What Does The Aurora Theater Massacre Have to Do With a Bing Crosby Movie?

(July 22, 2012)
This is an essay the points of which have been flying around in the air (of my head?) for a while. They have finally been forced to land by the massacre that took place at The Dark Night Rises premiere in Aurora, Colorado.

In 1944, a Catholic Hollywood director named Leo McCarey shepherded a movie called Going My Way in which star Bing Crosby played a laid back, golfing priest who, naturally, also was a singer.

Assigned to a struggling parish in a poor inner-city neighborhood, Fr. O'Malley gets the gang-inclined neighborhood kids involved in the constructive activity of singing in a choir. The boys are amazed at how good they sound when they first harmonize. A showstopper occurs when Bing sings a song that became another million-seller for him. Its opening verse:

Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?
Or would you rather be a mule?

The mule is then described as having a brawny back but a weak brain and "if you hate to go to school,
you may grow up to be a mule."

Next in line is the pig who has no manners, is fat, lazy, extremely rude. After that comes the fish "who can't write his name or read a book." If Johnny Burke were writing the song today, he'd probably work in some kind of animal that one can imitate by wearing a tattoo.

Swinging On A Star is a song about having aspirations, of wanting to move upward, morally, socially. It is also about the consequences of not having such desires. The subplots of Going My Way and its sequel The Bells of St. Mary's involved Fr. O'Malley encouraging youngsters to be better than they are.

That was also the subplot of the U.S. Catholic church in those days. For 100 years, the church helped the children of uneducated immigrants move into the middle and higher classes, become professionals and great citizens.

It wasn't just Catholics. Lower-class men of all faiths, ethnic groups, races, from small mining towns, tough neighborhoods wanted to be better than they were. They aspired to be lawyers, doctors, engineers. They wanted to wear suits, ties, cufflinks. Then when they had established themselves, they joined the Knights of Columbus or the Lions and served their communities.

Some people still move upward socioeconomically, but I would bet that it's far fewer than in recent centuries past. I think there was more social mobility when people didn't pretend that we're all equal.

The world of Going My Way has been replaced with a Brave New World. What we have now are lower classes of people who have no desire to be better and indeed no capability of being better, just like the deltas and gammas of Aldous Huxley's 1930 novel. Aspiration and self-betterment have been bred out of them as if they heard repeated in their sleep, "I want to be a shlub wearing a T-Shirt." "I want to get a tattoo." "I can't wait for the next Batman movie."

If anything, the Batman movie is an infinitesimal cause of what happened in Aurora. The problem is in a movie meaning so much to so many people, in a movie premiere being a milestone event in their lives. Women may have stood outside a theater all night waiting for Rudolph Valentino's The Sheik or Gone With The Wind to open; I don't know. However these kinds of national events where people throng to theaters at midnight seem to be very recent.

Yes, movies are intensely hyped, but they are intensely hyped because there are so many moviegoers who are hype-susceptible. And among a crowd who takes a film so seriously, there are going to be those who take it way too seriously.

Aspiration might be bred out of people, but not so the desire to stand out and be noticed. Some fulfill that desire by becoming heart surgeons and Grand Knights. Others have loud mufflers or hard heels. One or two of the ones with very limited scope act like they're The Joker.

How did we get into this Brave New World where even the alphas and the betas aren't that bright?

Catholic commentators who are better-known than I might find a way to blame it on contraception. They wouldn't be totally off. It is a factor. For an interesting view, I refer you to George Weigel's column of March 28, 2012, "The differences the Pill has made." In this he discusses Mary Eberstadt's Adam and Eve After The Pill and notes the “new and problematic phase of prolonged adolescence through which many men now go” (1)

How many of your younger coworkers have their cubicles decked out in toys?

Brave New Worlds are created by world controllers. We have many millions of world controllers. They include MBAs who discourage ambition by stagnating wages and making pay-raise and promotion rewards for good work a thing of the past. They include politicians who have created virtual races of people who expect to be handed everything. There are educators in the pay of governments who constitute political machines and their private counterparts who have turned a sacred trust into a business.

Of special mention are "the cultural elites," that fuzzily-defined group of thought-shapers, novelists, journalists, artists, playwrights, film directors, what A.M. Daniels, writing as Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, calls "the unacknowledged legislators of the world."(2) He writes:

"To paraphrase [Edmund] Burke, all that is necessary for barbarism to triumph is for civilized men to do nothing: but in fact for the past few decades, civilized men have done worse than nothing--they have actively thrown in their lot with the barbarians. They have denied the distinction between higher and lower, to the invariable advantage of the latter. They have denied the superiority of man's greatest cultural achievements over the most ephemeral and vulgar of entertainments; they have denied that the scientific labors of brilliant men have resulted in an objective understanding of nature...above all, they have denied that it matters how people conduct themselves in their personal lives."(2)

And what of the Catholic church in this degredation? One of the things that the establishment catholics will have to answer for when they soon meet their Maker is how, between Vatican II and the JPII/BXVI renewal, they caused the unchurching of so many lesser educated folks in small towns and cities. They did so by dissing the ways and things by which simpler people relate to the church. They did so because, being proto-Marxists, they figured that white exurban Americans were a class that at best, didn't matter much or didn't need anything. Now the fewer churches that remain open are attended by handfuls of old people while the middle-aged and younger ones take meth, get tattoos and wait for the next movie premiere.

It will be a while before real Fr. O'Malley's come to these people to help them to be better than they are in this world while they move on to the next. But we hope.

(1) The differences the Pill has made, George Weigel

(2) Our Culture What's Left Of It: The Mandarins and The Masses, Theodore Dalrymple, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2005


The Dark Knight Rises James Holman
Copyright 2012 by Neal J. Conway. All rights reserved.

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