Does Hollywood affect Washington or vice versa?

The modern Democrat party no longer has to expend valuable time, money, and resources on political campaigns.  The foundation for their agenda has already been laid out for them, for generations, through the constant messaging in the Hollywood movies and television shows produced over the past couple of decades.  The various Democrat campaigns need only conform themselves to these messages Americans have already accepted.

Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

“We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite,” writes New York Magazine’s Jonathon Chait.  “You don’t have to be an especially devoted consumer of film or television (I’m not) to detect a pervasive, if not total, liberalism.”

To provide an example of this, Chait cites the financial disaster September 2008.  There are two widely divergent views on what happened within the institutions that eventually led to this disaster.  The liberal view is that the various financial institutions involved engaged in wild gambles that they were allowed, based on the idea that they encountered limited resistance from Washington.  This view received wide support in various movies, such as Margin Call, Too Big to Fail, the Wall Street sequel, and many others.  The conservative view that a majority of the blame lies in the federal government legislation created by Carter, and enhanced by Clinton and Bush, to lend money to poor people received no representation in Hollywood, save for what Chait calls the amateurish production of Atlas Shrugged.

The point Chait makes throughout his article is that while there are right-wing, conservative, and Republican outlets, such as Fox News, Talk Radio, and in the blogosphere, they are generally given meager exposure when compared to the various outlets provided to Hollywood productions.  The gist of Chait’s provocative article is that it’s far easier to entertain than it is to educate, and that most of us are more apt to watch an Oliver Stone production than, say, a Bill O’Reilly news program, listen to a Rush Limbaugh radio program, or read a political blog.

One enormous advantage that Hollywood productions receive, over those other outlets, is that their opinions are not as discernible, or questioned.  Listen to Rush Limbaugh, and you know that you are listening to a conservative talk show host, and the listener usually questions everything he says on that basis.  If a Republican blogger doesn’t have a relevant title on his website that suggests that he is conservative, it will usually be apparent in the first couple of sentences, and the reader can form arguments with the blogger on that basis.  Very few, however, attempt to critically view an Oliver Stone production in the same manner.  Very few view Oliver Stone as a liberal, a Democrat, or a partisan director, even when producing a liberal interpretation of the former, Republican president Richard Nixon.  Most people don’t perceive that coercion is involved in an Oliver Stone production in the same manner they would a Rush Limbaugh production, and they don’t question Stone’s editorial input in the same manner either.  All such scrutiny, put forth as criticism by the objective or conservative viewer, is met with the “It’s just a movie!” type of criticisms from non-political types that don’t see politics or coercion in these productions, but eventually become engendered by it.

Aside from the greater exposure they receive, and the ability to avoid scrutiny, Hollywood productions also have the advantage of controlling the entire playing field of an argument.  They have the advantage of achieving greater substantiation, and less theoretical, arguments than bloggers or Talk Radio.  When Fox News, Talk Radio, or bloggers report on a story, there is a certain assumption of knowledge that must be made.  Bloggers are also forced to assume that their readers know the players involved and the basics of the story, and they then make a leap from there into an opinion on the story involved.  Hollywood productions are generally given a wider berth on the story.  They are allowed to tell the beginning of the story, as they see it.  They are allowed to provide all of the characters in characterized form.  They are allowed to subtly coerce their audience by having less attractive actors play the players that they disagree with, and they cast “their good guys” with attractive actors playing an underdog role in their production.  It has been psychologically proven that children, as young as those in kindergarten, are more susceptible to the teachings of attractive teachers over those less attractive.  The summation that the testers took from the experiment was that the children wanted to learn from the more attractive teacher, because they wanted to be her.  Movie creators can also shape the dialogue that may have actually occurred with snarls, grimaces, music, lighting, and setting.  They can also manipulate characterization of those with opposing views through facial expressions and the “good guy” reactions to what the opponents say.  They can control how the story is perceived and received by controlling all of these factors of any movie or TV show.

But, say proponents that argue against the idea that Hollywood movies are in anyway ideological, Hollywood movies must still make money.  “Hollywood is more green than blue,” they argue, for most movies that exhibit overt political messages don’t usually get funded, and if they do they’re not likely to be viewed by enough people to make the project worthwhile for those involved.

“The market in popular culture is free, but for the liberal defense—no propagandizing here!—to be true, studios would have to be single-minded profit-maximizing machines,” Chait argues.  “Most of them aren’t.  Making money is their main goal, but they do blend profit with their artistic sensibility, which is heavily influenced by their ideological perspective.”

Thus, it is important that the creator of a movie “smuggle” his message into the plotline, almost as an afterthought, over and over, in movie after movie, until the basic premise of the creators’ ideological message is inadvertently accepted over time.  One method of smuggling a message into a movie in is to have a non-threatening character deliver the message.  A line delivered by a human character, that is over thirty years old, might be met with some resistance, but if it’s delivered by a cute, cartoon character, or a child, the adults watching it usually feel a little silly getting upset by it.

The movie As Good as it Gets is not generally viewed as a political movie, for example, but a cute, little movie about a cute, little dog.  A thorough and objective view of the movie, minus its entertaining aspects, shows that it’s a movie about a rich, angry, white male pitted against the agendas of a minority, a woman, a homosexual, and an animal.  Jack Nicholson is called an awful person by all of the characters involved continuously, and without rebuttal, until he is forced to imbue redeemable qualities by those innocent people that are just trying to get through the trials and tribulations of their life.  The angry white male audience member is given some distance from the Nicholson character through “the condition” the character suffers from, but the central message “that everyone can see a little of themselves in what Nicholson thinks” is meant to pervade.

“Their purpose,” Ayn Rand wrote of Communists for the Screen Guild, “is to corrupt our moral premises by corrupting nonpolitical movies—by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories.”

“If you ask Hollywood liberals themselves about the liberalism of their work, their answer generally depends on how you pose the question,” writes Chait.  “If you frame it in terms of social responsibility, they will happily boast about using their platform to raise their audience’s consciousness about racial tolerance, or the environment, or distrusting government officials.  Pose the same question as an accusation of ideological or partisan bias—those are, after all, liberal values—then they will more likely deny it.”

The point that many, from both sides of the aisle, have made is that all of the agendas expressed in movies like As Good as it Gets, may have had a more difficult time achieving greater acceptance were it not for this continuous, and repetitious, “smuggling” of messages into otherwise innocuous Hollywood movies and shows over the decades.  Vice-president Joe Biden acknowledged as much when he praised the not-so-subtle Will & Grace for making inroads into the culture for the homosexual agenda.  Had the homosexual agenda maintained the confrontational, in-your-face modus operandi, without the subtlety involved in the messaging in sitcoms—or the many movies that handled the subject matter in largely comedic form—the inroads it achieved in our society may never have occurred.

How Obama used Hollywood: In the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain’s people put out a “celebrity commercial” that depicted candidate Barack Obama as a celebrity hound that hung out with Paris Hilton and Jay-Z.  Obama appeared to fit the bill for both sides of the argument.  He was young, attractive, black, and liberal.  He also had a nice smile, a non-confrontational manner about him, and he could read a script well.  He appeared to be right out of central casting for Hollywood producers and voters alike.  He was everything every Hollywood movie had depicted in a potential leader for generations, so he and his handlers decided to advance this advantage by using Hollywood caricatures and clichés depicted of their opponents in movies and television shows for generations.

“(Obama’s) campaign mobilized younger voters by tapping into fears incessantly expressed in movies and television: cultural retrogression (Mad Men), greedy businessmen (The Simpsons), misbegotten wars (Syriana), environmental neglect (Wall-E),” writes Chait.  “The right has no broadcasting device of comparable scope; it tells its stories mainly through avowedly political media like Talk Radio and Fox News.  This makes the fears that torment conservatives today—overweening regulators, welfare layabouts, the government seizing our guns—not so easily recognizable to those not expressly ¬familiar with the right-wing creed.”

Most Americans are not attuned to political media, in other words, and the right has no discernible presence in the “broadcasting devices of comparable scope”.  These audience members are not well versed in the debate that exists in the aisle, and they’re more susceptible to the broadcasting devices which repetitively message them in otherwise innocent stories.  Those that are not well-versed in the debate are not likely to seek the debate, for those presentations are not usually presented in an entertaining format.  It’s also, usually, embarrassing to the uninformed how uninformed they are, and that embarrassment usually causes them to tune political media out.  Hollywood productions usually make their presentations less embarrassing and more entertaining, or if they do bog down their plot with pertinent information from the debate it’s usually not necessary to know every chunk of information in their cat and mouse stories.  It’s usually the sound bites that audiences remember, it’s usually the characterizations, and the gist of the story that they remember, and that is where the creators smuggle in subtle forms of manipulation.

“Set aside the substance of the matter and consider the process of it—that is, think of it from the conservative point of view,” writes Chait, “if you don’t happen to be a conservative.  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.”

Bad Guys: In the various spaghetti westerns of past generations, bad guys used to be immoral types that didn’t value life or morality consistent with their mores of the society at the time.  There were no moral equivocations back then.  There were no excuses given for such beliefs back then.  The audience didn’t care that the bad guy may have been abused as a child, or that his parents didn’t have a lot of money.  He was just a bad guy that killed people, and he had to be stopped by whatever means necessary.  In the modern characterization of bad guys there is unmistakable agenda.   How many modern day bad guys are various incarnations of Dick Cheney?  Bad guys in modern movies are oilmen, profiteers, and anti-environmentalists.  Hollywood producers won’t even allow cartoons through their production lines without smuggling in some small, casual bits of propaganda into otherwise innocent story lines, as evidenced in the story lines of Ice Age 2, the over the top Lorax, or the various television shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy.

The age old question of art is does it influence life in a given society, or does life influence art?  The same question could be made of the Democrat party and Hollywood.  Is Hollywood promoting the Democrat agenda, or does the Democrat agenda influence their art?  Whatever the case is, the Republican Party is losing badly in this arena of the culture war, and they will probably never have much of a voice.  The recent box office failure of the Atlas Shrugged movies details the difficulty of selling a conservative theme to modern consumers.  The general theme of limited government, reason, and the individual freedom of man apparently doesn’t appeal to most movie goers.  The Atlas Shrugged book may be the second bestselling book, next to The Bible, but the relatively poor movie ticket sales, based on the relatively larger ad campaign (than the first movie), prove that the ideals of the story are difficult to sell to modern consumers.   Read any book of column by a Milton Friedman, or a Thomas Sowell, and you’ll also see that the conservative message may also be too complicated for the short-attention span, computer game, instant gratification society.  There are too many variables based on the individual, but there are also too many simple truths that do not lead to “complicated” and artistic interpretations.  Liberalism, on the other hand, provides simple, basic creeds that tug at the heart strings and require little intensive thought, regardless what your college professor tries to tell you.  The blueprint of liberalism simply plays better on screen, and it has for at least a generation now.  It has played so well, and proved so pervasive in our culture, that the Obama campaign used its themes in two successful election campaigns to portray their campaign and their opponents’.  Their two victories should provide a blueprint for all Democrat candidates, seeking office, to use to their advantage.



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