A case study in journalistic malpractice.
Sound of Freedom and the Left’s Marketing Problem
When politics trumps basic humanity.
In a bizarre development from the front lines of the culture wars, the Sound of Freedom controversy won’t subside.
Kristen Abrams writes in USA Today that the film does “more harm than good.” “The movie has united religious conservatives and Trump supporters, as well as a small sampling of the chronically paranoid,” writes Elaine Godfrey in the Atlantic. In the Los Angeles Times, Lorraine Ali quips, “Unfortunately, the very mention of pedophilia rings a Pavlovian bell for QAnon subscribers.”
For its analysis, Bloomberg turned to Noah Berlatsky, who previously worked at the advocacy group Protasia, which has lobbied in favor of child-sex toys and against bans on child pornography. Berlatsky has previously complained, “Pedophiles are essentially a stigmatized group,” and “The issue isn’t that people care about victims. The issue is that pedophiles are loathed.” He once proclaimed, “Child Sex Workers’ Biggest Threat: The Police.”
One month after the film’s release, mainstream media outlets renewed attacks with desperate-sounding headlines of a donor’s child-kidnapping charges. (As it turns out, a person who donated an unknown amount to the film’s crowdfunding effort was arrested after renting an apartment to a woman in a messy custody battle.)
Rare is the movie I deem worthy of a two-plus-hour theater visit, but I was determined to find out why a small-budget film about child trafficking and sex slavery stirred up a coastal-elite hornets’ nest.
Jim Caviezel is excellent, as usual, in the lead role. The filmmakers evoke the appropriate emotions on this most troubling of topics without salaciousness. There is some Christian dialogue but no proselytizing; any political message is imagined. For such a controversial film, it is remarkably benign.
Coastal mouthpieces should have been quick to announce that child welfare is not a partisan issue. There even would have been room to jab conservatives for politicizing a topic that doesn’t warrant it. Most would welcome such a sane rhetorical environment. Alas, they went the “QAnon-adjacent” route.
The ethical side of this controversy is thoroughly covered by now. (Brad Miner wrote this excellent piece in The Catholic Thing.) Yet, another aspect has continued to baffle me: child abuse is an idiotic way to establish political brand identity.
Brand marketers learn to focus on the consumer’s needs. “Me marketing,” projecting one’s own preferences onto the public at large, is ruthlessly beaten out of junior marketers. As recently as the last decade, Procter & Gamble recruiters boasted of the company’s habit of placing men on their feminine-product lines to remove personal emotion and force the marketers into a consumer-focused mindset. At one time, I built a considerable part of my professional record around marketing fire ant control products while working in Ohio—fire ant population: zero.
If consumer (voter) preferences are important, why the vociferous insistence against anti-pedophilia messaging?
Perhaps pedophiles do occupy lofty positions in the ecosystem of societal elites. Perhaps society is so polarized that any cause deemed “conservative” must be resisted, no matter the underlying issue. Perhaps any constraints on the sexual revolution create too cumbersome a problem for progressive theology. All represent “me marketing” of the worst kind. The why probably doesn’t even matter so much as the what, an indefensible willingness to align oneself in a way we might as well call pedophilia-adjacent.
If our system still requires political actors to articulate a vision and build a democratic majority coalition in support of that vision, pedophilia-adjacency is a losing strategy, the kind that would get you terminated for cause in the corporate world.
Parents are already demonstrating exasperation.
Governor Glenn Youngkin and fellow up-ballot Republicans triumphed in Virginia after a campaign heavily focused on education and parental rights. Their paths to victory would have been untenable without support from left-leaning suburban voters in Northern Virginia.
Target’s reckless foray into child-gender megalomania incurred a market-cap price tag in the billions, one from which it has not recovered as of this writing.
These developments also have repercussions on the Left’s bread-and-butter identity battlefield. David A. Gross, of the movie-consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, told Variety magazine that “a third of the audience is Hispanic,” a demographic both parties covet, and one that fueled Donald Trump’s overperformance against the polls in 2016 and 2020. The Democratic coalition presents a soft-on-child-abuse image to Hispanic voters at its own peril.
Main Street Democrats deserve not to be mischaracterized on account of their sometime media allies. According to Redfield & Wilton Strategies, 59 percent of Democrats view Sound favorably, while only ten percent view it unfavorably. From this we can reasonably deduce most Democrats are uninterested in this inexplicable cinematic-journalistic crusade.
I have previously written about Republicans’ increasingly difficult path in the Electoral College and how the Left’s overreach in societal deconstruction might offer the lifeboat Republicans need.
If I were betting on horses, rather than seeking truth, beauty, and goodness, I would still cast my lot with the Left and its near-total institutional control. I would also bet against the Republican Party pressing its advantage with a coherent, informed approach to the matter.
What, then, should the average Sound viewer make of all this?
Perhaps Caviezel and team are onto something with their grassroots crowdfunding message at the end of the film. “The names you see here on the screen took a stand, and they made sure this story could be shown to all of you,” asserts Caviezel in his closing-credit monologue. His message reflects that of the movie itself: Don’t trust our societal institutions to fulfill even their most basic duties, like protecting the most vulnerable.
Take it upon yourself at the friends-and-family level to hold accountable the pedophilia-adjacent voices who refuse to let this innocent movie run its course. Vote with your wallet, as well as your ballot, and reject the product they’re peddling by supporting alternative, countercultural mass media that represents your values.
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