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Finding Rick Santorum’s Cinematic Avatar

Last fall’s remake of Footloose (out on DVD next week) seems particularly well-timed — and not just because it’s the tale of an oppressed underclass rising up to fight the power. (Occupy Bomont!) Consider this: Footloose, in both of its incarnations, is the story of a deeply religious man, and an occasional politician, harboring a single-minded obsession with protecting the innocence of his flock by imposing his personal morality and biblical theology upon them. That’s right — if the 2012 election is Footloose, well, over the last couple of weeks, Rick Santorum is looking more and more like Reverend Shaw Moore. Why should we care? According to the results of a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, if we were all voting today, he’d defeat President Obama by three percentage points.

To refresh your memory, Moore’s crusade was against dancing and rock and roll — specifically, “its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality.” Sound familiar? Santorum’s crusades are against gay marriage and contraception, but the fear is the same; Moore’s sermons are indiscernible from Santorum’s, preoccupied with God’s law and the dirty, filthy pleasures of the flesh.

Two quotes:

God has given us this great country to allow his people — to allow his people to be free, has given us that dignity because we are a creation of his, and we need to honor that creation.

and…

America and our Founders understood that if we are just a bunch of folks that care about ‘stuff,’ we have a very, very narrow view of freedom. We have a very, very narrow view of what God’s call is in our life. Because that’s why he gave us these rights… To pursue ‘happiness.’ Something bigger. Now today, if you look at the word ‘happiness,’ you’d say, ‘Well, maybe we’re supposed to go out and have fun! That’s what the Founders wanted us to do, go out and have fun! Be happy, enjoy things, seek pleasure! [Emphasis mine] You think that’s what those stuffy old guys were telling you to do? Go out and ‘be happy,’ the way we understand it today? No, no. That’s not what they thought. You see, ‘happiness’ actually had a different definition, way back at the time of our Founders. Like many words in our lexicon, they evolve and change over time. ‘Happiness’ is one of them. Go back and look it up. You’ll see one of the principle definitions of happiness is to do the morally right thing.

Quick — which one’s Santorum and which one’s Moore? (The first one is from the movie. The second is from Santorum’s sermon/campaign speech at First Redeemer Church in Cumming, Georgia a little over a week ago, and yes, it is funny to hear Rick Santorum, or all people, talking about how words “evolve and change over time.”)

The only serious divergence between Santorum and Lithgow occurs towards the film’s climax, when Rev. Moore witnesses a book burning and decides that’s a bridge too far. If Santorum stumbled across, say, a bonfire of Oscar Wilde and Truman Capote books, well, who knows.

And that’s why, even if by some miracle (ha ha) Santorum clinches the nomination, it seems so unlikely that he could win the presidency. Because at the end of the day, as a country, we don’t like being told how to live; we don’t like being preached at. Something like Footloose may just be an empty-headed entertainment, but the movies we hold dear to us say a lot about our national character, and damnit, if we wanna cut loose, foot loose, kick off our Sunday shoes, etc., we’re gonna do that.

Another classic cult movie also holds the key to Romney’s trouble on the ticket; every time the man opens his mouth and starts braying at us, all I can hear is this guy:

Romney is the loathsome boss you can’t stand; Santorum is the sanctimonious preacher you hear but don’t actually listen to. Lumbergh/Moore 2012.