The Myth of the Hollywood Liberal

Liberal Hollywood has produced so many patriotic films that liberals are calling themselves progressives now.

When I was re-watching South Park episodes at the Comedy Central website for the South Park Matchup, they kept running the commercial for Olympus Has Fallen (wonderfully reviewed by David Crow, http://www.denofgeek.us/movies/olympus-has-fallen/81879/olympus-has-fallen-review, read it, read it now). Although I turn the sound down for commercials I kept hearing a line, something like he’s Special Forces, he never gives up, or he doesn’t let it go, or he doesn’t have permission to die, or whatever it is that a Special Forces guy never does or always does or never does with other Special Forces guys, that identifies him as a Special Forces guy, and I realized we’re supposed to find comfort in that. These are the same kinds of things characters say about Freddie in the Nightmare movies: you can’t kill him, he won’t give up, he’s not happy until he rips your ribs out through your nose. Except that the Special Forces guys or similar guys in the FBI or the CIA or ATF are the heroes. They wear the uniform and they always win.  They are the military and they can and will kick your ass from the shores of Gitche Gumee to the shores of Tripoli if you don’t agree. And Christ forbid you don’t support the troops, they will personally dig a foxhole straight to hell and toss your cowardly, disloyal and traitorous ass straight in.

 

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There is a myth that Hollywood is liberal. Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Miller, James Woods and other conservative stars often say that they have to be quiet about their beliefs or they won’t get hired. I don’t doubt that this is their experience, but for the most part, this is not a very liberal Hollywood. With few exceptions, Hollywood is in tune with the heartland, where they sell a lot of popcorn and are very pro-America, anti-controversy and pro-war. It makes for big movies that make a lot of money. And movies that make a lot of money are good movies. Kevin Sorbo recently lamented on “The View” that, because of the liberal bias in the entertainment industry, conservative voices don’t get heard. I believe they are heard loudly and usually in Dolby stereo.

 

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There is no liberal bias in the media. There is a concerted effort from conservatives to cast it that way though. Show business is a business and liberalism runs against the nature of business. People level the same claims at the media and at the news industry in particular. Walter Cronkite remarking that the Vietnam War was a mistake does not make him a liberal. He always toed the administration line. He reported what we were told we needed to know. The New York Times is persistently harangued as a liberal rag rather than a traditionalist news source. The bastion of anti-liberal, pro-capitalistic intelligence, The Wall Street Journal, broke some of the most damning evidence of Bush-era mischief, maleficence and mayhem. Now that the nation has swung so far to the right that Nixon looks like Fidel Castro, what are we calling liberal? Obama? The devil in the History Channel’s The Bible series? He’s a centrist-right at best, so if that’s the litmus test of liberal, a real liberal must be just nuts. They must not like money and that’s just fucking crazy.

 

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The biggest moneymakers for Hollywood are usually the movies that cost the most to make. War movies cost a lot. The studios spend a lot on promoting them so they get their money back and more. If they were as liberal as they’ve been accused of being, they’d just skip them and make cheaper pictures where there’s less overhead than planes, tanks, explosives and all with the express permission of the military. There’s always a thank you to whatever branch of government helped make any motion picture, whether it’s military or federal. Argo and Zero Dark Thirty were made with the cooperation of CIA. The Caine Mutiny and Under Siege had to sign off with the Navy. The anti-war Marx Brothers comedy Duck Soup had an NRA approval. The first thing we see when we put on a DVD is the FBI warning. Hoover told the movies how the FBI was supposed to be portrayed in film or he wouldn’t give it the Hoover seal of approval, which makes me queasy thinking he might have used those lips of his to lick the seal or, I shudder to think. To this day, when you look at a movie about any military or police branch you see Hollywood’s big lips on the sponsor’s big red machine.

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But we are told that Hollywood is liberal. Sure, a lot of the artists in Hollywood are liberal. Most people who pursue the arts often have a slight streak of compassion in them. They usually lose that when they get rich and then they reclaim it when they get super-rich. But liberals have been targeted in Tinseltown since they hounded Charlie Chaplin out of the country. The red scare in Hollywood was a reaction to strikes by the Writers Union, those unapologetic commie bastards. In 1938, Martin Dies, Jr., the chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, put out a report that said communism was pervasive in Hollywood.  In 1940, Dies let slip that a former Communist Party member, John L. Leech, named 42 motion picture luminaries as Communists in testimony to a Los Angeles grand jury, including Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Fredric March. Walt Disney took out an ad in Variety in 1941 saying that strikes from cartoonists were the work of Communist agitation.

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The Committee for the First Amendment wouldn’t have had to go flying to Washington in the forties to fight anti-communism if the industry weren’t so willing to give the Hollywood Ten over in the first place. The committee was founded by screenwriter Philip Dunne, actress Myrna Loy, and film directors John Huston and William Wyler and included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, John Garfield, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland, Vincente Minnelli, Katharine Hepburn, Paul Henreid, Dorothy Dandridge, Jane Wyatt, Ira Gershwin, Billy Wilder, Sterling Hayden, June Havoc, Evelyn Keyes, Marsha Hunt, Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, Danny Kaye, Lena Horne, Robert Ryan, Jules Buck, and Frank Sinatra. Studio executives strong-armed Bogie into apologizing and Danny Kaye almost punched him out over it. Reactionary Hollywood issued an unofficial blacklist of any artist that gave off the smallest whiff of liberalism.

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John Garfield’s daughter Julie is quoted as saying “This (HUAC) representative met with all the heads of the film studios, and he said, ‘We’re going after Danny Kaye, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield. Give us just one of them and we’ll leave you alone.’ And the studio heads said, `Take Garfield. He’s expendable.’” John Garfield continued to explore leftist films that demonized corporate society like He Ran All the Way, which was directed by John Berry and written by Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler who all worked without credit because of blacklisting. Garfield was hounded to death. Edward G. Robinson was also blacklisted.

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None of this was new, even then. DW Griffith couldn’t be considered a liberal by any standard. Early film moguls gave in to the censorship demands of the Hays Commission. The taint of red stopped actors, directors and writers from getting work. It didn’t matter how big the star, if they leaned left, they had to make amends. They tried to make a dirty rat out of James Cagney. He explained that he was just a soft touch when he gave regularly to the labor movement. The labor movement wouldn’t exist without early American communism. Unions wouldn’t exist. To make amends, Cagney sang and danced in the most rah rah American movie he could come up with, Yankee Doodle Dandy. Elia Kazan did rat. He made his apologia On the Waterfront as an allegory of his life as a cheese-eater. He was later given a pass by the cast of Goodfellas for doing the right thing. His face was never marred by the “mark of the squealer.” 

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For every Bogart, there were two John Waynes, Gary Coopers or Randolph Scotts. For every Best Years of Our Lives or Crossfire there were as many pro-war films as there are grains of Sands of Iwo Jima.  Neither Platoon nor Full Metal Jacket could hold back all the Rambos, Private Ryans and Red Dawns. Independence Day is an affirming vision of traditional American warrior values. The left coast produced strong movies that explored the horrors of war as horrors that we took home with us. A Walk in the Sun dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder on the field, Jackknife brought it home. Stanley Kubrick warned us that one day we would stop worrying and love the bomb, he didn’t tell us that one day we’d just give up and love the CIA.

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Today, Hollywood loves the CIA. They get off on torture porn. We love the spooks in Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, 24 and Homeland. We loves us our Jack Ryan and the Brit’s James Bond. We even get to see CIA agents in love in the romantic comedy This Means War. Hollywood might as well work for The Agency. Now, don’t get me wrong, the CIA gave us LSD and the cartoon version of Animal Farm in 1954, but didn’t they kill Kennedy? That’s what Oliver Stone told us. Didn’t they have the body of Malcolm X riddled with bullets just as he was coming to grips with his own power? That’s how Spike Lee explained it. Paul Robeson, whose portrayal of Othello in London is still thought to be a pinnacle of 20th Century English Shakespeare was blacklisted after he was hounded by the FBI. What happened to the lying, duplicitous agents of Three Days of the Condor?  Maybe John Milius ate them and they are now kernels of k-ration corn in his shit. The generation that protested the Vietnam War gave way to the generation that raided Wall Street, declared greed good and watched the Iraqi wars on cable news. Soon Mr. Top Gun Tom Cruise will be flying drones from his living room.

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Now that the biggest heroes are Agency agents, we don’t really say bad things about them. We rely on them. We are comforted by them. It doesn’t matter how many SNAFUs they caused in the past, we love Jack Bauer for making us accept Dick Cheney’s edict on torture and surveillance. If we’re not doing anything wrong, we should have nothing to worry about, right? Ask Will Smith’s Robert Clayton Dean in Enemy of the State. He’ll tell you to drop your cell phone in the Hudson. CIA agents are selling scripts and movies are being made out of CIA documents. Reactionary Hollywood is now also fostering outsourcing, or promoting film abroad, depending on how you look at it. Tehran news reported that Iran will be making its own version of Argo.  It will be called The General Staff and will be directed by Ataollah Salmanian. Maybe it’ll be a good thing. Maybe in the future our wars will be fought on the big screen or on Starz.

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 Hollywood leftists are now Hollywood Democrats and that’s not the same thing. Famous Hollywood liberals like George Clooney and Alec Baldwin are sidelined as buffoons, although Clooney gave us a classic evil CIA portrayal in Syriana and Baldwin’s buffoonery as right-wing Jack Donaghy has produced some of the most on-target comic shrapnel on TV. Anti-Bush jokes got Bill Maher kicked off network TV. Jon Stewart talks truth to power in a court jester’s hat, well, actually a big bushy barbershop quartet mustache when he does news from the 1800s.  Frank Sinatra became a conservative republican later in life, but he also claimed that Nancy Reagan gave the best head in Hollywood, so he may have been convinced by something lower than President Kennedy’s abandonment. Jon Voight, who made love in a wheelchair in the anti-Vietnam War film Coming Home, swung far to the right after the Twin Towers attack, as did so many entertainers who became talking heads for Fox Network’s war on all things liberal.

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There is no real liberal bias in Hollywood. The area is probably just like the rest of America, divided into patches of people who fall on one side or the other and people who straddle the fence. Mr. Bulletproof himself, Sylvester Stallone is both fiercely anti-gun and vehemently pro-union (F.I.S.T. is my favorite Stallone pic).  Clint Eastwood did as much for Obama by talking to an empty chair than Springsteen did by campaigning for the guy. It’s said that democrats vote with their conscience and republicans vote with their wallet, that if you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart and if you’re still a liberal when you’re old, you have no brains. Hollywood is an equal-opportunity propaganda machine that may have neither. As a film fan, I don’t buy that, really. There is a lot of crass, cookie cutter filler coming out on both sides. There are also a lot of well-intentioned missives hidden under real art.

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