Why do some showbiz folk cling to the Left even as it’s out to cancel them?
Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
American show business today is notoriously a province of the left. Any Democrat running for anything whatsoever can count on an impressive line-up of stars to support his, her, its, or their candidacy. The biggest name to take part in the events surrounding Trump’s inaugural was Toby Keith (who, for the record, I think is terrific). Four years earlier, Obama was able to draw Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Beyoncé. This time around, on the Capitol steps, Lady Gaga belted out the National Anthem, Jennifer Lopez performed “This Land Is Your Land,” and Garth Brooks warbled “Amazing Grace”; in the evening, Tom Hanks hosted a TV special featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, John Legend, Eva Longoria, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen, and Justin Timberlake. (Reportedly, Biden’s favorite entertainer, Fanny Brice, was unavailable.)
Yes, there are a handful of celebrities who are openly conservative or Republican or even pro-Trump, but not many. The category that really interests me, however, is the list of showbiz folks who say they’re on the left, but who if they actually gave any serious thought to the question would switch sides pronto.
Take the wonderful Mel Brooks. In the run-up to the recent election, Brooks, now 94, released an online video endorsing Joe Biden. In the video, he’s seen sitting at a table, facing the camera, while his adult son and his grandson stand behind him, on the other side of a closed window. They can’t be in the same room together, Brooks says, because of the COVID-19 virus and because of “Donald Trump’s not doing a damn thing about it.”
In fact, Trump oversaw Operation Warp Speed, as a result of which vaccines for the COVID-19 virus were developed and deployed in record time. At this very moment, people around the world are benefiting from Trump’s program. Yes, when Brooks recorded his pro-Biden video, the vaccines were not yet ready. But even though the virus’s mortality rate was far lower than predicted by the experts, the mainstream media were accusing Trump of mass murder, and apparently Brooks was listening to them.
“I’m voting for Joe Biden,” Brooks said in his video. “Because Joe like facts. Joe likes science….Take a tip from me. Vote for Joe.” Of course, Biden’s fondness for facts and science ends where critical race theory and the concept of gender fluidity begin.
But set that aside for the moment. For Mel Brooks, of all people, what should matter is this. Brooks’s entire reputation is built on the kind of comedy that Joe Biden’s political allies are now in the process of expunging. The N-word appears dozens of times in the dialogue of Brooks’s 1974 movie Blazing Saddles. A Native American speaks Yiddish. There are rape jokes and a reference to “Kansas City faggots.” In The History of the World, Part One (1981), Brooks, in the role of Torquemada, tortures rabbis, and, in the role of Louis XV, instigates a gang bang. There are gay jokes, fat jokes, nymphomaniac jokes. And his masterwork The Producers – the 1968 movie, the 2001 Broadway musical, and the 2005 celluloid musical – is a veritable encyclopedia of gags about Jews, gays, and sex that today’s “woke” crowd would consider proof positive of the most appalling kind of bigotry.
As recently as 2009, Brooks’s career was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors. He sat in the balcony, a few seats away from a recently inaugurated President Obama, who, along with everyone else in the auditorium, laughed heartily at a performance of “Springtime for Hitler,” the outrageous tune that is the centerpiece of The Producers.
No more. Can you imagine a President Joe Biden publicly laughing at “Springtime for Hitler,” or anything by Mel Brooks? As for Kamala Harris, the woman laughs constantly – she laughs at nothing, like a lunatic – but if you showed her a few minutes of any Mel Brooks movie she’d find something to be disgusted by faster than you could say “Montel Williams.”
Indeed, under America’s present dispensation, an artist like Brooks is in danger of being totally erased. His endorsement of Biden could mean only one thing: that he hasn’t kept up with the ideological migration of the Democratic Party to the furthest reaches of the oppressive left. He’s voting for his enemies.
The same goes for Woody Allen, Brooks’s 1950s NBC colleague from the writers’ room of Your Show of Shows. Allen, 85, has always made a point of his leftist sympathies. His alter ego in Annie Hall (1976), Alvy Singer, does a stand-up set at an Adlai Stevenson fundraiser; his character in Manhattan, Isaac Davis, attends an Equal Rights Amendment event hosted by Bella Abzug. He agreed to star in the blacklist comedy The Front (1976), one of the few times he acted in another director’s movie, out of respect for Communists who lost their Hollywood writing jobs in the 1950s.
Yet Allen’s tastes and temperament are thoroughly conservative. Movies like Radio Days and Broadway Danny Rose ooze nostalgia for pre-Sixties America. The scores of his films consist of music from the Great American Songbook. In Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), when Holly (Dianne Wiest) drags Mickey (Allen) to see a rock/punk band, he reacts with horror, exclaiming: “After they sing…they’re gonna take hostages!” In Hollywood Ending, Allen plays a director, Val Waxman, who asks his girlfriend: “Any word on that TV movie? The interracial abortion gene-splicing thing?” – a neat jab at contemporary Hollywood issue-mongering.
In the last few years, the biggest news about Woody Allen has been the extremely successful campaign by leftist cultural commissars to silence him. Citing allegations of sexual abuse that were officially investigated and dismissed decades ago, the publishing house Hachette cancelled his memoir and Amazon Studies dropped his movie A Rainy Day in New York.
Yet Allen seems confused about who, exactly, has been trying to bring him down. In a recently posted conversation with the physicist Lawrence Krauss, he said, “The right always wants a certain conformity…and the left is always more liberal.” Krauss challenged this assertion, noting the pressure for ideological conformity in the ranks of the left and the kowtowing by university administrators to social-justice warriors. In reply, Allen imagines, and laments, scenarios in which the voices of Communists and vegans and critics of Israel are suppressed. It’s a stunning display, demonstrating that his notion of who’s blacklisting whom in America nowadays is seriously out of date. How remarkable is it that this man who’s been viciously targeted by the left for professional extinction somehow thinks that it’s the left that’s on his side?
Both Mel Brooks and Woody Allen prove that it’s possible to be a brilliant artist but to be utterly misguided – indeed, staggeringly naïve – as to who one’s allies and enemies are. Perhaps back in the Roosevelt-Truman era, when they were both young New York Jews from modest backgrounds, they felt that it only made sense to be a Democrat. Whatever. But today, only utter self-hatred, or extraordinary ignorance, could prevent them from recognizing that it’s the pro-Trump crowd that has their backs.
They’re both conservatives – or should be, if they care about their freedom of expression. But neither of them, I fear, will ever realize it.