A recent article in the Washington Times by Amy Fagan, entitled ‚ÄúHollywood‚Äôs Conservative Underground,
www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/23/hollywoods-conservative-underground/ (visited Aug. 23, 2008), is a reminder of the curious domination of the American film industry by left liberals. The industry‚Äôs left-wing slant drives the Right crazy (if you Google "Hollywood Liberals," you'll encounter an endless number of fierce, often paranoid, denunciations by conservative bloggers and journalists of Hollywood's control by the Left). Fagan's article depicts Hollywood conservatives as an embattled minority, forced to meet in secret lest the revelation of their political views lead to their being blacklisted by the industry. The conservatives' complaint is an ironic echo of the 1950s, when communists and fellow travelers in Hollywood--who were numerous--were blacklisted by the movie studios.
We need to distinguish between actors, actresses, set designers, scriptwriters, directors, and other "creative" (that is, artistic) film personnel, on the one hand, and the business executives and shareholders of the film studios, on the other hand. (Producers are closer to the second, the business, echelon than to the creative echelon.) The creative workers, I think, are not so much magnetized by left-wing politics as drawn to political extremes--for there have been a number of extremely conservative Hollywood actors, such as Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Mel Gibson, and Jon Voight--Voight recently wrote a fiercely conservative op-ed in the Washington Times, where Fagan's article was published. The left end of the political spectrum in this country is still somewhat more respectable than the right end, and so if one finds a class of persons who are drawn to political polarization, more will end up at the far liberal end of the political spectrum than at the far conservative end, yet it will be polarization rather than leftism as such that explains the imbalance. No one has a good word for Stalin and Mao nowadays, but socialism is not a dirty word, as fascism is.
But why should actors and other creative workers in the Hollywood film industry, and indeed "cultural workers" more generally, be drawn to political extremes? 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.
The choice of a political ideology, which is to say of a general orientation that guides a person's response to a variety of specific political and ethical issues, is less a matter of conscious choice or weighing of evidence than of a feeling of comfort with the advocates and adherents of the ideology. An ideology attractive to solid bourgeois types is unlikely to be attractive to cultural workers as I have described them. So we should not expect those workers to subscribe to the conventional political values, and apparently a disproportionate number of them do not. Moreover, though most actors and other creative film workers are not particularly intellectual, as cultural producers much in the public eye they have a natural affinity with public intellectuals, who I found in my book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (2001) split about 2/3 liberal 1/3 conservative.
The situation of Hollywood's business executives, including investors in the film business, is different. They are not cultural workers, and one expects their focus to be firmly on the bottom line. It is true that the Hollywood film industry was founded largely by Jews and has always been very heavily Jewish, and that Jews of all income levels are disproportionately liberal. But if Hollywood based its selection of movies to produce and sell on the political views of the studios' owners and managers, that would be commercial suicide, as competitors would rush in to cater to audiences' desires. The idea that Hollywood is a propaganda machine for the Left is not only improbable as theory but empirically unsupported. Hollywood produces antiwar movies during unpopular wars and pro-war movies during popular ones (as during World War II), movies that ridicule minorities when minorities are unpopular and movies that flatter them when discrimination becomes unfashionable, movies that steer away from frank presentation of sex when society is strait-laced and movies that revel in sex when the society, or at least the part of the society that consumes films avidly, society turns libertine. The Hollywood film industry follows taste rather than creating taste, as one expects business firms to do.
What troubles conservatives about Hollywood is less the promotion in movies of left-liberal policies than the breakdown of the old taboos. Those taboos were codified in the Hays Code, which was in force between 1934 and 1968 with the backing of the Catholic Church. The code forbade disrespect of religion and marriage, obscene and scatological language, sexual innuendo, and nudity. The code was abandoned because of changing mores in society rather than because leftwingers suddenly took over Hollywood. If conservatives bought the studios and reinstituted the Hays Code they would soon be out of business. But what is true is that when movie audiences demand vulgar fare, then given that conservatives are more disturbed by vulgarity than liberals are, the film industry becomes less attractive to conservatives as a place to work in. This may be an additional reason for the left-liberal slant of the industry. But as long as the industry is an unregulated competitive industry, market forces will prevent studio heads and owners from trying to impose their own values on audiences, rather than trying to create movies that are in sync with those values.