Americans Trust Actors Most

They read lines. And we like them.

bengAccording to a new poll from Reader’s Digest, Americans know who they trust: actors. The most trusted person in America: Tom Hanks, producer of the great series Band of Brothers, and actor in not-so-great movies like Larry Crowne and Castaway. Hanks also happens to be a wild leftist – he once stated, “Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different … Does that sound familiar to what’s going on today?” When he came under fire, Hanks told the truth: “Look, I’m an actor. I’m not a politician. I’m not a statistician. I’m not a legislator.”

But he is trusted.

And he’s not the only one. Clocking in at number two was Sandra Bullock, star of The Blind Side. What has Bullock done to earn trust? Nobody knows, but we sure like her onscreen. Also in the top ten: Denzel Washington (Flight), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Steven Spielberg (director of Lincoln), Alex Trebek (host, Jeopardy!), and Julia Roberts.

Hollywood is heavily overrepresented on the list as a general matter. A full 40 of the top 100 people on the list are chiefly cultural figures from television or movies. Ubiquity is what matters.

Now, no one can tell us much about why actors and actresses should be trusted. But that’s how our brain biology works. Hollywood understands something that the Republican Party doesn’t: presentation matters. People trust Tom Hanks because he reads lines that make him trustworthy, and because he has a trustworthy face. For the same reason, Tim Roth isn’t on the list – he plays a villain, and he looks like he should be cast as the villain.

Hollywood uses the power of that trust to leverage its values down our throats, too. Hollywood and the media have created heroes for us. Ben Affleck (who appears at #45 on the list) is a huge fan of Howard Zinn’s and a big supporter of President Obama’s. Ellen Degeneres (#18) is obviously one America’s most high-profile advocates for same-sex marriage.

Hollywood matters. But the GOP seems to think it doesn’t. Top members of the GOP pretend that the only town that matters is Washington, D.C., when in truth, the only town that really matters is Hollywood. That’s where views are shaped and formed. That’s why Barack Obama spends so much time there – not just because that’s where the money is, and not just because he uses the image consultants that shape Tinseltown, but because he understands that he needs Hollywood to push his messaging.

For decades, though, Republicans have abandoned the playing field in Hollywood. Hollywood, back in the 1930s and 1940s, was a far more evenly-split town in terms of politics. That’s because many of the corporate heads who made Hollywood profitable supported Republicans. But with the rise of television, all of that shifted – advertising agencies, based in New York and staffed by creative young liberals, began to exert more and more power in the industry. In the early 1970s, Hollywood made a complete break with the American people on politics, swinging hard to the left to appeal to youth – whom, they claimed, were more valuable viewers than older folks.

That shift left Republicans out in the cold. Richard Nixon, instead of wooing allies in Hollywood, went to war with it. In 1971, he tried to file antitrust lawsuits against the networks. “If the threat of screwing them is going to help us more with their programming than doing it, then keep the threat,” Nixon said. “As far as screwing them is concerned, I’m very glad to do it.”

The Nixon years polarized Hollywood even further, so much so that by the time a real Hollywood insider, Ronald Reagan, became president, Republicanism was a dirty word. Today, that feeling has been bred into the genetic code of Hollywood.

Republicans must find a way to break that cycle. If they don’t, they’re doomed to massive failure in the culture war. Imagistics matter. Emotional manipulation matters. That’s what Hollywood does best. It’s why we like Leonardo DiCaprio (#80), even if we’ve never met him and he turns out to be a tool personally. Hollywood creates friends for us. And then our friends help define how we think.

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