Hollywood Impressionism Distorts American Reality

The evening after the Academy Awards seems a good time to reflect on Hollywood’s relentless political message. Tomorrow, I will follow-up with a post on Argo, which won this year’s award for best picture. I will show that Argo is not as historically accurate or politically neutral as it seems.

In countless ways, in countless films, Hollywood promotes its worldview and, for the last 30 years, that has meant portraying our country in a critical, damaging light. The United States, in this view, is an arrogant and corrupt, often imperialistic and militaristic, world power. It fails to appreciate and accommodate other cultures, refuses to recognize the benefits of international cooperation, and places too much emphasis on its own democratic principles and way of life. Conservatives and Republicans bear the brunt of Hollywood blame; they are routinely caricatured as jingoistic, bigoted, and ill-informed. Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, are almost always generously portrayed.

Let’s look at some of the movies that, directly or indirectly, have advanced this point of view. 

A Few Good Men, The General’s Daughter, High Crimes, Murder at 1600, Enemy of the State and No Way Out all portrayed corruption at the highest levels of government, whether within the White House, the military, the CIA , the FBI, or the NSC. Under Fire, Bulworth, JFK, Missing, State of Siege, Nicaragua and The Quiet American – taken as a whole – portrayed American foreign policy as irredeemably aggressive and selfish. Dave, Dick, The American President, Clear and Present Danger, Nick of Time, The Birdcage and The Contender were all pleasingly simplistic in their (barely concealed) anti-Republican message. With its timely release in front of the 2000 presidential election — and its portrayal of Republicans as mean-spirited extremists — The Contender’s latent message was that Americans should vote against George W. Bush and for Al Gore. Movies that targeted President Bush while he was in office included W, Death of a President — and, to make sure children got the message, Scary Movie 4 and Transformers.

Thus does bigger-than-life Hollywood try to enlighten us mortals, and to influence our politics. Cleverly crafted fiction appeals to our thought processes as if it were fact. Info-movies distort history in the name of dramatizing it. It’s as if we were incapable of thinking clearly about politics until our brain cells are stimulated by Hollywood’s domestic and foreign policy experts. Therein lies the problem. They are not experts, but ideologues. Most movie producers, directors, and writers have extremely limited knowledge of our history and political system, and are guilty of the very narrow-mindedness of which they accuse others.

We Americans try not to be manipulated by the subtext of the silver screen. But, we should think twice about our movie-watching obsession, for the images are powerful and they are designed to create a false impression. They are designed to make our country, an entire political party, and a large segment of the American population look much, much worse than they are.