August 23, 2012

What liberal Hollywood?

Writer Erik Lundegaard responds to Jonathan Chait's claim that Hollywood is liberal.

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] thinks “Dirty Harry” is an anomaly and “Rambo” is forgotten. They’re not. They’ve been replaced by “300,” and “Taken,” and “G.I. Joe,” and the “Transformers” trilogy. He thinks “Syriana” shows us the dangers of our misbegotten wars. Maybe. But it, too, was complex, murky and barely seen. Its widest release was 1,775 theaters, which was the 117th-widest release of 2005, and it grossed $50 million domestic, making it the 56th most popular movie that year. No. 2? “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I believe there’s a Christ analogy in there. No. 4? “War of the Worlds.” Beware of foreign invasions. No. 8? “Batman Begins.” Because when street violence happens, it’s best to take the law into your own hands. Because you are pure and the system is not.

That’s liberal?

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.
Lundegaard goes on to talk about the movies' influence:Chait makes one good point. It’s about a twig he found on his short walk through the Hollywood trees:

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.
Comment:  Lundegaard doesn't go into race and gender, but he could have. The type of movie Hollywood favors is the type with white male leads. The studios don't come close to making movies representing the 36% of Americans who aren't white.

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.


Anonymous said...

Hollywood is and has always been a tool for the conservatives. Its history is spotted with propaganda reels since DW Griffiths reinvention of the KKK as "saviors" in BIRTH OF A NATION; L Frank Baum of Wizard of Oz fame published genocide as a solution to America's "Indian problem"; the US gov't sponsored racists propaganda cartoons about ALL Japanese and German peoples as evil; Mexicans and Blacks were stereotyped as lazy and stupid even up to the Warner Bros Looney Tunes animations of the 1960s and 70s. Much of these media releases spawned generations of Americans ignorance and ideals towards minorities and todays network bosses still retain preference of white films via anglo actors potraying ethnic characters; writers and storys that repeat anglo themes over and over again simply replacing the popular male and females of the day. Its boring and recycled. How is this not a facists industry? We now have celebritys trained in military reality shows. How does this not make the armed forces and war an entertainment value? How is this a liberal Hollywood when the nations people are spoonfed bloodshed, violence, sexual promiscuity and racism? Where are the minority reality shows instead of Garage Wars; Jersey Shore; Pawnshop; Bikershops; WWF fake wrestling drama and Gator Hunters. All these shows represent trailer trash culture as American apple pie. I want to see more feature films, sitcoms and reality shows that show Americans we never see. I want to see a fat minority guy opposite Limbaugh get a chance to be a bigot and hater for once. Then you might have a liberal media.

Anonymous said...

They're also making a film version of All You Need is Kill. Not surprisingly, they're going to be "completely American" (Read: white). And this even applies to the half-Japanese/half-Indian Peruvian girl.