Sunday, March 31, 2013

God and Hollywood: The Onslaught Continues

Republicans do badly with young voters [because] they’re seen as uncool. . . [It’s the] “Footloose” [factor.] For a large majority of people, the political question is, “How would the sanctimonious preacher from the movie ‘Footloose’ feel about this subject?” They answer the question, and then take the opposite position.

--Glenn Harlan Reynolds, New York Post

Michelle vs. “the sanctimonious preacher.” That’s one way to encapsulate the cultural war Democrats seem to be winning. As former adviser to the Romney campaign Tevi Troy wrote recently:
Throughout 2012, . . . Obama continually demonstrated an unprecedented and often disturbing level of pop culture fluency, showing himself to be up to date on music, movies, and especially TV. Obama, at one time or another, mentioned Homeland, Modern Family, Boardwalk Empire, and Mad Men as among his favorite shows. . . Obama also knew where to go to demonstrate how hip he was, appearing on more than two dozen “soft” entertainment-style interviews during the campaign. . . He told the deejays [he] enjoys working out to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
Obama also used his strong relationships with pop culture figures to get stars like George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker to direct their pro-Obama efforts toward targeted demographic groups in which the Obama data machine discovered that they would have the greatest appeal. . . the strategy paid off, especially with America’s screen-loving youth.
Nothing symbolized that strong Hollywood-Democratic Party relationship more vividly that Michelle Obama’s center-stage role at this year’s televised--to a gigantic worldwide audience--Oscar ceremony, presenting the award for best picture from the White House, backed by the U.S. military in dress uniforms.

This blog has repeatedly noted that Hollywood seems to have supplanted religion’s place in American culture. Now with the First Lady, in the role of Queen Michelle, tying herself to Hollywood the way presidents used to grab onto God and religion at key moments in our history, who can doubt Hollywood's triumph?

Much of this is due to organized religion’s decline. Listen to Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton, charged to be the keeper of his employer’s conscience, justifying a Post reporter’s attack on religious conservatives:
most journalists have a problem with religionists telling people what they can and cannot do. We want to write words, read books, watch movies, listen to music, and have sex and babies pretty much when, where and how we choose.
In other words, at one of America’s top newspapers we now call people of faith “religionists” (as opposed to socialists?), while defending “if it feels good, do it” morality.

And what of Republicans, who still tend to take organized religion seriously. What role can they possibly hope to play in America’s current “cool” and “hipster” culture? Liberal sage James Fallows, in the Atlantic magazine he once ran, pointed out that “Ridicule is generally more threatening to a public figure or a public idea than ‘logical’ rebuttal is. That's why Colbert and the Daily Show matter.” (The Daily Show and Colbert Report dominate late night TV among viewers 18-to-34, as well as among young men.) Fallows is right, so why should there be serious talk (as we just attempted) about culture, religion, values, and morality at all?

Over 50 years ago, Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow famously called television a “vast wasteland.” There are notable exceptions, but generally Hollywood movies and TV have sunk lower since, to today’s open sewer.  Don’t we think of Rome as marked by excesses of immorality and violence that sent it into decline, with Emperor Caligula’s reign an especially low point?

Yet earlier this month, Justin Timberlake hosted Saturday Night Live. Timberlake, a respected member of Hollywood’s performing elite, ran through a series of tasteless, raunchy skits, topped by one where he played Caligula as a sympathetic figure! How low can they go? Hollywood, though ostensibly in jest, admiring Rome at its worst.

Timberlake sympathetically playing sadist Caligula touches the most objectionable side of Hollywood’s Rome-like decadence--its affinity for gratuitous violence. The Newtown massacre last December raised anew the possible link between mass media violence and impressionable potential mass killers. And once again, Hollywood, at least in the form of Tinseltown’s Vincent Bruzzese, president of the motion picture group at the market research firm Ipsos, brushed off any responsibility for the consequences of their work:
If [violence] didn't make money, studios wouldn't make these movies. It comes down to what's the biggest audience we can get for the best film we can make. The studios would put out a four-hour documentary about how to garden tulips if they thought they'd have a $100-mil opening weekend. But it doesn't work that way.
So that’s it. From the industry that routinely attacks capitalism’s greed, a straight defense of violence when it feeds Hollywood’s greed.

Happy Easter.

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