When the big media push behind the pro-gun-control Parkland students was still getting revved up last month, I called it a “Children’s Crusade.” That seemed appropriate because of the reverence the media was showing these often ignorant and occasionally offensive teenagers. Even back then, that impulse was clearly focused most intensely on Emma Gonzalez, the student whose “We call BS” speech CNN transcribed and spread with an evangelists zeal on its homepage.
But today, the New Yorker has reached peak-Parkland-adulation with a piece titled “Joan of Arc and the Passion of Emma González.” The author isn’t directly comparing Gonazalez to Joan, at least not at first, but to a silent film about Joan from 1928. Still, the overriding desire to elevate Gonzalez to secular sainthood is palpable:
On Saturday, González, who is small and compact, and who wears her dark hair cropped close to her skull, spoke for just a couple of minutes, offering an emotional name-check of the students who had died. Then, lifting her eyes and staring into the distance before her, González stood in silence. Inhaling and exhaling deeply—the microphone caught the susurration, like waves lapping a shoreline—González’s face was stoic, tragic. Her expression shifted only minutely, but each shift—her nostrils flaring, or her eyelids batting tightly closed—registered vast emotion. Tears rolled down her cheeks; she did not wipe them away. Mostly, the crowd was silent, too, though waves of cheering support—“Go, Emma!” “We all love you!”—arose momentarily, then faded away. She stood in this articulate silence for more than twice as long as she had spoken, until a timer beeped. Six minutes and twenty seconds were over, she told her audience: the period of time it took Nikolas Cruz to commit the massacre.
In its restraint, its symbolism, and its palpable emotion, González’s silence was a remarkable piece of political expression. Her appearance also offered an uncanny echo of one of the most indelible performances in the history of cinema: that of Renée Maria Falconetti, who starred in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic silent film from 1928, “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” Based upon the transcript of Joan of Arc’s trial, in 1431, Dreyer’s film shows Joan as an otherworldly young woman—she is nineteen, to the best of her limited knowledge—who, in the face of a barrage of questioning by hostile, older, powerful clerics, is simultaneously self-contained and brimming over with emotion. Falconetti, who never made another movie, gives an extraordinary performance, her face registering at different moments rapture, fear, defiance, and transcendence…
…the parallel is striking, because González, with her fervor and her charisma, has already been claimed as this moment’s Maid of Orléans. “Getting serious Joan of Arc vibes from Emma Gonzalez,” Summer Brennan, the novelist, tweeted a couple of weeks ago; Victoria Aveyard, the author of the “Red Queen” series of Y.A. novels, told the Cut the same thing.
The piece eventually sets aside the film and notes that “Joan has authority not because she is wise but because she is innocent.” She praises the “blunt, righteous conviction” of the students and concludes, “Our potential saviors gleam all the more brightly against the pervasive political and civic darkness of the moment.”
Our potential saviors? Sweet Christmas, this is awful!
In the age of Vox and Wonkbook and MSNBC hosts promoting progressive elitism, it’s enlightening to see how quickly the base turns to Joan of Arc and her “righteous conviction.” The left is living out a Manichean political fantasy, one that doesn’t rely on superior facts but on superior emotion. In their minds, they are all Joan of Arc facing the flames of the NRA.
In reality, Emma and her PR team are going to make sure she comes out of this with a sweet book deal, one that burns up the NY Times bestseller list. And anyone who dares to criticize her will be cast off into the footnotes where the evildoers dwell.
The Parkland students are not saviors, they are kids who have been given a bankroll, a PR team, and carte blanche to say anything without fear of being challenged. They are the public face of a large partisan effort to promote gun control, one kicked off and sustained by a media that clearly wants to see them succeed. And maybe they will succeed in some sense, at least in making names for themselves on the left. But it won’t be because they were saints, only because the fawning, biased media treated them that way for so long.