Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hollywood Propaganda

The entertainment trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter commissioned a poll of 1,000 registered voters to gauge the moviegoing tendencies of Democrats versus Republicans. According to results that will shock absolutely no one, political allegiances have shifted entertainment viewing habits, and conservatives are increasingly fed up with Hollywood. Why? “Typically, when you see a movie, it will reflect a Democrat's values,” says pollster Jon Penn. “Republicans aren't getting the films they want.”

This comes as no surprise to the center-right “flyover audiences” between the coasts, who over the years have grown to resent Hollywood’s increasingly left-leaning fare to the degree that many have simply given up on Hollywood. Weary of movies and TV shows that don’t reflect their values – like director James Cameron’s Avatar, which pushed a radical environmentalist agenda and denigrated the U.S. military in the process, or Glee, which fellow FrontPage Mag contributor Ben Shapiro calls” the most subversive show in the history of television” – many conservatives are reluctant to give Hollywood a single hard-earned dime.

(Even films that are seemingly free of political messages can sometimes leave conservative audience members feeling sucker-punched. In the 2009 cooking memoir Julie & Julia, for example, the main character’s frustrated boss served up an utterly gratuitous shot at Hollywood’s stereotype of the mean conservative: “A Republican would fire you.”)

The poll shows, for example, that Democrats are bigger moviegoers, and are also likelier to see a movie on opening weekend, while Republicans prefer to wait for the DVD release. Penn speculates that this is because Democrats tend to embrace pop culture more and want to be “in the know.”

The two parties also diverge in their choice of entertainment. Unsurprisingly, Republicans prefer family-friendly fare; from hundreds of Oscar winners and classics, they were far more likely to name as favorites films like The Sound of Music and It's a Wonderful Life. Democrats favor edgier movies, choosing films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Silence of the Lambs. Among more recent films, Republicans tended to choose Secretariat. Democrats? Bad Teacher.

Majorities of both parties think movies contain too much sex, violence and profane language, but greater numbers of Republicans disapprove of them. A majority of Democrats think Hollywood films are generally inspiring and morally uplifting; a majority of Republicans beg to differ. While 62% of Democrats say Hollywood portrays America in a positive light, only 39% of Republicans concur. And 44% of Republicans think Hollywood portrays the U.S. military negatively; only 21% of Democrats agree.

Perhaps the poll’s most significant result for Hollywood to take to heart lies in the large numbers of moviegoers who hold the political views of actors against them. For Republicans, 52% report that they have avoided a movie because of its star’s political views, compared to 36% of Democrats. John Nolte, editor-in-chief of Andrew Breitbart’s conservative entertainment biz site, Big Hollywood, argues however that this is not just a matter of an actor’s politics:

What causes a liberal actor to lose conservative fans has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with class. An actor who simply goes on about the business of acting and supporting left-wing causes usually generates nothing more than indifference from right-of-center fans and can generate respect because of how they handle themselves, especially when compared to their obnoxious counterparts.

Identified in the poll as those prime examples of the “obnoxious counterparts” that Republicans steer clear of are Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda and Sean Penn.
Political activism can sometimes, however, be a draw for many admirers, who will then seek out their idols’ films – though that is likely to be balanced out at the box office by the numbers on the other side who avoid those same actors: outspoken conservative Jon Voight for example, and his leftist counterparts Matt Damon and George Clooney.

Recently actor Morgan Freeman proclaimed on the Piers Morgan Tonight talk show that Tea Party opposition to President Obama “is a racist thing” that “shows the weak, dark underside of America.” Prior to this, Freeman had actually been viewed by conservatives as a sort of Hollywood voice of reason regarding race; asked once how he would solve the problem of racism, Freeman’s simple, commonsense reply – “Stop talking about it” – resonated with conservatives. But his more recent statement went viral on the internet and his charge of racism began to impact sales of his brand new film from Alcon Entertainment, Dolphin Tale.

Prior to Freeman’s comments, interest in Dolphin Tale was notably higher among conservatives and religious moviegoers than among the Left, according to the THR poll. After his remarks, 34% of the conservatives who were aware of them, and 37% of Tea Partiers, said they were now less likely to see the film – but 42% of liberals said they were more likely.

Alcon co-founder Andrew Kosove kept a stiff upper lip and defended Freeman's free speech: “As a person who has some libertarian viewpoints myself, I STRONGLY believe Morgan's right to express whatever beliefs he has on any topic. We are a free country. Thank God!”
But the issue is not Freeman’s right to express his opinion, which no one is attempting to deny him. The issue is that the very nature of his profession requires Freeman to keep a low political profile lest his public persona begin to overshadow the characters he inhabits onscreen. The audience’s suspension of disbelief during a given film depends on his ability to convince viewers that he is the character he is portraying and not Morgan Freeman. That illusion becomes increasingly difficult to sustain or even to create in the first place if an actor lets his offscreen political outspokenness color the audience’s perception of him.

It becomes an unpleasant effort for, say, a member of the Tea Party in the audience to immerse himself in a story when it stars Morgan Freeman, who called him a racist. Or Matt Damon, who called him stupid. Or Sean Penn, who literally embraces America’s enemies abroad. Or Jane Fonda, who served as a propaganda tool for the enemy during the Vietnam War. Freeman and others are free to express their opinions just like every other American citizen – but they must accept the consequences at the box office.

(This article originally appeared here at FrontPage Mag, 10/12/11)