"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hollywood And The Emmys–How Politics Are Destroying The Bonding Ethos of American Fantasy

“In 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”
 Image result for images 2017 emmys

The 2017 Emmys, the awards show for television, has always been an extravaganza – a glittering showcase of stardom, an over-the-top display of glitz, glamour, and personality.  It, like the Academy Awards, has always been the best and most visible expression of American culture. It has always been unashamedly middle-brow, Las Vegas, Hollywood, and all the sequins, flash, and colored neon lights of every city’s Times Square. 

Commercial television has not seen sophisticated drama since its early days.  On Thursday nights during the 1954-55, TV season, on one single evening viewers could choose between Kraft Television Theater (ABC, 1953-55), Four Star Playhouse (CBS, 1952-56), Ford Theater (NBC, 1952-56) and Lux Video Theater (NBC, 1954-57).

Image result for images kraft television theatre

Gone today is understatement, subtlety, and complex relationships. Television now reflects our impatience with what we see as archaisms.  We may have become more culturally diverse in terms of race, gender, and ethnicity; but we are still bound in one common embrace of the showy, impossibly fantastical episodes on daytime and prime-time television.

In fact the more that society becomes more diverse, divided, contentious, and openly hostile, the more we need this glorious suspension of disbelief.  Two hours of action heroes, beautiful women, luxurious sets, and happy endings are more important than ever before.

We are no different than middle class moviegoers and television viewers in India, China, Latin America, and the Middle East who want undiluted, unapologetic, romantic fantasy.  The art films of the Sixties – The Sign of the Seventh Seal, The Cranes are Flying, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Rashomon, Breathless, and a hundred others – have no audience left.  Who has the patience to parse the metaphysics of Kurosawa or the anomie of The New Wave? More importantly, what possible relevance can it have to today’s eclectic, fragmented, competitive life? And most importantly of all, why should we spend two hours of angst and reflection when all we want is escape?

Image result for images sign of the seventh seal

Hollywood has always been about escape – the producers of the great studios of the 30s and 40s knew precisely how to weave the American dream into fantasy; to offer the promise of love, romance, wealth, and beauty but within the range of possibility.  They were the geniuses of the Twentieth Century who built an industry of fantasy, dreams, and expectations.

Hollywood has always been a liberal place.  Like academics who live in a similarly politically homogeneous and insular environment, movie stars have no reason or motivation to challenge received political wisdom.  Their value rises and falls on their screen performances, not on their intellectual credentials or their mastery of political philosophy.  Movies have always been about the downtrodden who have their final vindication.  It is no surprise that actors schooled in the Hollywood version of reality espouse its presumptions.

For decades, actors kept their political preferences to themselves.  They like their studio and commercial sponsors knew that the road to revenue was political anonymity.  Hollywood’s fantasy remained intact.

Recently, however, especially after the election of Donald Trump, movie and television stars have decided to use their celebrity not only as a vehicle for publicly stating their political views but as forum for the most intemperate, hostile, and vitriolic attacks on the President.  By alienating the 50 million voters who endorsed Donald Trump and the conservative agenda in November; and by assuming a Hollywood-bestowed immunity and impermeability, they have not only sent the popularity of the Emmys to new, historic lows, tarnished their own images, but betrayed the American people, both Left and Right.

As much as progressives may love to hear their Hollywood heroes excoriate Donald Trump, they will ultimately understand the depths of this betrayal.  They too need a safe space from political hysteria, the all-night noise, the intimidation, the abuse, and the non-stop defiance.  As politics continue to infect Hollywood and the NFl, both institutions will change dramatically.  When entertainment becomes secondary that the promotion of political agendas, the entire purpose of Hollywood and football is defeated.

In other words, we all lose.

There are consequences to challenging a cultural ethos.  It is one thing to contest a political philosophy or agenda, another thing altogether to weaken the props of what is more essentially American than anything else – Hollywood.  America more than anything is a country of image, presentation, show, and showmanship.  There is no shame in our history of hucksters, snake oil salesmen, vaudevillians, televangelists, Pentecostals, ad men, and carny barkers.  After 250 years it is in our blood.

Image result for images american snake oil salesman

Street protests are political theatre, never taken seriously and understood as theatrical displays.  Everyone can be a star, on camera, loud and insistent, dressed for the part, confronting villains and oppressors.

Yet it one thing for entertainment to infect politics; another thing  for politics to infect entertainment.
The ‘free speech’ of Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda at the Emmys or Colin Kaepernick in the NFL –  cannot be taken seriously because their natural performances have become distorted.  They have left their natural stages and entered upon  hybrid, unentertaining, and unproductive ones.

The Left challenges this assumption.  Politics is the be-all and end-all of any society.  Political philosophy defines the individual more than any natural talent or ability.  The expression of political opinion, particularly that directed at promoting a political agenda is a higher order of free speech.
Other identities must be subsumed within the political one.  Lily Tomlin and Colin Kaepernick became more relevant and important when they used their celebrity to voice a cause.

This of course is the very idea that is behind America’s divisiveness and disharmony.  Once politics becomes the defining characteristic of personality and since political philosophy by its very nature is divided and divisive, political identity cannot but lead to social disunity.

The most patriotic entertainers entertain and keep their own counsel on everything else.  By keeping Hollywood as politically innocent as possible, they help to preserve and promote the bonding ethos of fantasy.

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