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Here’s what this post, and last week’s post are about: The cultural changes in the media that Ricochet readers don’t like didn’t happen by pure accident. They took decades. We propose equally patient, persistent, but ruthlessly effective efforts to push culture in another direction over the next 20-plus years. We are chewing over how to create or capture a big chunk of tomorrow’s media and the arts. It’s a myth that nothing can be done about the entertainment business. Success is Hollywood’s definitive history teacher.
@drewinwisconsin raises a tough point. He said, “So that’s probably why it’s important to try to change or break the current system rather than try to build an equivalent system that will have no users. Consider how much power and scope Google+ had, and it still couldn’t survive against Facebook. And that’s Google — already a malignant influence.”
@sabrdance asks, “What do we mean by a believable path to get there?”
I mean believable in real world terms. A Jonathan Edwards-style Great Awakening would obviously make all of this tactical maneuvering about the mere media moot. Let’s assume that won’t happen and we end up having to do this ourselves.
My distinguished colleague @Barfly asks: “I’m looking for a characterization of the state we’re aiming for. Society is trying to digest a major transformational technology, the educational system has been broken by affluence and tolerance, of all things, and the barbarians are at the gates armed with all of the above. We can’t expect any of these things to work out in our favor unless we know where we want to go. You must have some vision of where those six or sixty things lead – is that coming in the next installment?”
Here we are, now you be the judge. We’re facing a composite force with a dozen power centers. Among many other tasks, we first need to capture one or more of them or build its equal from scratch. We’ll get around to discussing both.
What’s a Long Game to capture a mindshare of Hollywood? Create something like the Sundance Institute and duplicate their success at making it the arbiter of what’s new and valuable. Like Sundance, win the credibility and the authority to hold screenings and festivals, to present awards and honors to praise the good and shame the bad. Hollywood is particularly susceptible to this. Sprinkle our “graduates” and allies widely through the industry, like raisins in raisin bread. Do you want to make heads explode? Let either the First Lady or Ivanka take a leadership role. Hire young women to make programs and announce a continuing scholarship and apprenticeship program, ours.
In the late Eighties and early Nineties, the street locations and bare breasts of underground movies turned into something more respectable called independent cinema, and people criticized Sundance for showing and promoting films that were, they sniffed, insufficiently political. Sundance said, accurately, that they were dedicated to pushing change through the choices of what they decided to show. When that was deemed not enough, Sundance has also bankrolled some independent films that leaned forward—that is, leaned farther Left–becoming in effect a competitor of their own partners. Like Android’s regular endorsement of a Nexus-quality mobile phone, rotated through the major manufacturers, the Sundance label on an “indie” is a trusted mark of quality. They don’t have to make all the radical films, just the key ones. Smart.
How would our first generation of film projects begin? Make an early (but affordable) splash to announce you’ve arrived on the scene. There’s only, oh, about a hundred ways to respond to the bizzaroid cultural atmosphere of our times. One suggestion: we constantly see efforts to honor women in history/herstory. Fine; great idea. Do our version, because nobody thinks we’d be interested in this. Elevate forgotten, politically unconventional female intellectuals like Clare Booth Luce and Dixy Lee Ray, as well as living writers like Liz Trotta and Amity Shlaes, and make an inexpensive bio series for streaming, to inspire girls and give them different role models than today’s dull lineup.
We can and should learn our Machiavellian lessons from how the other guys did it. Face it, they were good at it; look around you. For roughly sixty years, the culture of the media calls itself progressive, however broadly defined. No one central authority set that in motion, but over the decades, time and time again, lots of helpers stepped in to change movies and TV. It didn’t happen overnight. That change ebbed and flowed. Like King Canute, we can’t command tidal forces, but like good civil engineers, we can put them to work. Turn the tide in our direction.
As in politics, the progressive surge of Hollywood’s do-your-own-thing Sixties ran aground in the stagnating, crime-plagued Seventies. A couple of major hits can shape the attitudes and moods of a decade—think of the three years that took us from “The French Connection” to “The Godfather” to “Death Wish”.
Break that down for a moment, because it shows a persistent Hollywood weakness, a tendency towards unanticipated outcomes that resembles Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. “The French Connection” was rare in 1971 for declaring “The time is right for an out-and-out thriller”. It was a trend-setter. Cop movies took the place that westerns once had on the American screen; one bold, unappreciated real man up against smug, lawyer-sanctioned lawlessness. In other words, for all its vague gestures towards the supposed futility of the war against heroin, it had an objectively conservative effect on its audience. The filmmakers didn’t mind, but they were surprised.
“The Godfather” was supposed to be based on one central idea: crime and capitalism are deeply intertwined. Comparisons between the civilian authorities and the mob are always dismissive. Mario Puzo was angry at Francis Coppola for dropping what Puzo considered the single indispensable line in the novel: “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns”. Actually, this pseudo-Marxist quip has, I have to admit, spread across the aisle. It’s not without a point. But “Godfather’s” unprecedented success wasn’t based on its acute critique of capitalist ethics and the Mafia in Cuba, but in an unexpected emotional reaction: they loved the idea of a Godfather, because in a time when the cities had become dangerous, he was a protector, the dispenser of instant, final street justice. The biggest of criminals was a welcome force against random crime, the most widely despised feature of the era. “Dirty Harry” all but gave up on due process. “Death Wish” took it farther.
Lasting change must be persistent. The Sixties wave stalled and actually reversed by the dawn of the Eighties. What made 1977’s “Star Wars” so different, a turning point for stunned Hollywood, was optimism, faith, and fun. That can and does happen. It can happen again. Think of Pixar’s hits over the past quarter century. Could you imagine, for example, animation and storytelling of Pixar’s quality, but guided by a creative team from the Babylon Bee? I could.
Google wasn’t built in a day. Suppose that when Rupert Murdoch bought Fox, he not only created a different kind of news channel but a different kind of movie studio. Suppose he teamed up with fellow conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz, who created Walden Media to produce the Narnia films. Suppose they realized they needed tech in depth to create and own streaming platforms. The biggest and most durable computer trade show of the era was owned by conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson. None of these team-ups happened. But none of it was impossible; if they’d done it, none of it could have been blocked by other media players. And if Rupe, Phil, and Shelly had figured out how to make money at it, which those three guys were rather good at doing, everyone else in Hollywood would have been aware of the development potential of all that empty real estate they’ve left fallow in the center and on the right.
That’s one of the self-limiting factors of my suggestions: If we’re right about what the public really wants, everybody will slowly, reluctantly, grudgingly compete with us. I couldn’t be more pleased at that prospect. In a century of fascism and communism, Hollywood stands proud for what the town has always believed in: plagiarism.
Of course, plutocratic bosses willing to take a chance can only carry a social movement so far. Ambitious writers who see daylight between the pillars of today’s deadening culture are obviously crucial. Form some embryonic institutions that will staff and guide the project. We already have a few, so start by supporting and enhancing them. We’ll need a farm team, its talent discovered and promoted by a media-based tribute to the success of The Federalist Society, with an unbending vision. It should be led by younger people because they’re going to have to maintain that focus, energy, and clarity of goals for more than a generation.
When you read the words “international cinema”, many of your eyes glaze over. They shouldn’t. Filmmakers, liberal or conservative, like to see sympathetic new artists, and being the gatekeepers of foreign films and TV can have an influence on tomorrow’s directors and writers greatly in excess of their effect on today’s audiences. Conservatives, and social conservatives especially, should be watching the principled defense of traditional culture in central, southern and eastern Europe. Here’s one unorthodox suggestion of a possible center of cultural resistance to today’s culture: Orthodoxy. Many of the film and TV artists of eastern and southern Europe still act in confidence that they’re part of a valid, powerful way of seeing the world.
Naturally, I’m more familiar with my own guys in places like Ireland, Poland, and Lithuania, and they too bring topics into serious films that you’d never see in American ones. But at this moment Catholic culture is crippled; I wish I could say otherwise. The posts of @skipsul make a superb case that Orthodoxy, however it compares to your denomination or religion, is one of today’s most coherent cultural forces and critics.
We’re working to promote real diversity of ideas, not merely a stale future of subsidized, institutionalized conservatism on screen. Yes, if done right our project would certainly lead to more conservative and centrist projects being considered acceptable. It might very well lead to fewer films being green-lighted purely because of their ability to insult your beliefs. But it’ll also lead to more projects that are interested in American history, pure entertainment, and yet informed by a non-PC point of view. “Back to the Future” was written by a conservative, “Apollo 13” and “Saving Private Ryan” by liberals. In 1985, 1995, and 1997, no one to my knowledge supported or rejected their insights based on those political facts. It was still possible to hold a conversation. It wasn’t yet an abyss. We don’t just need some room carved out for conservative politics in culture; we need some room carved out for no politics in culture.