I’m on the east coast this week and just gave a talk at Cornell University sponsored by the Program on Freedom and Free Societies. I spoke at one point about how those who think that Hollywood only cares about money don’t really know anything about Hollywood. I pointed out that religious pictures like this week’s indie release God’s Not Dead are so routinely “surprise hits” that it’s hard to figure out where the surprise is coming from. I also had some fun discussing how puzzled the New York Times was at the “surprise hit” Lone Survivor. How very odd, said the Times, or words to that effect. They couldn’t comprehend why audiences who had “stubbornly refused” to go to all the other movies about the war on terror turned up to make this one a hit. One wanted to explain patiently, as to a child: Well, dear, it’s because all the other movies showed America as the bad guys, and this one showed us as the good guys, and the audience doesn’t want to be insulted by elitist claptrap. But the Times is not yet mature enough for that kind of information.
Anyway, when my Cornell talk was done, a leftist in the audience termed it “naive” and “bizarre.” (I doubt I was naive. I do try to be as bizarre as possible!) He said Hollywood was just a whore chasing after money.
The man spoke so long and said so many things that were untrue, that I couldn’t really respond concisely. But there is one thing I really wish I had said, and that is this. Making movies that make money isn’t being a whore. It’s called being in the movie business. It’s what movies are supposed to do. When your movies make money it means that you did something someone else liked instead of just preening yourself on your skills and insight. When your movies make money, it means they succeeded in doing what movies are supposed to do: entertaining an audience. There is, of course, absolutely nothing at all wrong with making a smaller movie for a smaller audience that makes less money. But to assume that making profitable movies makes you a whore is elitist in the extreme. It presumes that you have some higher wisdom that should be served over and above the wisdom of the ticket buyers. But in real life… no, you don’t.
My point was not that Hollywood never makes profitable films. Of course it does! It has to! It’s that it leaves so much easy money lying on the ground. Why are there so few inspiring films of Christian faith made by major studios, when the indie films routinely clean up? Why are there no films supporting our ongoing battle against Islamism, when so many would rush to see them? Why are there no mainstream films about the heroic fight to save unborn babies? Or about the battle to protect the Constitution against the encroachments of government?
The questions answer themselves. The money is there, easy-pickens. Hollywood won’t take it.
I don’t mean to attack the commenter at my talk when he’s not around to defend himself. But that’s what I shoulda said.