At the end of last night's public showing of Kirk Cameron's documentary Monumental at New York's Regal Union Square Stadium 14, after a technical error had cut off Cameron's simulcast that concluded the event but before everyone left the still-dark theater, a voice rang out responding to what we had just watched:
"We are supposed to do something different! Not be like the world! Our kids are listening to music and jiggying and everything is so cool and funky. And do you know what? The kids that are dying, that are troubled, plagued with suicide, they've got nobody to come to them and say, ‘You know what? I know what would make a difference in your life.' And I can only say that because at 18, I tried to take my own life and ended up in a psychiatric ward and it was someone that took the time to tell me about Jesus and to let me know, ‘Vanessa, God loves you. And he didn't just put you here to have a difficult life.'"
Vanessa was one of roughly a hundred believers who helped almost-fill the smallish theater. I knew they were all around because I heard their "Mmmhmms" and tongue clucks throughout Cameron's live intro and conclusion, as well as during the film that both sandwiched. I got the feeling that I was one of the few non-believers, one who's more inclined to point to evangelical Christianity as a contributing factor to teen suicide rather than a cure. When I think teen suicide in 2012, I think of gay and gay-perceived kids who are told that they and their potential relationships are worthless, unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to civilization by people whose opinions are supported by their selective readings of their Bibles. People like Kirk Cameron.
My homosexuality drew me to the screening in two ways: Curiosity about what Cameron wanted to say about me, and my gay-related appreciation of camp. Being that the latter can be summarized as a love of that which is so bad it's good, I find homophobes often to be a good source of camp: You don't get much worse than bigotry, and it's often exaggerated enough to be hilarious. (You want funny? Watch Shirley Phelps-Roper sing those weird Lady Gaga parodies she and her family writes.) The irony is delicious. I attended Monumental hungry.
And that's how I went home. The movie is too petrified to say anything, a relic of this era of the shameful bigot who'll spew hatred and then get mad when it's recognized as such. Monumental is a neutering of even Cameron's cowardly waffling, in which he stood by his comments about homosexuality (repeat: unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to the foundations of civilization) while clarifying that he loves gay people and don't think they should be mistreated. Last night, he didn't even have the balls to be contradictory. (Speaking of cowardly, a friend of Cameron's publicist says the former Growing Pains star hired a bodyguard to accompany him on a recent trip to New York for fear of backlash to his homophobia.)
There was a subtle anti-gay subtext. In the excruciating extended opening of the simulcast, he talked to his guest Alveda King, who matched his creepy Daffy Duck smirk with her own while proclaiming that she preaches love. (That offended me less than Cameron's question to her on the vague work they were doing via this event, in which this self-imagined leader effectively compared himself to Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Do you believe we can turn things around again like your uncle did?") Glenn Beck spoke by satellite and summed up the fogginess of Cameron's makeshift movement and its impetus: Beck explained that people have the "feeling that things aren't right." He talked about freedom being taken from people. I got the feeling he wasn't talking about gay people, since in most states, they aren't as free as they should be. I got the feeling he was describing the people who feel their religious beliefs are threatened now that there are people brave enough to call bullshit on them. Cameron agreed that there is a general sense of urgency, and Beck interpreted that as an alarm from God.
After 25 minutes of watching Cameron hop around his house, the actual film started by reiterating the expressed Christian angst. (This was, as the medium of propaganda dictates, a night of reiteration.) Opening with weird, creepy shots of Cameron looking pensively to the sky intercut with slow motion footage of children playing in a yard, Cameron then expressed Monumental's vague thesis: Things are bad. We're $15 trillion in debt. Divorce rates are high, as is teenage pregnancy. "What was once morally unacceptable is now celebrated." My ears perked up, ready for the images of happy homosexuals, the gay gays being showered with wedding rice that looks like God's tears. But we weren't even mentioned. Instead, that last quote was reinforced by a picture of a punky young woman smoking a cigarette. Liquid eyeliner and tobacco: Why our culture is really in the shitter?
Inspired by the fall of civilization and the need to remind himself what made this country great in the first place, Cameron sets out to retrace the steps of the pilgrims. He speaks to experts, visits old prisons where Puritans were kept, peers over bridges, zig-zags from England to Holland and back to England. All the while, Cameron's cohorts talk and talk and Cameron's mind is blown and blown. He's so easily impressed, his infomercial-level, leading ignorance and enthusiasm are so pronounced that 90-minute lecture that is Monumental (cut up with brief, blurry reenactment scenes reminiscent of Metallica's "Unforgiven" video and Nine Inch Nails) probably falls squarely in line with his vision of perfect entertainment.
He is bland and affable, but his movie is only the former. Monumental is so boring that it devotes 10 straight minutes to the explanation of a statue, the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Mass. "It's the largest granite monument in America. Hardly anyone knows about it," explains an expert not realizing that no one cares about granite, no matter how much of it is in one place.
In Plymouth, in Dallas where Cameron meets with David Barton, who owns a large private collection of old books, and at Harvard University (where "Christ and the Church" were scrubbed from a plaque that now just reads, "The Truth"), there is an attempt to persuade us that because the pilgrims and our forefathers were Christian, they intended our laws to explicitly reflect that, as well. Prayer in schools is what they wanted! Shaggy-dog facts are thrown out (the atheist book The Godless Constitution does not contain footnotes!) and the notion of liberty is meant to describe standards dictated by Christianity, as opposed to religious freedom. (During a trip to D.C., an unidentified man tells Cameron, "We can't put our confidence in pure democracy.") Never is slavery mentioned as integral to the foundation of the supposed fallen greatness of our country. Of course it isn't.
"I want this to start a movement across our country," said Cameron when he came back on after the movie. It's as yet unclear whether this is merely a ramping up to a greater statement or if Cameron's movement is one of bland affirmation. Its nothingness will stave off revolt, though. There's nothing to get mad at, and it's almost maddening.