The Politics of Hollywood

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Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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46 Responses

  1. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    Excellent piece Elias. And I agree with you’re overall point.

    I do take strong issue with that reading of The Dark Knight Rises though, in terms of being unequivocally caught up in the politics of the individual. The movie certainly does challenge us with the breakdown of institutions and systems, and how the sacrifice of individuals can fill the resulting void and patch up the resulting cracks. But the reductionist “Batman as savior” reading doesn’t necessarily do the “Batman as anybody” theme justice.

    Your right that the film skews pro individualism, but it’s a kind of selfless individualism that is more complex than one man saves one city.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The Politics of the Summer Blockbuster are the Politics of Getting Them To Come Back For More And Then Buy The DVD (and, as you point out, the best way to do that is to have people leave the theater happy).

    There are a lot of really interesting movies in between… the movies that you watch once and, yeah, probably would never want to see again but leave you shaken, or changed, or thoughtful. If they make a profit, it’s a surprise to everybody *OR* a masterpiece of figuring out how to target a niche audience and turn a two-million dollar budget into a four million dollar gross.

    From what I understand, the old philosophy of Hollywood was something to the effect of “make a bunch of 10 million dollar movies and have them all make 20 million… if we lose one here or there, no biggie”. You can afford to tell an unpopular sermon from time to time with this philosophy. When it comes to movies that have spent 100 million dollars of a 200 million budget by the end of pre-production (actors, director, script)? You can’t *AFFORD* to do anything but give the people what they want… good and hard.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Jaybird says:

      I think there is much truth to this.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      Hollywood is too big to fail!Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      “From what I understand, the old philosophy of Hollywood was something to the effect of “make a bunch of 10 million dollar movies and have them all make 20 million… if we lose one here or there, no biggie”. You can afford to tell an unpopular sermon from time to time with this philosophy. When it comes to movies that have spent 100 million dollars of a 200 million budget by the end of pre-production (actors, director, script)? You can’t *AFFORD* to do anything but give the people what they want… good and hard.”

      This was during the studio system days. Keep in mind that there was no TV so people went out to the movies several times a week instead of staying home. The actors worked for studios and were often not free agents so a caliber star like Gregory Peck could appear in Spellbound and then something completely forgettable and bad.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      Also, Hollywood did not really have the technology to justify spending 100 million dollars or more on a movie until fairly recently.Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “The filmmaker’s cardinal sin, in Mueller’s telling, is a “lack of any concept of popular power.” Gotham is concrete, buildings, tunnels, alleyways; not families, not friends, not communities, not people.”

    Well, but that *is* the foundation of the Batman mythos. Born at the very time a concentrated urban industrial society first started to wane (ha!), and then coming into its modern incarnation in the shadow of the New York City Robert Moses had wrought. A city a monument to its former self, with top-down mechanistic design being the default assumption of the ruling elites and outside observers.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to Kolohe says:

      underscoring a lack of popular power in a superhero universe is kinda like pointing out a lack of women in gay porn.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:

      Why does everyone see Gotham as New York. I always thought of Gotham as being more like Chicago.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        On the TV show, it’s clearly in Southern California.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

          True. I was thinking of the moodier and more modern Batman. Though I do suspect that part of my reasoning is that I am heavily influenced by the Christopher Reeve Superman movies in which Metropolis is clearly a stand-in for New York.

          To me Gotham has always been a darker Chicago. A sprawling City that rises out of cornfields but gets rural pretty quickly once outside of the city limits.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to NewDealer says:

            It’s generally been I think Metropolis: New York by Day, Gotham: New York by Night.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

            The inspiration in the comics is generally New York City. Ditto for Metropolis (which was originally supposed to be modeled after Cleveland, if I recall). A couple writers or editors tried to make distinctions, saying something like “Metropolis is New York north/south of [somethingsomething] street and Gotham is New York south north of [somethingsomething].”

            Or, in language that this non-New Yorker can understand, Metropolis is New York City during the day and Gotham is New York City at night.

            Of course, that all came about when NYC had a serious crime problem.

            Anyhow, they play fast and loose with a lot of this stuff. According to my old atlas, Gotham was in New Jersey, I think. (Metropolis in Delaware.) Central City and Keystone were midwestern, though have been placed in Ohio/Pennsylvania and Missouri/Kansas, two kind of different parts of the midwest. So, for any particular writer, it might be more Chicago.Report

            • Gotham and Metropolis (and Starling City and Bay City) do not have to be in any particular state. Indeed, it’s better if, like Springfield, they are in no particular state. They do need to be in the USA.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

              Superman’s creators met while going to high school in Cleveland.

              I suppose I am just being stubborn because both cities exist in the same universe so I want them to be inspired by different cities.

              The idea of Metropolis being in Delaware is kind of cute.

              That being said, I get the hybrid feeling. There is also something very midwestern feeling about Metropolis.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

                I suppose I am just being stubborn because both cities exist in the same universe so I want them to be inspired by different cities.

                It’s kind of an odd thing, when I was reading comics, to have Gotham, Metropolis, and NYC all three coexisting together.

                Yeah, I found the Delaware thing interesting. I suppose it makes sense. I mean, it’s not like the state is presently doing anything. So why not go ahead and put Metropolis there?

                (It actually falls into the category of things that mildly annoyed me about the DCU mostly because there’s something wrong with me. These extra cities would, I’d think, change the political landscape somewhat. As would superheroes more generally. So I found it just wrong when the realworld president was president in the story. Even in a world of flying Kryptonians, I just found that unlikely. And that’s leaving aside that Bill Clinton served a term of what must have been less than two years in comic book time.)Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

                “Yeah, I found the Delaware thing interesting. I suppose it makes sense. I mean, it’s not like the state is presently doing anything. So why not go ahead and put Metropolis there?”

                DuPont must have gotten really big in the DCU.Report

              • The population of the US in the DCU must be at least 30-50 million larger than in reality given Metropolis and Gotham, nevermind the rest of the country or even large twin cities of those two like Bludhaven.Report

              • That might be a conservative estimate, though it would depend on whether cities that have stopped being represented (like Midway City) still exist or not. I’d say at least another 30m, but possibly more than 50.Report

              • To be fair…some cities were destroyed.

                Bludhaven, Coast City, etc…so maybe there’s just a lot more attrition and moving around.Report

              • The politics of the DCU is also very strange…

                I guess W’s two terms never happened and Obama succeeded Suarez?Report

              • Is Obama president now? Boo! I was happy when they redirected away from real presidents. In my mind, it’s cooler if the president is a character in and of himself/herself.

                Bush was definitely president at some point. However, given the difference in time lapse between the real world and DCU time, it appears that a presidential term is something like nine months. (Technically, it was Bush who left Gotham City to rot in No Man’s Land, though they didn’t show it was him doing so.)

                Both of these things, along with the changing of the electoral map and an electorate that has to be constantly fatigued/paranoid/scared, would present a very different political landscape.

                Along these lines, I always thought they should have made Wade Eiling the in-universe president. In that world, it’d be a guy like him that would get elected.Report

              • Avatar Pyre in reply to Will Truman says:

                I believe it was Mark Gruenwald that wrote a piece on depicting government officials and how tricky that can be. Comics can still be hit for libel suits and doubly so if a government official is involved. Even Marvel, with it’s all-pervasive anti-Bush message in Civil War, mostly made Tony Stark the strawman for Bush era policies. Bush was relegated to an appearance in Cable & Deadpool where Cable told Bush that he should try being a follower rather than a leader. (Oddly enough, Deadpool actually was the one who made the best points during that issue.)

                DC, being less inclined to soapboxing than Joe Quesada’s Marvel, just made Luthor president in case anyone wanted to do any soapboxing inbetween Darkseid invading and the whole “Prelude to Road to Countdown to War of the Infinite Final Crisis” nonsense.Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    The League has served you well. The circle is now complete. When you left you you were but the learner, now you are the master.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Stillwater says:

      This. Is. Awesome.

      So are we Jedi or Sith?

      The Sith generally get cooler costumes I think. Plus we can learn how to “Force-choke” each other over the internet.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Glyph says:

        If the prequel trilogy taught us anything (other than the fact that Jar-Jar is an abomination unto Nuggan) it’s that Jedi are A) chumps, and B) nowhere near as good as their PR suggests. As such, I vote Sith.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

        Ecch, the Jedi/Sith dichotomy was simplistic Lucas-ian manichaeanism. I wouldn’t choose Sith: their villainy is too cut and dried. Villains can’t be wholly villainous. Such villains are boring.

        But the Jedi are equally simplistic: look at the dialogue. Obi-wan Kenobi as Desert Prophet might have been more interesting if he’d been more involved in Luke’s upbringing. Yoda was hardly inspirational: he was just a cranky old sensei. And there were no women in the ranks of the Jedi.

        Lucas was a lousy cribber, approaching the level of a plagiarist. He never really understood religion, especially not the mentality of taking holy orders.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Jordan did it better.Report

        • Avatar Anne in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Blaise P I have a WAAAY off topic question that I think you can answer (if I remember correctlyyouhave lived in Louisiana). My husband and I were having a discussion and he asked what is there a difference between a Cajun and a Creole. I said I think there is but could not articulate what that difference is.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Anne says:

            Creole originally meant “born in the New World”, to the distinction of immigrants. It was possible, in the early days of Louisiana, to be white and creole. The Cajuns, or Acadien, were white people of French heritage. Over time, as the slaves and whites intermingled, they produced a distinct non-white culture: this is what we now call Creole. Since these mixed-race children were born in the New World, they were called Creole.

            But there’s another distinction: Cajuns mostly live west of New Orleans and their cuisine is very different than the Creole cuisine of New Orleans. New Orleans, despite all the tourist hype, is not really French. It’s Italian. For some reason, the Italians took to the tomato and incorporated it into their dishes with more gusto than the Cajuns. But that’s just one set of opinions.Report

            • Avatar Anne in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Thanks Blaise do the two groups get along? or would you offend one by calling them the other?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Anne says:

                They do get along quite well, though they are distinct cultures. Case in point: Whiskey River Landing, the ne-plus-ultra of Cajun music, features plenty of Creole music, a.k.a. Zydeco or as I’ve more commonly heard it, LiLa. Corey Ledet has been nominated for a Grammy and he will be playing Whiskey River Landing. You’ll see the Creoles in their white cowboy hats, starched shirts and pressed jeans, quite distinct from Cajuns. Elegant people, far more distinguished than their laid-back Cajun counterparts, though there’s elegance enough in the Cajun tradition.Report

  5. Avatar James K says:

    An interesting article Elias.

    I think a lot of the reason for the individualism of Hollywood is how person-oriented people are. Things are much more real to people if they have a face attached, so Hollywood gives them one.

    This doesn’t just bias Hollywood toward individualism – for example there are very few good depictions of free market economics in fiction because the interaction of impersonal forces makes for a bad story.Report

  6. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I would say that Hollywood is really the ultimate example of the old saw of a capitalist being “the person who will sell you the rope that you hang him with.”

    The purpose of Hollywood is to make money by telling stories. Lots of money. They will tell any story if you can convince the right people that such a story can be sold to the American people and around the world at a profit.

    Hollywood would like nothing more than to be able to produce all things for all people. Liberal movies for liberals, conservative movies for conservatives.Report

  7. Avatar Pyre says:

    “In Lincoln, it’s only through the singular grace, wisdom, and humanity of the 16th president that the greatest evil in American history, an evil few but he sees with true clarity, is finally put to rest.”

    And that evil was VAMPIRES!!!

    Wait, wrong movie.Report

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