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April 9, 2001
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Is Hollywood right-wing? Mark Cousins thinks it is, and his arguments are impressively barking.
posted by Mocata (32 comments total)

 
mark cousins takes verbosity to new limits.
he over analises everything and is an instant switch off whenever his mug appears on the telly.
posted by insular at 5:22 AM on April 9, 2001


Impressive? Hardly, it all comes from his interpretations of these films, he names 3 names and a few films and he tells us that Hollywood is "right-wing". "Right-wing" as if Lynch, Scorsese and Coppola all come to the evil right-wing summit, held in a dr.Strangelove type of war room to discuss strategies on how to brainwash your kids into right wing propaganda, where they'd have you drinking hard grain water and going to bible studies after school. Right, that must be it, and ofcourse Ford's dead ghost fills in whenever he can.


The first paragraph there was much more convincing. I don't know if Hollywood is left or right, there are a few people that can't stick to doing what they are being paid to do, directing, acting or so on and have this need to stuff their much unwanted opinions down your throat, though I'm glad it's mostly off screen.

Didn't John Cusack campaign with Gore on the road though?
posted by tiaka at 5:38 AM on April 9, 2001


Mark Cousins is in love with his own vocabulary. Alex Cox was much better on Moviedrome, mainly because he introduced the film rather than trying to impress us with half-baked 'analysis' and long words he barely knows the meaning of.
Some of those conclusions are shaky at best.
posted by Markb at 6:01 AM on April 9, 2001


Less has never been said in that many words. I couldn't bring myself to read all of it, but his supporting material is nothing more than overinterpretation of a few films, from what I gathered.

I don't really think it matters if Hollywood is liberal or conservative, as long as they make good movies. That said, most people would probably agree that Hollywood is openly liberal, and the few conservatives that it has, do not speak up.
posted by Witold at 6:48 AM on April 9, 2001


I don't really think it matters if Hollywood is liberal or conservative, as long as they make good movies.

By the same logic, since I don't believe Hollywood makes good movies (as a general statement, of course there are exceptions), I should think it matters if Hollywood is liberal or conservative? In fact, I do think it matters. Hollywood broadcasts its message around the world to millions. Thankfully, most of the movies/messages are pretty stupid. And also, thankfully (at least in my opinion thankfully), Hollywood is quite obviously left-leaning. This article made zero good points whatsoever.
posted by u.n. owen at 7:02 AM on April 9, 2001


By and large, Hollywood's filmmakers are liberals. The studio execs are conservative. Mark Cousins mentions Reagan and Heston as exceptions, and digs up a few others to re-enforce his point. But the evidence is hardly conclusive.

But the celebration of freedom, taken to an extreme, becomes blind libertarianism. It refuses any concept of solidarity or community, or engagement with other values. It is the liberty of the right.

Says who? Leftists can be libertarian (hence the root of the word "liberal"), and the right can be authoritarian. Americans value their freedom, and their movies reflect this. All he proves is that Hollywood is to the right of the Communist party, which is no staggering surprise.
posted by Loudmax at 7:07 AM on April 9, 2001


He obviously likes to hear himself talk:

"The point here is not to tarnish Lynch's reputation, rather it is to say that it is his very illiberality--his to-hell-with-you go-it-alone libertarianism--which is the source of his artistic frisson"

and

"Rio Bravo is the ur-movie of isolationism, a filmic, Shangri La fantasy of right-wing brotherhood."

I, however, couldn't stand it.
posted by jpoulos at 7:10 AM on April 9, 2001


Stephen Fry did a great take off on Mark Cousins the other night on Room 101, anyone catch that? :-) 'There's a certain playful-ness-ness-ness about this epic, this allegory, this imagery, this...'
posted by prolific at 7:26 AM on April 9, 2001


Prol: I thought he was doing Tom Paulin, shows what I know.
posted by Markb at 7:51 AM on April 9, 2001


I think that Cousins' arguments don't really convince in the American construction of left versus right, but they make a certain amount of sense in the (post-war) European construction of left versus right.

What he regards as "right-wing" is a certain radical individualism and rejection of collective pieties. In Europe, where the left has fought to reduce aristocratic elites in favor a Socialistic bargain in which enterprise and iconoclastic rebellion are swapped for security and order, the John Wayne type movies really are a huge blow against the left.

In the US, the post-war fight of the left has really been about self-expression and self-actualization, where the triumph of the individual over social organization and common public values has been glamorized. Where, in Europe, the expansion of public welfare in the 1950s and 1960s was seen as the victory of the working class over the hereditary classes of bankers and landowners, in the US, the expansion of public welfare in the 1960s and 1970s was seen as the victory of sexually liberated single mothers over censorious churches and communities who would force them not to have babies before they found husbands who would work to support to them.

"Forrest Gump," which he uses as a touchstone of the seems-left-but-is-right contemporary cinema, is actually a great illustration of the dichotomy. Cousins sees it as a Euro-right-wing tract, when, in fact, it is (substantially) an American-left-wing tract.

The things it criticizes are all institutions gone wrong: the Army, the Black Panter Party, the "post-hippie cool" generation of the 70s/80s (where his one-and-only caught AIDS) -- and the things it praises are all about people rising above these institutions in moments of personal apotheosis or transformation: Gump's heroism in the rescue during the VC attack in VietNam, Lieutenant Dan's serial transformations -- first, lifting himself out of the emotional paralysis enabled by disability pension, and second, marrying an Asian woman after releasing his Army-inspired bitterness at the "gooks", and Gump's lady's ability to seek personal peace and redemption after realizing the emptiness of her old life.
posted by MattD at 8:04 AM on April 9, 2001


Not sure I agree with the article, but the maybe it's just because the bigger mouthes of the groups are the liberals. And this is just a statement, I'm not busting on the liberal side of them, just a statement that you do hear more from the left side, at least I have. I don't really notice the Mel Gibson's (very conservative, hated Clinton) or the Drew Cary's (moderate conservative)'s coming out and publicly speaking on the right-wing half, but just mostly notice the Barbara Streisand's, Tom Hanks, **Martin Sheen**, Julia Roberts of the hollywood industry.

Every one here and in the world has their own view, just because you have money and power in hollywood does not make you a political analyst. I agree with U.N. Owen, it should matter to a point, but I'm not sure if hollywood goes past that point yet.
posted by the_0ne at 8:04 AM on April 9, 2001


Once you wade through all that... verbosity... you're left with the essential problem of this article and academic film criticism of Hollywood in general: it takes " American cinema" far more seriously than it deserves. Hollywood movies are made for one and only one motive - profit - and since Cousins restricts himself to the product of that industry and leaves aside any other type of film (perhaps made for more artistic or political purposes), his thesis just sounds silly. A Hollywood movie is only made because very, very large corporations decide that many, many people will pay to see it, either on screen in a theater or via advertising revenue when it is televised. The only time a Hollywood film will appear to advance a "right wing political agenda" is when they believe the mood of the ticket-buying public is such that more people will pay for that than a "left wing" movie...
posted by m.polo at 8:35 AM on April 9, 2001


The things it criticizes are all institutions gone wrong: the Army, the Black Panter Party, the "post-hippie cool" generation of the 70s/80s

I count one institution.
posted by lileks at 8:41 AM on April 9, 2001


just because you have money and power in hollywood does not make you a political analyst.

a few people that can't stick to doing what they are being paid to do, directing, acting or so on and have this need to stuff their much unwanted opinions down your throat, though I'm glad it's mostly off screen.


everyone has the right to express their political opinions. there's nothing wrong with celebrities doing that. it's no different than any one of us stating an opinion here.

the only real difference is that celebrities have the fame and the wealth that buys them access to politicians and to a larger audience of the masses. news services and bulletin boards help it along, reporting and repeating whatever it was the celebrity said simply because of the person's celebrity.
posted by tolkhan at 9:22 AM on April 9, 2001


"Right" and "left" are of course European concepts in the first place, imported to America by . . . gosh, was it journalists first, or ideologues themselves? Not sure. In any case, the terms are metaphors for past seating arrangements in French Assembly. "Conservatism" was largely a creation of Edmund Burke, who feared the radicalism of the French Revolution and the destruction of the monarchy, etc.

Now, what on Earth does all this mean to America? Not very much. "Conservatism" here means conserving classic liberalism, liberalism is tied to populist ideas and the New Deal. Both are committed in different ways to expanding individual freedoms. But you can change it around willy-nilly. Is being against urban sprawl, say, liberal or conservative? Why is being in favor of historical preservation now considered liberal in so many quarters? Is being anti-smoking conservative or liberal? Is it a moral issue or an individual rights issue? Could a stance in favor of its being moral or individual rights-oriented be considered conservative in either case?

In other words, "right" and "left" can often be just so much crap. And few Americans think in such terms anyway. Only politicos, college students, radio talk show hosts, pundits, journalists, academics and Internet posters do.
posted by raysmj at 9:40 AM on April 9, 2001


tolkhan: I totally agree with you, however, there's some people out there that actually believe that because these people have the fame and wealth they can dictate to them how things should be. That they're sort of better than us lolely people that don't live in mansions and don't drive $375,000 cars.

The fame and wealth only gives them the access to the politicians, doesn't make their political beliefs any more right or more wrong than mine or yours.

I can guarentee you that if I submitted a full thesis on my political views and sent it to foxnews or msnbc they would look at it, go nice and throw it right in the trash. This is not the case in the last few weeks and I'm sure before this for Martin Sheen, Barbara Streisand and Julia Roberts and I'm sure there many others I've missed both left-wing and right-wing.
posted by the_0ne at 9:44 AM on April 9, 2001


Come on, we all know how conservative and right-leaning the arts community has always been.
I agree with you, Mattd. He seems to be interpreting some of these films very differently than I would....or even more film theorists would.
posted by Doug at 10:02 AM on April 9, 2001


Actually, the thing I find most annoying about Cousins' article is that he is saying things that aren't very original, and acting like he has discovered some great secret. None of his readings of particular films, from Rio Bravo to Taxi Driver, would be at all surprising to film scholars. Right or wrong, they are all pretty standard views. To extrapolate from these particular readings to a grandiose conclusion that "filmmaking, in the very nature of its medium, is inherently right-wing" is kind of ridiculous.
posted by Rebis at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2001


The article would be more convincing had he included a study of Catch-22 and the Tarzan films and Charlie Chan.
posted by Postroad at 10:23 AM on April 9, 2001


He lost me instantly with a huge factual error about Eraserhead:

It's about a man in a disturbing urban landscape who gets impregnated by his girlfriend and gives birth to an embryonic mutant.

Uh, WHAT? The man doesn't get impregnated by the woman-- the movie's weird, but it's not weird in that particular way. The girlfriend has the baby. How are you supposed to take his arguments seriously when he doesn't even get the plot right?
posted by Zettai at 10:27 AM on April 9, 2001


Plus, he doesn't mention the really obvious conservative values in evidence in practically all action movies and/or horror films.
posted by Zettai at 10:29 AM on April 9, 2001


Hollywood is quite obviously left-leaning. thankfully (at least in my opinion thankfully), anyone with a brain of their own couldn't care less what the Streisands and Sheens think.
posted by gtr at 11:04 AM on April 9, 2001


doesn't make their political beliefs any more right or more wrong than mine or yours.

no it doesn't, and that's not what i was saying. money buys access, access grants influence. undue influence, to be sure.

unfortunately, their celebrity status grants them a great deal of influence over people. you and i may think for ourselves, but most people don't. people are sheep.
posted by tolkhan at 11:13 AM on April 9, 2001


By "institution" I meant something broader than a literal, organized entity, a force with some common values / rules to which members must subscribe / obey in order to obtain its benefits.
posted by MattD at 12:04 PM on April 9, 2001


tolkhan said: "unfortunately, their celebrity status grants them a great deal of influence over people. you and i may think for ourselves, but most people don't. people are sheep"

I agree with you here Tolkhan, and I have to say I have wrestled with this particular point a bit: Do filmmakers and artists in general have a responsibility inherent in their art? One film that really brought that issue up was Fight Club. I thought the word "dangerous" particularly appropriate for that movie. Not because it showed clubs of people beating each other up, but because it was in fact a hugely right-wing film (to use Cousins' terms) masquerading as the opposite.

The main character is shown as going against the giant corporations, but only because he is in fact a psychotic. Does the majority of the audience get that? I doubt it. It was a well made film and a great exercise for Fincher to play with the audience. But I still hear people celebrating the film as "different" and "ground-breaking". Maybe the filmic technique is different, and the lack of taste, but not the message. Nice Pixies song at the end though. (I know a lot of you probably love this movie. I just happened not to. No offense intended.)

I don't know. I guess I still have to work on that "responsibility" thing, and I know that it may sound elitist (or at least misanthropic) but most people just aren't that smart or perceptive. If a film is released through the Hollywood mechanism, it will most likely be seen worldwide by millions. How is there not a responsibility inherent in that? People are sheep and they do blindly follow what they see in film. If a film is released independently, the mainstream will not see it and the responsibility is lessened. But then...hmm...I guess most indie filmmakers wouldn't mind that kind of platform and that kind of money, and then their responsibility grows.

I think I just started debating myself.

Does anyone see what I'm saying here? Maybe I shouldn't try to think after moving house all weekend.
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:47 PM on April 9, 2001


"[Fight Club] was in fact a hugely right-wing film . . . masquerading as the opposite."

Amen! The movie resonates with (many) viewers because it articulates an alienated state that they recognize (from experience). The movie provides a fantasy catharsis at the end, when the (spoiler alert) credit card HQs all get blown up, but not before it's distanced itself *completely* from its primary "revolutionary" character.

Loudmax's comment, above, "All [this] proves is that Hollywood is to the right of the Communist party, which is no staggering surprise," could certainly be applied to my entire analysis. Although I'm not a Communist, it's true that just about everything to the right of the Communist party looks pretty far right. (Hell, NPR strikes me as too conservative.)
posted by jbushnell at 6:03 PM on April 9, 2001



AMEN tolkhan

I like to refer to them as sheeple. :)
posted by the_0ne at 8:37 PM on April 9, 2001


right or left, forrest gump was a crock.
posted by lagado at 9:03 PM on April 9, 2001


Actually, Forrest Gump was based on a book by Winston Groom. The Fight Club was also a book, which begat Fight Club, the movie (which yes, I couldn't stand either, but largely for its wanting to have it both ways and it's man-do-we-have-street-cred-or-what feel). Anyway, based on the above, I can say without qualms that all American literature is right-wing, especially given that much of it springs from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is all about the individualism thing. Then there are all those books questioning modernity, such as The Great Gatsby, Walden, almost all of Faulkner, etc. But don't Faulker and Fitzgerald question individualism too?

Methinks, reading the posts from today and mulling the essay over a bit more, that the author was just trying to keep liberal American movie fans from basking in the glow of what they feel to be the medium's righteousness. A prime candidate for overpraised-by-leftwing-hepsters set treatment, for instance, if one must point them out, is In the Company of Men. Its questioning of rugged male individualism (in the midst of condemning the homogenization of the American landscape) is informed by an extremely conservative theology, but you'd never know that to hear from the hosannas it brought from the liberal cineasts who thought it so unapologetically true.

Anyway, again, it's all European, the whole right-left thing, more than it is American. Nice to be reminded of that.
posted by raysmj at 10:50 PM on April 9, 2001


Then there are all those books questioning modernity, such as The Great Gatsby, Walden, almost all of Faulkner, etc. But don't Faulker and Fitzgerald question individualism too?

Heh, from what I read of the movie article, I don't think you'd want to get that guy started on Thoreau. Tell me, does this or does this not sound like libertarian propaganda:

"I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least,' and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically... Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient."

Then add to that the whole tax evasion thing.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:26 AM on April 10, 2001


Or not digging charity. Which was maybe a smidgen more understandable in his day considering that one wanted to convert you simultaneously. Maybe I'm wrong about this. (Thoreau strikes me as having been just a bit of an a-hole.) But now Don Henley gets to go before Congress or whatever and rant about how fabulous he was and important to the environmental movement, and how Walden Pond needs protecting. Or at least he did a few years back.

It has to be remembered, though, that the world didn't have large corporate bureaucracies in H.T.'s day. Or would being worried about the onslought of the conglomerates make one anti-modernity, and consequently still right wing in this critic's eyes? Maybe so, which only means we fight over a narrow stretch of ideological ground here in the U.S. Fine with me.
posted by raysmj at 7:52 AM on April 10, 2001


"[Fight Club] was in fact a hugely right-wing film . . . masquerading as the opposite."


Amen! The movie resonates with (many) viewers because it articulates an alienated state that they recognize (from experience). The movie provides a fantasy catharsis at the end, when the (spoiler alert) credit card HQs all get blown up, but not before it's distanced itself *completely* from its primary "revolutionary" character.


Er, its 'primary "revolutionary" character' is leading a facist organisation. I'm not sure how it's right-wing (or objectionable in any way) to distance themselves from that. The film is not 'right-wing' unless you consider any expression of alienation to be right-wing, to which I take great exception. America's libertarian, rightist, business oriented culture is the cause of the alienation in this film. 'Fight Club' was a critique of this culture, its deadening obsession with consumption and mind-numbing office work, and I'm pretty sure the right in this country is not real opposed to that stuff. It keeps them in business and in power. The main character went crazy from the suffocation of the culture, and it does powerfully represent something a lot of people in this country have felt on a lesser scale (most of the time). The movie's point wasn't that only psychotics go against the large corporations--I think you've got it reversed. The large corporations made him psychotic, and that's what really resonated about that film. At the same time, it was reacting against a certain 'immature' impulse that, for instance, a lot of so-called anarchists and 'leftist' kids have, which is to mindlessly destroy anything that they oppose. Just because it has a more balanced view of it, doesn't make it conservative by any stretch. That destructive impulse discredits legitimate opposition to the culture, and in fact is very illiberal, and hence the distancing from the destructive "revolutionary" character is simply a fortification of the film's rather subversive attitude. If it had gone along with the Project Mayhem idea to the end, the accusations of facism might have been justified, but it didn't. Yeah, it tried to have it both ways somewhat, but to take the plotline too literally in this sense is a mistake--the impact of the film is visceral. The libertarian, consumerist culture drove the narrator insane--and his insanity drove him to destructiveness, but his core self remained (and in the end, triumphed). I think this is an even more powerful indictment of mainstream culture, for it shows the culture, indirectly, destroying itself.
posted by Annabel.Gill at 7:01 PM on April 11, 2001


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