Discover more from Chris Fogle: Pop Xulture
Pop Xulture Newsletter # 18
Focusing on the film "Philadelphia." 11/3/23
Hello All, if you celebrated Halloween, I hope it was safe and comfortably spooky. I had three articles published this last month and have quite a meaty chunk of exclusive material for you, so let’s get started!
I had the opportunity to write for the magazine Fare Forward for an article on the movie Tetris. I really liked the film but the inconsistent treatment of greed slightly bothered me. That ended up kind of being the thrust of the article, although I highly recommend watching Tetris…and reading the article “Tetris: Our Capitalist Hero”!
Next, Christ and Pop Culture (CAPC) magazine published “1993 Film Favorites, Part 4: How Philadelphia Taught Society Compassion.” As part of my celebration of groundbreaking films turning thirty this year, I worked on the article for three months. I really wanted the piece to focus on how we can love others like Jesus did.
I tried to accurately describe the homophobia and need for compassion, without giving the stage to those who were most hateful. However, that hate was real and it was one of the first things I wrote about as you’ll see in the exclusive below.
Finally, I just had another part of the 1993 series published on CAPC. Focusing on the Tim Burton classic The Nightmare Before Christmas, my article “1993 Film Favorites, Part 5: Finding Contentment in The Nightmare Before Christmas” published in time for Halloween. We’ll talk more about it in the next Newsletter.
As I mentioned, I’m giving you a big section from my draft on Philadelphia. After watching the movie I slammed out several pages for the article. Some of what I wrote in that brainstorming session made it in the final article, at least as themes. Below is the majority of that initial writing (slightly cleaned up and with links added). In order to get the most of this, you should read the published article “How Philadelphia Taught Society Compassion” first.
Excerpts from Philadelphia
Philadelphia was celebrated for being the first film to address the AIDS epidemic, yet Hollywood was simultaneously criticized for taking ten years before addressing [synonym needed] it. As with all controversial subjects, outspoken groups argued in public arenas. Some conservative Christians boycotted the film and it certainly sparked national debate, with “Pastor” Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist church saying it was his favorite comedy.
Others sympathetic to the gay community were excited to have a cultural acknowledgment of the epidemic. As Elizabeth Taylor said, “I was just, I think like many people, getting very angry at the lack of response at what was happening. That it was clearly becoming an epidemic.” (Taylor won an Academy Award for her humanitarian work with AIDS and in her 1993 Oscar speech, said, “…draw from the depths of your being to prove once and for all that we are a human race.”)
Still others, as previously mentioned, felt it had taken filmmakers far too long to take action. Many of these protesters felt if the AIDS epidemic had seared the public consciousness, then not only would a compassionate understanding have comforted those afflicted, but countless of the infected may not have had to die.
And public perspective is brought into focus multiple times in the film. Denzel Washington’s Joe Miller character provides the everyman perspective of the time. Once Miller realizes Tom Hanks’ character (Andrew Beckett) has AIDS, he is worried because he shook Beckett’s hand. Director Jonathan Demme pulls a signature move having the camera zoom in painfully close. But instead of focusing on a face, the camera gives Miller’s perspective as Beckett sets belongings down and touches Miller’s desk.
Miller immediately goes to his doctor to see if he caught AIDS and although his doctor assures him he’s fine, Miller comments, “Right. Yeah. But isn't it true they're finding out new things about this disease every day? Now, you tell me today there's no danger. Go home. I go home. I pick up my little baby girl. Then I find out six months from now on the news or something: Whoops! Made a mistake. Yeah, you can carry it...on your shirt or your clothes or...”
[NOTE TO SELF: USE THIS LATER: If the actual medical industry had been clear about how the disease was transmitted, people wouldn’t have had to be treated as lepers. At that point, it would be a choice whether the general public and medical industry discriminated out of fear. And this differentiation is seen clearly when one of the law firm partners testifies. Although he avoided her, he has sympathy for her when she got AIDS through a transfusion. But not for someone who caught it with “reprehensible behavior.” But a person’s lifestyle and mistakes don’t make us the judge of their lives.]
On one hand, I fundamentally don’t like that Hanks was cast in order to make the audience love the character with AIDS. It’s like how playing worship music before a sermon makes my heart more receptive - it’s manipulative, but it also works. And this casting choice has been public, which somehow makes it a little better. On the other hand, how else is a storyteller who is trying to sway a society’s deep-seated homophobia supposed to make a man with AIDS actually looked at with compassion?
In 1990, just three years before Philadelphia premiered, political scientist Joseph Nye published Bound to Lead. In the book he defined leaders and governments who coerce others as using “hard power” and those who attract and compel as managing “soft power.” Storytelling influences people’s desires and motivations by making them want to do something, and is, therefore, a soft power. I don’t know if Demme or Nyswaner read Bound to Lead, but they certainly knew how to use soft power effectively.
Having declined Beckett’s request, Miller goes on a tirade to his wife about how disgusting it is to think of two men together. It’s not until Miller sees how ostracized Beckett is in a library that he decides to represent Beckett and even then Miller is far from accepting.
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I hope you enjoyed the content above. Thanks for reading!
Thanks (again), in Him,
-Chris (the Bearded Wonder) Fogle
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