Hollywood conservatism unleashed?

E Hollywood signOne of the Big Ideas of this blog is that it is almost impossible to talk about the news business in terms of a pure “left” vs. “right” content, at least if you are going to use the old-fashioned definitions of words such as “conservative” and “liberal.” Most of our political conflicts today — other than issues of war and peace — are rooted in social, moral, cultural and even religious issues, not issues of economics.

Was Bill Clinton a “liberal,” except on moral and cultural issues? No way. Ask the labor unions that question.

What are the issues that cause warfare inside the GOP’s big tent? Economics? Environment? Sort of, but not really. The flash points are all linked to lifestyle issues and culture. Click here for one example — as the tension over Judge Janice Rogers Brown increases. Is this a classic left-right fight? No way.

Well, now we are seeing signs that Hollywood is growing more complex — as studios, in an era of declining box-office statistics — realize that it may not be wise to ignore or to constantly offend about half the U.S. population. So some journalists are beginning to talk about a surge of “Hollywood conservatism.” I wrote about this a few days ago, in connection with the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But this is only the latest in a series of recent films to cause a spike in MSM paranoia.

Remember The Incredibles? A.O. Scott of The New York Times does. Some of themes are woven into his feature titled “Now, from Hollywood, visions of conservatism.” He thinks it’s crazy to say Hollywood was ever “monolithically liberal.”

The notion that the American film industry is a hotbed of leftist propaganda is a venerable one, and some determined demagogues will cling to it no matter what the studios do. But the studios themselves, especially after the stunning success of Mel Gibson’s independently financed “The Passion of the Christ,” have tried to strengthen their connection with religious and social conservatives, who represent not only a political constituency but a large and powerful segment of the market. . . .

Last autumn, “The Incredibles” celebrated Ayn Randian libertarian individualism and the suburban nuclear family, while the naughty puppets of “Team America” satirized leftist celebrity activism and defended American global power even as they mocked its excesses. More recently we have learned that flightless Antarctic birds, according to some fans of “March of the Penguins,” can be seen as big-screen embodiments of the kind of traditional domestic values that back-sliding humans have all but abandoned, as well as proof that divine intention, rather than blind chance, is the engine of creation.

Yes, he thinks Intelligent Design shows up in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the Terri Schiavo case looms in the background throughout Just Like Heaven. Did Team America really strike a chord with the Religious Right?

Once again, however, journalists should ask this question: What does “conservatism” mean in this context? What does “liberal” mean? If Hollywood is basically pro-profits and sold out to radical individualism and sexual freedom, isn’t this closer to Libertarianism (on moral issues, at least) rather than “liberalism”? Can anyone imagine Hollywood swinging right on, oh, sex and salvation?

Still, read Scott’s essay — just to see what the elites are thinking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Josh

    My question is this: If the old school definitions of conservantive and liberal no longer really hold (and I think they don’t), and both the so-called liberals and conservatives in this country are divided among themselves along a sort of libertarian/authoritarian split (and I think they are), what is it that’s holding the Republican and Democratic parties together at all?

  • Todd

    Mr. Mattingly,

    This is *way* off-topic, but I am not sure where else I should post it. You have had several recent discussions regarding ID vs. Darwinism. The Washington Post has just posted a long article online:


    My question: as someone who understands the business much better than I ever will, would you consider this to be a “news” article, or an “op-ed” piece?

  • http://www.dailycontentions.com Lucas Sayre

    I disagree with your assertion that economics do not still play a major role in defining political and ideolgical division in this nation.

    Groups still have massive differences in what they feel the best and most fair form of taxation is: a flat tax, a sales tax, an increased burden of taxation on the rich, etc., etc.?

    Furthermore, the economy touches on nearly every other issue: energy policy, environmentalism, social welfare systems, transportation, globalizations and trade, etc. Underlying nearly every social question is the question: how will this affect our economy? or how many jobs will be lost or gained by this?

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Lots of people saw a Randian subtext in The Incredibles. But hey, it’s a superhero movie — some kind of Randian or Nietzschian subtext practically comes bundled in with the subject matter. There’s also a pro-aristocratic, anti-democracy subtext to the movie. Did you notice how the good guys all have their superpowers by birth, while the villain is someone whose powers come by his own intelligence and hard work? And how making powers available to everybody is presented as a bad thing? If that’s conservatism, it’s the old, pure, right-wing strain, the one that argues for an enforced class system where the masses don’t get notions of improving themselves.

    Hollywood has always had strains of moralism to it. Horror movies are traditionally very moralistic. Sure, they show us teens having sex and getting drunk or high, but the teens who so indulge are always the killer’s first victims. The teen who survives is generally the straight-laced virgin.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Despite the imaginary authoritarian/libertarian model that lives only in the heads of a few people, the liberal/conservative template is still much valid a valid one in all levels of society, and frankly, the parties haven’t changed views much on core principles in decades. How they stand by those core principles in the real world, however, do change.

    Clinton (with a GOP congress) moved to reduce deficits, while Bush (and a GOP congress) spends like a drunken sailor, for instance.

    On the moral issues, both US parties have not changed their views one iota for decades.

    Neither party is moving towards “authoritarianism,” a threat that lives only in the heads of libertarians and extreme Leftists.

    As for Hollywood, there have always been the Charlton Hestons and Tom Sellecks, but if I generously add in Democrat war hawk Ron Silver, I’ve just named about 20% of Hollywood ‘conservatives’ in this one sentence, and they’ve been social outcasts and they say they have lost roles by speaking out politically.

    Yes, the liberal elite will pander to family fare, occasionally, because it does sell, but they hold their noses doing it and without fail, a studio will rush out a slimefest of films to atone for the “sin.” Check out what’s showing at theaters this week – or next week – if you don’t believe me.

    Libertarians take note: Sometimes, the market fails, because a stronger motive (dogmatic social Liberalism) prevails.

    When a penguin movie and mention of Terri Schaivo in Team America – which brutally savaged conservatives and the War on Terror and featured graphic simulations of sex – is the best you can say for conservative movies, that proves the point.

  • http://myroblyte.blogspot.com NBR

    This is a really interesting point, and I think it gets to the heart of how (as Terry has pointed out repeatedly in this blog) the kind of cultural markers of liberalism and especially conservatism have been changing. What this reminds me of is the idea of “South Park Republicans”: the tendency (which I think is growing in pop culture) to portray conservatives as tough, confident, and comptetent, and to show liberals in the opposite light as anxious, waffling eggheads and bleeding-hearts. (See this link and this one).

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Stephen, from where I sit the US government (both parties) has been gradually moving in a more authoritarian direction for a century or more. But I’m a liberal with some libertarian leanings, so maybe I don’t count.

    Terry, anyone who tells you that Hollywood movies consistently preach either a “liberal” or a “conservative” message is over-simplifying to the point of unreliability.

  • Stephen A.

    If people in the early 1900s could see us today, they’d day we live in a totalitarian state But we obviously don’t, by a longshot. America is far from being any kind of “authoritarian” state. That would imply both a general societal respect for authority and the existence of competent authority figures to whom we could give our respect.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    My wife have loved going to the movies together for 40 years now. We just got back from seeing Jody Foster in an excellent movie: “Flight Plan.” No gratuitous sex of any kind and little violence, but full of suspense and done well. But the many previews were another matter. If Mel Gibson’s movie has had any effect it won’t show up this Christmas season. Apparently all we’re going to get are radical feminist tracts, bed hopping, sex as a joke or recreational sport and plenty of liberal propagandizing from people who claim they want to make money and are not interested in anything else. This season has been a disaster for Hollywood. I know my wife and I love to go to the movies, but this summer has been a barrage of typical left-wing Hollywood garbage. The only redeeming movies lately to get us to the theater have been “March of the Penguins” and “Grizzly Man” (a documentary which has a lot of vulgar language, but it is part of showing how completely insane some nature-loving environmentalists can get–a rarity in any of the media.)