Let's check in on what the liberals and ultra-liberals in Hollywood are up to. Oh, and while we're at it, let's also monitor moviedom's lefty pals over in the Mainstream Media (MSM); maybe we can see how the Hollywood-MSM alliance is pushing the country toward Big Government and socialism -- oops, hmmm, except that it isn't.
In fact, the movie news this weekend shows instead a distinctly unsolidaristic preoccupation with profit. Both movie-makers and movie-reporters seem focused on just a few materialistic questions: How much money did "Superman Returns" take in? What was the gross for other films, such as "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Click"? And what are the ticket-sale prospects, now, for movies in general?
Here's The Wall Street Journal's report on the weekend movie box office: "'Superman' Performs Solidly, but 'Prada' Dents Take." Of course, some might note, that's the Journal, concerned with business. Yet revealingly, other MSM focused, too, on the greed-is-good aspect of the movie biz. Here's the headline, for example, from Monday's edition of The Baltimore Sun: "'Superman' saves the day as women flock to 'Prada.'"
And what of the Grande Dame of the MSM, The New York Times? The Gray Lady prides herself on comprehensiveness: "All the News That's Fit for Liberals to Print" -- I think that's the paper's motto. Surely, one would think, the Times would cover the movie business with an eye toward social justice. But no: the headline reads, "Signs of Life at the Box Office, if Not a Full Recovery."
All this talk and buzz about superheroes, supermodels, and superstars -- and the supermoney they earn! What happened to pro-proletarian politics? And the Al Gore movie isn't even mentioned once?
Oh wait, here we go: Here's a big piece in Sunday's Times, detailing Oliver Stone's forthcoming movie on 9-11, "World Trade Center." Surely any Stone film will include a heavy dose of Left Coast-lefty consciousness-raising and conspiracy-theorizing. But wait, as I read the article, I learn that the film eschews larger issues, focusing instead on two heroic cops. Stone is quoted as saying, "This is not a political film. The mantra is 'This is not a political film.'" And Stone is candid -- almost Republican-ly candid -- as to why his change of heart: money. After a string of flops, the director of such long-ago lefty icons as "JFK" and "Nixon" realizes that he needs a box office hit. In other words, that most capitalist of virtues, greed, has led him to make a movie that celebrates those uniformed Americans who went running up the stairs when others went running down. Some might say, in response, that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Others will say, Let me see the movie.
It's still possible, of course, that Stone, and The Times, are lying. Both the lefty director and a left-friendly media establishment could be seeking to use stealth tactics to sneak yet another agitprop flick into America's multiplexes -- we'll know for sure on August 9, when the film is released. But a look at the trailer for "World Trade Center" gives the feeling that it's an honest celebration of manly bravery; moreover, the two men, trapped in the rubble, seem to experience a profound spiritual moment, to wit, the closing words of the trailer: "The world saw evil that day. Two men saw something different."
As I have argued in the past, there's no denying that the "formal" politics of Hollywood lean to the left and toward the Democratic Party. However, in the course of doing their business -- that is, trying to get rich -- Hollywoodites take on, shall we say, a different political aspect. At night, at gala benefit dinners when the world is watching, they might proudly wear liberalism on their Armani sleeves, but during the day, they throw their elbows around instead. But the point isn't merely that they are hypocrites; though of course they are. The real point is that in the course of achieving their own Ayn Rand-levels of personal ambition and self-aggrandizement, they invariably imbue their movies with this same Randian value system.
So the deep structure -- the "metapolitics" -- of movies is individualistic and right-wing, even if the superficial ideological carapace is borrowed from the collectivist left. The archetypal America movie hero is a loner, not a communalist. Moreover, the journalists that cover the industry are infected by this deeper, free-market conservative meta-worldview, too. That's why, as we have seen, the press coverage looks so unblinkingly and admiringly upon the naked ambition of money-making.
And the new "Superman" movie fits right in -- right in with Superman as a Nietzschean concept. What Hollywood uber-mogul doesn't have such grand dreams for himself? They all do, of course, which is one reason why the Superman franchise returns and returns in Tinseltown; producers and directors identify with the caped crusader. For loner superheroes, the metapolitics of individual destiny and righteousness far outweigh whatever minimal politics of sharing and do-gooding such a movie might toss in.
So while some have complained that the new film eschews the familiar line of "truth, justice, and the American way," the decision to change the wording to "truth, justice, and all that stuff" probably had as much to do with the imperatives of marketing to the planet as it did with any home-grown anti-Americanism. Which brings up another point: As Hollywood goes global, it will likely continue to downplay unique Americanisms that might antagonize far-flung audiences. But such downplaying doesn't put Hollywood on the political left; it merely reminds us that personal ambition and personal greed are often at odds with patriotism. It's a rule that Nietzscheans are loyal only to themselves. As such, they will lose friends on the tradition-minded right, but such ego-emboldened strivers won't gain many fans on the left, either.
We might also pause over the metapolitics of the runner-up movie at the box office, "The Devil Wears Prada," which is based on the best-selling roman à clef by Lauren Weisberger. She channeled her real-life stint as an assistant to Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, into the fictionalized brief career of young Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway in the film), working for Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep, in yet another Oscar-snagging performance), editor of Runway.
Young Andy, born and educated in the Midwest, comes to New York City to be a journalist; as editor of her college newspaper, she was most proud of her series of articles on labor unions. Yet working-class simpatico-ness can't pay the bills, at least not in Manhattan; hard times force her to go looking for a job at the glossy fashion magazine. Lucking into a position as Miranda's "second assistant," the normally attractive Andy is seen at first as an ugly duckling, derided by her starved-to-perfection colleagues as "the fat girl." But she quickly adapts to her new environment, learning to swim and dive with the best of them. In terms of tone, "Prada" owes much to such sturdy cine-perennials as "Cinderella," "A Star is Born," and "All About Eve." That is, Andy learns to abandon her simple and honest ways and adapt new airs and attitudes -- not to mention fancy clothes. However, she comes to learn that everything glittering is not golden; she is seduced by her ambition and loses her boyfriend. Only then does she realize the trouble she is in; so she steps back from a "Dorian Gray"-like fate and walks away from Miranda and Runway. Finally, she takes a working-stiff job at a New York newspaper, where her editor will no doubt make good use of her labor-beat expertise.
By that brief reckoning, "Prada" is a moderate-liberal morality tale. As in, say, "Oliver Twist," it teaches us not to be tempted by wicked ways, no matter how hungry we are. So score one for small town values -- small town values that include the liberal politics of embracing labor unions.
But as we have seen, the "formal" politics of movies are small -- that is, minimal. What really matters are the informal politics of how people live their lives -- the metapolitics. Does "Prada" praise Andy's turning away from what William James called "the bitch-goddess, SUCCESS"? Sure it does, at the level of heavy-handedly banal obviousness. But at the meta-level, "Prada" exalts Miranda and Runway: Do you want to wear fabulous clothes? Be thin and rich? Live in an Upper East Side townhouse? Fly first class to Paris to enjoy fancy lunches, and more, with Beautiful People? Well, all right then -- here's the formula for you, right in this film.
I don't suppose that Anna Wintour will enjoy "Prada." Her character Miranda isn't a devil, in the sense of being Satan-like, or even Joan Crawford-like. Instead, she is merely insensitive, demanding, and difficult. Yet at the same time, Streep deftly understates the part; she doesn't hit anybody with wire coathangers, or anything else. What does come clear is that she knows her fashion; spotting Andy wearing a cerulean blue sweater, she launches into a disquisition on the fashion-genesis of that particular color that can only be called erudite. Which is to say, the editrix is a serious meritocrat who is serious about her work -- and serious, to the point of relentlessness, about getting just as much work out of others. There are worse things.
Indeed, at the risk of sounding like an Oscar Wilde wannabe, one can say that never has so much importance been attached to something that is so unimportantly important. It's true, of course, that fashion is trivial, except when fashion is seen as a part of an overall style. And style, too, might be minimized, except for the fact that style is also art. Even art is no big deal -- until one remembers that art is central to civilization.
And it's worth noting here that fashion, style, art, and civilization are not often thought of as belonging to the left. Yes, of course, many artists are kneejerk lefties, but once again, in its metapolitics, art itself tends to be elitist, even snobbish. Which is to say, in its manner, art is mostly conservative. The upholding of the best of what's been thought and said is not a job for the masses; it's a job for a few paragons -- such as Miranda Priestly.
These are powerful cinematic metapolitics: First, such a film gets made. Second, reporters judge it on how much money it makes. Third, it makes lots of money because ordinary people want to see conspicuous consumption being glamorized. Fourth, and finally, the critics like "Prada," too. Yup, that's right. A film devoted to extolling haute New York scored a cumulative "fresh" rating of 77 percent from those critics tallied by the website rottentomatoes.com. It would seem that even reviewers prefer to watch fabulousness over global warming and labor unions.
As a capstone to the argument that the metapolitics of style provide at least as much aid to the right as to the left, we might take note of an article in Tuesday's Washington Post:
Under the headline, "Defining Her Own Sphere of Influence/Rice's Popularity Crosses Borders and Party Lines Thanks to Careful Attention to Image," reporter Glenn Kessler praises Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's chic poise, describing it as a key component of her international influence. In a nutshell, people think she's cool. And the Postie, a certified member of the MSM, uses a movie reference to underscore his point:
But she appeared to achieve stardom early in her tenure as secretary of state when, a month after taking the post, she was photographed walking past hundreds of cheering soldiers in Germany wearing a black skirt, a black coat and knee-high black boots that evoked the movie "The Matrix." Rice routinely wears expensive and flashy designer outfits in her travels.
By all accounts, Condi Rice is no Miranda Priestly. But at the same time, Condi and Miranda share an icy hauteur, a dignified reserve based on hard work and merit, thus separating them from the pack. They have earned their way to distinction, and even after they have reached the pinnacle of their respective professions, they keep on working hard, never letting down their guard -- or their image.
Thus we see a kind of aristocratic, conservative metapolitics in action, celebrating individual merit, as well as rigid self-discipline -- no letting it all hang out here. And while it's not surprising that Hollywood moguls dig the idea of personal ambition, it's revealing that reporters dig it, too, as evidenced by their eager-beaver chronicling of the box office rankings. But what's most revealing of all is that movie critics and movie audiences, eating up "Prada," seem to be part of the same conservative value system.
There's a reason the left is doing so poorly in politics -- it's the metapolitics, stupid.
James Pinkerton is the TCS Daily media critic.