Hollywood’s Conservative Bias

No, that title isn’t a typo. It’s a reference to an article from The Atlantic which claimed, counter to perpetually irate conservative criticisms, that Hollywood movies tended to favor a conservative worldview, but for economic reasons rather than ideological ones.

When I say that Hollywood has its own ideology, I’m not talking about the political fads that occasionally occupy its most prominent denizens. I’m not thinking of Madonna’s Kabbalah hobby or Ben Affleck’s campaigns for Congo. What I’m talking about is the ways in which its business model—which is entirely dependent upon big money and even bigger audiences—determines the risks it will and won’t take, the questions it will and won’t ask, and the answers it will and won’t provide. 

Hollywood, then, is like any other major institution: It reflects and reinforces its society’s assumptions, its economic systems, and its audience’s most deeply held beliefs.

At Acculturated, Mark Tapson followed up on this idea with more than a little incredulity:

Sure, World War II-era films tended to be unabashedly patriotic, but as far back as the Cold War era Hollywood often took a subversive tack, as with the political satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In our contemporary conflict with Islamic fundamentalists, Hollywood presents a morally relativistic stance. The filmmakers of 2oo2’s The Sum of All Fears, for example, famously swapped out the novel’s original Muslim terrorists for the politically safer, Hollywood go-to bad guys, neo-Nazis–and that was in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when patriotic fervor was at its highest. Even today, ten years later, the filmmakers and stars of award-winning Showtime terrorism drama Homeland are proud of its moral equivalence.

Yeah, the argument that Hollywood is motivated purely by the bottom line stays in in the case marked “In case of conservative criticism, break glass.”

It’s the reliable go-to counter argument, and it has some merit, but it hardly covers everything. For one thing, if every show biz decision is based on economics, somebody explain to me the career of M. Night Shyamalan.

But it is true that a lot of movies that show a conservative bias, though the reason for that isn’t ideological or economic. It’s because, as Margaret Thatcher said, “The facts of life are conservative.”

There’s such a thing as good and evil. People want to achieve and reap the fruits of their labor. Fighting, even with guns, to protect yourself and your loved ones is a good and honorable thing. Freedom is good and more freedom is better. These are facts of life, and whatever your ideology, trying to write a screenplay that ignores them is like trying to write a screenplay that ignores gravity.

Not to say Hollywood doesn’t try it, from time to time. But it’s a tough trick to keep up.

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