John Doyle, great television columnist for The Globe and Mail, recently started an article with this wonderful declaration:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Hollywood and the entire U.S. entertainment industry teems with people who are described in the U.S. political vernacular as “liberals.”
He goes on to explain that this is incorrect, and that many television performers are deeply conservative. The adjective he uses is “nutbar.” .And yet the notion that Hollywood is liberal persists. According to a study conducted by a religious think tank:
Nearly half of Americans (45%) say Hollywood and the makers of movies and TV entertainment shows treat religion unfavorably, compared with 31% who see them as neutral and 16% who believe they are friendly toward religion.
It is true that religion plays a very small role in mainstream entertainment, and when it appears, it is rarely a force for good. Despite that, the general tone of many films is conservative. Romances still follow the literally classic new comedy format of traditional couple formation, no matter how outrageous the blocking events become (I’m thinking Bridesmaids here). Disney’s earliest princess sang that one day her prince would come, but the newer crop still want to be up there (Ariel) or out of here (Belle) because that’s where the best men are. Time and again the spunky independent woman turns into mush once the man comes along.
Perhaps the best example of this is (the beautiful) Caitlin Clarke’s character in Dragonslayer. When the film begins, she is the brave village lad who leads an expedition to hire a sorcerer. Once he’s brought back to the village, she reveals herself to be a girl, and is soon in need of rescue. Keeping with traditional roles, her father makes a sword for the young sorcerer, while she makes a shield. (However, it is at least a nod at equality – in Arthurian legends, the sheath was at least as powerful as the sword).
Meanwhile, the essential trope of the action/western/spy/caper/thriller/road/horror movie is the individual (usually male) hero who restores social order because institutions and groups are powerless and/or corrupt. It’s not unusual for this hero to be a Christ figure. The one group that may be useful is the American military – helping out in Transformers and Avatar, among many others.
So if Hollywood is conservative, why is it often accused of being liberal? Here’s a theory: Suppose you wanted to make liberal people into conservatives. You are not going to reach them by blatantly praising conservatism. Instead, you promise rebellion, freedom, artistic risk – all the things that drive conservatives away – but you don’t need them anyway. Then, once you have the liberals attention and sympathy, you twist the plot: The free thinker is punished, the free woman married off. Social order is restored, and all the good people in movie land are happy. You will be too, if you submit to order. Okay, this may be a little paranoid, but it does account for some Hollywood paradoxes.