about political correctness; a liberal who sees the same movie will conclude it’s all about lionizing military might.

The same applies to Echidne’s post about sexism in the media in light of Steve Gilliard’s unfavorable comparison of Michael Richards to people who call women fat cunts. That in itself doesn’t establish that the media treats sexism more lightly than racism; it just happens to discriminate against black people by portraying them as criminals instead of by legitimizing people who call them names. But when you look for discrimination that takes the form of lenience toward people who use slurs, you might conclude that on the contrary, the media does treat sexism more lightly.

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