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When “Write What you Love” is Bad Advice

June 11, 2011

Within the first five pages of Sunrise at Campobello, it becomes very clear that the rest of the play will be playwright Dore Schary’s unabashed love letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The action of the play concerns FDR’s battle with polio and the way he overcame the resulting paralysis. By all accounts, it’s an inspiring story. But Schary unfortunately turns the inspiring to insipid.

There’s probably some overarching theme in the play about the triumph of the human spirit or some such thing, but it’s hard to care about the theme when you’re so busy rolling your eyes at how unbelievably perfect Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are supposed to be. Sure, FDR gets angry at his mother once or twice, but somehow he always manages to be in the right, while his mother is presented with the single dimension of an overbearing control freak. Maybe she was one in real life, I would have no way of knowing, but to draw characters who are so starkly black and white is to lie about the world.

Don’t misunderstand me: morality itself is a matter of black and white, but no moral thing in this fallen world can be wholly good or wholly evil. Only God can be wholly good and, unless you look to the Manicheans or Luke Skywalker for your ontological guidance, evil cannot exist in and of itself. In our fallen world we get this often confusing mix of grey, in which evil can be found in even the best of persons and good can somehow be found in the worst (even if that good is merely the fact that he exists).

If you can’t see the bad in what you love and the good in what you hate, you will never tell a true story. Any artist then, Christian or pagan, is manifestly lying about the world when he draws heroes without flaws and villains without souls. The difference? When Christians do it, the world scoffs; when pagans do it to laud the cause of progressivism, they get Tony Awards.

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