From the Warner Brothers web site promoting the movie
If you're like me you have heard many radio advertisements promoting "Million Dollar Baby," the Clint Eastwood movie that is receiving critical raves and seems certain to win at least one Academy Award.
You also think the movie is about boxing.
You're also wrong. The movie's central plot feature, we now know, is assisted suicide.
But you'd never know that from the promotional materials or just about any of the major reviews of the movie. That this is a boxing movie is certainly what the radio ads and trailers suggest. Look at Warner Brothers' site for the movie, for example.
The movie seems tempting enough to see. It's rated PG-13, so people who avoid R-rated movies will at least consider seeing it. In addition to Eastwood (one of the biggest box-office draws in the world) "Million Dollar Baby" stars Morgan Freeman and Hillary Swank, two very fine actors. Swank won Best Actress several years ago (in another "message" movie, "Boys Don't Cry").
But when "Million Dollar Baby" is discussed, virtually no one talks about assisted suicide (which some call euthanasia, but that's another post altogether).
Why the dishonesty? There are surely several reasons, but I think primarily they are;
1. Movie reviewers-- especially the big-time writers-- generally share the worldview of the entertainment industry: They're primarily hard-core liberals who consider themselves enlightened cosmopolitians who disdain the views of cold-hearted red-state America.
2. Because such liberals are overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing and expanding the use of assisted suicide, they are inclined to assist the cause. (After all, isn't it clear to all enlightened, cosmopolitan people that assisted suicide is right, proper, and compassionate?)
3. Film reviewers who consider themselves enlightened and cosmopolitan certainly don't want to be identified with cold-hearted red-state America, most citizens of which either question or oppose assisted suicide; nor do they want to discourage anyone (intentionally or not) from seeing this film, which reportedly presents assisted suicide in a very favorable light. The gretaer the number of people who see the movie, the more the cause of enlightened cosmopolitan thinking is advanced.
4. If people know the movie has an assisted suicide theme, they won't go see it. The cause of enlightened cosmopolitan thinking will suffer.
5. So the enlightened and cosmopolitan reviewers will not mention the film's central theme, which might discourage people from viewing it.
Now, you may think the theory above is silly and its underlying logic flawed, because people are going to start seeing "Million Dollar Baby" anyway, and soon everyone who pays attention will learn by word of mouth about the movie's theme. But many will still see the film without knowing its theme. Many will still be proselytized.
It's essentially the same approach Amway promoters use to fool you into going to an Amway meeting: They know you'll be less likely to go if you know the meeting is about Amway. The same approach is used by some religious proselytizers to get people to listen to their story.
And it's still misleading and wrong. What makes the "Million Dollar Baby" deception so interesting and so revealing is the widespread complicity of the old media in Warner Brothers' marketing plans.
Note: I do not think this is anything close to a conspiracy; it is simply a remarkably clear example of the groupthink that goes on in that segment of the news media.
Tim Rutten of the L.A. Times deserves credit for raising the issue. Rutten's a solid liberal but he does at least see the questionable nature of what has been going on. Prior to Rutten's piece in yesterday's Times, I had heard only Michael Medved raise this issue during an interview.
If you want to see this movie, go right ahead. I might even see it myself. It's probably a superb piece of filmmaking. But we should all go into the theater knowing what we will be seeing.
UPDATE: Common Sense Runs Wild has further analysis on the movie. Warning! Plot spoilers!