Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hollywood vs. Society, playing out yet again

It's long been a cliché to laugh at the obliviousness of Pauline Kael, The New Yorker's film critic alleged to have said that "I don't know how Nixon got elected. No one I know voted for him."1 The idea of a disconnect between the "elite," however defined, and their public is certainly not a recent concept. And the sycophancy surrounding the movers and shakers in Hollywood was an old story long ago2.

Which to some extent explains, I suppose, the monstrous disconnect between the Hollywood "elite" and the rest of society on the Roman Polanski story. The gulf between the way that Hollywood looks at the world, and the way the rest of us look at the world, is exemplified by the comments of Harvey Weinstein:
Weinstein Co. co-founder Harvey Weinstein, who is circulating the pro-Polanski petition...said that people generally misunderstand what happened to Polanski at sentencing. He's not convinced public opinion is running against the filmmaker and dismisses the categorization of Hollywood as amoral. "Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion," Weinstein said. "We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11 [ed. note - !!!!!]. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe."


The more I look at this quote, the more I realize what a perfect representation of the situation it is. Hollywood is in the business of symbols and illusion. What does he offer as evidence of Hollywood's moral compass? Symbols! "We did a telethon!"

This is an industry that's spent the last 8 years cranking out unwatchable films depicting American soldiers as evil invaders, or helpless victims, and the US Military as the source of all the trouble in the world, while that same military protects their right to make them. They take millions of dollars in salaries to make movies and TV shows bashing business executives as evil, greedy exploiters. They fly around the world on private jets making statements about how people have to consume less to protect the environment. They decry traditional values, selling promiscuous sex, both the hetero- and homosexual varieties, as normative values and virginity until marriage as a "hang-up", but wear AIDs ribbons at self-congratulatory awards ceremonies so people will know how compassionate they are about sexually-transmitted diseases. Because it isn't so much about what you do that determines your value in the world - it's having the right positions, and being seen with the right people, and showing the right symbols of your virtue.

In short, everything they do is about symbols and symbolism. To them, the details of the case aren't important - what's important is that someone like them, someone talented, someone used to getting whatever he wants when he wants it, a fellow artist, is being pursued by the law because of some technical violation of the values of the traditionalists. I mean, the girl was in the Jacuzzi, right? He didn't actually force her to drink the champagne, and even if he did, well, she could have left or something. She stayed, not because she was drugged (and without a car [or a drivers license - she was, after all, 13 years old]) but because she wanted it! (When you're an important Hollywood bigshot, they all want it, right?) I suspect that even Mr. Weinstein, if one could somehow force him to answer truthfully, would concede that forced anal rape of a 13-year old girl is actually a bad thing3, but he clearly doesn't see Mr. Polanski's act in those terms, despite that being exactly what happened.

So Mr. Weinstein, brave fellow that he is, follows Hollywood's moral compass of compassion and helping the guy in trouble with the law, and decides to start a petition to have Mr. Polanski freed. He gathers his staff, issue the order, and the Yes-Men say yes, and the Nodders nod, and he calls the other Hollywood big shots. And their Yes-Men yes, and their Nodders nod, and everyone's heart is in the right place, and oh, it feels so good to be so virtuous, fighting for the great artist against the Xians and the right-wingers and the people who can't see past their own narrow prejudices. And obviously, there's no down-side to this, because everyone that one works with and everyone that one sees, at least the important people, are all going to be in agreement, so everyone can all be brave together, facing the slings and arrows of the little, unimportant people that one doesn't care about, except that those slings and arrows emphasize how very, very brave one is being. Well, that's a boost for the old morale, all right. And hey, maybe everyone can get together for a telethon next week for relief for all those naked people whose huts got washed away by the typhoon last week, wherever it was, that George Bush caused with his global warming and polar bear hunting and genocide in Iraq!

Let me just close with one comment for Mr. Weinstein. Sir, your moral compass is not pointing in the same direction that mine is. And I'm going to keep mine.




1 - This characterization turns out to be unfair to Ms. Kael. She said something very like it in a lecture environment, but she was commenting on her isolation from Mr. Nixon's supporters rather than evidencing obliviousness to it.
I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them.

By ISRAEL SHENKER. (1972, December 28). 2 Critics Here Focus on Films As Language Conference Opens. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. NJ68. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 93431756).


2 - P.G. Wodehouse's story, The Nodder, published in 1935, uses this brilliantly, as Mr. Mulliner describes the position held by his distant connexion Wilmot:
It is not easy to explain to the lay mind the extremely intricate ramifications of the personnel of a Hollywood motion-picture organization. Putting it as briefly as possible, a Nodder is something like a Yes-Man, only lower in the social scale. A Yes-Man's duty is to attend conferences and say "Yes." A Nodder's, as the name implies, is to nod. The chief executive throws out some statement of opinion, and looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Man to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the second Yes-Man - or Vice-Yesser, as he is sometimes called - and the junior Yes-Man. Only when all the Yes-Men have yessed, do the Nodders begin to function. They nod.




3 - I'm not 100% positive of that. I saw a local anchorman, a week ago, start to say something negative about John Phillips, realize that he might come off as judgmental, and soften the comment, or add a "some might say" or something. So, for some people, even condemning the act of drugging and raping your own daughter is a little too moralistic. After all, it isn't like he made an ad for Sarah Palin or voted for prop. 8 or something...

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