Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
If you happened to take a look at the New York Times website a few days ago – specifically, on June 2 – you’d have found the usual daily mix of predictable left-wing claptrap. One article smeared the Proud Boys as a “violent” gang of “far-right nationalist[s]”; another lamented the verdict in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial because it afforded the unacceptable spectacle of “a woman brought low,” while yet another asserted that Depp won “[b]ecause he’s a man.” Meanwhile the travel section pretended that Paris (a “City of Light” nowadays only when Muslim gangs are setting cars and churches ablaze) is still the romantic locale of Gigi and Funny Face, and the op-ed page offered an essay headlined “Inflation Should Make Us All Vegetarians” and an argument that the main problem with the “capable, decent men and women” who make up the Biden administration is that they’re insufficiently eager to make nice with China.
But the day’s most ludicrous piece of agitprop was an essay in which Times film critic A. O. Scott actually tried to make the case that Hollywood isn’t left-wing. Yes, he admitted, the film industry is “a hub of Democratic Party fund-raising and activism” – but, hey, there are also plenty of “suspected conservatives” in La La Land (he didn’t pause to ponder why they’re only “suspected”), and in any case, he suggested, it all evens out, because during the era of the “Red Scare” Hollywood conservatives subjected liberals to “blacklisting and betrayal.” Um, no. Here’s the real story: through much of the 1930s and 40s, the writing and acting branches in Hollywood were dominated by ruthless, card-carrying Stalinists like Dalton Trumbo, who sought to use their power to propagandize for Communism; it was they, not conservatives, who aimed to crush the liberals in their midst; and it was they, not liberals, who were later targeted by the HUAC hearings. “Betrayal”? It was these Stalinists, enemies of their country and tools of the Kremlin, who were the traitors.
So much for Scott’s slick rewrite of history. Returning to the present, he scoffed at the idea that showbiz conservatives “face purging and intimidation in a town ruled by the tyranny of wokeness” and attributed this notion to the “sense of grievance and victimization” that, he assured readers, is widespread on today’s right. (Got that? It’s the right that specializes in “grievance and victimization.”) Scott eventually conceded, sort of, that the film industry “may skew progressive” – he was plainly referring, by the way, to the “above-the-line” creative types, not the crews, who are largely deplorables – but insisted nonetheless that, whatever their personal politics, the movies they make are essentially conservative.
What, according to Scott, makes these movies conservative? Well, he argued, they tell stories “[a]bout the grit and glory of the American military; about the heroic, essential work of law enforcement; about the centrality of revenge to any serious conception of justice; about the superiority of common sense over credentialed expertise; about the lessons ordinary small-town folks can teach fancy city slickers; about individual striving as the answer to most social problems; about the need for heroes.”
Huh? Let’s start with the contention that Hollywood celebrates the American military. In fact, its response to 9/11, the deadliest assault ever on American soil, was to churn out miles of slanderous celluloid – Redacted, Syriana, The Kingdom, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, Grace Is Gone, Stop-Loss, etc., etc. – depicting U.S. armed forces as monsters, rapists, morons, bigots. These films were, and deserved to be, flops. And Hollywood movies about the military continue to skew anti-American. If Top Gun: Maverick is a hit, it’s partly because it does celebrate America (as did the openly conservative Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and 15:17 to Paris).
Does Tinseltown celebrate law enforcement? On the contrary, it was quick, in movies like Black and Blue, Monsters and Men, Detroit, Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, and Queen & Slim, to embrace the disgusting and dangerous lie that racist white cops are gunning down innocent blacks in droves. As for the encounter between “ordinary small-town folks” and “city slickers,” all I can think of in this line (aside from films in the tradition of Deliverance and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in which urbanites who venture into the countryside risk rape or dismemberment) are those that follow the time-honored formula of Norma Rae, in which a noble union organizer from New York City helps a dimwitted North Carolina factory worker recognize the virtue of the closed shop.
Scott claimed that Hollywood supplies “the need for heroes.” Yes indeedy. The 2020 Best Picture nominee The Trial of the Chicago 7 made heroes out of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and other Yippies (while demonizing the police); the hero of Judas and the Black Messiah, which also got a 2020 Best Picture nod, was a Black Panther named Fred Hampton; in One Night in Miami, nominated the same year for Best Adapted Screenplay, the hero is Malcolm X. Few Americans want to see pictures like these. But the studio execs are so fervent in their left-wing bias that they can’t stop making them.
“Mainstream American movies,” Scott further maintained, are “conservative” in that they’re “in love with guns, suspicious of democracy, ambivalent about feminism, squeamish about divorce, allergic to abortion, all over the place on matters of sexuality and very nervous about anything to do with race.” Oh, really? Exactly which mainstream American movies in recent years have treated conservative attitudes toward feminism, divorce, or abortion with anything but contempt? As for guns, conservatives don’t love them – they love the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, which acknowledges their right to defend their liberty – with guns, if necessary – in the face of government tyranny.
Are conservatives “suspicious about democracy?” No, they’re suspicious, and rightly so, of the Democrat swamp that many leftists now equate with democracy. As for race, it was Barack Obama who, in a momentous act of mischief, returned that largely settled issue to the front burner; overwhelmingly, conservatives aren’t squeamish about race but are deeply uneasy about mendacious race hustles like the Times’s own 1619 Project, which malignantly identifies racism, not liberty, as America’s founding principle.
In his concluding paragraphs, Scott sought to argue that Hollywood has always sought to be “fundamentally affirmative of the way things are,” to tell stories in which antagonists find “common ground,” and thereby to reinforce “an elaborate mythos” of America that is, essentially, conservative. Ha. Last year’s Academy Award for Best Picture went to Nomadland, described by one critic as a “gently meditative drama about the failure of the American dream.” The Hollywood Reporter called Nebraska, nominated for Best Picture in 2014, a “wryly poignant and potent comic drama about the bereft state of things in America’s oft-vaunted heartland.” Then there are the Motion Picture Academy’s decidedly unconservative new diversity rules, which stipulate, as the Times itself approvingly reported in September 2020, that a film won’t be considered for an Oscar unless (among much else) it stars “[a]t least one actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group” and its story “center[s] on women, L.G.T.B.Q. people, a racial or ethnic group or the disabled.”
A few questions: if Hollywood is conservative, then why has it made hundreds of feature films about Nazi Germany, Hitler, and the Holocaust but not one about the U.S.S.R., Stalin, or the Gulag? If Hollywood is conservative, then why does it consistently lionize the likes of Dalton Trumbo (Trumbo, 2015) and demonize the likes of Dick Cheney (Vice, 2018)? If Hollywood is conservative, then why are Disney and Netflix in deep financial trouble for going so insanely woke? If Hollywood is conservative, then why has Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire jumped with both feet into the motion-picture business, promising middle Americans to make theatrical films “that won’t mock your values”?
Bottom line: Hollywood is woke. Way woke. And not just woke. It’s the West Coast capital of woke. The East Coast capital, of course, being the West 41st Street offices of the New York Times.