I have just seen a “feel-good” movie, with the improbable title “Cowgirls ‘n Angels”. I bought the DVD for my 13-year old granddaughter who has what she calls a “passion” for horses. I don’t, but I knew she’d love the story about a young girl her age, star of a rodeo-show in Oklahoma, my old stamping-ground. I knew the film would not be Oscar material, but I imagined it could not be a complete dud, as its only “name” actor, James Cromwell (no relation, I hope, to the monster who destroyed our family castle in Tipperary) has some fine work to his credit. Senior screen stars likes James and myself like to admire each other’s work …
What struck me in the predictable story was the deliberate, undisguised objective of making the audience feel good. Viewers could not but admire the pluckiness, perkiness and innocent purity of the heroine in her search for the father she had never seen and who was somewhere out there on the rodeo-circuit. Not only the people in Guthrie and Stillwater (Okla.) but most Americans would love the “Sweethearts of the Rodeo”, the troupe of which the young star was part, galloping through the arena before they brought out the bulls, each bearing the Stars and Stripes banner (the girls not the bulls) to the delight of the patriots in the stands, in cinemas and in front of their TV screens. Belting out “the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”, with hand on heart, the rodeo fans probably had tears in their eyes, as did not a few of the movie’s viewers at the final inevitable reunion of the heroine and her Daddy (this is what the French call a ” ‘appy ending’ “).
There’s nothing wrong, or even laughable, in wanting to feel good sometimes. It’s part of the formula for the success of religion. You see it at baptisms, you feel it – rarely – during a sermon, and when you need it most : at moments of tragedy and loss. Without those conforting words at funerals, many would feel God-awful. Religion can provide moments of euphoria but especially the hope and consolation without which, for some, pain would be unbearable.
I feel good about having rejected religion, including all its feel-good by-products. I’m grateful – or, more accurately, happy – that I discovered that I did not need its illusions and wishful thinking to lead a full and free life. My sources of happiness are in the here and now, in family and friends, in discovering new knowledge, in sharing experiences and insights, in enjoying special moments of intimacy, of grandeur and of beauty which transcend the quotidian. I can even enjoy a feel-good movie.