Culture Wars: How 1000 Dead Baby Dolls Sparked a Political Fire

What are Culture Wars? It is what people yell about on social media, what we protest about, what we believe in, what we fight for. Jon Ronson, a Welsh journalist and author has recently created a podcast short series called “Things Fell Apart” about the culture wars that plague our society. Here I follow the episode “1000 Dolls”, about how an unexpected creative decision by Francis Schaeffer, an ex-evangelical Christian filmmaker, who made an anti-abortion film after the news of Roe v Wade sparked the beginning of a violent and criminal fire between pro-life evangelical christians and pro-choice feminists.

Francis Schaeffer and his father began to become successful in the evangelical christian film sector with the creation of a short series of films, with the last two episodes focusing on abortion. However successful the films were evangelical christians still believed abortion was a Catholic issue, and they did not take to abortion topic well. No matter how vocal evangelical christian leaders were on the issue Francis was determined to create a new film just about abortion. This filme used horror and a visceral experience of 1000 dead baby dolls to show how bad abortion was to evangelical christians. It was a propaganda film with horror aspects to reveal the “evil” of abortion. Again evangelical christians disapproved and the film was a blatant failure with empty stadiums and little support.

However, Francis was determined and he traveled around the world to get evangelical christians involved in the political topic of abortion. Many evangelical christian leaders were not pro-life and did not support the film, but suddenly the New York Post ran a story about the Schaeffer “Avant-Garde” anti-abortion film along with other papers and it began to gain traction. Then feminist groups like planned parenthood and “radical” feminist groups would come to where the anti-abortion films were showing and protest them. This caused an interesting chain reaction as the evangelical christians who were not supportive of the films in the first place began to come to support it. Not for the reason of the film particularly, but because the feminist group that had then sparked the fire of sides. The evangelical christian groups already believed these feminist groups were the enemy so it did not take much to get them to join the side of the christian film and political side. More interestingly though, the film that was doing so terribly started to do well based on the reason of these pro-choice protesters. The film was labeled avant-garde, and was all over newspapers, and on the news, it was everywhere. The mentality of us vs them became apparent, and the issue grew to be not even about the film anymore and was the start of the culture war on abortion.

As the culture war raged, what was once a peaceful disagreement became violent. Planned parent hoods were bombed, and an abortion provider was shot. Bart Slepian was an OB who was just doing his job, and was harassed daily and then later killed in his home. His niece, later on, made it her life’s work interviewing murders of abortion-giver doctors. Furthermore, Francis Schaeffer became more radicalized in his views of anti-abortion and later fueled others in the belief that christians that support pro-life need to protect these unborn children in any means necessary, inciting violence. The fans of the Schaeffer family became so cult Francis realized he needed to get out of this highly political-religious sector of film and went back to his original plan of becoming a filmmaker in Hollywood. Francis did what he said, but through his life and career became remorseful and regretful of the damage his earlier anti-abortion films created. At the end of Francis’s life he had been overtly vocal about his disagreement with evangelical christian views, and his personal favor of pro-choice, but he knew he never made up for all the violence, crime, and hate that incited from his art.

References:
Ronson, Jon. “Things Fell Apart.” iTunes Podcast, Writer and Presenter Jon Ronson, Producer Sara Shebbeare, BBC Podcasts, November 8, 2021.

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