“Like a Tremendous Machine!”

The movie Secretariat opens today starring Diane Lane as Penny Chenery, Big Red’s owner.  Just to give readers (if any) not old enough to remember this remarkable horse, here’s the CBS broadcast of the 1973 Belmont Stakes, with Chic Anderson making the call:

Quite possibly this is one of the most amazing achievements in sports.  Secretariat won by an astounding 31 lengths, breaking the Belmont mark of 25 lengths set in 1943 by Count Fleet.  His time for the 1 1/2 mile race was 2:24, shattering the old record by over two seconds; it has never been surpassed.  From the time when Secretariat broke Sham in the back stretch, none of the rest of the field gained an inch on him.

For some, though, a celebration of excellence – even a heart-warming one – is too dangerous a subject for the bien pensants, for whom AmeriKKKa is forever a dark and bloody land.  Take one Andrew O’Hehir, writing in Salon, a publication which I for one did not know was still in business.  Some excerpts from his unintentionally hilarious review:

“Secretariat” is such a gorgeous film, its every shot and every scene so infused with warm golden light, that I began to wonder whether the movie theater were on fire. Or my head. But the welcoming glow that imbues every corner of this nostalgic horse-racing yarn with rich, lambent color comes from within, as if the movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose. (Or as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn.)…

“Secretariat” is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse…

Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in “The Blind Side” (where it’s more like text, period), “Secretariat” actually goes much further, presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord…

Hollywood has finally woken up (a few decades late) to the enormous consumer power of the Christian market, and given all the namby-pamby Tinseltown liberalism right-wingers love to complain about, it’s about time. But it’s legitimate to wonder exactly what Christian-friendly and “middle-American” inspirational values are being conveyed here, or whether they’re just providing cover for some fairly ordinary right-wing ideology and xenophobia.

Dear me!  My mind must not be as keenly developed as that of Mr. O’Hehir.  How could I miss all the subtexts wherein a movie about a racehorse leads directly to some sort of bluegrass Kristallnacht?  But really, what do you expect of Salon, which took pride im publishing “forbidden thoughts” about 9/11? 

The only kind of story acceptable to the O’Hehirs of this world would be one in which Secretariat outwits a conspiracy of supersecret government agents and corporate assassins to triumph at Belmont, reveals that he’s actually gay and walks off into the sunset to struggle on behalf of female and minority thoroughbreds.

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