RIP, Andrew Breitbart, the Ultimate Happy Warrior
Today is the first anniversary of the death of the ultimate happy warrior, Andrew Breitbart. I met and interviewed Andrew on several occasions from 2005 until his death last year at age 43, which was the very definition of the phrase "untimely passing." Last year, shortly after he passed away, I dusted off the cassette tape of the first interview I had with Andrew, recorded a couple of weeks after meeting him for the first time at the PJM launch in Manhattan on November of 2005. We discussed his first book, Hollywood Interrupted, for quotes and background material for an article on Tinseltown's woes that I was writing for Tech Central Station. What follows below is the post I wrote last year, when I originally ran that interview.
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Early on in Chris K. Daley's new e-book, Becoming Breitbart: The Impact of a New Media Revolutionary, there's a great quote from Mickey Kaus, on the power that Andrew Breitbart had quickly acquired, very early in his career:
In retrospect hitching his star to Drudge was a brilliant decision. This was hardly a given in 1995. Political blogger Mickey Kaus, someone who understood the power of the Internet, recalled, “I first met Breitbart when he showed up at a panel I was on at UCLA. He told me he was the guy who posted items for Matt Drudge, and I immediately realized he was the most powerful person in the room. Nobody could understand why I was sucking up to the crazed hippie kid in shorts.”
The power of Drudge Report comes from the large audience it has generated. By 2007 it was regularly attracting over three million unique visits. The average visitor spent an incredible one hour and six minutes on the site, an eternity in Internet terms. The average visitor went to the site 20 times a month. The Washington Post, a popular link for Drudge, noted in 2006 that its “largest driver of traffic is Matt Drudge.”
And not coincidentally along the way, as a headline at Andrew's Big Journalism site gloats, "Newspapers [have become] America’s Fastest Shrinking Industry."
Flash-forward to the fall of 2004, and Andrew's behind-the-scenes power was very much in evidence, this time changing the face of television news. As Scott Johnson of Power Line noted at the start of the month:
I learned in the course of [my week-long visit to Israel in 2007 with Breitbart] that it was Andrew who changed my life in 2004, linking to our “Sixty-First Minute” post early that afternoon with the screaming siren on Drudge. He confided that Matt Drudge did not like blogs, but that he (Andrew) was a fan. On September 9, 2004, he was following the action online. Thank you, Andrew. Thanks for everything.
But along the way, Breitbart also took detours into other ventures, such as helping to build the architecture of the Huffington Post, and co-writing, with Mark Ebner, their 2004 book Hollywood Interrupted. As I mention in the podcast below, I met Andrew in person for the first time the week of November 14th 2005, during the launch week of PJ Media in New York. After we both had returned to California, on November 28, 2005, I interviewed him by telephone for an article I was working on for Tech Central Station, now called Ideas In Action TV.com, about Hollywood’s box office woes, which was published a week later and titled, a la Woody Allen, "Hollywood Ending."
I loved Hollywood, Interrupted, and I was certainly aware of Andrew's backstage work at the Drudge Report and the celebrity-oriented Huffington Post. So I definitely wanted to get his take on how the movie industry, a medium that we both loved, had been utterly transformed, and not necessarily for the better, since its golden era of the 1930s through the mid-1960s.
This interview was originally recorded onto a cheap mono tape recorder, originally for the purpose of pulling quotes for my Tech Central Station article. And while I’ve done a considerable amount of restoration work (employing both extensive amounts of Izotope's RX audio restoration software and the noise gate plug-in built into Cakewalk's Sonar program), it’s still much cruder sounding than the podcasts and radio shows I’ve produced for PJ Media in the years since. But with Andrew’s passing, I thought it would be worth sharing. So apologies for the sound quality, but I think hearing Andrew riffing on the topic of how the Hollywood of old became, as he would say, Interrupted, is well worth listening to.
There are several observations that Andrew makes here that have withstood the test of time. Early on, there's a grimly hilarious remark by Andrew concerning his ailing grandmother, who emitted a piercing primal scream of terror, whenever anyone attempted to change the TV channel from her beloved CBS, the only channel she apparently ever watched, in sharp contrast to today's world of hundreds of cable and satellite channels and millions of Websites and blogs. At about 17 minutes into the interview, he mentions the punitive liberalism and growing nihilism of Hollywood's product, the latter of which being a topic I discussed extensively with Thomas Hibbs last month, the author of the definitive look at Hollywood nihilism, Shows About Nothing. And two minutes later, Andrew makes a great observation on the popularity of today's show-biz-oriented reality TV shows as a sort of payback by the American people for today's drug-addled screw-up stars abandoning the glamour they maintained during Hollywood's earlier era. Near the end of the interview, you can sort of hear the Big Hollywood Website starting to coalesce in Andrew's mind; a topic he and I would discuss a few years later on PJM's Sirius-XM radio show in 2009.
A transcript of this interview, which I originally typed up in 2005 as raw material for my Tech Central Station article, and thus paraphrases some of Andrew's more stream of consciousness remarks, follows on the next page.
Click below to listen to the podcast:
Since in the past, a few people have complained of difficulties with the Flash player above and/or downloading the audio, use the video player below, or click here to be taken to YouTube, for an audio-only YouTube clip. Between one of those versions, you should find a format that plays on your system.
Transcript of 2005 Breitbart Interview
Ed Driscoll: This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com. I met Andrew Breitbart in person for the first time the week of November 14th 2005 during the launch week of PJ Media in New York; on November 28, 2005, I interviewed him by telephone for an article I was working on for Tech Central Station, now called Ideas In Action TV.com, for an article on Hollywood’s box office woes, which was published a week later and titled, a la Woody Allen, "Hollywood Ending."
I loved the book that Andrew had then recently co-written with Mark Ebner, titled Hollywood, Interrupted. And I was certainly aware of all of his backstage work at the Drudge Report. So I definitely wanted to get his take on how an medium that we both loved had been utterly transformed, and not necessarily for the better, since its golden era of the 1930s through the mid-1960s.
This interview was originally recorded onto a cheap mono tape recorder, originally for the purpose of my pulling quotes for my Tech Central Station article. And while I’ve done a considerable amount of restoration work, it’s still much cruder sounding than the podcasts and radio shows I’ve produced for PJ Media in the years since. But with Andrew’s passing, I thought it would be worth sharing. So apologies for the sound quality, but I think hearing Andrew riffing on the topic of how the Hollywood of old became, as he would say, Interrupted, is well worth listening to.
So let’s go back to late 2005. And the first question I put to Andrew, which was, given that Hollywood had recently announced that film attendance had dropped a staggering 12 percent from the year before, how much of it was due to the obsolescence of movies themselves, and the arrival of technological competitors such as video games, and how much was due to Hollywood’s arrogance and anti-American—certainly anti-Red State biases. Andrew replied…
Andrew Breitbart: Well, I’ll give you my opinion, and you can frame it however you like. But I can give you as much background [as possible] as to where I am.
I wrote Hollywood Interrupted with Mark Ebner, and though we don’t really agree on politics per se, (though I must say, that since we’ve started working together, I’ve swayed him way more to my point of view) the one thing we truly agreed upon is that Hollywood was heading south on so many levels, that it was difficult to keep track of it, in terms of the quality of the content, and the quality of the quote-unquote "star." There was confusion in the marketplace, in terms of competing technologies.
Ed: Well, the movie form itself is what – over a century old?
Andrew: Right. But there’s now the Internet. So the means by which we’re accessing information is changing right now at such a revolutionary pace.
I remember trying to figure out, around say 1980, when I was 11 years old, the differences between my dad’s parents, my dad and my mom, and me and my sister. I would be over my grandparents’ house, and my grandmother, because of a degenerative spinal problem, was bedridden. So she would sit there throughout the day and she’d watch CBS.
I would go into the room and visit with her, and being a kid, I would manually try and change the channel to channel 4 or channel 7, which were NBC and ABC. The 2, 4, 7 tend to be CBS, NBC and ABC in major cities like New York and LA. And she would make this noise -- AAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!! -- like this primal scream -- AAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!! And I’m like, "Oh, sorry!" And I would ask dad, what’s going on? And he would say, "Oh, she’s always watched CBS; that’s all she’s ever watched."
When I would be over at my parents’ house, you know, [back then] I’m new to this cable business. We’ve got pay cable at home -- this was back in the early 1980s. And there’s like 30 channels. And I’m just flipping through the channels. My parents are very comfortable with 2,4,7. Matter of fact, they can even handle the off-channels, the local channels that aren’t network-affiliated. That was their level of comfort; they thought that grandma was a little bit nuts.
Ed: But they weren’t ready for this whole cable thing.
Andrew: But then I would sit, and I would be flipping through 30 channels. And my dad would say, "Slow down! What’s going on here?!" And I would go, "I know exactly what I just went through."
Nowadays, I’m in the position where I think that I’m adaptable—I think that I’m so cutting edge with this fast-paced life, that no matter society and technology hand me, I’ll be able to adapt to it.
But clearly, that’s not true. I look at the way that young people are downloading music, movies, and videos. And videogames have become a much larger factor than I could have possibly predicted, in terms of what’s actually capturing the imagination of young people.
I don’t think that Hollywood Interrupted addressed these issues. So when I tend to talk about these things, and I isolate that there is a wholesale rejection of the Hollywood mentality, I think that there are many factors at play here, and I think that the technological revolution is probably the primary one.
I think that the star system is a major problem, though. I think that with stars who end up making it on a sitcom for five or ten years, such as a Courtney Cox or a Jennifer Aniston, because of the success of that ensemble, which was written by, arguably, geniuses of the trade, the studios come to them and say, "OK, let’s create a deal, in which you produce content."
Well, these people are actors. But they’re given so much power, that it sends a message to me that [the studios] really don’t know what they’re doing. It’s the writer, the creator, who should be given these types of deals. They’re the people who should be rewarded—not the actors.
When a Jennifer Aniston movie doesn’t do great at the box office, [studios] wonder, how this can be. Well, we liked her as that cute 20-something girl on Friends, but we’re not looking for her to be jumping off of bridges, with huge pyrotechnic explosions going off.
I think on so many levels, whether it’s Hollywood trying to figure out the technology issue, or trying to figure out what people actually want to see, the power structure in the town seems completely…
Just like the old studio system needed to be overturned, so does the current anti-studio system. The current system is one in which stars have undue power, and they’re not necessarily the best arbiters of taste. As a matter of fact, since they’re the ones in charge, and artists in Hollywood tend to be left of center, and tend to agree with one and other, and tend to not really hear the other side whatsoever, I think that the disconnect that exists in Hollywood, which far exceeds just the political realm, is best represented, is easiest seen through the political realm.
We’re in a post-9/11 world. And Hollywood eventually gets around to making political statements. And it usually comes at those statements from the perspective that really, we’re the ones who are to blame for the predicament that we find ourselves in.
I just saw Syriana, and I’ve long tried to figure out, whether it be from a lucid spokesperson of the left, or an essayist, or a professor, who could explain logically why it is that the left, which claims to be an advocate of civil liberties and human rights, is utterly silent when it comes to the world threat of Islamic extremism.
And seeing Syriana answered my question, perfectly. By mixing, admittedly, fact and fiction, and using quick cuts and plausible scenes of CIA intrigue and American business meddling in geopolitics using the CIA, it was able to create a feeling within the audience. I saw this in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, where there were "yeses" and "uh-hums" like the type you’d hear at a Baptist church. People were going, "Yup—that’s exactly what was going on." And in the end, you have America as the villain. "Well, this is the situation you get, when you get into bed with dogs."
I thought that Hollywood, in another era, would be, by virtue of the marketplace, trying to appease the masses. And in a post-9/11 world, there would have been countless movies that expressed the heroism that existed on that utterly important day. But ultimately, these people do not let their pocketbooks determine what they’re going to do, as many on the left would suggest. They think that that would only fuel the jingoism.
I’ve stated that the primary concern is one of utter confusion in the marketplace, because it’s chaos out there, and technology’s happening so quickly, and the corporate infrastructure, the corporate realm doesn’t really understand how to adapt to it that quickly, and what it means. Especially when one can get things that they used to pay a lot of money for, for free.
But I would say that the problem is profoundly enhanced by the cultural disconnect. That the people who are trying to keep up a good front that all’s fine out here are so utterly removed from the common sentimentality of the average American. And I think that Hollywood, to a certain degree, is at war with Red State values. Is that its number one concern? Should it be its number one concern? I would say, no, I think they have much bigger problems. But for people on the right, and for people on the left, it’s a very convenient one to point to.
Ed: Andrew, back in February, the Weekly Standard reviewed Edward Jay Epstein's book, The Big Picture. As they noted, Epstein posits that Hollywood is an endlessly profitable echo chamber. How much is Hollywood protected by revenue beyond the American box office? How much does that insulate them, to allow them to do these kinds of anti-Bush, anti-War on Terror, anti-conservative films? And, how long can it last?
Andrew: Well, I always thought that in the Harvey Weinstein era, the Miramax era, that we were creating two cinematic Americas. One was the schlock, the weekend blockbuster stuff that’s so cynical that people on both sides can look at and say, "oh, that’s just bottom-line oriented product." And they’re missing it’s so lowest common dominator that it’s too bland for people to appreciate. And those type of failures at the box office are countless, but that form of picture is totally worthy of analysis unto itself. And a lot of that has to do with the fact those movies, now, are mainly produced to appeal to a global audience.
In the past, studios said, "OK, let’s craft this movie to the heartland," and ultimately, by crafting it to the heartland, it sent a message to the rest of the world, "Boy, I’d really like to come to America, it seems magical there."
But now, there are politically correct sensibilities that aren’t just politically politically correct sensibilities, but they’re bottom-line politically correct concepts that they’re trying to pursue.
That’s the first type of film that they’re talking about: the pursuit of the blockbuster. And there’s mostly an apolitical nature to that part.
But then you have the Oscar/Sundance/Miramax axis. And that’s the type of film that is done on the cheap by Hollywood standards; that tends to be the message movie that conveys perfectly where Hollywood is intellectually and artistically. If you were to isolate that type of movie over the last ten years, you would see that what Hollywood is elevating is nothing short of nihilism. Whether that be American Beauty, or even a Syriana, what you see are movies that pretty much…
These people have long ago put America on trial, and found America, and its underlying consumer-oriented culture, to be guilty. And this is their way of, on one hand producing it, and on the other, looking for immediate artistic penance.
Those are the types of movies I find myself going to, even though I have to bite my lip, because they are the best-made movies, the message not withstanding. But it’s on rare occasion that you find an artsy movie that attempts to elevate, or that puts an American…
If I were somebody in Red Country (and I think of myself as being a Red Country American), I do find it offensive, but I think that the comeuppance is in the rejection of Hollywood.
I think it comes in the form of policy(sp?).
We certainly need our diversions in the age of Terror, where most Americans are worried that an American city will be annihilated by nuclear bombs, by people who are fanatics that are ten times worse than the Christian Right.
I think that you need to divert your attention; you can’t be 24/7 focused on the impending problems that exist in our culture, and that exist within world politics.
So I think that what Americans have done, is that when handed lemons, they have made lemonade. And so I think that by taking the sourpusses of Hollywood, the ones who refuse to deign to treat the average American as worthy of their focus, I think that Hollywood has created a vacuum that has been filled by entertainment that is basically Schadenfreude. I think that we now look to watch people fail, especially celebrities, the people who have been handed the most, for the least amount of contribution to society. In the past, we used to look up to them, and wanted to dress like them, and wanted to imitate the way that they spoke; they way that they dressed. We’d have pin-ups.
I think that now, we’re willing to pay Paris Hilton an enormous amount of money, just so long as she behaves like an idiot on film. And I think that most successful reality shows that have involved celebrities, who are no longer going on cattle-calls to be in sitcoms, are going on cattle-calls to be in reality series. And the ones that they choose to pick are the ones whose lives would be the most manifestly dysfunctional.
So I think that what you see now is an adversarial relationship between the audience and the celebrities themselves. The celebrities are rewarded out here for maintaining a certain political posture. And so, the more they talk up left-wing politics, the more they are going to warm up to the hiring infrastructure.
Hollywood is the one place where affirmative action really couldn’t work. If a casting director wanted to pick a black person who’s pregnant, who’s 32 to 33 years of age, they’re allowed to. You’re not allowed to do that kind of thing in the real world. And if you’re Woody Allen, you’re not going to get sued if you hire the same ten actors for all of your movies.
When Hollywood claims that there isn’t a blacklist, or there isn’t a chill, for people who disagree with them, well, you try being a conservative who has to appease the casting director, and appease the director and the producer, and the other actors that he or she is going to have to spend time with on a set, for three months at a time if it’s a movie, in close confines.
The disconnect is so great, that a George Clooney with his Good Night And Good Luck, is yet another Hollywood produced film that is conspicuously placed out there in the era of terror, in which the celebrities think that the Patriot Act and raw patriotism and jingoism is the worst thing that’s altering our lifestyle.
They’re trying to show that celebrities who pipe up on the War on Terror, who get hell on AM talk radio are experiencing the same type of backlash. Hollywood stars who speaking out want to present themselves as being martyrs of the "George Bush Terror Age." But these people have to understand—or it has to be made plain to them—that they have created an environment in which it is as damaging to be a conservative in Hollywood in 2005, as it was to be a communist in Hollywood in 1955.
My father-in-law was blacklisted, and will attest to that. He’s still an actor in Hollywood, and he says that he has to be so quiet about being a conservative, that it’s more painful than it was when Ed Sullivan called him up and said that you couldn’t be on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Ed: Andrew, last question. Narnia is coming out at Christmas time. There’s talk that Bruce Willis is going to do a film that’s pro-Iraq War. Is there any hope that there will be more movies that appeal to Red State audiences, or is it just going to be pretty much more of the same going forward?
Andrew: There are some bright spots out there. I think that the brightest spot would be finding out that there are more conservatives making films that are just neutral topics, and are just making films to be just making films so that it can be completely integrated.
So that the idea of there being a niche market? OK, you’ve got your liberal Hollywood message films. Conservatives, start making yours, and let it compete out there the way that AM talk radio and Fox News and the Internet are competing with CNN. That certainly can happen, and I see a market need for something like that. But I think that ideal situation would be that there are liberals and there are conservatives in Hollywood who make films and who make sitcoms, and make product. I just don’t like this constantly stratified media, and if that happens in the film world, and you’ve got your Air America productions on the one hand, and you’ve got your Rush Limbaugh products on the other hand? We have our different media where we like to get things, but movies are one of the last places where we have a shared collective experience, and I think it would be horrible to think that there were ideological ghettos.
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