Our Degenerating Media [Part 3]
With Hollywood's box-office sliding for many years in a row, experts are painstakingly scrutinizing every minuscule reason for it except, of course, the most important and obvious one. Just as the news media elites have a collective blind spot for Fox News, movie experts refuse to notice one reason for Hollywood's failure that's so immense, it overshadows the entire industry. That reason being that the majority of decent Americans can't relate to the current Hollywood characters, themes, and values -- while the movies they could genuinely relate to are either not being made, or are being rejected and snubbed.
Regardless of what you think of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", in terms of pure capitalist profits it was a clear winner with a broad appeal to audiences, earning $612 million worldwide ($370 million in the U.S.) against a budget of only $30 million. Yet Hollywood not only objected to the project, but unleashed a negative PR campaign against it in the name of a "progressive" boycott of Christianity. As a result they lost over half a billion dollars in profits that studios and investors could have made if the elites had not been so fixated on ideology. That's some real profiteering, baby.
Anti-religion critics may object that since religion itself is depraved, the success of "The Passion of the Christ" is an illustration of how capitalism enables depravity. That's where objective artistic and moral criteria come in. These critics might have a point if the movie had no intrinsic artistic value and required religion as a crutch to uphold bad film-making. But "The Passion" can stand perfectly well on its own without the "religious crutches."
Even if one knows nothing about Christianity, one will still see a compelling story of a conflict between a moral, determined man and the corrupt establishment that tolerates no independent thinkers and stops at nothing to break them, including torture and death. The film demonstrates the infinite fear and hatred that phony opinion makers can have of truths that threaten their power -- while featuring a role model who wins by merely holding on to the truth until the end. Hollywood immediately proved the universal quality of this story by playing the part of the hateful and corrupt establishment, ostracizing Gibson. Such irony has a specific name: the self-canceling absurdity of media activism.
You are free to think of religion as depravity, but it's simply illogical to call the artistic rendering of a biblical story depraved if it doesn't require faith as a crutch to stand on. Just as the inclusion of sex or violence is not depravity if it serves a higher artistic purpose and makes a dramatic point - as opposed to being a mere crutch for poor plot and directing.
At about the same time that Hollywood rejected "The Passion of the Christ", it invested a whopping $135 million in a star-studded revisionist anti-crusader flick that denigrated Christianity and promoted Osama bin Laden's version of history called "Kingdom of Heaven". It was a box-office failure in the U.S. and Canada, earning only $47 million. Director Ridley Scott blamed it on... drum roll please... bad advertising. To be fair, 20th Century Fox was generously compensated for the domestic failure by foreign box office, especially in Arab countries. That does come pretty close to "trampling on all human laws," although it's not exactly the crime Karl Marx had in mind when he wrote that.
This year, in the absence of modern-day cinematic examples of heroism and moral clarity in the fight for freedom and democracy, millions of Americans flocked to watch cartoonish heroes of ancient Sparta doing in 480 BC what American Marines are doing today, standing up for the free world. That may not be what the makers of "300" had intended, but that's what made the film a bigger blockbuster that it would've been otherwise, earning $208 million domestically ($440 million worldwide so far) against a relatively modest budget of $60 million.
Compare it to the botched "Alexander" (2004) - a "historical" drama as morally confused as its creator, Oliver Stone, himself. That's why it only earned a measly $34 million domestically, against an exorbitant $155 million budget. The director's biggest fiasco was the failure to capitalize on a universally shared positive memory of Alexander's conquest of Asia and the Middle East as a benevolent transforming force of a Western civilization bringing the light of reason and science to the world's darkest corners. But had that aspect been realized, he wouldn't be the Oliver Stone we know, would he?
So goodbye Aristotle - and hello far-fetched
incestuous pervert of a mother.
The real Alexander was tutored by the world's most influential philosopher, Aristotle, father of Western thought founded on logic -- not by some B-grade-movie-type hot mama (Angelina Jolie) whose seedy voodoo tricks were the only guiding light in the life of Oliver Stone's parody character. The most relevant story of Alexander's contests was not his alleged gay affair but the spreading of the Hellenistic culture of reason throughout vast areas engulfed by irrational mysticism. Until the present, regardless of their current faith, the natives of Asia and beyond long for Alexander's heritage as exemplified by the popularity of names like Iskander, Eskandar, Sikandar, and other local variations of Alexander. How hard was it for a right-minded artist, in the times of an escalating global conflict in Central Asia, to recognize Alexander as a unique common denominator, a uniting force that predates and excludes Islam from the equation?
But then again, if such a movie were made, it wouldn't be the "progressive" Hollywood we know, would it?
So goodbye Aristotle -- and hello far-fetched incestuous pervert of a mother. As a result, instead of showing us the glory days of a Hellenistic civilization, basking in the light of reason and science, using its position as a superpower to spread this light around the world (modern analogies all too obvious), the movie has shown us a reeking pile of rot in a small American town called Hollywood whose residents have abandoned logic and are basking in self-destructive depravity. But logic exists independently of Hollywood producers, so it punished them with a domestic box office that returned less than a quarter of what they had invested.
If the success of Fox's "24" is any indication, Hollywood could easily redouble its audiences by being patriotic about the global war against Islamic extremism. If profiteering means "making excessive profits on goods in short supply," a modern patriotic movie would be it. There are exactly zero of them in circulation.
Osama bin Laden will sooner befriend a Jew
than American media elites will help their country
win a war that goes against their idea of "progress."
Iraq and Afghanistan alone provide enough dramatic material for a host of successful movies and TV series. Besides boosting studio revenues, such movies could certainly boost morale at home and inspire foreigners to root for Americans and their mission abroad. But the best Hollywood could do was "Syriana", an anti-American spy fantasy that barely broke even at home - although it was highly regarded in the Middle East, especially where it's now being used as a recruitment video for jihad. It's definitely something George Clooney should put under his belt right next to the Oscar.
Surprising, isn't it -- in a time of war, the studios don't realize that Americans would rather see an uplifting war movie in which the good guys win. Well, they do realize it -- but they won't do it anyway. In the "progressive" world of Hollywood elites that would mean to "sell out" -- a bad career move for a modern celebrity. Never mind that depicting a virtuous patriotic American would only mean a "sellout" to a person who is neither virtuous nor patriotic. This logic escapes Hollywood airheads. In their drugs-and-alcohol laced minds, warped by meaningless sex, vanity, envy, and sleazy betrayals of spouses, children, and friends, "selling out" to patriotism may indeed seem like a personal failure.
If it's true that capitalists would do anything for profit, why aren't they trying to condition foreign markets by projecting American ideas of freedom, democracy, and capitalism? Considering the high propaganda value of mass media, that could really help this nation fight the global war against terrorism and establish a peaceful world in which more people would prosper, spending more of their money on Hollywood products. But Osama bin Laden will sooner befriend a Jew than American media elites will help their country win a war that goes against their idea of "progress."
The media corporations are proving Marx wrong at every step of the way - just like millions of dollars spent nation-wide on diversity programs and sensitivity training do. It begs the question, why are the "progressive" elites still so eager to debase, defame, and destroy capitalism when such actions contradict their belief in the immoral absolute power of capital over humans? But one can hardly expect rationality from those who don't care about the consequences as long as they can have their tantrum.
Radio Daze: Don Imus
Which brings us back to Don Imus who might still have his job if he had not made the error of straying away from the usual white-only depravity and wandering right into the black-only depravity of the rap culture. His crime: emulating the degeneracy of a rapper while wearing a big cowboy hat. That, in the world of today's media, is trespassing.
Imus should've known better. As a liberal talk-show host he was in part responsible for the way the speech turf got divided among minority pressure groups, separated by the barbed wire of taboos and the booby traps of political correctness. He was there; it happened right before his eyes. He contributed to the building of the edifice. The Big Media was part of this contraption, so when Mr. Imus accidentally set off the trap, the system came into motion and he got fired automatically, by the very logic of its creation.
The firing happened with such ease and rapidity because Mr. Imus, a lightweight, walked into a trap set up for a much heavier game -- someone conservative like Michael Savage, or perhaps the ultimate dream prize of every liberal trapper -- Mr. Rush Limbaugh himself. Just how much corporate greed went into the creation of those PC traps? Zilch. It was an unofficial parallel project of the entire Big Media community fueled by pure "progressive" enthusiasm.
The same brand of enthusiasm also fueled the creation of Air America Radio -- a venture that was meant to be a "progressive" alternative to conservative radio not only ideologically, but also as a business model. To say that it never showed a cent of profit would not be the whole story.
Air America's "adversaries" each had an independent syndicated show airing usually two or three hours a day. Each talk-show host had started small but grew national and commercially successful owing only to the host's personal effort and merits. Previous attempts to counter them with "progressive" talk shows based on the same individual model had all failed.
That's why Air America approached this issue with its sweeping quasi-socialist collective model: first it acquired sufficient funding to become national; then it hired a bunch of hosts to deliver all-day-long groupthink propaganda on a fixed salary. With all the ensuing hoopla, excitement, and free promotions on various mainstream media channels, no one ever bothered to actually test the market.
The real victims of this "capitalist" crime were investors who lost their money on a pipe dream -- and a kids' charity in the Bronx that got swindled out of $875,000 on a loan that the advocates of "social justice and progress" knew they could never repay since their on-air struggle against corporate greed wasn't bringing any money.
Granted, Air America wasn't a mainstream media institution -- they were honest about their ideology and didn't pretend to be neutral as the Big Media does in order to stay in the mainstream market. But both of them have paid for their addiction to ideology by squandering the investors' money.
Now, if a corporate executives' addiction causes his business to lose markets and millions of dollars with it, isn't this called a violation of responsibility to shareholders and employees? Marx could never imagine this particular sort of capitalist depravity -- but if you are a shareholder of a media corporation, you just might have a case for a lawsuit due to breach of fiduciary duty and negligent damages from the lack of greed and profiteering.
All things considered (and no pun intended), the only profiteering that seems morally acceptable to the media elites is the one that leads to the spreading of depravity as part of a continued war against America's values, culture, society, traditions, reputation, and security. A culture war is a dirty job but someone's gotta do it, baby, especially if the paychecks are fat.
Talk Radio: The Fountain of Funding
There's one unique kind of profiteering, however, that Big Media does reluctantly, out of pure greed, and against its own moral principles: it uses its AM radio frequencies to carry syndicated conservative talk radio shows.
Even though the media elites must honestly believe that Rush Limbaugh, just like firearms, tobacco, and alcohol, causes irreparable harm to individual consumers and the society at large, they daily broadcast his three-hour show because it's the biggest source of revenue in AM radio and has consistently high ratings. How can they ever live with themselves after knowingly "harming the children?"
Conservative talk radio is the biggest compromise the Big Media has been forced to make in order to sustain its AM radio operations. One can tell it's a compromise by the contrast between the talk show content and the news segments at the top and the bottom of every hour -- delivered by ABC staff announcers in New York - on a station that features Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Matt Drudge, and others. While the facts discussed on the shows and the news segments seem to be the same, the intended message is often so strikingly different that the two might as well originate in parallel universes.
To give credit where credit is due, it takes a professional haiku-like perfection on part of ABC news editors and presenters to cram a "progressive" take into meager few minutes every half-hour, with almost no commentary.
The effect is achieved by careful selection and stacking, repetitions and understatements, changing the order of magnitude, juxtaposition of unrelated news to make them seem related or to strike a sarcastic note, using some quotes and not using the others, playing voices of opinionated Democrats while not playing voices of opinionated Republicans unless they are somehow embarrassing and can be used against them -- and many other precise techniques that must keep the editors really busy in between the news breaks.
Topped with occasional snide comments and a ringing female voice that, depending on the context, may be happy, gloating, or sarcastic when it is not obnoxious -- ABC radio news segments often sound like unsolicited public service by a group of vigilante journalists enforcing some unofficial fairness doctrine to neutralize the possible "harm" done by the talk show into whose territory they are intruding. And when they don't sound like this, it means they're not trying hard enough. Nobody's perfect 100% of the time.
The same goes for WOR in New York that airs Michael Savage. Savage would certainly be interested in the taste of the news salads served during the breaks on his shows. They are a constant reminder that he is only free to dish out his views across the fruited plane for one and one reason only -- the obscene corporate greed that forces the Big Media to keep conservative cash cows on the air.
Conservative hosts bring in advertisers. They are the best example of how capitalism works. So instead of disparaging it, Mr. Savage should be thankful for whatever little corporate greed still remains inside the Big Media, and hope that the media never grows independent of the markets and gets funded by something other than commercial sponsors. Because the day the media loses the last of its greed will also be the day conservative talk radio ends.
Oleg Atbashian - writer and graphic artist from Ukraine, currently lives in New York. Creator of ThePeoplesCube.com, a satirical website where he writes under the name of Red Square. He has previously written for Pajamas Media, The Gospel of John & Yoko: The Origins of Mad Morality, Bowling for Virginia Tech and Boris Yeltsin: Lessons for America.