November 1, 2005

JUST TELL THE ONE STORY WELL (via Robert Schwartz):

Conservatives in Hollywood?! (Brian C. Anderson, Autiumn 2005, City Journal)

There’s no question Hollywood is reeling. Film attendance is down a wrenching 12 percent from last year, and a May USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that nearly half of American adults go to movies less often than they did in 2000. Some pundits have blamed the rising price of tickets, but in constant dollars a ticket costs less than it did 25 years ago. Others believe that it’s all those DVDs that people are buying—except that DVD sales are slumping, too. The most likely explanation is the left-wing politics. “You can date the recent box-office decline from the end of the summer last year, with the intensification of the presidential campaign,” notes conservative film critic and talk-radio host Michael Medved. “It wasn’t just Hollywood’s hostility toward President Bush; it was the naked, raw partisanship.”

If even one in ten Bush voters boycotted Hollywood after hearing the latest Tim Robbins anti-Bush diatribe or seeing yet another big-screen conservative villain (like the Dick Cheney look-alike who nearly destroyed the world in last year’s The Day After Tomorrow), it would add up to 6 million fewer viewers, Medved points out. “This is what many people in the movie industry don’t get: when you express hostility to conservatives, many Americans feel that you’re expressing hostility to them.”

Surveys support Medved’s theory. A Hollywood Reporter poll finds that nearly one in two Americans might shun a film starring an actor whose politics repulsed them. “The politics is definitely having an impact,” observes Govindini Murty, an actress and editor of Libertas, an influential conservative film blog. “Do car companies insult Republicans in their ads?”

When Hollywood does put its liberal worldview aside to make movies that embody traditional values, it often scores big with the public. Consider 2004’s Spider-Man 2, a sequel far better than the original. Directed by Sam Raimi, the movie is a visual wonder: the scenes of Spider-Man (played by soft-spoken Tobey Maguire) battling the tentacled benefactor-of-humanity-turned-terrorist Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) high above New York—furious tangles of fists, mechanical arms, and shattered glass and stone—virtually explode off the screen. Spider-Man 2 is so eye-catching that you might miss the story’s old-fashioned moral truths.

The movie is a fable about duty and heroism. Young Peter Parker decides to hang up his Spider-Man costume, since his super-heroics—made possible by the bite of a genetically mutated spider—have kept him from chasing his dreams, which include, above all, winning Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Parker takes this step after visiting an aging hippie doctor, Grateful Dead shirt under white scrubs, who advises, in vintage if-it-feels-good-do-it style: “You always have a choice.”

Yet as city crime skyrockets and the threat of Doc Ock grows, Parker’s conscience haunts him. In a crucial scene, his loving Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), the moral center of his life, sets him straight. “Everybody loves a hero,” she says. “People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer.” Her old voice grows somber. “I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want most. Even our dreams.”

Struck by her plain wisdom, Parker eventually does the right thing, not his own thing: Spider-Man returns and saves Gotham from Doc Ock. Not, though, before a band of straphangers risk their lives by stepping between the injured superhero and his terrifying enemy, proving that one doesn’t need superpowers to be valiant—a lesson that New Yorkers know well after September 11. The movie’s essential message is exactly contrary to the guilt-free “just do it” ethos of the sixties: sometimes the choice you have to make, to live a morally meaningful life, is to do your duty. The movie resonated powerfully with the public, grossing a whopping $374 million domestically, and it took in another $400 million or so overseas. Factor in DVD sales, and you’re getting close to a billion-dollar movie. [...]

But a movie comes out of a worldview, and the Hollywood of Barbra Streisand, Rob Reiner, and Alec Baldwin may still not get it. Libertas’s Murty says that a publicist for Ridley Scott’s expensive 2005 flop about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven, asked her and her filmmaker husband, Jason Apuzzo, for advice on marketing the film to conservatives and Christians. Invited to a press screening along with representatives of various Christian groups, the two watched in disbelief as the movie opened with a Catholic priest beheading a woman and stealing her rosary—and went on in that vein, while also presenting the Muslims as noble and wise. “Every single person directly associated with the Church in the movie is a murderer or a liar. They really thought this would appeal to Christians,” Murty recounts. “Some of these people live in this completely sealed world in West Hollywood and didn’t register how offensive the movie would be.”

Nevertheless, several indicators suggest that the film industry’s cultural stance may be changing more dramatically than hiring some new marketers. For starters, Hollywood is home to a growing right- of-center presence, including hotshot young producers like Mike De Luca of DreamWorks and Gavin Pollone, and rising screenwriters like Craig Mazin, Cyrus Nowrasteh, and Klavan. What’s more, if reports are true, other young Hollywood types are on the Right, but keep their views quiet, for fear of career trouble in a still-liberal town. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that a significant majority of the young people coming into Hollywood are conservative,” opined Chetwynd this summer. Last fall, Details magazine’s exposé “Young and Republican in Hollywood” caused a stir by “outing” comedian Adam Sandler, actor Freddie Prinze Jr., and others as secret right-wingers. AMC’s 2004 documentary Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood, directed by former Democratic speechwriter Jesse Mosse, concludes that Hollywood will be shifting right as the under-40s become its new establishment. Already reinforcing David Horowitz’s long-established Wednesday Morning Club, which hosts conservative speakers for open-minded industry listeners, are such newly formed right-wing salons as the Hollywood Congress of Republicans and the discreet Sunday Evening Club, for still-closeted rightists.

When a trendsetter like Polone (subject of a glowing 2004 New York Times Magazine cover story) can observe that “we live in a much more conservative country than the entertainment industry had thought it was, and it would be much smarter for them to move in that direction,” it’s a pretty safe bet that the new Hollywood establishment will indeed be very different from the one that it soon will replace.

Check the list of 2004's top grossing movies and it's easy to see how heavily they tilt towards the simple plotline of the triumph of good over evil, even if in varied forms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 1, 2005 11:16 PM

the thing is, when a klown like tim robbins starts spewing his nonsense, it adversely affects revenue from his back catalog as well as crippling his new releases. having said that, i thought robbins was superb in "Team America".."we're guards, yeah, guards, we're guards".

Posted by: alfred kinsey at November 2, 2005 1:24 PM