Tags: Hollywood

Hollywood Democrats, Digging Deep for Lundergan Grimes and Nunn


The Democrats’ friends in Hollywood are making a big push to help Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn in Georgia.

On Tuesday, Nunn — who has been a frequent visitor to LA’s Westside this season, arrives back in town Tuesday for an early evening reception at the Hancock Park mansion of media moguls Michael Kong and Stacey Twilley. Among the hosts contributing $5,200 each to fuel Nunn’s Georgia run are Keith Addis, Marcy Carsey, Sherry Lansing, Michael Lombardo & Sonny Ward, Howie Mandel and Nancy Stephens. Other tickets are scaled from $2,600 apiece down to $500.

Grimes’ September 18 fundraiser is shaping up to be Hollywood’s biggest A-ticket event this month. Like all of Grimes’ Los Angeles fundraisers, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is once again a driving force. The studio chief has not only declared Grimes’ election his number one priority of this electoral cycle but already has raised well over $1 million on her behalf. In this final push, Katzenberg appears to be pulling in support from all corners of the industry, including director James Cameron, who in recent years has been a donor to Republican candidates.

You can picture the NRSC’s web videos already: “It’s crunch time, so Michelle Nunn/Alison Lundergan Grimes are headed to Hollywood, not Georgia/Kentucky” . . . 

According to the June 30 filing statements, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has $3.1 million more cash on hand than Grimes. But Nunn has $4 million more on hand than David Purdue in Georgia. Still, if Purdue needs some more cash, he can probably find it: “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported Perdue’s net worth, after examining his disclosure, at between $11.9 million and $48 million.”

Lundergan Grimes and Nunn probably don’t actually need more money; they need a more convincing case that they won’t be like the national Democrats that are so unpopular in Kentucky and Georgia.

Tags: Kentucky , Georgia , Hollywood , Alison Lundergan Grimes , Michelle Nunn

Obama Snubs Lauren Bacall! Pop-Culture President Fails to Issue Statement on Death of Hollywood Legend


President Barack Obama, whose opinions on entertainment are eagerly awaited by all Americans, has shocked the entertainment industry by ignoring the death of legendary Hollywood actress, and lifelong Democrat, Lauren Bacall.

Bacall, a movie legend whose career included work with filmmakers ranging from Howard Hawks to Douglas Sirk to Lars von Trier, died Tuesday, leaving behind a legacy that included many classic films, a youthful marriage (and early widowhood) to Humphrey Bogart, and a lifetime of activism for liberal causes. Bacall joined protests against the House Un-American Activities Committee, campaigned for two-time failed presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, and identified herself as “anti-Republican . . . a liberal” in a 2005 Larry King interview.

Yet Bacall’s loyalty to the president’s party has not earned any recognition from the pop-culture-saturated commander-in-chief. Obama has spent much of his time in office taking selfies with cultural notables; giving his opinions on Downton Abbey, Orange Is the New Black, Mad Men, and many other popular television shows; texting with Jay-Z; and gracing the nation with his opinion of Kanye West’s interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Obama rarely leaves America in the dark about his media diet and pop-culture opinions.

Inconveniently, Obama’s pop connoisseurship is occasionally interrupted by details of national and global politics: Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine; an area of Iraq the size of Belgium is under the control of a mass-murdering Sunni Islamist terror group; and the United States remains stuck in the longest period of economic stagnation since the Great Depression. But Obama has until now found ways to soldier through, most recently taking time during his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to issue a statement on the death of hirsute funnyman Robin Williams.

The cause of Obama’s Bacall snub is not known. It is possible that he is preparing to hug it out with his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on the Vineyard tonight. The president may also share the view, held by a large minority of American men, that Martha Vickers, who played Bacall’s slutty younger sister in Hawks’s 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, was the real hot one.

The White House did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

Tags: War On Women , Hollywood , Barack Obama

Our Robin Williams


It’s very moving to see the outpouring of appreciation for the late Robin Williams. Williams, who died last night in an apparent suicide in his Marin County home, had a particular connection to National Review, having done a crackerjack impression of founder William F. Buckley that ended up with Buckley’s signature manner being immortalized in the Disney film Aladdin.

That Aladdin bit was an outgrowth of a more extensive WFB Williams did in a Saturday Night Live parody of Firing Line, which doesn’t seem to be available online anywhere*, though there is a transcript here. Also not online is a devastating impression of Williams himself by Martin Short on SCTV — which got to the heart of what was not only brilliant in Williams’s free-associating japery but also, it must be said, maddening. Comedians inflict themselves on people, and it’s not an accident that the definitions of success and failure in standup — either you kill or you die — presume that the audience is a mortal enemy. Williams massacred audiences by putting the comic’s neediness on non-stop display, packing the routine with a billion one-liners that left no time for punch lines to sink in, completely throwing out the advice Leo McCarey (allegedly) gave to the Marx Brothers: “Half the jokes would be twice as funny.”

I am old enough to remember when Williams hit, and the experience was pretty fantastic: He proved he was the funniest person in America, then he proved it again, then he kept on proving it. You laughed and laughed, and at some point you hoped it would stop. It was of its time, in the era of Andy Kaufman and Steven Wright and Bill Murray and even the early David Letterman: specialists in dead air, amputated punchlines, deadpan vacancy and other forms of anti-comedy. Williams hit you with so many funny lines it began to feel like assault. He made you feel personally responsible for whatever was bugging him.

The circumstances of his death certainly indicate he never worked that out. Killing yourself is at the same time the most powerful statement you can make and a total silence. A lot of commentary today focuses on how he never quite translated his genius into a palatable form — the presumption being that his manic inspiration couldn’t be contained in an entertainment for regular people. My friend David Edelstein writes at

What hurts most about the apparent suicide of Robin Williams is that as much as he achieved, he died in his own mind unfulfilled. And to an extent, he was unfulfilled — he never found a form that would capture the genius of his stand-up act or his early appearances on The Tonight Show, when his mind worked faster than anyone alive and very possibly dead, when he seemed to be channeling a fleet of circling UFOs containing the galaxy’s best comedy writers.

I don’t know about that. You could say anybody had unfulfilled potential, that Haydn might have written 208 symphonies instead of only 104. But Williams had a bazillion-dollar movie career, and it’s packed with fantastic performances. Most people in Hollywood would kill for a career that only included, say, his tic-filled title role in Popeye (which by the way captures the Max Fleischer cartoon Popeye in a way no actual human should have been able to do), the fully dramatized display of his standup mania in Good Morning, Vietnam, an iconic voice role like Aladdin, and a massive (and for my money, too Robin Williams-y) money-printing machine like Mrs. Doubtfire. But he had at least a dozen other great lead performances, most of them pointing up something that even the enthusiasts may be missing:

Williams was in some respects the reverse of the old show-business cliché of the clown who wants to play Hamlet (and by the way, his walk-on as Osric in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet is fantastically funny). According to this tradition, comedians are always trying, and usually failing, to inflate themselves into careers as serious actors. I’m not sure the idea is ever true, given the widely acknowledged reality that comedy is harder to do than drama. But Williams’s movie career is a stunning refutation of the clown/Hamlet dichotomy. His comedies contain some  great moments of uncut Robin Williamsism (I’d recommend his King of the Moon in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and I know National Review Online movie critic Armond White is a lonely supporter of Steven Spielberg’s Hook), but it’s also got some movies where his manic improvisational energy is a chore to suffer through (I won’t name names, but the initials are Patch Adams).

But if you look at Williams’s dramatic roles there’s one great performance after another: The World According to Garp, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting (the Oscar-winner), Insomnia, a little-seen TV adaptation of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day, One Hour Photo, and my favorite movie about the cultural Cold War, Paul Mazursky’s Moscow On the Hudson would be enough to earn anybody a ticket on the Space Ark. (Speaking of the recently deceased, I hear Paul Mazursky made some bad movies, but I have never seen one.) And there are some great comic-but-not-Robin-Williamsized roles as well. Michael Ritchie’s The Survivors, a satire on survivalists and gun enthusiasts, doesn’t have my preferred politics, but Williams and Walter Matthau are both great in it. And the totally forgotten Ron Shelton football story The Best of Times is a wonderful comic meditation on the inescapability of high school shame. It may seem I have now named all the Robin Williams performances I liked, but there are more.

If it seems like I was disparaging his standup routine above (I can never quite figure out the whole not-speaking-ill-of-the-dead thing), let me say that the problem was not that he wasn’t brilliant. It was the surfeit of brilliance:

But since everybody you know will be sending around Williams standup clips for the next day or so, and since there can never be enough SCTV fans, here’s proof that he was also good at sketch comedy:

UPDATE: It turns out the Internet really does have everything. NRO reader Reilly Stephens provides the video for the Robin Williams/Eddie Murphy Firing Line parody:

Remembering Robin Williams
Actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead at his home in Northern California on Monday, where he had apparently taken his own life after battling severe depression. He was 63. Williams went from the stand-up comedy circuit to major Hollywood stardom in both comedic turns and serious dramas. Here’s a look back at some quotes from his most famous roles.
Mork & Mindy (1978): “Punching and pushing and calling someone names means you like them? … Then the cowboys and Indians are lovers?”
Popeye (1980): “Oh, what am I? Some kind of barnicle on the dinghy of life? Oh, I ain't no doctors, but I knows that I'm losing me patience. What am I? Some kind of judge or lawyers? Maybe not, but I knows what law suitks me.”
The World According to Garp (1982): “Gradual school is where you go to school and you gradually find out you don't want to go to school anymore.”
Moscow on the Hudson (1984): “This is a free country, welcome to almost anyone. And I'm hoping someday maybe you will join me here. Of course I will continue to write to you every week. Yes, in America almost anything is possible. Goodbye for now my beloved family. I love you. Voyia”
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987): “Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P.”
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): “I’m sorry. You must refer to me by my complete title: King of Everything. Rei di Tutto. But you may call me Ray.”
Dead Poets Society (1989): “We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
Awakenings (1990): “You'd think at a certain point all these atypical somethings would amount to a typical something.”
The Fisher King (1991): “There's three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life, a nice bowel movement on a regular basis, and a navy blazer.”
Hook (1991): “Hook, you let those kids out of that net in less than one minute or you better get an attorney and hope to God he's better than me.”
Toys (1992): “Four stores and many Christmases ago, my father brought forth a factory conceived in innocence and joy and squeezable fun for everyone.”
Aladdin (1992): “But oh, to be free. Not to have to go "Poof! What do you need, "Poof! What do you need, Poof! What do you need?". To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world. But what am I talking about? Let's get real here, that's never gonna happen. Genie, wake up and smell the hummus.”
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993): “Sink the sub. Hide the weasel. Park the porpoise. A bit of the old Humpty Dumpty, Little Jack Horny, the Horizontal Mambo, hmm? The Bone Dancer, Rumpleforeskin, Baloney Bop, a bit of the old Cunning Linguistics?”
Jumanji (1995): “Hey, hey, I'm sorry, okay?... Twenty-six years buried in the deepest darkest jungle, and I still became my father.”
The Birdcage (1996): “Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I'm a middle- aged fag. But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I'm not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that.”
Good Will Hunting (1997): “People call those imperfections, but no, that's the good stuff.”
Flubber (1997): “I love you with every cell, with every atom. I love you on a subatomic level.”
Patch Adams (1998): “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you'll win, no matter what the outcome.”
What Dreams May Come (1998): “A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in Heaven. Then we'll all be together forever.”
Bicentennial Man (1999): “To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but, the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity.”
One Hour Photo (2002) “If these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it's this: I was here. I existed. I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture.”
Insomnia (2002): “I didn’t murder her. I killed her, but it just ended up that way.”
Night at the Museum (2006) “I’m made of wax, Larry. What are you made of?”
Updated: Aug. 12, 2014


Tags: Death , Hollywood , National Review , William F. Buckley

Why the Pajamahadeen Shouldn’t Worry About the Rathergate Movie


From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why the Pajamahadeen Shouldn’t Fear Hollywood’s Take on ‘Rathergate’

Megan McArdle spits hot fury over the news that Mythology Entertainment is making a movie about the Rathergate memo scandal . . . based upon the book of CBS producer Mary Mapes, who contended that the story was true and that those bloggers in pajamas who kept proving it wrong — including, ahem, me — are all mean and liars and right-wing maniacs and so on.

Mapes will be played by Cate Blanchett. Robert Redford is playing the man who reported the story on air, CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

I’ll give you a moment to process that.

As I noted, by playing Dan Rather, this will mark the second time Redford has played a character who was secretly a member of Hydra.

Above: Robert Redford, standing beside a decorative artwork
in his office, depicting the original logo for CBS News.

I should be outraged by this. As I mentioned in Raleigh, this is a good example for young journalists of how you can work hard, get your big break, help expose a lie, reveal the truth, and have a small role in changing the way people look at the world and powerful people . . . and then watch Hollywood stars glamorize the liars and make you the bad guy. (I’m guessing they’ll cast Jerry O’Connell to play some guy in little elephant pajamas. )

But I suppose that I shrug and dismiss this as sort of liberal cosplay. They really enjoy having glamorous actors put on costumes and make-up and reenact recent events, emphasizing the heroism of the people they like and often ludicrously caricaturing those they don’t like. You may recall Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA officer was leaked to columnist Robert Novak by Colin Powell’s right-hand man, Richard Armitage. She had her life turned into an action thriller . . . with car chases and explosions . . . where a sinister conspiracy at the heart of the Bush administration leaks her name . . . and Richard Armitage is never mentioned.

The Washington Post editorial board felt compelled to call out the myth-making:

In fact, “Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions — not to mention outright inventions. To start with the most sensational: The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false.

There’s practically a whole branch of HBO devoted to this sort of instant revisionism and dramatization: Recount, Game Change, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, where Sorkin basically rewrote news events and coverage of Obama’s early presidency the way he thought it should have gone . . . 

What the hell is with these smug revisionist historians, who take facts, take their own imagination, mix them together, slip in some cameo appearances by big-name political figures and think they can create a memorable, vivid, dramatic story that will influence the public’s viewpoint and memories of recent events . . . 

What’s that?

Oh. Yeah. That.

I guess I shrug because this is just the latest in Robert Redford’s series of exercises in moral inversion. His recent self-directed film The Company You Keep tried to argue that the 1960s radicals who planted bombs weren’t such bad guys . . . by making the convenient plot change that the wanted 1960s radical played by Redford didn’t actually commit the crime. Gee, that kind of changes things, doesn’t it? William Ayers doesn’t have the excuse of blaming the one-armed man.

And trying to rewrite Rathergate so that Rather and Mapes are the heroes is, I suspect, too much of a moral inversion for audiences to accept, in a story that will have no car chases, sex scenes, fistfights, gunfights, or aliens. (I mean, as far as I know.) They’ll have to argue that the famous network news anchor, with the giant network backing him, is the plucky heroic underdog, and that the bloggers — bloggers! — are the powerful, sinister villain.

When Robert Redford is pulling off a sting, running from the Bolivian police, hitting a baseball, whispering to a horse, or offering a million dollars to sleep with Demi Moore, everybody loves him. When he gets preachy, the work is usually insufferable. Lions for Lambs flopped. Come to think of it, so did Fair Game, and The Newsroom is in its final season. The appetite for making these instant revisionist-history pieces is significantly larger than the appetite for watching them.

So that’s why I’m not that worried about the Rathergate movie.

Tags: Dan Rather , CBS News , Bloggers , Hollywood , Pajamhadeen

Two Bergdahl Movies In the Works, And They Both Might Be Good


I don’t subscribe to the belief that Hollywood chooses its war movie subjects strictly for the purpose of demoralizing America and making us look bad. Although you wouldn’t always know from the results, movies are put together largely with the aim of  maximizing dramatic tension. Ethically complex stories will always be dramatically promising for the same reason Hamlet couldn’t make up his mind.

But some things do make you go hmm. There have been fifteen Congressional Medals of Honor awarded in this new century, and yet the soldier who will apparently be featured in two different Hollywood films is Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Variety reports:

Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal are planning a movie based on recently released U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The project would be produced through Boal’s recently launched Page 1 production company, backed by Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures.

Separately, Fox Searchlight has acquired movie rights to “America’s Last Prisoner Of War,” written by the late Michael Hastings, with Todd Field (“In The Bedroom”) attached to direct and produce. Hastings’ story was published in 2012 by Rolling Stone while Bergdahl was still a prisoner of the Taliban.

Either or both of these movies could be good. Bigelow has demonstrated over many years her talent for extracting drama from hard men in government service, irrespective of setting (as in the beloved cop/surfer classic Point Break) or even nationality (in the underrated Soviet submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker). Todd Field made the critically acclaimed In the Bedroom and the excellent shamesploitation picture Little Children, which featured not only a showstopping comeback performance by seventies icon Jackie Earle Haley but some spectacularly good Will Lyman narration. It’s also notable that the late Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article on Bergdahl, though it was written two years ago and with no certainty that Bergdahl would ever be released, seems to have held up in just about all of its particulars — which happens less often with news pieces than you might think.

Still, you have to wonder. For the last few weeks there’s been a raging debate over whether Bergdahl was worth the five Taliban prisoners released in exchange for him. Do we now have to argue about whether he’s worth the inevitable millions in film production tax credits the taxpayers of New Mexico will end up paying to make the Land of Enchantment look like Afghanistan?

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Afghanistan , Hollywood , Movies

Maria Conchita Alonso: Commie Fighter


You don’t see this every day: A Hollywood actress and musician took to the streets of Washington Friday to demand U.S. government action — not to mandate carbon-neutral toilets or provide universal health care for cats, but to take on an autocratic socialist regime.

The Washington Post’s David Montgomery reports that Maria Conchita Alonso, appearing in front of the White House along with “hundreds of fired-up Venezuelan-Americans,” planted a big kiss on Old Glory while “holding her rescue Chihuahua Tequila.”

The Cuban-born, Venezuelan-raised pepperpot was demanding U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, exclaiming, “They’re going to kill me, those Communists!”

Conchita Alonso never quite made it to the A list, but she’s been in some good movies, including Paul Mazursky’s sadly forgotten Moscow On the Hudson, which was one of the best pro-western statements of the Cold War specifically because it eschewed ideological hawkery in favor of a sentimental/liberal celebration of American free markets, social laissez-faire and abundance. 

But the actress has been taking a harder line with Venezuela’s Bolivarian paradise. Montgomery reports:

She’s been an outspoken foe of late Hugo Chavez and his successor for years — remember her celebrated shouting match with Sean Penn in LAX in 2011? Penn has expressed support for the social goals of the Bolivarian Republic. In chummier times, the pair co-starred in the 1988 film “Colors.”

(For the record, Hugo Chávez’s successor is Nicolás Maduro, but I can sympathize with Montgomery’s not bothering to look it up; because really, who cares what his name is?)

The Post has some fun with Conchita Alonso’s fiery antics before specifying what the activists are hoping to achieve:

The crowd carried American and Venezuelan flags, and sang the sonorous Venezuelan national anthem, twice. They carried signs in English — “Sanction violators of human rights” — and chanted in Spanish — “Who are we? Venezuela! What do we want? Liberty!”

The sanctions bills would cut visas for certain officials and freeze assets.

“We don’t want to hurt our brothers down there,” [Demonstrator Ernesto] Ackerman said. “We want to get those sanctions to the people who are the dictators.”

It hasn’t been in the news much lately, but Venezuela’s enlightened 21st-century-socialist government is still doing what socialists do best: beating people up and arresting them.

Tags: Venezuela , Communism , Hollywood

The Norms of the ‘Creative Class’ vs. the Rest of America


Today’s Morning Jolt features a bit about the allegations against Woody Allen, the reaction in Hollywood, and the norms of the “creative class” and the rest of America. 

Unfortunately, the formatting makes it a bit tough to tell what’s an excerpt and what I wrote, so here’s a clearer version:

Woody Allen and Hollywood’s Twisted ‘Aristocrats of Consciousness’

Can you stand a brief talk about Woody Allen?

If you can’t bear to read Dylan Farrow’s account, I can’t blame you. Let’s just say it’s as awful, vivid, and detailed as you fear, and while we cannot say with 100 percent certainty that her accusations against Allen are true… it carries the credibility of specific detail.

Nina Burleigh* on the “tacit assumption among the aristocrats of consciousness that Great Men are entitled to whatever it takes to juice their creativity”:

As I wrote back when Mr. Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in ‘09:

To many artists and their enablers in the creative world, the prosecution of a major male figure for something as apparently insignificant as forced sex with a female child is a witch hunt, the persecution of a genius by low-level, unimaginative legal drones, who wear uncool suits and wouldn’t know a semiotic deconstruction if it smacked them in the face.

Hollywood enablers are not alone. We, as a society, are okay with it too. Mr. Allen’s preference was never hidden. He cast 16-year-old Mariel Hemingway as his own lover in Manhattan. Hemingway later confessed that he was the first person she ever kissed and that she was “way too young” for that role.

We live in a society in which pretty young girls are presumed to be just what the doctor ordered for older men. We don’t marry off eight-year-olds to their uncles, Saudi-style, but we are not revolted by the image of gross Woody Allen in his late 50s kissing Mariel Hemingway.

Speak for yourself!

Keep reading this post . . .

Tags: Hollywood

Can Conservative Comments from Celebrities Change the Culture?


The culture section of today’s Morning Jolt:

Can Conservative Comments from Bono and Ashton Kutcher Change the Culture?

Last night I had a chance to dine with some conservative bloggers, new media, and social-networking types, and once again the topic turned to winning the culture.

I won’t get into the specifics of our off-the-record discussion; instead, let me direct your attention to this blunt assessment from John Brodigan, one of the contributors over at Misfit Politics:

Today the new measuring stick of your conservatism is whether or not you want to defund ObamaCare which — in lieu of anyone explaining to me what the marketing plan is to appeal to people outside of our echo chamber — seems like just a ploy to fundraise and build mailing lists.

Nothing we’re doing is trying to engage the culture. Nothing we’re doing is winning hearts and minds, or challenging the view of what it means to be a Republican.

Then, one day, Ashton Kutcher gave a speech after winning an award.

He linked to this video, which has 3.1 million views. He continues:

Heritage (yes I realize they’re #DefundObamacare, but at least they’re trying to reach out) turned it into this:

They did the same with something Bono said recently:

Brodigan continues:

Don’t get me wrong. I know neither guy is going to be showing up at a FreedomWorks event anytime soon. Granted Bono has always cared less about being a slave to liberal ideology and intransigence than he is about helping people, but Kutcher I’m fairly certain supported Obama and is probably going to have to do penance in the entertainment industry for having so many conservatives sing his praise. Just focus on their words. If you swapped out their pictures with one of Ronald Reagan or Marco Rubio, would you know it wasn’t one of their quotes?

I’m still chewing this over, and trying to decide whether this represents a necessary tactic in an era of celebrity-obsessed pop culture, or whether it’s just the latest version of the conservative tendency to instantly adopt and celebrate any celebrity who happens to echo some of our arguments.

After all, when we say it’s shallow and silly and superficial for Democrats to emphasize their Hollywood star supporters at their political conventions, and to hold campaign events with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z and such . . . we’re not wrong.

At the Democrats’ 2012 convention in Charlotte, noted policy wonk Eva Longoria offers a detailed critique of Mitt Romney’s policy and its ramifications for small businesses.

Politics may be entertaining at times, but politics and governing are supposed to be distinct from entertainment. Not everything in life is supposed to be a fun show! Sometimes the country’s problems and potential solutions are complicated, detailed, involve trade-offs, and require a bit of thinking to evaluate. If you’re going to try to transform every aspect of the public’s evaluation of public-policy decisions into a flashy, glamorous, sexy, exciting thrill, pretty soon we’ll see campaigns rolling out Katy Perry in a latex dress at a campaign rallies!

Oh. Too late.

The Katy-Perry-in-latex approach obviously aims to get people with no actual interest or knowledge of what’s going on in the political world to suddenly become interested. Apparently it works, and there will be quite a few folks on the Right side who will want to see our side emulate the same tactics. And Lord knows, Republican beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to effective vote-getting tactics, especially with the young. But how likely are we to win if, through our own decisions, we legitimize the notion that campaigns ought to be duels of celebrities?

After the election, the great Melissa Clouthier pointed out that there is a large segment of Internet users who log onto Facebook . . . and never leave. It’s an audience left untouched by conservative blogs, web sites, magazines, and other media institutions. That’s why NR and every other institution is putting new energy into making these little square graphics with a quote, an illustration, and a hashtag: it’s an effort to bring conservative ideas, messages, and arguments to audiences that may otherwise never encounter them. (This is why we love it so much when you hit “like” for our stuff on Facebook, and share it on your pages with your apolitical friends.)

Those Bono and Ashton Kutcher quotes are swell, but it’s hard to shake the subtext,“look, these aren’t just bromides or slogans that nutty conservatives believe, because these apolitical celebrities are saying them, too!” But these arguments would be just as compelling and just as right if Bono or Kutcher had the exact opposite views. Touting the pair is an implied argument from authority, and we on the Right have generally believed that Hollywood stars are knowledgeable about what it takes to succeed in Hollywood, and not much else.* (Bono might have particular credibility because of his extensive work with international charities and aid groups.)

These sorts of efforts are probably necessary; a big rallying cry since November has been, “We have to take back the culture!” But I feel like we sometimes forget conservatives recoiled from American popular culture for a lot of good reasons.

We felt, and still feel, that Hollywood in particular has become trapped in its own liberal clichés, convincing itself that the latest dreck is a masterpiece. We’re tired of big corporations telling us stories about how bad big corporations are. We’re tired of seeing some of our religions mocked and demonized while others are protected by political correctness.

(If you ever find yourself in a Stephen King novel, trapped between a horrible monster and the small Maine town’s most overtly devout Christian, move away from the Christian and towards the tentacles, because by the end of the book, the monster will be less villainous.)

We’re tired of seeing our own military revealed as the bad guys behind the conspiracy, southerners depicted as ignorant hicks, suburban parenthood portrayed as soul-crushing conformity, and so on. The problem is that a whole segment of the electorate has marinated in that for years, and our efforts to persuade them lack a common frame of reference.

*Inevitably, some lefty will point to this . . . 

. . . as if Reagan hadn’t been a successful governor, thinker, debater, columnist, radio commentator, etc.

Tags: Culture , Democrats , Republicans , Hollywood , Celebrities

What Impedes Conservative Efforts to Shape the Culture?


A conservative who has been quite successful in Hollywood writes in to dispute the notion that studio bias is the primary impediment to conservative cultural influence. He’s referring to the arguments in this section of the Morning Jolt:

Once More into the Breach of Conservatives’ Struggle to Influence the Culture

Rod Dreher, crunchy con and former contributor to National Review, now writing over at The American Conservative, examines and expands upon the common lament that conservatives need to become better storytellers:

  • Argument has its place, but story is what truly moves the hearts and minds of men. The power of myth—which is to say, of storytelling — is the power to form and enlighten the moral imagination, which is how we learn right from wrong, the proper ordering of our souls, and what it means to be human. Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind whose own longtime residence in his Michigan hometown earned him the epithet “Sage of Mecosta,” considered tending the moral imagination to be “conservatism at its highest.”

    Through the stories we tell, we come to understand who we are and what we are to do. This is true for both individuals and communities . . .

    Stories work so powerfully on the moral imagination because they are true to human experience in ways that polemical arguments are not. And because the moral imagination often determines which intellectual arguments—political, economic, theological, and so forth—will be admitted into consideration, storytelling is a vital precursor to social change.

But there’s one note in his lengthy cover piece that grated on me:

  • [Sam] MacDonald came from a working-class western Pennsylvania family, graduated from Yale, and worked in Washington journalism at Reason before returning home to raise his kids. His experience has taught him how hapless the right is at understanding the power of storytelling.

    “The smart people on the Right are working in the conservative infrastructure,” he says. “You want a conservative view on healthcare? It comes from Heritage, or maybe the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Except most people don’t care. It’s too confusing.”

    It would make a much greater difference, MacDonald believes, if conservatives were bringing their insights to bear writing for the network medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” But that is hard to imagine, he says.

Well, no kidding. My views about, say, the need for tort reform would catch on a lot quicker if Patrick Dempsey were to express them, shaking his fist in righteous indignation, about how the hospital’s fear of a lawsuit is interfering with him performing a high-risk but needed surgery on the critically ill adorable little girl of the week.* I’ll cast Wise as the ambulance-chasing lawyer and the audience will instantly know he’s the bad guy.

“Hi, I’m Ray Wise, perhaps best known for playing Leland Palmer and The Devil. When I appear as a guest star on your favorite show, you can rest assured that I was indeed the one who committed the murder the protagonists are trying to solve.”

But a writing gig on Grey’s Anatomy or any other highly-rated network drama is hard to get. This is where the discussion amongst conservatives usually turns to, “and liberals in Hollywood will never hire a conservative writer, or allow a conservative message to get through!”

And that’s true, at least in some cases. A few years back, Ben Shapiro did a great job getting interviews with producers and executives who more or less openly admit that they see their work as a chance to promote their viewpoints, and that sometimes they put in story elements to emphasize a message of “’f*** you’ to the right wing.”

But the obstacle isn’t purely ideological. Some of the obstacle is that there aren’t that many high-quality shows with mass audiences, those shows only have a certain number of full-time writing gigs, and the supply of potential writers is way, way, way higher than the demand. Yes, there are probably a bunch of talented conservatives trying to make it in Hollywood and finding the doors closed. But there are probably some talented liberals trying to make it in Hollywood and finding the doors closed.

Trying to be a screenwriter in Hollywood requires being willing to endure a lot of rejection, with no guarantee of success, and probably trying to write, on spec, some sort of brilliant, attention-catching, so-good-the-producers-can’t-possibly-pass work while simultaneously holding down a day job to pay the bills. It means living in Los Angeles — with a cost of living 36 percent higher than the national average — and spending a lot of time trying to make connections in an intensely competitive field. And of course, the process of bringing a concept for a show or film to the airwaves or silver screen is legendarily complicated, arbitrary, consensus-driven, and difficult.

We’ve heard a lot of “we need to take back the culture!” and “Breitbart warned us, ‘politics is downstream from culture’” in the past nine months or so. Jonah reminded us:

  • [Hollywood’s] influence is agonizingly hard to predict or dismiss as unthinkingly liberal. Studies of “All in the Family” found that viewers in America, and around the globe, took different lessons from the show based on their politics and cultural norms. Despite Norman Lear’s liberal best efforts, many found Archie Bunker more persuasive than his “meathead” sociologist son-in-law. HBO’s epic series “The Wire” was a near-Marxist indictment of urban liberalism and the drug war, making it quite popular among many conservatives and libertarians. The popular BBC series “Downton Abbey” is shockingly conservative in many respects. The aristocrats are decent, compassionate people, and the staff is, if anything, more happily class-conscious than the blue bloods. And, yet, as far as I can tell, liberals love it.

    Obviously, the market is a big factor. No doubt many Hollywood liberals would like to push the ideological envelope more, but audiences get a vote. And that vote isn’t cast purely on ideological grounds.

    There’s a difference between art and propaganda. Outside the art house crowd, liberal agitprop doesn’t sell. Art must work with the expectations and beliefs of the audience. Even though pregnancies are commonplace on TV, you’ll probably never see a hilarious episode of a sitcom in which a character has an abortion — because abortion isn’t funny.

    The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment.

It’s worth noting that some liberal efforts to influence public opinion through art fall flat on their collective faces, perhaps the most notable recent example being a slew of mostly heavy-handed anti-Iraq-War films:

  • A spate of Iraq-themed movies and TV shows haven’t just failed at the box office. They’ve usually failed spectacularly, despite big stars, big budgets and serious intentions.

    The underwhelming reception from the public raises a question: Are audiences turned off by the war, or are they simply voting against the way filmmakers have depicted it? . . .

    The Iraq war-themed “In the Valley of Elah,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon, received mixed critical notices and did little business upon its release last September (total domestic gross: $6.8 million). “Redacted,” a Brian De Palma-directed film about a renegade Army unit, was barely seen when it came out in limited release in November (it grossed just $65,388).

    An even more paltry reception greeted “Grace Is Gone” (2007), in which star John Cusack deals with the aftermath of his wife’s death in Iraq; “Home of the Brave” (2006), about a group of soldiers (including Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Biel) adjusting to life after the war; and “The Situation” (2006), about a love triangle set amid the conflict.

To make a good movie requires talent, yes, but also capital — you need to get the equipment to make the film, hire actors, build sets or get filming permits in locations, costumes, music, etc. — and that’s just the basics, never mind special effects, stunts, sound effects and editing, renting the crane for a crane shot or helicopter, etc.

Notice that we don’t lack conservatives who can thrive in radio and more recently podcasting, web videos, etc. I think a big factor is that those products are cheap to produce.

* Why, no, I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy out of the corner of my eye while Mrs. CampaignSpot watches it on the DVR, and by no means do I mock that every episode ends with some patient croaking in melodramatic fashion during a montage set to Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” (“If I lay here . . . If I just lay here . . . Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”) leading to perpetual basket case Dr. Grey offering a voice over with some sort of pseudo-philosophical Chinese-cookie-worthy life lesson that the doctors learned while botching their latest life and death surgical procedure (“You spend your entire life searching for a place to call home, and only when all seems lost do you turn around and realize, you’ve been there all along”) and I absolutely totally don’t mimic EKG flatline noises every time “Chasing Cars” comes on the radio.

Tags: Culture , Hollywood

Major DNC Donor Laments Influence of Money in Politics


Hollywood director Judd Apatow, who donated $30,800 to the DNC in September and has given $63,000 to President Obama, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and other Democrats since 2008, responds to today’s Supreme Court ruling striking down state-level restrictions upon political donations by declaring, “Supreme Court Reversed Anti-Citizens United Ruling From Montana – aaaaagg!! More money in politics!!!”

You know, if you want less money in politics, you could stop writing five-figure checks to political causes. But I guess he’s really upset about other people’s money in politics.

Tags: Barack Obama , Campaign Fundraising , Hollywood

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