First Man and the Outrage Machine

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Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

Last week, certain people on the internet lost their minds regarding First Man, a film that has yet to even be released. The film is a biopic about Neil Armstrong and the moon landing from director Damien Chazelle.

The “outrage” stems from an interview that Ryan Gosling, who portrays Armstrong in the film, gave during press for the film after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. In that interview, he said that the moment of the American flag being planted on the moon is not shown in the film and that the moon landing was a human achievement.

Gosling’s comments caused an uproar from conservative pundits in this country who seized upon the “Hollywood, globalist” view of this, in their minds, distinctly American moment in history. Marco Rubio, Bill Kristol, and others commented about it on Twitter. On the Orange Menace’s favorite TV show Fox and Friends, geniuses like Peter Hegseth and Brian Kilmeade (who notoriously bashed Mr. Rogers) called Gosling an idiot for his comments.

There are few things I hate more than people who try to be content police. Even at a young age, it made me mad whenever I would hear about schools or parents attempting to ban books because of the subject material in them. At least in some of those instances, at least some of the people involved in the push to ban those books had at least read them.

Literally zero of the people who are clutching at their pearls and trying to raise a stink about this have seen First Man yet because it has only just premiered at in Venice, where Fox and Friends is certainly not broadcasting from, and in fact it will not release in theaters here in the US until October 12th.

I’ll admit, at first, I thought the absence of the flag was a curious omission from the film, though I certainly was not ascribing malicious, anti-American intent into it. These movies play to a global market and if they want to make them have universal appeal, studios will often soften the patriotic fervor of a film. But then, over the last few days, it seems that this is not what is even going on here.

Chazelle and the sons of Neil Armstrong have since come out in recent days and clarified that the landing on the moon does indeed show the American flag on the moon, it is just that the precise moment of the flag being planted is not depicted. There can be any number of reasons why this and several other moments are not faithfully re-enacted in the film, but I just can’t speak to it BECAUSE I HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET!

This all leads me to conclude, shocker, that this is all faux-outrage over a non-story by people who feel the need to use stories like this to virtue signal to viewers, readers, supporters, or voters. It angers me that a film like this is now going to be tainted by this so-called controversy because it has shaped the conversation around this film for better or worse. And for what? Much like how the criticism of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem is not interested in why the players say they are kneeling, they are not interested in the details, only in what wins them culture war points with their base. They drape themselves in the American flag and shout their patriotism as loudly as possible and are all too quick to slander and question the motives of others over even the mere perception of any slight toward them or their cultural artifacts.

I love my country and I love the flag and the symbol that it is, but with some of these people, their love of the flag borders on idolatry. I don’t need loud, prominent displays of the flag or other symbols of patriotism put in movies just for the sake of showing your bona fides. I’m much more interested in a film about an American hero displaying the qualities that make the man great and portray the values of the American spirit. At least that’s what I’ll be looking for when I go to see this (hopefully) Oscar contender on opening weekend. This movie looks incredible and no idiots on Fox and Friends are going to dissuade me from seeing it.