‘Butter’ and Political Condescencion

Butter is coming out on October 5, with the clear intention of capitalizing on the presidential election with its portrait of a clueless Midwestern butter-carver married to a philandering politician, who finds herself throwing down with an adorable African-American orphan (aided by Rob Corddry and Olivia Wilde playing a stripper) to retain her title. It’s not the only movie flirting with the campaign season. The Campaign, with its satire of the Koch brothers’ influence on local elections went first, and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden movie, was moved until after the election to avoid any sense of undue influence in favor of President Obama’s reelection. But while Zero Dark Thirty is historical fiction, and The Campaign is a movie that’s largely sympathetic to all of the politicians involved, Butter has a distinct air of disdain for one side of its conflict:

Now, there’s nothing wrong with contempt for ideas that do real damage to people. Rep. Todd Akin’s views on sexual assault are contemptible and ignorant, as are his attempts to redefine rape. But the idea that a butter-carving contest is important isn’t an idea that does anyone any harm (the idea that an African-American girl is using race to swing that contest in her favor is somewhat more harmful). It’s worth distinguishing between those cases, and between ideas it’s important to push back against, and ideas folks sometimes feel it’s fun to dismiss.

After all, binging on condescension is a lot like overdoing it at the state fair. The individual mouthfuls taste delicious. You can feel sort of luxurious and indulgent, even proud of yourself for venturing where other people in your cohort dare not tread a la David Foster Wallace. But that doesn’t mean that you’re doing yourself, or the ideas you represent, any favors. Assuming the people you disagree with are merely stupid or underinformed actually understates the depth of political difference, and the ease of convincing people to agree with you. Laura doesn’t need Will McAvoy to tell her about the evils of the Tea Party. Not all conservative, Midwestern politicians are brought down by their proclivities for cheating on their wives. Sometimes, you’re going to have to actually muster evidence and respect in an argument. And sometimes, you have to beat people in elections.