Tags: 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

Subscribe to National Review