Wednesday March 15, 2017
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.