What liberal Hollywood?
A New York magazine story proposes a vast left-wing conspiracy at the movies. It's as fanciful as celluloid itself
By Erik Lundegaard
Chait keeps doing this. He keeps bringing up the barely seen to prove his point while ignoring movies that are disseminated everywhere. It’s as if, to prove that liberals dominate the airwaves, he talks up “Fresh Air” but ignores Rush Limbaugh. His is a cloistered viewpoint in which HBO’s “Girls” matters. Yet, for most of the country, “Girls” doesn’t even exist. As in most Hollywood movies, girls don’t exist.
Who are the heroes of most movies? Superheroes and soldiers, cops and cowboys. The movies haven’t progressed past the mind of an 8-year-old boy. Neither has the Republican Party.
In the documentary “Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood,” Ben Stein, actor, conservative and Hawley-Smoot Tariff Bill advocate, actually crows about this:
In recent years, the obsession that young viewers have with the action movie has helped the political conservatives. Because it’s basically saying all you braino, pointy-headed intellectuals, you’re all wimps and losers. It’s the action guy, the military guy, the police guy—he’s the real hero of society, the real man, and he’s the kind of guy you should be like.
That’s the forest that Chait, obsessed with the trees, or with twigs he’s found on the ground, misses.
When Joe Biden endorsed gay marriage in May, he cited “Will and Grace” as the single-most important driving force in transforming public opinion on the subject. In so doing he actually confirmed the long-standing fear of conservatives—that a coterie of Hollywood elites had undertaken an invidious and utterly successfully propaganda campaign, and had transmuted the cultural majority into a minority. Set aside the substance of the matter and consider the process of it—that is, think of it from the conservative point of view, if you don’t happen to be one. Imagine that large chunks of your entertainment mocked your values and even transformed once-uncontroversial beliefs of yours into a kind of bigotry that might be greeted with revulsion.
You’d probably be angry, too.
I am angry, but for the opposite reason. Yes, the movies influence us. Yes, TV influences us. In my mind, everything affects everything, and if you’re seen on 4,000 screens or in millions of households you’re affecting things that much more.
So “Will and Grace” made us more tolerant of homosexuals? Good. I wonder if it makes up for the decades of sissies and perverts and suicidal sad sacks that were detailed in “The Celluloid Closet,” a documentary on Hollywood’s sad history with homosexual characters. Chait suggests that the portrayal of black presidents in movies like “Deep Impact” paved the way for Barack Obama? Good. I wonder if it makes up for decades of Stepin Fetchit roles, the lazy and the fearful and the laughable, which were the only black faces seen on movie screens for years.
More to the point: If “Will and Grace,” a singular phenomenon, is so influential, what about the aforementioned westerns and cop shows, war movies and superhero epics? What influence do they have on us?
Could Ronald Reagan have been elected president without John Wayne on the movie screen? Could George W. Bush? Both played up the cowboy angle. Both kept using the lines of Hollywood to further their political goals. “Go ahead, make my day,” Reagan said. “Wanted dead or alive,” Bush said of Osama bin Laden. “Bring it on,” Bush said to the Iraqi insurgents. One imagines that he saw himself as an action hero in an action movie. Most of America did, too. Except the Iraq War didn’t end the way movies are supposed to end. It just kept going. It got messier and bloodier and more difficult to sort the good guys from the bad guys. The audience got restless. It thought it was watching something by John Ford or Clint Eastwood and it turned into “The Battle of Algiers.” It turned French on us. We walked out. We wanted a happy ending. Lesson unlearned.
And that’s my point: Not only is the product of Hollywood not liberal, but its playbook, its archetypes and story lines, have been stolen by the GOP to get their candidates elected.
A class bias is also obvious. Most characters are implicitly middle-class, college-educated, from stable homes. The guy who discovers the plot or falls for the girl is rarely poor or disadvantages.
And in the few movies with nonwhite characters, the leads often get replaced with white actors. The Lone Ranger, The Last Airbender, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Crooked Arrows, 21, and so forth and so on. You can count the minority actors who regularly play lead characters on one hand (Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jackie Chan, and...?).
For more on the subject, see Hollywood's Cultural Conservatism and Indians Hold Steady at 3%.
Below: Casting for The Last Airbender.