Sunday April 09, 2017
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.