Ed Driscoll

The Ever-Shrinking Cinematic Storytelling Complex

Mark Steyn looks at but one example of how political correctness is killing Hollywood:

I stopped to buy the third boxed set in the “Looney Tunes Golden Collection.” Loved the first two: Daffy, Bugs, Porky, beautifully restored, tons of special features. But, for some reason, this new set begins with a special announcement by Whoopi Goldberg explaining what it is we’re not meant to find funny: “Unfortunately at that time racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in ways that may have embarrassed and even hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups,” she tells us sternly. “These jokes were wrong then and they’re wrong today” — unlike, say, Whoopi Goldberg’s most memorable joke of recent years, the one at that 2004 all-star Democratic Party gala in New York where she compared President Bush to her, um, private parts. There’s a gag for the ages.I don’t know what Whoopi’s making such a meal about. It’s true you don’t see many positive images of people of color on “Looney Tunes,” but then the images of people of non-color aren’t terribly positive either (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam). Instead, you see positive images of ducks of color, roadrunners of color and tweety birds of color. How weirdly reductive to be so obsessed about something so peripheral to these cartoons that you stick the same damn Whoopi Goldberg health warning on all four DVDs in the box. And don’t think about hitting the “Next” button and skipping to the cartoons: You can’t; you gotta sit through it.

A Hollywood that’s ashamed of one of its few universally acknowledged genuine artistic achievements is hardly likely to come up with any new artistic achievements. As the instant deflation of that Whoopi cushion reminds us, the movies are now so constrained by political correctness the very act of storytelling is itself endangered. That’s something slightly more ominous than the feeble limousine liberalism many conservatives blame for the alleged box-office slump.

In Brian Anderson’s recent essay on Hollywood’s woes, he illustrated multiple examples of Steyn’s last point in action:

Liberal interest groups…monitor script content for “offensive”—read: politically incorrect—content. This pressure can utterly transform a film project, as Tom Clancy will tell you. In his novel The Sum of All Fears, Muslim terrorists explode a nuke at the Super Bowl. When Clancy optioned the book and the film went into development, the Council on American Islamic Relations got to work. The 2002 film villains: white neo-Nazis, not Muslim fanatics. Some Hollywood production companies actually have outreach offices that contact advocacy groups ahead of production to vet potential film scripts. “Keep in mind [that] one of the reasons why the FBI or the government or business are the villains is because everyone else has a constituency,” former Motion Picture Association head Jack Valenti points out.The PC concerns, internalized in scriptwriters’ heads even before any advocate complains, can produce bizarre incoherence. Novelist and screenwriter Andrew Klavan’s True Crime is about an innocent white man on death row, railroaded because officials needed to prove that the death penalty isn’t racially biased. “The only one who figures this out is this politically incorrect journalist who can see through the B.S.,” Klavan relates. The gripping 1999 movie version, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood as journalist Steve Everett, transforms the innocent death-row inmate into a black man (played by Isaiah Washington). The movie works, even if it takes the anti-PC edge off Klavan’s novel.

But the screenplay leaves in a sequence depicting a black woman confronting journalist Everett for caring only about injustices against whites and not blacks—even though the movie now revolves around the reporter’s relentless quest to exonerate a wrongly convicted African American. “That scene no longer makes any sense,” Klavan laughs. “The screenwriter apparently found the original politically inappropriate.”

Orrin Judd has written on numerous occasions that “all comedy is conservative.” But as Steyn notes, most story-telling designed to appeal to a mass audience is profoundly conservative when compared to the leftwing PC sensibilities that drive so much modern Hollywood thinking. Once again, it isn’t that America as a whole has moved to the right, it’s that coastal elites have continued a seemingly endless 35-year march in the opposite direction.

Something has to give–while Hollywood will survive in some form thanks to TV and foreign revenues, if I owned a chain of movie theaters, I’d be rather nervous about their future.