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Friday, July 23, 2004

Hollywood elite

This article by Laurie Spivak is a fun look at the interplay between politics and the entertainment industry.  The whole Republican stance on Hollywood is pretty weird but extremely amusing to outsiders.  First of all, the legitimacy of having a stance at all on Hollywood as a political entity is simply ridiculous.  What next?  Having a stance on the publishing industry?  (Don't look now!)  Any two-bit moron can see that the product coming out of Hollywood does not have a steady political or moral stance--for every "daring" program like "Sex and the City", there are tons of hokey but well-loved programs like "Touched by an Angel" and "Seventh Heaven".  (I like "Sex and the City", but I am continually amazed by people who find it unbelievably daring.  For all the supposedly super-graphic dialogue, I have never heard anything that would shock anyone who has actually had sex.)

But the Hollywood that the Republicans talk about is a construct.  It's not the actual town of Hollywood or the entertainment industry at all.  It's a symbol, and not only that, but a deliberately ambiguous one so that each member of their audience can project their own resentments of the product that so dominates our everyday life, a perfect place to tie disparate conservative cultural critiques into one package.  It's my impression that each brand of conservatism means something different when they criticize "Hollywood".
  • To the Christian right, the problem is obvious.  The entertainment industry does not kow-tow to their beliefs or their values.  Women are having sex and enjoying it on TV.  Gay people are shown as happy, normal people and not depression-ridden perverts.  People's lives are not built around church.  You could go on forever.  The Christian right's criticisms are the most amusing, since the very things they have a problem with in entertainment are the only consistently realistic things in entertainment.  You know, since gays are pretty normal, women do have sex and like it, etc.
  • The hazy middle America that they pitch their pseudo-populism to hates the materialism of the entertainment industry--and as a standard-issue middle American, I agree completely.  It's completely fucking ridiculous that any character in a movie whose house is smaller than 3,000 square feet is a scraggle-toothed redneck.  When middle America hears about "elite" Hollywood, they are thinking about how out of touch Hollywood is with the financial scale they live on. 
  • The racist wing that the GOP has to cater to and deny at the same time hates that Hollywood is always pushing what they see as a P.C., wishy-washy view of race relations.  Also, they don't like those preachy movies about segregation in the South.  They think that allowing black people access to media outlets is the equivalent of promoting crime and immorality.  They are particularly open to anti-rap arguments.
  • The older crowd dislikes rap, too, but mostly because they feel like the fashions of music and whatnot have passed them by. 
  • The more educated conservatives are not only open to this silly argument, but I think they invented it.  Anyone who has gone to college knows the collegiate conservatives, piously making elaborate arguments that all boil down to the same general idea--that not too long ago, in the good old days when education belonged only to its rightful owners who just happened to be white and male, things were better.  Time was not wasted on talking about unimportant things like a feminist perspective or how race and class influenced history.  Hollywood is just another expression of the tedious and ridiculous belief that people who are not white men have something interesting to say.  If you have trouble spotting this type, it's the guy complaining that before that movie about Ya-Ya sisters came out, no one had to read this Jane Austen claptrap.

So, you can see that when they say that the Republican party is a big tent, they mean that they are open to all sorts of people who have no tolerance for art that does anything but reinforce their own viewpoint.  This is what they mean by "Hollywood elite".  (Middle America still has a point--the materialism is ridiculous.  However, it only bugs them because they are materialistic, and it makes them jealous.  Sorry--I get to call them out on it, because them is me and I know.)

A star gets target because their fame irritates as many of these groups as possible.  That's why being a hip hop artist will score a home run of right wing condemnation.  That's why female artists are more likely than male artists to get singled out for abuse--it's not just because they are female, but that they are brings in the loathing of the "intellectual" conservatives and the Christians, so it helps.  But no matter who the symbol is, the absolute most important thing is that Hollywood is powerful and elite so that the GOP can position itself as the rebels. 

Now I have to quarrel with Spivak's ideas.  That the GOP's actor-politicians are all B-listers isn't a weakness at all--it's the perfect way for them to straddle the hypocrisy she points out, that they both trash Hollywood while recruiting Hollywood types to run for them.  By using B-listers, they are both tapping star power while still positioning themselves as outsiders.  I have actually heard Limbaugh rant about how having conservative politics will get you on a mysterious Hollywood blacklist where you never get A projects again.  One could make an argument that Ah-nold is an A-lister, but let's be honest.  He was sliding into B-list territory, and he joined into politics before his fame disappeared but after he realized he was never going to get back on the A-list either.  Same with Charleton Heston.  And Tom Selleck.  And Dennis Miller.  Reagan was always on the B-list.  Hell, the Republican party will keep you in some kind of career long after you lose all your regular box office appeal, so everyone wins.

Does this mean that the Democrats should shun their heavy A-list Hollywood support?  Not at all.  In fact, the hipper and more prominent, the better.  The only people that the A-list drives away would never vote for the Democrats anyway, so catering to them is a waste of time.  But bright, cool, hip, lovable A-listers can do exactly what the Democratic party needs to get done--get non-voters to vote.  That's why it irritates me about people nit-pick when rock and hip hop stars and young movie stars lend their name and talents to the party--they nit-pick because they think it's fluffy and pointless.

Well, I strongly disagree.  Art and politics not only can but should influence each other.  The bored apolitical hipster stance sucked the very life out of indie rock--we need to fucking learn.  If Outkast's music means something to a lot of people, and Outkast volunteers to drum up support for Kerry by playing a fundraiser, I'm not going to say that it's stupid or shallow.  Right there, you are insulting the people who get something out of Outkast and that inspires them to vote.  Art is political by definition--don't dogpile on people who make that truth explicit.

I was always interested in politics, but punk rock radicalized me.  Punk puts forth a collectivist ethos that manages not to be drippy or overly serious.  You can be part of a collectivist political punk movement, and not have to hold hands and love everyone.  The simple fact that it's out there, that there's a gathering place where one's angst and anger has vent, energizes people and gets their asses, believe it or not, to the voting booth.  And with humor--whenever I make my "vote, you won't be sorry" case to someone, I always tell them how it's so fun to show up wearing an obscene T-shirt or something else offensive to vote, since the voting booth is the one place where people are totally obliged to treat you like an equal.  Hip hop is even better at this, since there are hip hop artists that garner a lot of respect who never waver or sway from their political goals.

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