What Liberal Hollywood? postsSaturday May 26, 2018
We All Want to Change the World
I like that Noah Berlatsky has a piece on Hollywood that includes the following sentences:
Conservatives claim that Hollywood is hopelessly liberal, constantly pushing feminism and LGBTQ rights and other subversive agendas. But when it comes to portraying actual subversives, Hollywood isn't enthusiastic. On the contrary, big-budget action films often go out of their way to show that radicals are corrupt, misguided or ridiculous, and to insist that the status quo, whatever its faults, is the thing worth fighting for.
Good god, yes. Beyond that, Hollywood mostly glamorizes guns, violence, sex, and an absolutist vision of the world (white hats/black hats) because that's what sells. Most Hollywood plots would feel right at home at an NRA convention. So not “liberal.”
But the headline of Berlatsky's piece is misleading:
Hollywood isn't on the side of the resistance
His point is that Hollywood isn't revolutionary. Resistance to Trump (which most Hollywood folks back) and actual revolution (which ... not so much) are two different things. Indeed, you read the piece and you go, “Corporations don't want to lose power? No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for the news.”
That said, I'm a fan of anyone calling out the lie in the “liberal Hollywood” charge.
Going up against Hedda Hopper excluded.
The following excerpt is from Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” and relates to a 1951 meeting of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, the right-wing org that invited HUAC to Hollywood in the first place.
This was HUAC's second go-round at Hollywood. The first, in 1947, led to the Hollywood 10 being found in contempt of Congress and imprisioned. It also led to the Waldford Statement among moguls and producers, which led to the blacklist, which led to ruined careers and lives, and a sad stink permeating our democracy.
In 1951, HUAC returned with sharper teeth than ever, and the first witness before them was Larry Parks, the star of “The Jolson Story.” The committee broke him. He admitted he'd been a communist, didn't want to name names, but eventually, in tears, did. He gave up his honor, dignity and friends to keep working. And it didn't keep him working. From Frankel:
The next evening, the Motion Picture Alliance held its annual meeting at the Hollywood American Legion Auditorium. The alliance was riding high and more than a thousand people attended. John Wayne, its president, expressed sympathy for Parks. “When any member of the Party breaks with them, we must welcome him back into American society,” said Wayne. “We should give him friendship and help him find work again in our industry.” Guest speaker Victor Riesel, a fire-eating syndicated columnist, showed no such mercy. “The hell with Parks,” he declared. “He didn't tell us anything we didn't know.” Fellow columnist Hedda Hopper stood up and excoriated Wayne. ...
... a chastened Wayne rose to apologize for expressing sympathy for Parks.
First Farce, Then Tragedy
A few weeks back, I wrote a piece for Salon satirically slamming conservatives in Hollywood who claimed they had to keep their opinions to themselves these days, that there was a new McCarthyism from the left and a kind of blacklist to keep conservatives from working. “If you are even lukewarm to Republicans,” one unnamed conservative actor said, “you are excommunicated from the church of tolerance.”
My point: there's nothing happening today like the confluence of forces (FBI, HUAC, Red Channels, et al.) that made up McCarthyism. Sure, it's a bummer that if you shoot your mouth off about how great Trump is, people might not like you—but that's true if you talk up Obama in parts of Georgia, Mississippi, California, et al. More, the government won't subpoena you to answer charges before a committee in which your choices boil down to: 1) inform on your right-wing friends; 2) never work again.
What I didn't know when I wrote the piece? But I know now since I'm reading Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic”? “The blacklist of the left” was actually an argument utilized by the right before they instituted their version in '47. What they imagined happening to them by their enemies, they created against their enemies. It's politics as projection again.
This is from the original HUAC hearings in September 1947:
[“Friendly” witness] Adolphe Menjou called Hollywood “one of the main centers of Communist activity in America.” ... “Communists in the film industry,” Menjou added, “are so powerful that many little people in the industry—innocent people—are afraid to move or speak out against them.”
Sound familiar? Frankel, an author based in Arlington, Va., then sums up the early hearings:
Over five days [the “friendly” witnesses] painted a portrait of a Hollywood under siege by Communists and their allies. All of them agreed that the Reds had sought to create labor strife in order to seize control of the unions, tried to infect movies with their twisted ideology, and created a reverse blacklist in which Reds and their supporters got jobs while non-Communists were excluded.
I thought today's conservatives were playing the victim because there's a kind of power in it. But they've actually played this exact same victim before; right before they became the worst victimizers in Hollywood history.
Tim Allen, Hollywood Conservatives, Need to Stop
Yeah, I saw the Tim Allen thing a week ago. For folks who can ignore bullshit news for the real variety (and kudos to you for that), Allen, the voice of Buzz Lightyear, was on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show, and Kimmel asked about being at Trump's presidential inauguration in January. Allen stammered an answer, Kimmel said laughingly, “I'm not attacking you!,” and Allen, amid the laughs, said this:
You gotta be real careful around here so you don't get beat up—if you don't believe what everybody believes. It's like '30s Germany, I don't know what, I don't know what happens.
The Post's headline was incendiary, “For Tim Allen, being a non-liberal in Hollywood is like being in 1930s Germany,” but the clip itself? Eh. He's trying to make a joke. It's an awful comparison, sure, but he's milking it for humor and Kimmel is laughing along. So I didn't even bother to post about it. I know: Me, Mr. “What Liberal Hollywood?”
Then the right-wing sites chimed in:
- Fox News Insider: Tim Allen Calls Out Hollywood Liberals: 'This is Like 30s Germany'
- Heat Street: How Hollywood's Crusade Against Conservatives is Intensifying
They're perpetuating it. They know it's overblown but it fits into their narrative about what an awful place liberal Hollywood is.
Then The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect lambasted Allen, leading to headlines like “The Anne Frank Center is coming for Tim Allen,” which would be funny if, you know, Anne Frank hadn't been gassed to death at Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15. That fact alone brings home the idiocy of Allen's comparison. It brings home the whininess of Hollywood conservatives, who are not losing their rights as citizens, not being investigated by their government, not losing their lives. None of that is happening.
What is happening? What happens to liberals every day in, say, Montana or Kansas or Oklahoma or Miississippi: Your neighbors don't agree with your politics and let you know it. That's it.
What Liberal McCarthyism?
I have a piece on Salon, “A mea culpa to Hollywood conservatives, living under the shadow of a modern McCarthyism.” It went live just as Rachel Maddow was revealing/not revealing her scoop on two pages of Donald Trump's 2005 tax return. So not the best timing. Even I wasn't paying attention.
The piece is a reaction—as this post was—to David Ng's LA Times article on Hollywood conservatives in the Trump era, and how awful it is for them, and of course the spectre of McCarthyism is raised. I‘ve done a little reading on the subject of the blacklist—not enough—but it’s important to remember that during this period there was collusion between various forces in American society:
- Hollywood: the right-wing org, The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, or MPA
- The federal government: the House Un-American Activities Committiee, or HUAC
- Law enforcement: the FBI
- Business and industry: Self-appointed aribiters like Red Channels
Back then, even if a studio head wanted a particular actor/writer/director with a suspect, vaguely leftish background, someone who hadn't been cleared by Red Channels or HUAC or MPA stalwarts like Ward Bond—and “clearing” always involved naming names—then they couldn't get them. None of this is close to happening in modern Hollywood. There is no corresponding Red Channels, there is no corresponding HUAC, there is no corresponding involvement from the FBI, and as far as I can tell there is no Hollywood left-wing org that corresponds to the MPA. There's just ... someone is “shunned” after a political argument. Well, welcome to America.
One of the less-commented-upon ironies of the blacklist is that even though it was put forth by right-wing business interests and anti-communists, it ran counter to the free market. If you wanted, say, Edward G. Robinson for a movie because you felt his presence, his marquee name, could help the movie make money, tough luck, you couldn't get him. Unless he named names. These right-wing forces helped besmirch a hugely successful American business, Hollywood, which, another irony, had spent decades presenting an ideal version of America and western values to an international audience.
Anyway, I hope journalists writing about this issue in the future keep some of this history in mind.