I will argue that a representative group of films including Mr. Lucky (with Cary Grant), Rossellini’s Il Generale della Rovere, and Galaxy Quest affirm an assumption that is as well known as it is offensively false to many: i.e., we acquire a virtue or quality of character by pretending that we already possess it—the ethic colloquially and popularly known as “fake it until you make it.” The importance and power of this ethic, as thoroughly secular as it seems to be, is best understood in the context of its Roman Catholic and ancient philosophical provenance, which for the most part has been pushed aside by secular appropriations. The theme is not exclusive to film but is especially suited to it, invested as it is in theatricality and performance per se. These films (they are few among many), accordingly, are especially well positioned to confront the collateral anxiety associated with virtue ethics inasmuch as hypocrisy seems an unavoidable condition of moral growth—these films explore this problem by featuring protagonists who are confidence men or actors, who perform virtuously without originally intending to be virtuous. At the same time, the films and innumerable other films like them, profoundly challenge the other and dominant ethic of our time--“Be true to yourself”--which is itself a vestigial, secularized remnant of the hostile Protestant reaction to the Catholic tradition and which takes particular exception to “fake it until you make it.” In this way, old theological and philosophical battles have left their trace on modern popular culture even though their origins have been forgotten.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.