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08/24/2008

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Jake

To be generous, Judge Posner may have intended this post as satire, in which event it succeeds wonderfully.

But if that is not the case, Posner's claim that the "Hollywood film industry follows taste rather than creating taste" is simply insulting to anyone who is old enough to remember the days when the mass media in America was not the pervasive 24/7/365 influence it is today.

If Posner believes otherwise, he really needs to get out of chambers more.

GeorgeNYC

Very interesting post. But, to a certain extent, I disagree with your assessment that Hollywood must necessarily "follows" the trends. I think what may infuriate the right so much at times is the ability of film and other media to affect those very trends.

As an example I can recall the very first "gay" characters in movies or on television. They may have been "stereotypes" but over time, they can become acceptable and can change perceptions.

A very good recent example is the television series "24" which had as its central premise a black presidential candidate who later became president. The show did not make a point of the "blackness" of the candidate. In fact there was so much going on that you rarely ever noticed that fact. Who is to say that this fictional presentation has not had its impact on the current campaign. I am not saying that "24" will get Obama elected, but it portrayal of a black president perhaps has allowed us more easily to accept this as a reality .

Imagination is an important part of persuasion. However, I guess one could still argue that this is doing nothing more than pulling on values that are already there? But how did we get there? It is what 40 years now between "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "24." There is a whole string of cultural creations that in sometime subtle ways encouraged us to see African Americans as equals.

Again, while I recognize the economic analysis, I think there may be some externalities here that bear consideration.

GeorgeNYC

Very interesting post. But, to a certain extent, I disagree with your assessment that Hollywood must necessarily "follows" the trends. I think what may infuriate the right so much at times is the ability of film and other media to affect those very trends.

As an example I can recall the very first "gay" characters in movies or on television. They may have been "stereotypes" but over time, they can become acceptable and can change perceptions.

A very good recent example is the television series "24" which had as its central premise a black presidential candidate who later became president. The show did not make a point of the "blackness" of the candidate. In fact there was so much going on that you rarely ever noticed that fact. Who is to say that this fictional presentation has not had its impact on the current campaign. I am not saying that "24" will get Obama elected, but it portrayal of a black president perhaps has allowed us more easily to accept this as a reality .

Imagination is an important part of persuasion. However, I guess one could still argue that this is doing nothing more than pulling on values that are already there? But how did we get there? It is what 40 years now between "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "24." There is a whole string of cultural creations that in sometime subtle ways encouraged us to see African Americans as equals.

Again, while I recognize the economic analysis, I think there may be some externalities here that bear consideration.

Max

How does one explain movies with a strong (left!) political slant that do poorly at the box office? The goal is propaganda over profit. There are people in Hollywood using other peoples' money to pay for promoting their politics.

As to Charlton Heston being extremely conservative, uh no. Mr' Heston marched with Martin Luther King in the '60s. As President of the Screen Actors' Guild he introduced Dr. King to the leaders of Hollywood's technical unions to get them to open up to minorities.

Are you referring to Mr. Heston being President of the National Rifle Association? Why don't you see that as a continuation of his civil rights work? As an illustrative example, Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality is a lawyer specializing in 2nd amendment issues. Mr. Innis is on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association and it seems like he's been there forever. He is around 78 years old and still working for voter rights around the world.

James

People watch movies for many reasons: to experience drama and catharsis, to enjoy spectacle, to escape from humdrum reality, to laugh, to observe depictions of beauty, heroism, revenge, sex, death, love, loss, war, music, dance, the far corners and peoples of the world, or anything that can be put on screen. Some number must also hope to see something completely new, perhaps even shocking, and, occasionally, to learn something. Whatever their motivations, moviegoers surrender their time and attention for a couple of hours to someone else's vision. Perhaps it is in the nature of the audience mindset that people who have more liberal perspectives are more likely, on average, to enjoy movies.

If the audience for movies tilts liberal, perhaps liberals are best able to sympathize with, understand, attract and satisfy the customers.

robert

Why is Hollywood dominated by liberals? My guess is that, as with most people, those in Hollywood choose to take their politics, and
other ideas, by default, i.e., to blindly accept them from their particular milieu.
Ironically, the so-called "Golden Age" of movies featured studio heads that were conservative. They had no problem producing movies that were patriotic (as was the case during during World War II). Today's studio heads, aging baby boomers brought up in the 1960's and 70's, no doubt feel it is their patriotic duty to preach the gospel of Michael Moore and others like him.
In the end, movies--no different from books, televison, magazines, etc.--are a reflection of the culture. And that culture is decidedly left-leaning in three central areas: academia, the media and Hollywood. Nothing less than a change in the culture will herald a change in the movies.

Dan

Here's a quote from an odd source: Solzhenitsyn's famous Harvard address in 1978. I believe his statements about "the press" are now applicable to "the media" generally -- Hollywood being a part of that. Thirty years on, the corporate marketers' ability to identify "tastemakers" and trends within target demographics is well documented. See, e.g., the excellent PBS Frontline documentary "The Merchants of Cool."


"It is a fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment and there may be common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership because newspapers mostly give enough stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend."

Vitaly

Hollywood is a subset of a big city urban class that is predominantly liberal. You might as well ask why most big city lawyers are liberal or why most big city (insert occupation) are liberal. Thus discussion on why most folks who live in big cities are liberal would be more appropriate.

Thomason

One noted irony is how the 'threat' of movies, that promote libertine and non-traditional lives, is so equally feared by Amercian conservatives as it is by Islamist fundamentalists. Neither group want the cinema, the internet, even the published media to intrude upon, or steal the hearts and minds of, the populace. On what topic, other than the perceived degrading effect of cinema and TV, do the Neocons and the Islamafacista agree?
On your topic of why does Hollywood tend to attract and to employ those on the liberal side of politics: thinkers, artists, writers - they make movies. Their intellectual pursuits require departure from accepted views, they deconstruct, dissemble, recast, rethink what the populace 'thinks' about. Doing that is the antithesis of propaganda, which repeats, restates, regurgitates an unchanging message and unwavering viewpoint.

William

What both posts overlook is that conservatives don't just lack a visible presence in Hollywood. In general, they don't have much presence in the arts in general. (I should note here that I am, yes, a liberal who enjoys this blog.) Let me explain via anecdote: I spent a good chunk of my life involved in creative work, from high school through college and at the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. Simply put, you encounter almost no politically right-wing persons in this field, and this largely holds true even among people too young to be concerned with careers.

Furthermore, although there are currently hundreds (if not thousands) of literary journals being published in the United States right now, but I can think of only one (The New Criterion) that publishes politically right-wing content. And I know that The National Review publishes book reviews, criticism, etc. But there is no conservative New Yorker, no conservative New York Review of Books, no conservative Paris Review.

True, there are definitely notable conservatives who write poetry and fiction (e.g., the very intelligent Dana Gioia, and it wouldn't surprise me if Wallace Stevens voted for conservatives). However, overall, it does seem like some element of the conservative culture dissuades young Republicans from pursuing art, or at least from pursuing art with amount of hard work required to become competent at it.

You're missing the point if you believe that artistic types gravitate toward left-wing politics because liberals take a more permissive stance toward drinking, drug use, and sex. Again, on the basis of my anecdotal experience, whatever bad behavior occurred at the Writer's Workshop was nothing compared to what occurred in the frat houses. The young Republicans in the frats made us seem like amateurs!

I've tried to formulate a reason for how this disparity started, but every reason seems reductive. Why are there few Republicans in Hollywood? Perhaps for the same reason that there are few Liberals on Wall Street.

David

Easy answer: creativity and conformity rarely go hand-in-hand, so creative people (whether actors, writers, directors, or forward-thinking studio executives) are likely to challenge the status quo. That explains both the "extreme left" and the "extreme right" elements of Hollywood.

Also, movies that "sell" tend to focus on compelling personal stories rather than on stories about how best to maintain the integrity of the system. The typical hero challenges the "system" and, by winning, makes life better for everyone. That is a very "progressive" outlook on political change. Slow but steady progress and carefully-targeted reform do not make for good theater. So it is no mystery that "theatrical" types will be temperamentally liberal in their political attitudes, seeking a complete, "great society" makeover of the system.

neilehat

The Film industry is a business like any other, "if it pays it plays". If not ... And what plays? The New, the Different, the Exciting, the Out of the Ordinary. Who is going to pay good money to see the pedestrian, the ordinary, the mundane? No one who is looking to escape the Ho-Hum, drabness and mediocrity of their daily lives for a couple of hours. Escapism sells, big time. What could be simpler?

Yet, as a media, it has the tremendous power to educate or indoctrinate on command. This is why the Conservatives are so frightened of it. "If we can't control it, the Liberals certainly won't." It's all simply about power and control. Realpolitik anyone?

Collestro

The key reason so many Hollywood types are liberal is that it is very hard to be smart and well educated without turning into a liberal. Sure you can be smart and poorly educated and be a conservative, or you can be stupid and go to the best schools and still cling to the conservative ideology. But, if you are smart like a Hollywood Jew and have read a few things, you are going to think that individual freedom and liberty are goals to be struggled for.

It is no accident that the states with the worst education systems are the red states. It is also no surprise that the right wing wants drugs outlawed, don’t believe the propaganda, they hate a free market. What exactly are conservatives trying to conserve, the divine right of kings?

Steve

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Jack

Not sure where to begin on this highly subjective and speculative piece but perhaps:

Posner waxes nostalgic on behalf of "conservatives" over the "break down of the Hays code? Well Judge the industry has grown and matured since those days of sweeping things under the carpet and has (perhaps sadly) become the literature of our time for many, perhaps most. Why would we want to keep up a pretense that married couples sleep only in twin beds and that men don't have chest hair?

As for the product the LAST thing we'd want would a hierarchy imposing its values on any art form. Looking back over the last century of American literature, from Twain, to Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Mailer and many others the best of their works questioned the established values of their age. If there is anything to lament about Hollywood it is that there is far too much mindless pap and not enough substance, questioning or investigative journalism.

What would conservatives favor? Reel after reel proclaiming our love of flag and apple pie? Horatio Alger fables even as upward mobility in America has fallen behind that of Germany and others? The presidents' versions of various wars instead of the truth and drama of those who returned disillusioned and or in wheel chairs? Between Disney and a host of love stories aren't there enough Norman Rockwell covers to provide a balance?

Well............ enough. For now. Jack

Pandaemoni

Posner writes:

"The nature of their work, which combines irregular employment with high variance in income, an engagement with imaginative rather than realistic concepts, noninvolvement in the production of "useful" goods or service, and, traditionally, a bohemian style of living (a consequence of the other factors I have mentioned), distances them from the ordinary, everyday world of work and family in a basically rather conservative, philistine, and emphatically commercial society, which is the society of the United States today."

Other posters have said that creativity and conformity do not go hand in hand and that smart people tend to be liberals as explanations for why liberals seemingly dominate the creative arts.

I'd suggest that the answer is the a variant on what Posner wrote. It's not that the lifestyle distances the artist into from conservatism, to me, that suggests that younger or newer artists should be more conservative than their older brethren, which is the opposite of my experience. Instead I suspect that those characteristics he lists cause people with a liberal mindset to be more drawn to the lifestyle than those with a conservative outlook. Stated differently, the qualities of the lifestyle cause liberals to disproportionately select it, rather than somehow adjusting their thought processes until they become liberal.

I certainly do not believe that conservatives, being conformists, lack creativity. They simply that they channel their creativity in different ways. There are plenty of professions that reward creativity that are more conducive to a conservative life. Mathematicians, economists, architects, engineers, lawyers, doctors, business executives, etc. can be as creative as an artist, and yet the payoffs are more regular and the lifestyle tends to be less bohemian. Besides, as I note below, to be a liberal in Hollywood *is* to conform. The social norm for an artist amongst one's peers in Hollywood is liberalism, and social pressures encourage conformity to that norm, so people do.

As for high education leading to liberalism...well, by and large actors in Hollywood are not that highly educated. They seem to lead a fairly insular lifestyle and are unaccustomed to being challenged. When challenged they often insult the person holding the contrary position. Many of them read what they can in liberal magazines and spout it back as if it were their own original thoughts on the issues. (Not to say that people on the right aren't also doing the same things, as often they are.)

It might be true that educated people in the west tend to become liberal, but that conjecture doesn't explain Hollywood. It seems more likely that, given the insularity I noted, Hollywood is subject to social feedback that reinforces liberal positions. We are social animals and are generally very much susceptible to peer pressure. With the conservative voice being drowned out, by and large, one would expect the average person to conform to those opinions that are prominent, eventually internalizing them. (One also would expect a few contrarians who go the other way, but the majority of people conform to the norms of the social group, even if the social group is liberal.)

Just to be clear, I have nothing against either liberals or conservatives, have many views that lie on both sides of the political spectrum, and have friends at the extremes of both.

Jack

Panda sez: "It might be true that educated people in the west tend to become liberal,"

Well that one's likely not true, as CA has grown more conservative over the years with much of the growth being "educated" engineers, techies, and financial managers of Orange County and the surrounding regions. Mostly, I'd put forth that it's rural areas that tend to lean "conservative" (quotes as I no long know what is conservative about today's brand of "conservatives".)

By state the "Blue" band runs from NY and New England across the northern states and down thru WA, OR and CA, but urban areas such as Austin TX, Atlanta, GA and Miami also lean "liberal".

As for "Hollywood" and the film producing industry's rejection of what constitutes "conservatism" today, I'd suggest that they are joined by most authors, musicians, teachers, journalists and economists other than those hired on with "conservative" think tanks.

David posts: "The typical hero challenges the "system" and, by winning, makes life better for everyone."

jjjjjjjjj Indeed. What sort of story would it make if the smoking industry, corporations that pollute, and corrupt politicians won the day? The film ending with "Whew! that was a close one, glad we got rid of that little pain in the backside, well, back to buz?" Goliath stomps Sampson?

Perhaps this is a good time to make a comment on the political spectrum. I find it easy as a common sense, pragmatic "liberal" to talk with a similarly sensible and pragmatic, principled conservative and end up thinking the political spectrum is a circle with good conservatives and thinking liberals seated next to each other with slightly differing approaches to a similar goal.

Who's on the other side of the circle? Rent seekers and those of both parties with little philosophy beyond seeking favorable treatment for their industries along with those of the "faith-based" community who never tire of pushing for a theocracy in which their religion is the established religion and law of the land for all. Currently they and their heavily funded lobbying and "think tank" are advancing their agenda over that of either thoughtful, true to their principles conservatives and similarly thoughtful liberals.

bk

As for high education leading to liberalism...well, by and large actors in Hollywood are not that highly educated.

well, by and large, people working in hollywood are not actors. writers, producers, directors, sound people, video techies, prop guys, etc greatly outnumber actors...and many/most of these people are educated. given that your starting premise is wrong, it's no surprise that the rest of your analysis is similarly wrong.

Dan

As Panda points out, there is always conformity among self-selecting groups. Hollywood "liberals" and "conservatives" alike are suckling at the same teat: an entertainment industry that produces, markets, and sells products.

Cover photos of Angelina's beautiful face wearing a mask of sadness and concern as she tours Africa sell magazines. Angelina's likeness engaging in fashionable humanitarian activity is the image, becomes the product and is part of the "Hollywood" brand. I would find her equally attractive were she to wear a grey Chairman Mao outfit and tour a factory floor (Far-left-styled Angelina) or dress in camouflage to entertain the troops (Far-right-styled Angelina). Sex sells and the biological impulses her image appeals to in me are quite divorced from political ideology.

Indeed, Judge Posner's 7th Circuit issued a landmark ruling some years ago on the subject of intellectual property rights to performer's images... Everyone here agrees that image has value and that the scripted and studied appearance and graceful carriage, the charisma of an actor is value added to a media product.

I submit that the significance of the "liberal" leanings of Hollywood personalities should be regarded as a feature of the Hollywood brand. George Clooney's soulful eyes and sensitive side are well suited to roles as "establishment figures who find conscience" (Michael Clayton, Syriana, etc., etc.) Are these roles political statements or sexual statements designed to attract female viewers?

Now that we have established what actors are, let's determine their price.

TM

It is not clear why some are attempting to equate conservatism with conformity, with the status quo, or with lack of intelligence. The general essence of political conservatism is a belief that less government is better than more. Reasonable people can disagree regarding whether more or less government is better. Relying on the market certainly has challenges, but in my observation, irrespective of the party in power, government has a poor track record of achieving its objectives efficiently and cost effectively -- so this leads me to be a political conservative.

Alternatively, if the comments are intending to define "conservative" in a social context, it is a mistake to assume social conservatives are all, or even mostly, Christian extremists just as it is a mistake to assume all liberals are pot-smoking whores.

Saint Darwin Asissi's cat

Judge Posner, you jangled a lot of chains and brains! Good for you. Values may be progressive. At the end of the road will we be happy with our choices? Although Meryl Streep's character says "everyone wants to be us" in THE DEVIL WORE PRADA maybe yes maybe no. I doubt if OJ Simpson can honestly say he is happy with his choices. I doubt that Nicole Simpson was happy with her choices. I doubt that Anna Nicole Smith was happy with her choices. And I heard (hear say) that not all the lawyers in silk stocking Steptoe and Johnson like firms are happy with their choices either. And the facts you site....hummmmmm....someone might need a good course in the consumption of statistical data in the political arena...not all of the stats you use are FACTS....as a judge I understand you have to base your decisions on something but really, there are very few facts. I bet some days you are not even happy with all of the decisions you have issued and once in a while might rethink your position which has affected the unknowable and uncountable many. It seems that today with our current world situation people are very uneasy ....while Hollywood may be glamourous to the young and impressionable just as sports may be, the healthy happy hero habits of the non Hollywood/non jet set sports figures are the habits that will endure regardless of occupational choice....yeah for Professor Becker that he cited his spouse in his blog! Hey, and what about Senator Clinton's ELECTRIC speech last night at the Democratic Convention? There is a true leader!

Brian Davis

Sadly, the only times the media gives us a more balanced glimpse into the innards of Hollywood are when its icons-of-the-day behave badly. The folks out there who comprise the glue that holds the pieces together go largely unseen, unheard-from except when performing. Reagan was the mega-exception. But you don't hear much from the Clint Eastwoods. Or how about the late Johnny Carson? Hollywood's "liberalness" is another illusion. Most mainstays of the film and televison industries figure out pretty early that their careers depend upon living healthy, well-managed lives. But since when has the media succeeded in distinguishing fact from fiction?

neilehat

TM, Really! "The Govenrment has a poor track record of acheiving its ojectives efficiently and cost effectively"? What about the settling of a continent and the setting up of the fifty states via the "Ordinance of the Northwest Territory" or its derivatives. How about the development of a continental transportation network that is the envy of the world? Or how about the development of communications networks the rest of the world is beginning only to realize? Much like this Internet thing that was originally Arpanet, a government developed system that was given away? Perhaps, I shouldn't even mention the Education System in the U.S. that has developed through governmental desire for universal public education or the Land-Grant College System that everyone around the world is trying to get into. All this was a clause in that Ordinance mentioned above.

Before you condemn someone for the misapplication of a term, I suggest you look it up in a dictionary first. It will give you a really interesting understanding of the terms, "Conservatism" and "Liberalism".

Sorry Man! It all just doesn't jive with the facts or history.

TM

I clearly didn't say, nor did I imply, that government is always unsuccessful. Of course it is successful at times and many times it isn't. The local, state and Federal governments all failed in responding to the citizens' needs from Katrina when there were some nice examples of private enterprise and non-profits responding more quickly and effectively. Your education system is an interesting example. You focus on the colleges and universities when I think many would view the performance of primary and secondary public schools as something less than successful. As an example, the Catholic school system (no I'm not Catholic and do not intend to send my children to a Catholic school) is able to educate children with equal or better results for a considerably lower cost per student. This has been found to be a result of considerable waste at the administrative level in the public school systems. I have dealt with Washington DC Public Schools and know that it can and should be run much more efficiently. There are thousands of frequently unmotivated employees sitting in a very expensive new building and adding little or no value the children in the classroom. You may view the public schools as a success, but I don't. I live in an area with toll roads managed by a government agency and other toll roads managed by a private enterprise. The private enterprise is able to better serve the public, spend less in the process, and make a profit -- good for them.

neilehat

TM, Then we should privatize and deregulate the World ala-Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, S/L's and the current crop of Financial Institutions, etc., etc.?

We've got Toll-roads too. Ours are managed by the Government and work just fine. What's your problem?

As for the D.C. school system, that's a "make work" project for otherwise unemployable individuals. Which would you rather have, people sitting in offices or out on the streets selling guns and drugs out of a car's trunk in a back alley someplace?

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