Saturday, 2 April 2011

“Hollywood vs. America” - the dystopia created by US film-makers

Film critic Michael Medved’s Hollywood vs. America made a huge impression on me when it was published in 1992. Until I read it, I hadn’t been able to figure out why so many US films and TV dramas were so depressingly anti-American. Given that Americans had voted for Republican presidents for the previous twelve years, why were they so addicted to negative portrayals of their own country?

Let’s face it, if you despised traditional American values, you didn’t vote for Ronald Reagan – so why would you lap up dramas which basically told you that America was A Bad Thing and that everything you believed in was a delusion?

Medved’s answer was straightforward (here’s a speech he made at the time) – if American films were more patriotic and celebratory, they’d attract larger audiences. American film and TV directors’ failure to mirror the traditional values of the majority of their audience was based partly on their desire to enjoy the approval of their overwhelmingly left-wing peers, and partly on their deeply held political conviction that only a tiny minority of right-wing fanatics could possibly believe in all that Mom, God and Apple Pie crap.

My own experience of Americans had led me to believe that most of them were conservative, religious, and deeply proud of America’s history and traditions. Yet so relentlessly negative was the self-loathing, anti-American propaganda peddled by Hollywood that even I had begun to question whether my own feeling for America hadn’t blinded me to the truth. But then two visits in 1992 and early 1993 convinced me I hadn’t been mistaken. The vast majority of Americans believed that the USA was a decent, honourable country which acted as a beacon of freedom to the world  (not an unreasonable belief, given that it had just destroyed Soviet Communism). 

As for the depiction of a sick society on the verge of collapse, well, certainly, any city controlled by Democrats was likely to be a violent hell-hole overrun by criminal vermin and full of welfare junkies - Washington, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans, for starters -  but everywhere in between seemed packed with tolerant, charming, friendly people leading decent, happy, hard-working lives. 

This, of course, was the exact opposite of what liberal movie-makers were telling me back then. According to them, all US businessmen and all corporations were evil and manipulative. All seemingly respectable, middle class homes were in reality dysfunctional hotbeds of racism, child abuse, sexual infidelity, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, religious mania, tyrannised by selfish, weak, cowardly, violent, right-wing male fanatics. 

All social workers were self-sacrificing saints. All drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics and petty criminals were the victims of a grossly unjust society, and if only we’d all be more generous and more compassionate towards them, they’d be automatically “cured” of all their vicious habits - which weren’t that vision in any case. 

All FBI and CIA agents and military officers were lawless, racist, fascist warmongers. America was not a true democracy, and its economic success was entirely based on exploiting the weak. All Native Americans were – and always had been - peace-loving, spiritually advanced eco-warriors. Everyone sent to fight for their country returned emotionally crippled. All cops were either mavericks operating outside the law, or corrupt Nazis. All Christians were mad. All farmers were decent and pure and good. The US government was engaged in a war on poor people and minority groups in their own country and abroad, and if only they’d stop wasting money on weapons and spend it on left-wing social programmes and public sector workers, America would be great once again – just as it had been during those few, brief, glorious years when God sent us His son, John F. Kennedy, to reveal unto us the Holy Left-Hand Path to Equality and Justice. 

Network, Reds, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lenny, Chinatown, Mash, The China Syndrome, Save the Tiger, Lenny, Blazing Saddles, Coming Home, Mississippi Burning, Wall Street, Missing, Under Fire, Salvador, The Front, The Big Chill, Dances with Wolves, Revolution, Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets’ Society, Field of Dreams… the list is endless. 

Many of these Oscar-nominated films were terrific entertainments, but the political payload they carried was often malign and downright dishonest: boil them down and you got one powerful, over-riding message – one way or another, America sucks.

Then there’s the implicit approval of behaviour that’s stupid, self-destructive, offensive or irresponsible – or a mixture of all the above. Sexual promiscuity is fun and only religious nuts disapprove. Gay sexual promiscuity is even more fun – and if you get AIDS, it’s somehow the government’s fault. Violence is the answer to many problems, especially political repression - unless it’s employed by the state to protect its citizens or its allies, when it’s always unjustifiable. 

Sometimes, drug and alcohol addiction are a sane person’s only way of coping with life in America, and, in the case of the former, it’s often the fault of the authorities (although I’m never quite sure why). Besides, every respectable middle class person is popping pills every chance they get –what’s the difference? Petty crime isn’t a big deal – and is often justifiable, especially when  directed against anal, “respectable” types, and practically a moral duty if the victim is a corporation, which no doubt grew rich off the backs of poor people in the first place. Society leaves prostitutes no choice but to sell their bodies (and, of course, it’s all the fault of men – shagging anything that moves is admirable, and indicative of a free spirit,but not if you pay for it). 

The only truly interesting characters are outsiders – the weird, the perverted, the extreme: why bother making movies about honourable realtors or just lawyers or decent priests or honest politicians or trustworthy businessmen when you can bring us life-affirming transvestites and transsexuals and S&M enthusiasts? 

Everyone fucking swears all the fucking time, except for uptight religious maniacs (all child rapists anyway) so why fucking well not have all your characters say fuck every thirty seconds and it’s even fucking funnier if it’s a fucking kid cos, like, that’s so fucking cool and it’ll like, y’know, really fucking piss off all those fucking uptight middle class fuckers in the audience, right? Fuckin’ A! And making references to “pussy” is just the most hilariously cool thing you can do – I mean, how cutting-edge and out-there and relaxed and liberal can you get? Offended? Well, good! Asshole!

A few caveats:

I have no objection to films criticising aspects of the country where they’re made. But when the basic assumption is that the country is irredeemably rotten,  that’s tedious and silly (Avatar is a classic example). Loving one’s country (countries, in my case) is a natural human emotion: maybe Oliver Stone should think about that next time he feels an urge to defecate on the Stars and Stripes.

I have no objection to the occasional swear-word (for instance, the “f” word was brilliantly used in The King’s Speech, and it would be odd if Tony Soprano didn’t utter the occasional profanity), but using them constantly in contexts where they’re just not funny or serve a dramatic function and where their sole purpose seems to be to signal how fabulously liberated the film-maker is - well, that’s just lazy and boring.

Some drug addicts and prostitutes and petty criminals may very well have been the victims of exploitation or dreadful luck or a terrible upbringing – but to take a non-judgmental approach to these activities on that basis is morally insane. Taking drugs is wrong. Prostitution isn’t a fun lifestyle choice. Any filmmaker implicitly or explicitly condoning or glamourising these activities is doing something deeply wicked – our kids watch your films, you stupid,  irresponsible bastard! Shame on you! 

When  it comes to screen sex, as pornography is now widely available on the internet, I don’t really see the point of asking actors to simulate sex acts: it may get all you film-makers squirming in your seats, but it just annoys and embarrasses the rest of us. Next time you feel the urge, grab a laptop and some Kleenex and go somewhere private.

Now, I could probably have figured out most of this for myself, but Michael Medved – former Democrat, religious Jew, author of The Golden Turkey Awards and now the host of one of American’s most popular radio talk shows – certainly helped me understand that the near-universal left-wingery of Hollywood was to blame for the hysterical anti-Americanism of so many of its products.

In the nineteen years since Medved brought us Hollywood vs. America, things have got much, much worse. Now that the Hollywood mainstream seems to consist entirely of frat boy gross-out “comedies” and CGI-dominated Science Fiction silliness, the lack of dramas featuring ordinary, decent, God-fearing patriotic American adults who aren’t busy molesting their children or embezzling their employers or exploiting the poor or leading appallingly empty, meaningless lives based on a false American Dream is beginning to look decidedly perverse. Do these Hollywood types ever meet anyone (apart from hookers, drug-dealers, waiters and gardeners) who doesn’t live in New York of LA and doesn’t inhabit the strange, warped world of the entertainment industry?

I urge them all to put down the coke spoon for an hour or so, search their hearts and ask themselves whether they can’t find anything at all to admire about their country’s people, history, traditions or political institutions - and if they do manage to find something positive, please try and get it up there on the screen next time they make a film.


  1. "Network, Reds, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lenny, Chinatown, Mash, The China Syndrome, Save the Tiger, Lenny, Blazing Saddles, Coming Home, Mississippi Burning, Wall Street, Missing, Under Fire, Salvador, The Front, The Big Chill, Dances with Wolves, Revolution, Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets’ Society, Field of Dreams… the list is endless."

    1. No list is complete without including the works of Michael Moore. True. But then, as Scott says, no list is complete -- "the list is endless".

    2. This is a big idea of Scott's, one of the very biggest, the proper or balanced or fair range of the film industry and, presumably, other branches of popular culture. It is probably impossible to say what that range should be, this isn't a job for prescription. But it is undeniably important to point out when there is a malevolent imbalance and to make a reasonable plea for it to be corrected.

    3. It chimes in with a recurring theme of Roger Scruton's -- do the resentful haters of American culture realise that it is only because of the virtues of American culture that they can express their unbridled criticism?

    4. ... and a recurring theme of Mark Steyn's -- do these allegedly acute and brave critics ever try exercising their talents against a target that actually bites back, e.g. by throwing them off the top of a mountain, cutting off their hands, stoning them to death, blowing up their apartment building or banging them up in nick for decades? No. Are they, underneath all the self-satisfied preening, actually cowards? Yes.
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 09:20 AM

  2. Very interesting comment. As always in these cases, I always think to myself “What would Bono have to say about this?”. He knows a lot of stuff, does Bono. Anyway, I went off and found my copy of the Medved book and put it on the reading pile so thank you for that.

    As a small illustration of the divergence between what Hollywood thinks and the majority of Americans here’s a quote:

    "The anti-capital punishment troika of Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn unwitingly made the greatest contribution to the death penalty movement - the Oscar-winning propaganda piece "Dead Man Walking" was accidentally received as the futile last words of the anti-death penalty lobby when many audiences cheered as Penn's reprehensible character, who admitted to murder, received his lethal injection.Ooops."
    "Hollywood Interrupted". Breitbart&Ebner. 2004.

    I suspect there was a similar reaction to the execution scenes in the “Executioner’s Song”, “The Green Mile”, “Monster Ball” and “The Chamber”. Note to Hollywood lefties with an anti – capital punishment message : show innocent people being executed [see Bjork in “Dancer in the Dark” and John Hurt in “10 Rillington Place”]. It tends to add relevance to the argument.

    DM – your point 4. Very well said. It started me thinking about that poor cartoonist from Jyllandsposten in Denmark who spends every day in fear of his life.
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 10:51 AM

  3. Thinking about courage, and KCS, reminded me about one of our more infamous alumni, William Joyce.

    Born in New York in 1906, his family soon emigrated/re-immigrated to Galway. That's Galway, Ireland, bottom left, home of republicanism, a movement which tends to make its point with bombs under cars rather than wry Michael Moore films.

    As he grew up, Joyce seems to have enjoyed nothing more than twitting the locals with his support of the Black and Tans, and generally advocating Unionism. Would Michael Moore be up for that?

    As it dawned on him that the probability of being murdered was fast approaching 100%, he decamped to the mainland and briefly attended King's. He went on to get a First at Birkbeck, as we all did, and to join the Conservative Party.

    That seems to have been a more dangerous move then than it is today. While stewarding at a Conservative Party meeting, he was slashed with a razor, giving him that sought after scar so much cherished by the German cavalry.

    Joyce blamed Jewish Communists for the attack. (That's true. That is who he blamed.) In fact it was a gypsy homosexual IRA cell. (I made that up.)

    We all remember St Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, where he considers the "paradox" that bad people can have virtues. Lord Haw-Haw is a nice case in point. I don't think he was a very good man, personally. But my God he was brave.

    (PS Can anyone help?

    I saw a programme on BBC TV a few years ago about a village built in Germany by the Nazis in the early 1930s. Its putative purpose was to train the Olympic rowing team. In fact, it was to train camp Kommandants and the architect was an Argentinian who came to Germany via a short stay at KCS.

    Can anyone tell me the name of the village and/or the architect?

    Much obliged because my No.2 daughter has just come back from a week's rowing training in Germany and ...)
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 01:37 PM

  4. (I've just found the answer.

    It wasn't the Kommandants. It was specifically the concentration camp doctors.)
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 02:48 PM

  5. A proper socialist solution to the problem Scott raises would centre on regulation.

    What should the regulator be called?

    The Office of Film Certification, or Officer.

    Chief Executive: Neil Kinnock, or David Blunkett.
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 03:02 PM

  6. Oops.


    Centre left, not bottom left.
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 04:27 P

  7. (
    Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 05:09 PM

  8. DM, Michael Moore doesn’t count, because the fat twat doesn’t do drama – although he certainly specialises in fiction. I would in any case be forced to exclude him because I have never been able to watch a single one of his films all the way through – I don’t demand beauty or physical perfection from documentary presenters, but Moore’s physical appearance actually makes me feel queasy (although that could just be the result of being subjected to the sort of poisonous propaganda techniques Dr Goebbels - a forerunner of Moore’s – excelled at).

    Scruton and Steyn’s questions remind me of the playwright Peter Nicholls once saying that people didn’t realise how brave artists like himself and his friend Harold Pinter were to speak out against the Thatcher regime in the 1980s. Yes, that really must have taken some guts, what with the secret police, the death squads, the torture chambers… we went in fear of our very lives, I tell you. It’s an excellent question – how do intelligent, well-educated Westerners end up believing this drivel? Or is it just ridiculous posturing designed to make them feel like oppressed revolutionaries? What glorious alternatives can they point to (apart from Cuba – they’ll always have brave little Cuba)? How does anyone with more than two brain cells or a single moral principle at their disposal end up concluding that everything bad in the world is America’s fault? America??? (Similarly, how does a witty, intelligent writer like Zadie Smith end up believing that Etonians want to close down libraries so no one will ever know about the Coalition’s murderous cuts – I mean, for God’s sake!!! Only someone who’d spent 20 years in a mental institution could believe anything as loopy as that! David Icke’s theory that the Royal Family belong to a secret race of alien lizards is more credible!)

    KCS has a lot to answer for! (Maybe I should start going to be OB functions – attendees might be more interesting than I’d suspected!)
    Monday, April 4, 2011 - 12:22 AM

  9. Pierrepoint, the story about “Dead Man Walking” made me laugh out loud. Thank you. (As with Michael Moore, I can no longer watch Sean Penn films - not because he's repulsive, but I can't forget what an idiot he is in real life - him taking a rescue boat to New Orleans after the hurricane was just too embarrassing). Just as I can’t understand why anyone would believe America is the root of all evil, I can’t for the life of me begin to comprehend why anyone would give a flying one about any convicted killer. I blame the movie “The Birdman of Alcatraz” for encouraging this nonsense by turning a genuine psychopathic brute, Robert Stroud, into a hero because he looked after a bloody sparrow.
    Monday, April 4, 2011 - 12:37 AM

  10. The scene: the huge office of a Hollywood studio executive. Behind the desk, Lev Levi, a short fat man with a huge thin ego. The office has been decorated by a colour blind interior designer, a close friend of Lev’s confirmed bachelor son, using only the best materials available from Osborne & Little because George Osborne went to St Paul’s. Minnesota, Lev assumes. Enter Sam Weisman, a producer past his best. He’s struck out on his last three pitches but he’s a stayer, and here he is again.

    00:00 Lev: Sam, always good to see ya, how’s Sarah?

    00:02 Sam: Still dead. It’s been three years and we’ve never got along better. And Judith?

    00:04 Lev: Yeah, right. So what you got for me this time, Mo?

    00:05 Sam: It’s Sam, Lev. I’ve got ya a Springsteen score and Tom Hanks ...

    00:07 Lev: Hanks? He still alive? I want the guy from House ...

    00:09 Sam: ... be real. You know the studio can’t afford these Eton guys ...

    00:11 Lev: ... eatin’?

    00:12 Sam: Eton, Lev, Eton, it’s a school, ...

    00:14 Lev: ... how come my kids didn’t go there, where’s this school at?

    00:16 Sam: ... uh, for you Lev, Colorado, look, friend, I’ve gotta script written by new talent ...

    00:18 Lev: New talent I don’t like. It’ll have to go through our new script editor, started last week, they love him down in the writers’ room, he’s Jewish, he’s gay, he’s got emphathy with the common man and he can do words, hunnerds of ‘em, one after the other, without gettin’ dizzy an’ fallin’ on his fanny once ...

    00:24 Sam: ... OK already, the script goes through the new editor, what’s he called?

    00:27 Lev: (speaking into his squawk box) What’s the new script exec called, Angel Tits?

    00:28 Angel Tits: Mandelson, Mr Levi. Peter Mandelson.

    00:29 Lev: That’s right. Now what’re we talkin’? No more democracy in the Middle East, I’ve had it up to here with democracy in the Middle East all week, ...

    00:31 Sam: No democracy, Lev, I promise you. This is more medical. Medical-political. Kinda geo-medical political.

    to be continued...

  11. 00:35 Lev: Like full metal operating gown? We gotta move here, I’m down to see Barbra Streisand at two and my doctor at three. Or maybe the other way round. He wants to talk to me about my urinary tract, Sam, what’s a urinary tract already?

    00:42 Sam: It’s like a Papal Bull, a religious announcement where the goyim piss on the Jews again.

    00:44 Lev: Huh?

    00:45 Sam: Streisand still got a line to BeeHO? (“BeeHo” is the new name at the studio for the President, Barack Hussein Obama. It’s the old name, too. In between, when Tinseltown discovered there was a president called Mubarak in Egypt, they changed “BeeHO” to “Moob” for a while until the intern with an IQ of 11 told them what a moob is. On the lot, the intern with an IQ of 11 is known as “Blowjob”. He wasn’t very happy about it until Lev’s daughter told him Blowjob had a starring part in a James Bond movie, and kinda just stop asking questions and get on with it.)

    (Peter Mandelson: That’s right, get on with it.
    DM: I’m trying to show you I’ve got other ideas.
    PM: Just try to show me you can finish a three-minute script without two hours backstory.)

    00:46 Lev: You mean has BeeHO still got a line to Barbra. She ain’t hardly answered his calls since he started taking public speaking lessons from Gordon Brown. OK, medical-geo, don’t tell me ... lemme think ... got it! The assassination of Michael Jackson. Planned by an out of control renegade unit of the Republican Party and carried out by Sarah Palin in person with her moose gun. Right?

    00:53 Sam: Not exactly, ...

    00:54 Lev: Who’s the writer?

    00:55 Sam: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes. BBC man.

    00:56 Lev: Change the name. No more Hayes in Hollywood. What’s BBC?

    00:59 Sam: It’s like a fund-raising committee of the Democrats. That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell ya, Lev. Hanks is a successful kidney transplant surgeon in Sausalito. And he speaks Chinese. There’s never enough kidneys, then suddenly there’s no shortage, Hanks investigates, traces the supply back to China, finds they lock up dissidents there by the thousand, got ‘em all blood-typed up for rejection analysis, anyone wants a spare part, they shoot the prisoner in the back of the head and sell the pieces. True story*. Documentary evidence. Human rights. Civil liberties. Mask drops revealing cruel face of Communism. Whaddya think, Lev?

    01:09 Lev: (long incredulous pause) Jesus ... fuckin’ ... Christ, Mo, they take your brains out, too, when they circumcised ya? That’s the most disgustin’ pornographile I ever heard, get your stinkin’ lyin’ carcass out of this office and off this lot, now, and never come back, you will never work in this town again, there is only room for one bad guy in this world, one, don’t you know nuttin’, geddoudaheeyah, ...


    Monday, April 4, 2011 - 05:43 PM

  12. From today’s Telegraph*:

    The knock on the door was a long time coming, but it seems that Ai Weiwei's luck has finally run out. On Sunday morning ... No one has heard from him since.


    Over the past seven weeks, as many as 100 lawyers, bloggers, artists and other activists have been swallowed up by China's state security apparatus


    Many [very naïve people] had believed that Ai was immune to this kind of treatment, partly because he is the son of Ai Qing, one of China's most revered modern poets, and partly because of his international status as a star of the contemporary art world.


    He urged reform, not revolution, attacking the state's rigged courts, its unaccountable police, the vested business interests of so many party members, the censoring of the internet, the jailing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo ...


    Expressing a personal view – at least, one that does not chime with the "healthy" opinions that China's president Hu Jintao urged party leaders to cultivate among the people in a keynote speech in February – is now officially dangerous


    ... to the liberal intellectuals and online chattering classes who have long enjoyed the freedom to argue, at least among themselves, this marks a sinister step-change ...

    Yes, quite, and

    ... there is the scope of the clampdown: lawyers, academics, journalists, bloggers, artists, even individuals who have posted seditious messages on Twitter or its equivalents, have all been targeted ... there is the cold threat of violence.

    And now it gets serious

    Even some international journalists covering the calls for China to have its own version of Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution" have been roughed up by plain-clothes heavies ...

    Old people will remember the radical Angela Davis, the charming lady indicted for conspiracy, kidnapping and homicide back in the heady days of the Black Panther movement when a Supreme Court judge was murdered.

    In China, Davis would have been cut up for spare parts. In the US**:

    She is presently a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is the former director of the university'sFeminist Studies department.

    There is a film in there somewhere waiting to get out. The US and China are different. Radically different.



    Wednesday, April 6, 2011 - 11:17 AM