By Nathan Barton
Movies are an important part of American culture and society, and have been for a century. It is hard to imagine that at once time (and as late as the 1940s), many religious Americans believed that the movies, even more than the live theatre before them, were a sinful and corrupting product which damaged society. In part this was based on the idea that actors are “lying” – that they are pretending to be what they are not, that they are telling a story which is fictional, and that much of what they say is lies. (Yeah, things haven’t changed much as far as actors, writers, and producers are concerned, eh?) Another reason was that actors and the other crew seems to be as immoral as the “legitimate” actors who preceded them. Indeed, Lucas didn’t have to go far to find a model for Mos Eisley Spaceport as “the most wretched hive of scum and villainy” in the galaxy.
But it was the harm to society that really worried people a lot: the fact that many if not most movies glorified violence, immoral sex, power, conspicuous consumption, excessive wealth, and more. That things which should be private and personal were put onto a big (or little) screen for anyone and everyone to see, and that a wrong and false view of history and modern society were so commonly portrayed. And this was BEFORE the impact of pornography was recognized. (Although it was once said that the first porn film was filmed the same day the first movie for public viewing was, but “after hours.”) Screenwriters and producers couldn’t even get the historical projects to be accurate: they had to jazz them up. A lot. After the historians turned history into a selection of myths and fables, then Hollywood really messed it up.
Today, however, we take movies for granted. Very few people see anything wrong with movies as an industry, even though they may deplore the content of some films. (And even more so the actors and actresses.) The commercial success of movies powered the wealth and influence of Hollywood at the expense of other media, and in turn, the excess and excessive wealth of Hollywood has fueled the increasing influence of movies (and then television) on society. Many people today see Hollywood, Broadway, and Times Square (the mainstream media) as the major contributors to the coarsening and corruption of modern society, especially government. To say nothing of the fact that they gave us such gloriously-successful politicians as Arnold, the Rock, the Gipper, Sonny, and… ugh, the list goes on.
Yet at the same time, every time there is a reasonably “good” quality movie that in any way seems to have a good word for liberty, for resistance to tyranny, we are heartened and constantly praise it and talk about how great it is that someone in Hollywood or where ever has for once stood up for the truth.
This is not new… it goes back to some of the most famous of old movies, like “Birth of A Nation” (1915) and “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930). And continued for a century, in various ways: attacked one or another side in political contests, glorifying war and sex and violence and both rebellion and conformity. And the movies in between that seemed to try saying something good, whether it was Citizen Kane or the multitude of supposedly-“biblically-based” movies, were just as bad in their own way.
It becomes clear that, except for a strong tendency towards neo-liberalism or transnational progressivism, promoting socialism and of course, always a strong worship of (the right kind of) the state, the objective is almost ALWAYS increasing their own profit and influence on society. Although there are a very few examples of open support and promotion of ideals of liberty and freedom (such as Neil Schuman’s recent movie or the Atlas Shrugged trilogy), they are rare and NOT mainstream media in any way.
For those interested, in particular, I recommend the Foundation for Economic Education’s articles on movies. First, the new Star Wars movie: “Rogue One and the Moral Costs of War” raises some interesting points. Second “Five Anti-Capitalist Movies that Backfired” makes that point that sooner or later, propaganda and lies fail.
Now consider the movie industry today. And its branches of television and radio – especially the popular-music industry. There is no evidence that they are or will be soon promoting liberty, freedom from the state, or the responsibility and self-governing that are necessary (and have always been) for liberty. Wish as we might, that is NOT going to happen. It is time to get over it.