Hollywood Jahilliya

Democracy, whiskey, sexy.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I'm an old-school liberal, like FDR or, heck, even Trotsky if I'm feeling generous. That is, I recognize a fascist enemy when I see one, and I treat it like an enemy. It's my mission (self-appointed, of course) to convince other Hollywood liberals to do the same.

07 March 2006

The Madness of King George

"And finally, I would say that you know we are a little bit out of touch every now and then here in Hollywood - every once in a while - and I think that's probably a good thing. We're the ones to talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered. And we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. You know we bring up subjects. We're the ones, you know, this Academy gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.

I'm proud to be part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community and proud to be 'out of touch' - and I thank you so much for this." -- George Clooney, accepting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
First off, he deserved it, though probably not for Syriana. Clooney's one of the finest actors of his generation, and on the merits of talent alone, it's about time he got some recognition.

But, here's how out of touch he really is, not just from "middle America" (whatever the hell that is), but from political reality in general. And specifically, from bona fide liberalism:

-- Only four black actors have ever won Oscars for Best Actor or Actress... and three of them were in the 21st Century. Only six have ever won for supporting roles. Only one black director has been nominated for the top slot, and it's not even Spike Lee. This is to say nothing of hiring practices behind-the-scenes, where Hollywood remains one of the whitest industries around.

As for the Hattie McDaniel case, let's not forget what role she won for: a "mammy" in the racist whitewash of slavery called Gone With The Wind. The NAACP raised a furor at the time of the film's production, and when it premiered in Atlanta, no black member of the cast was invited to the three days of festivities.

The fact is, Hollywood trails far behind almost all other institutions of American society when it comes to racial integration. Not incidentally, the leader on this issue wasn't Hollywood, but the U.S. military, desegregated in 1948, well ahead of all other sectors of American society.

-- I don't know much about Hollywood's track record on AIDS awareness, but I'll look into it. Though I'm hardly the first person to note that mainstream Hollywood's typical treatment of gay characters rarely strays from stereotype (even in Brokeback Mountain; I mean, gay cowboys? Where haven't we seen that before?)

-- It's also worth noting Good Night And Good Luck, a fine if somewhat misleading film, and well worth seeing. Edward R. Murrow was not, as George portrayed him, a lone hero standing against Senator McCarthy. Murrow was actually late in jumping on the bandwagon; his famous anti-McCarthy broadcast came a month after President Eisenhower personally took charge of the campaign to stop the man. Needless to say, you're not risking much in attacking a right-wing demagogue senator if the Republican president got there before you.

More significantly, however, George's movie makes no distinction between McCarthyism and anti-communism, which was often generated from the Left (I doubt anyone, then or now, would classify Norman Thomas, Harry S Truman or Sidney Hook as McCarthyists); it also includes no relevant context that has come to light since the 1950s, such as the now-established fact that Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs really were Soviet spies. Good Night, And Good Luck plays to the notion that communist infiltration was nothing but a shibboleth, rather than a real threat that McCarthy simply exagerrated.

It is, by proxy, a way of commenting on current political pronouncements about Islamic terrorism. It seems to say that all anti-fascism today is neo-conservatism, as all anti-communism then was McCarthyism. It wasn't true then, and it's not true now.

Acknowledging the Muslim Religious Right as a real and existential threat -- even if sometimes an exagerrated one -- is not the same thing as endorsing the neo-conservative ideology. It's rarely even close, and if George and the rest of "liberal" Hollywood doesn't get that, then it ain't the sort of "out of touch" to be proud of.

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