I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree with two points from you piece last week, “How Conservatives Can Take Back (Some of) Hollywood for Oscar Time.” First, let’s take a look at where you place the goal posts for conservatives to aim:
But as you run your personal boycott of Hollywood, remember this. Almost everyone else you know — be it family, friends, business associates and, most especially, your children — is not. They are consuming Hollywood entertainment in mammoth gulps. And politics, as the late Andrew Breitbart said repeatedly (and he was far from the only one), is downstream of culture.
You give up Hollywood and you give up the country. Game over. And as we all know, it’s almost over already. Want that? Well, if you do, you can skip the rest of this article.
So… for those of you that are left… now more than ever is the time for conservatives and libertarians to take back at least some of the entertainment industry. Someone recently told me that Hollywood is like one of those football blowouts with a score of 90 for the liberals and 10 for the conservatives. We have to try to make it at least 70-30 (still a blowout, but there’s a glimmer of hope).
70-30? Come on. Settling for a pittance of the country’s entertainment industry is akin to aiming for a passing grade. Conservatives should proclaim bolder objectives with their efforts to enter the entertainment industry: to become billionaires and dominate the entire field through redefining it.
I’ve been studying and blogging on Walt Disney with Chris Queen here at PJ Lifestyle for over a year now to try to understand the secrets of his success. What did Disney do to make his name synonymous with a new art form? He innovated — a principle you as the co-founder of PJM know well. For Disney, his path — which is worth recounting visually since we can easily thanks to YouTube — made the first big splash with synched-sound cartoons in 1928:
Then Flowers and Trees, the first technicolor cartoon, in 1932:
Then Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated film, in 1937:
And after World War II then leaping to television and theme parks simultaneously, using one to support the other, with the Disneyland TV show in 1954:
Nowadays Disney’s TV and theme park divisions make much more money than the studio films. (BTW, from David P. Goldman, commenting on my Facebook: “Factoid: The market value of Disney Corp is larger than that of the whole Ukrainian stock exchange. So much for Marxists vs. Disney.”)
Conservatives should be looking to the future and to new mediums of entertainment. Humans are not going to amuse themselves by sitting around staring at screens forever. I still believe in the Breitbartian idea that the battle for the culture is more important than the fight over political ideology. Where I’ve changed is in realizing that there’s actually a force more important and powerful to affect and control. Culture is driven by technology. Movable type came before the Gutenberg Bible. Edison’s film camera came before Hollywood. The techniques of animation had to be discovered by Disney and his animators through years of experimenting with Silly Symphony and Mickey Mouse shorts before Snow White could be achieved.
So yeah, politics is downstream of culture. But technology has the power to carve the shape of the river itself.
And conservatives are even more behind when it comes to applying technology to winning elections. J. Christian Adams in the symposium last week spells out how now targeting the broad, mainstream culture isn’t even necessary for winning elections when it’s cheaper to churn out the base rather than work to persuade the undecideds:
Modern elections are all about energy. Energy wins. Period.
The left has developed an election data tool called Catalist. The GOP has no functioning counterpart. This database allows leftist groups, the DNC, and the Obama campaign to activate the far left base in ways that were never before possible.
How do they do it? They collect massive amounts of data about everybody. What you read, what car you drive, what you said in a poll, everything. A consortium of leftist users pump data in, and a consortium of left-wing customers extract data.
The data about Democrat voters allow institutions to flip a switch and ensure a massive base vote.
So what does this have to do with Ted Cruz?
Democrats have realized that modern elections are won or lost by mobilizing the base, period. Remember the treasured independent middle? Bah. Romney won them overwhelmingly but still lost the election.
The left swamped Romney using Catalist. Romney’s counterpart base mobilizer, “Orca,” crashed and burned on election day – literally. While Romney was spending one dollar to win one vote in the middle, Obama (using Catalist data) was spending a dime to get one vote in the base.
So the Romney campaign was doubly damned. They were outgunned technologically. But what were they shot with from all angles? Unrelenting images of Mitt the heartless corporate businessman, a symbol of the decadent 1%, lapped up by cultures and generations raised on the image of the evil executive. As I wrote about in the summer of 2012, “Why This Election Year America Is Carmela Soprano,” today people no longer know how to recognize good and evil in their leaders or entertainment. When Americans celebrate crooks at the movies they’ll surely vote them into office too.
How to counter this? What sorts of stories can get people to understand that evil actually often appears harmless or even noble to try to deceive you? With films of military tough guys fighting wars in lands most Americans can’t even locate on a map? I have another idea, and Sunday night’s Best Picture winner victory speech inspired me.
Roger, our second point of disagreement:
Old Hollywood used to do that. The message of most classic Hollywood movies from the glory years was “America is A-okay.” That spread around the world. It could happen again, but we first have to tell it to ourselves, make ourselves believe it.
Hard to accomplish in the current atmosphere? Yes, but it can be done. In fact it was done in this Oscar year. The film I voted for in the nominating process — Lone Survivor – was just such a work. It said American servicemen in Afghanistan were the good guys, were “A-okay.”
The pro-American quality of classic Hollywood is an expression of a deeper underlying value system. Back in the ’30s and ’40s it was still fashionable to talk about good and evil. And I think that’s the key missing ingredient in much of today’s entertainment. As I’ve been obsessing over Disney’s classic movies, my working thesis: the more effectively a film depicts good vs evil the better it will be. Generally, in looking at the quality of a Disney movie, it seems that the scarier, more threatening evil of the villain, the stronger the dramatic tension and thus the deeper impression the film can make. (Duh!) But hence why I’ve been so obsessed lately with Fantasia, where Disney makes the fight the most explicit. The “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence at the end with the Chernobog summoning fire demonesses has some pretty wild stuff for a “kids” movie. Is there a scarier animated sequence in the history of film?
I’m going to explore more of the cartoons from this period at PJ Lifestyle over the next few months — and not just Disney. The dark side of the human experience shows up in comic works too.
Ever seen how the Middle East was depicted at the time?
In a future post I’ll unpack some of the themes in these: 1932’s “Mickey Mouse in Arabia,” and 1934’s Willie Whopper short from former Disney collaborator Ub Iwerks, “Insultin’ the Sultan”:
Odd: in both cartoons the sultan kidnaps the hero’s female companion and then tries to seduce them. The Iwerks short goes even further than Disney’s where the kidnapper just tries to kiss Minnie. (Iwerks was always a bit darker and creepier than Disney in what I’ve seen of them and read.) Gee, I wonder what the banana Iwerks’ Sultan tries to feed the little girl is suppose to symbolize?
I guess this was what America wanted its children watching in the 1930s. Today Hollywood won’t even direct adults’ attention at present-day evil. And as a result they cannot recognize the real scope of the threats really facing free societies today. From John Boot in his Oscar coverage yesterday, quoting Steve McQueen, writer/director of this year’s best picture winner:
“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” he said. “This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup” (whose life story was the basis of the film). “I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”
I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet; perhaps it really is the best picture of the year. It’s hard for me to get all that enthusiastic about seeing another movie rehashing the slavery America overcame in the 19th century when the modern slavery of the 21st century continues to advance all around the world today.
Twenty-one million people? That will be a great day when the human race is actually down to only that many still living enslaved. The actual reality of the world is that the majority of the world lives in a state of slavery under some combination of lawless dictator, 7th century barbarian religious law, or corrupt oligarchy. According to Freedom House’s most recent report, only 40% of the world’s population lives in free countries. Twenty-five percent live in “partly-free” states and 35% live in nations that are not free at all, like Vladimir Putin’s mafia state Russia.
But Hollywood wants to throw a party for itself because it has the courage to make films condemning white American slave owners from 150 years ago? Roger, one of my favorite quotes from your memoir comes to mind: “I do think there is almost always a good and evil, a right and wrong–although often you have to look closely–and the relativist view of the world is at best lazy and at worst a stalking horse for fascism.”
I might as well just reprint the whole passage, from one of the graphics I made identifying its influence on my “counterculture conservatism”:
Roger, as Breitbart argued in word, and you have demonstrated in deed through your return to creative writing, it’s indeed time for conservatives to aim their arrows in the cultural realm. But as we do, the talk should include upgrading our art’s technological arms. Again, a classic Disney cartoon contains old-fashioned wisdom…
Disney’s cartoons perpetually argued this theme — consider “Three Little Wolves” from 1936, in which the father wolf stands in for Hitler. After the wolf clan has captured two of the pigs and they’re about to be stuffed into the oven to cook, the third “Practical Pig” rescues them with his new invention, an elaborate “Wolf Pacifier” machine.
On the superficial level this is all a lot of fun and laughs, but seen as a kind of cultural prophecy there’s an eeriness to it. Disney’s message was that superior technology defeats evil. And Harry Truman would prove him correct nine years later.
Turning 30 a month ago and thinking about the next decade of my life in the context of the past inevitably leads me back to thinking about my grandparents — 3 of 4 of whom are deceased now — when they were my age.
My father’s father was a pilot who flew in the Pacific during World War II. Among the ideas that he impressed on me was his belief that if Truman had not dropped the atom bombs he would not have survived the war.
So my whole family could be said to exist because a president had the moral clarity to use the technology America had developed. Is that a creepy thought to have?
Perhaps, but as I continue to read the news from our friends in Israel (alas, now through a Barry Rubin-shaped hole), it seems a necessary one to articulate. Superior technology and the will to use it means more families can live. Why can’t we find new ways to tell this story?
With appreciation and respect,