This weekend saw the national rollout of two crowd-pleaser movies about impoverished 350-pound black teens: Precious and The Blind Side. (What an amazing country we have, where a pair of poor children can tip the scales at 700 pounds!)
Together, the two films reflect an emerging, if seldom fully articulated, consensus among all right-thinking people in this Bush-Obama era about what to do with underclass black children.
Precious is the story of an illiterate 16-year-old girl who was made pregnant and HIV-positive by her rapist father, but her real problem is her abusive welfare mother with whom she shares a Section 8 apartment. Still, with the help of tireless teachers and social workers, she moves into a halfway house and begins to turn her life around.
The Blind Side is an adaptation of Michael Lewis's 2006 nonfiction bestseller about Michael Oher. A homeless 16-year-old with a drug addict mother and a father who was thrown off a bridge, Oher was adopted by a rich white family. He's now a rookie starting offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL, with a five-year $13,795,000 contract.
The Blind Side's writer-director John Lee Hancock told Michael Granberry of the Dallas News:
"He loves what he calls its nature vs. nurture story line. "It's like a test case for nurture, and nurture wins in a big way. You've got a kid who's cast on the junk heap of life, socially and from an educational standpoint. And it's amazing what a roof, a bed, meals and an emphasis on schools can do, when everybody had written him off." [The Texan behind 'The Blind Side', November 15, 2009]
The Blind Side is the rare movie in which white Southern Republican born-again Christians are portrayed favorably. One liberal commenter on IMDB.com raged, "I feel insulted (in the same way I felt insulted when McCain chose Palin for his running-mate) …"
These two films help us understand the common denominator of the demands increasingly heard in the media for mandatory preschool, longer school days, shorter summer vacations, and universal post-high school education. They flow from the inevitable logic of the following syllogism:
Therefore, poor black children are victims of their family environments, and thus should be, as much as possible, kept away from their families and raised by whites or middle-class blacks.
The New York Times Magazine has devoted countless articles in this decade to this general theme, such as The Inner-City Prep School Experience by Maggie Jones [September 25, 2009], about a public boarding school in Southeast Washington. The story is largely devoted to worrying that the school's annual per student expenditure of $35,000 of the taxpayers' money isn't enough to keep the kids locked up in an enriching environment 24x7. When they go home on Fridays, they are re-exposed to black slum culture. Presumably, their test scores decline over the weekend.
The 2007 movie Freedom Writers extolled a nice white lady teacher, played by Hilary Swank, who divorces her husband (played by Patrick Dempsey), who can't understand why she devotes all her energy to her ghetto students instead of having a baby herself.
Lewis's book The Blind Side, which, unsurprisingly, was excerpted in the New York Time Magazine as The Ballad of Big Mike on September 24, 2006, pushed this emerging motif in the zeitgeist in the now familiar direction of a white family adopting a giant black child. (A generation ago, in contrast, on the TV shows Diff'rent Strokes and Webster, white families adopted the tiny black midgets Gary Coleman and Emmanuel Lewis.)
For example, on Friday, November 20, 2009, CBS News ran a purportedly inspiring "American Spirit" story about a heroic white lawyer who has taken a black victim of white racism into his home:
"Jena Six" Teen Gets Second Chance The American Spirit: Lawyer Takes in Client and Helps Him Get on the Right Track
Now, you know and I know what the real story of the Jena Six was: a half dozen black youths were allowed to run amok in football-mad Jena for years because they were stars of the local high school team, until they finally beat up one kid too many. But CBS News sure doesn't know.
(At the Jena Sixer's expensive new prep school in Connecticut, football coach Ken Parson exclaims that he "can't wait to unleash" the 215-pounder.)
Sports-crazy white people opening their homes to big black youths is more common than The Blind Side might lead you to expect. For example, former NBA star Dennis Rodman lived with a white family while he was playing college basketball. Were Rodman's subsequent adventures a product of nurture or nature? (The Worm is one of the 27 children of his aptly named father, Philander Rodman Jr.).
That may be one of those questions that perhaps Man was not destined to answer.
This trope in the culture was parodied in 2007 on the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David's liberal wife Cheryl takes in a New Orleans hurricane refugee family of blacks, the Blacks—"That would be like if my name were Larry Jew," Larry helpfully points out—which leads to his house burning down.
Curiously, this has all happened before. In Australia between the Wars, white progressives came up with the similar idea of taking half-Aborigine babies away from their alcoholic and tubercular mothers and sending them to boarding schools to learn how to function in the modern world. These days, however, white Australian politicians can't stop apologizing for those "Stolen Generations"
Will this trend to keep African-Americans away from their mothers just lead to eventual public apologies, too?
Michael Lewis's first book, 1989's Liar's Poker, recounted his brief career on Wall Street. Its sales benefited from the interest in bond salesmen generated by Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. Perhaps Lewis hasn't quite fulfilled my hope that he would be "the next Tom Wolfe", but then Lewis is more the Southern gentleman. (Although Wolfe's father edited The Southern Planter magazine, his ferocious ambition made him one of nature's New Yorkers.)
Two decades later, Michael Lewis remains one of our finest glossy magazine journalists, a Malcolm Gladwell for smart people. Lewis's 2003 book about the Bill James revolution in baseball, Moneyball, is one of the best popular explications of the uses of statistics.
In the 1970s, Lewis attended a New Orleans prep school, Isidore Newman, with basketball star Sean Tuohy, who went on to Ole Miss, back when the U. of Mississippi's basketball team had an integrated starting line-up. Tuohy was an NCAA legend at point guard, making the Southeastern Conference All-Century team.
Decades later, Lewis caught up with Tuohy, and quickly recognized that the Tuohy family story was exactly what the American public wanted to hear.
Indeed, the film adaption of The Blind Side (rated PG-13) is an effective commercial movie. It took in almost $11 million on Friday, which projects out to a little under $100 million in total. The mostly Mexican audience with whom I saw it in Van Nuys enjoyed it heartily. Despite being a football movie, it probably appeals more to women than to men (59 percent of its Friday audience was female).
Tuohy (played by country singer Tim McGraw) married an Ole Miss cheerleader, Leigh Anne (played by Sandra Bullock of Speed), and had a daughter and a son. He wound up owning 85 fast food franchises and a jet, helped found a megachurch, and has a night job broadcasting the Memphis Grizzly NBA games. His beautiful and energetic wife is a homemaker and upscale interior decorator.
Now, you might expect that a couple that blessed with competence, good looks, energy, faith, health, and wealth might think about having a third baby. But in the movie, it just doesn't seem to come up.
In his spare time, Tuohy helped out at his kids' Briarcrest Christian School as the all-sports assistant coach for the school's black athletes. A booster like Tuohy, who played with many blacks and can help disoriented black youths out with both advice and cash, is invaluable.
Briarcrest, like so many private schools, juggles the temptation to give scholarships to star ghetto athletes versus the worry that they'll flunk out … or worse.
In Wolfe's A Man in Full, for instance, Georgia Tech's biggest donor's daughter accuses the college's Heisman Trophy candidate of rape. Whether because of nurture or nature, this sort of accusation is all too credible.
Thus I noted in April 2006 that, while the Main Stream Media's obsession with finding what Wolfe calls the "Great White Defendant" made possible the Duke lacrosse hoax, no less than three (3) star minority football players—including Mark Sanchez, now quarterback for the New York Jets—had been arrested on rape or assault charges in the just the previous week. But those incidents didn't get much press attention. They're routine.
When Briarcrest's football coach tried to have 6'4" 344 pound Michael Oher admitted as a sophomore, Lewis recounts:
"Steve Simpson, the principal of Briarcrest Christian School, was frankly incredulous. The boy, now 16, had a measured I.Q. of 80, which put him in mankind's ninth percentile. … 'Big Mike was a blank slate.'"
Actually, 80 isn't all that bad for the Memphis slums, especially not for a kid with his catastrophic upbringing. One of 13 children of his drug addict mother, Oher had attended 11 schools, not to mention a year-and-a-half-spell during which he apparently wasn't enrolled anywhere.
He grew up quiet, even docile. The Tuohys took the gentle giant into their home, and eventually gave him an equal share in their will with their biological children. They found a tutor (played by Kathy Bates) to work with him 20 hours per week. He slowly got his grades up from F to D, so the school let him play football his junior year. As a defensive tackle, though, he lacked the killer instinct. In his senior year, he was switched to left offensive tackle to guard the quarterback's blind side, a role better suited for his stubborn and protective personality.
Oher eventually raised his grade point average to 2.05, and with the Tuohys paying for correspondence courses, he managed to inflate it to the 2.52 he needed to play for Ole Miss, his adoptive parents' old school.
"Drowned in nurture, his I.Q. test score had risen between 20 and 30 points. And his new parents, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, were so pleased with the results of their experiment that they began to figure out how best to go back into the inner city and do it all over again."
Actually, more like 16 points: at the NFL draft combine, Oher scored a decent 19 on the league's Wonderlic IQ test, which equates to a 96. (By the way, a small French study of adoptions across class divides found the IQ benefit at age 14 of being raised from the bottom to the top of society to be 12 points, although most American adoption studies have found smaller effects.)
The Blind Side is written and directed by John Lee Hancock, who, I suspect, is one of Hollywood's closet conservatives. He has an English Lit B.A. and a law degree from Baylor, the traditionalist Baptist university in Waco, TX, where his father and brother played football. He wrote screenplays for two Clint Eastwood movies in the 1990s (including the underrated A Perfect World).
Hancock broke through as director of the surprise 2002 hit, The Rookie, with Dennis Quaid in the true story of a West Texas high school baseball coach who gets his major league fastball back in his mid-30s. Then Hancock was parachuted in to rescue Disney's troubled production of The Alamo. He couldn't fully turn that around—although, as I pointed out in VDARE.com, it's a decent movie if you know some American history, which few moviegoers do these days. (Strikingly, Hancock's Alamo was less sympathetic to the Mexican side than John Wayne's epic 1960 Alamo.)
For her lead performance as the pushy mother, Bullock is being talked up for an Oscar. In her long, lucrative career, Bullock has never even been nominated. Perhaps Academy voters assume she doesn't need to act because she's naturally adorable—which she might be: her high school class voted her Most Likely to Brighten Your Day.
To attract Academy Award attention, Bullock plays Mrs. Tuohy without the actress' traditional trademark charm, crushing all obstacles through sheer force of will. This characterization makes it easier to notice Bullock's acting chops, but seems gimmicky, not to mention implausible for an old Ole Miss cheerleader. From Scarlett O'Hara on, Southern belles usually get their way, but normally they fool you into imagining it's your way, too.
I suspect Bullock didn't want to compete with Julia Roberts' performance in 2007's Charlie Wilson's War in a potentially similar role as a rich Southern conservative lady who uses her womanly wiles to beguile 1980s Washington into funding the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan.
Toward the end of The Blind Side, a cynical NCAA investigator injects some suspense into the self-congratulatory proceedings by asking: If we approve your scholarship to your adoptive parents' alma mater, are we going to see a trend toward other rich white college sports boosters adopting poor black jocks?
The answer, I suspect, is: Yes.
Today, wealthy Red State conservatives indulge their tribalist passions by fighting expensive zero sum wars with each other over who can spend the most to lure black athletes to play for their state colleges.
That this is an inane way to waste money that could be better spent on more important issues is not something you'll hear from The Blind Side.
The more serious question: will American taxpayers be forced to subsidize this doomed panacea society-wide?
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]