Ed Driscoll

The Discreet Charm of the Showbiz Bourgeoisie

Two recent articles on America’s celebrities help to define what passes for conventional wisdom in 2010 Hollywood. First up, “Angelina Jolie Hates Thanksgiving, Refuses to Celebrate, Report Says:”

As families across America gather to give thanks this Thursday, one star who is determined to make sure her family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving is Angelina Jolie, according to a report from PopEater.com.

Friends of the actress tell PopEater’s Rob Shuter that Jolie is completely “grossed out” by the centuries-old American holiday.

“Jolie hates this holiday and wants no part in rewriting history like so many other Americans,” the friend said. “To celebrate what the white settlers did to the native Indians, the domination of one culture over another, just isn’t her style. She definitely doesn’t want to teach her multi-cultural family how to celebrate a story of murder.”

Why, how very bourgeois.

Assuming Jolie’s worldview was described accurately above, while Jolie may not be a fan of Barack Obama, she sounds very much like a cast-in-the-mold punitive liberal with such tired rhetoric.

And speaking of which, 25 years ago, Bruce Springsteen warned his fans that “in 1985, blind faith in your leaders or in anything will get you killed.” These days, if you’re a singer with an utterly conventional showbiz mindset, it will get you a pat on the head from the White House:

“There’s a widespread political consciousness that’s perhaps deeper in Europe than it is in the States,” he told the Sunday Times magazine.

“The climate [in America] is very, very ugly for getting things done. The moderate reforms President Obama fought to make are called Marxist, socialist.

“I mean, the most extreme language is put into play to describe the most modest reforms that would move the economy back towards serving a majority of its citizens.”

The musician, often referred to as “The Boss”, added: “You have a guy [Mr Obama] who comes in, he gets to be president for four years. Maybe eight.

“But you have the financial institutions, you have the military, the corporations. They’re in play constantly and, in truth, they’re shaping the economy and shaping the direction the US is moving in.

“Those forces are huge. The money and lobbyists are pouring in to do everything they can [to preserve the status quo]. It’s a very tough time, a very hard time here in the States.”

But like Wall Street and big business, which by and large loved Obama in 2008, Bruce is the status-quo himself — as I wrote two years ago around this time, “To borrow from the vernacular of The Boss’s early ’70s glory days (to coin a phrase), has any musician become more Establishment than Springsteen?”

Fortunately, most Americans have long since rejected such conventional Ruling Class opinions, to forge a truly avant-garde worldview that European-bound elites such as Springsteen and Jolie simply can’t seem to comprehend. Or as Scott McLemee writes at the Inside Higher Ed Website, quoting a remarkably perceptive essay from Canadian writer Stephen Leacock in 1932:

Leacock wrote an enormous amount — there were one or two collections of his essays every year until his death in 1944. Much of it doesn’t hold up very well, after all this time. When you need a footnote to get a joke, it’s not really a joke any more; it is a fossil. But his observations on the civilization just south of Canada are another matter. Apart from a couple of topical references, they still apply after almost eighty years.

“Americans are a queer people,” he writes. “They can’t rest…. They rush up and down across their continent as tourists; they move about in great herds to conventions, they invade the wilderness, they flood the mountains, they keep the hotels full. But they can’t rest. The scenery rushes past them. They learn it, but they don’t see it. Battles and monuments are announced to them in a rubber neck bus… So they go on rushing until the Undertaker gathers them to the last convention.”

The same state of distracted haste prevails in the educational system and in publishing. Americans “have more schools,” Leacock writes, “and better schools, and spend more money on schools and colleges than all of Europe. They print more books in one year than the French print in ten. But they can’t read. They cover their country with 100,000 tons of Sunday newspapers every week. But they don’t read them. They’re too busy. They use them for fires and to make more paper with.” Today, of course, we publish everything digitally, then ignore it.

If they ever bothered to read anything, Americans would probably be unhappy. But we don’t. So (as the quintessential American phrase now goes) it’s all good: “All the world criticizes them and they don’t give a damn….Moralists cry over them, criminologists dissect them, writers shoot epigrams at them, prophets foretell the end of them, and they never move. Seventeen brilliant books analyze them every month; they don’t read them .… But that’s all right. The Americans don’t give a damn; don’t need to; never did need to. That is their salvation.”

But for those who prefer more the comfort of more conventional elitist wisdom, pre-printed talking points are available in the lobby.

Related: “If we cannot trust our authorities, who can we trust?”