The Corner

On the Commumuppet Menace (Spoilers!)

Some conservatives have complained that the new Muppet movie has a left-wing bias because the bad guy in the movie is an evil oil developer who wants to tear down the Muppets’ decrepit and nearly abandoned studios and drill for oil. Eric Bolling of Fox Business says that this is an example of radical environmentalism or something. “Liberal Hollywood depicting a successful businessman as evil — that’s not new,” Bolling explained on his Fox Business show. His guest, Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center, said: “It’s amazing how far the Left will go just to stop — to manipulate your kids,” Gainor said, “to convince them — to give them the anti-corporate message.” Bolling asks, “Is liberal Hollywood using class warfare to kind of brainwash our kids?”

The Washington Post rebuts that environmentalism isn’t even mentioned in the movie because they want to save the Muppet theater for reasons of historic preservation and nostalgia. This is unpersuasive because it is a given among environmentalists that oil serves no productive purposes and that oilmen are bad guys. Does the Post really think they picked a rich Texas oilman at random? Why not a zinc tycoon? The Guardian sees the flap as an example of right-wing paranoia and stupidity, but that’s what they think about everything conservatives do. And of course Media Matters got its dress over its head about the whole thing, because that’s what they do.

But here’s the thing: Of course, Hollywood has anti-businessman bias. This is not really a controversial point. Ben Stein did a whole PBS documentary on it about 20 years ago. Edward Jay Epstein wrote about it in the Journal in October. Businessmen are the bad guys in movies (and TV!) more than Russians, gangsters, aliens, or even evangelical Christians. Any movie buff can think of scores of movies casting businessmen as bad guys, and business itself as a murderous, cruel calling. Think of all the movies where CEOs or financiers murder their enemies for profit or to keep a secret (and that secret is often the fact that the company is killing its customers). Look at some of the biggest films of the last few years: Avatar (Haliburton in Spaaaaaaaace!), Inception (CEO! mind%^&*- you!), the Iron Man movies (where it’s at least good businessman versus evil businessmen), The Social Network (asocial mercenary dorks!), Edge of Darkness (Bush-Cheney are evil with Boston accents!), Daybreakers (addiction to oil is like vampiric addiction to blood!), etc. etc. And those are just off the top of my head. Go back over the last 50 years and the list of movies depicting businessmen as evil, the corporate world as soulless, and the profit motive Satan’s tool on earth becomes too long to count. Funny how no one’s ever made a Wall Street–style movie about poverty pimps and parasitic government unions.

And that raises a point I think some conservatives don’t think about enough. Yes, one reason Hollywood doesn’t routinely come out with movies depicting social workers and environmentalists as evil murderers is that Hollywood is run by liberals. But there’s another reason Hollywood hasn’t come out with such fare: Because it would be really, really hard.

Movie villains need power to be plausible. They need the ability to tell their henchmen to go do bad things. Rich people have that power. That’s why rich people — rich drug dealers, rich gangsters, rich politicians, rich cult leaders, and rich businessmen — are often cast as villains. Villains also tend to need a big ego and fairly selfish motives. They also need personalities or lifestyles that elicit envy or resentment from audiences. The simple fact is that it’s easy to cast businessmen with those characteristics.

Yes, personally, I would love it — and find it vastly more plausible — if the villain in the Muppet movie wasn’t looking to pump oil in downtown Los Angeles, but was instead trying to use eminent domain to create a new halfway house for drug addicts and sex offenders. But come on, that’s just not going to happen, and not just because Hollywood is liberal.

The notion that Hollywood is a giant conspiracy to brainwash kids gives Hollywood way too much credit. The truth is more often that Hollywood is full of lazy writers — lazy liberal writers.

Oh, and one last point. The anti-business bias in the Muppet movie — which I liked, by the way — isn’t on display solely in the case of Tex Richman, evil oil baron. It’s also transparent in the case of Gonzo the Great. In the film, all of the Muppets have gone their separate ways. Kermit must get the gang back together to put on one last show to save Muppet Studios from Tex Richman. They find Fozzy Bear doing stand-up in a run down dive in Reno. Ms. Piggy is the plus-size fashion editor for French Vogue, etc. And Gonzo the Great is a plumbing-supply tycoon in the (economically ravaged) Midwest. When he decides to return to the Muppets, he doesn’t give his thriving business to a subordinate, so hundreds of hardworking blue collar laborers can continue to put food on the table (nor does he simply write a check and save Muppet Studios). No, he blows up his factory and his business, giving the workers about 30 seconds to abandon the building and save their lives — but not their jobs! You’d think given the recession someone would have thought that maybe they could have gone with a different stunt?

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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