To those of us who care about more than partisan politics, however, the Hollywood of today in some ways confirms historian Robert Conquest’s first law: Everyone is conservative about what he knows best. The mainstream audience restrains Hollywood’s leftist affectations, and the vicissitudes of making movies teach filmmakers hard-headed lessons in how the world really works, making the actual politics in the movies closer to Tom Hanks’s than Michael Moore’s.
Contemporary Hollywood movies approve of manly men and womanly women, guns, violence in self-defense, anti-drug laws, true love, marriage, big weddings, big houses, and moms and dads spending time with their kids. The worst sin is parental adultery, because Hollywood’s target audience of teens dreads anything that could break up their homes. And film heroines don’t have abortions.
Many of the right-wing attacks on Hollywood stem from it not toeing the pseudo-conservative line of worshipping some of the less conservative forces in history, such as war, laissez faire, and George W. Bush. Movies such as Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” and Mel Gibson’s “We Were Soldiers” have done America a service by taking war films to a new level of bloody realism. While neoconservative jingoes have worried that revealing the effects of combat too honestly will induce second thoughts about World War IV, veterans have typically been pleased that moviegoers can now get a better sense of the sacrifices they made in the service of their country. Nor is it Hollywood’s fault that the Bush administration didn’t learn anything about the dangers of occupying a Muslim country from “Black Hawk Down,” the minutely detailed 2001 depiction of our Special Forces’ desperate battle in Somalia.
There are few conservatives in Hollywood, but at least there aren’t many neoconservatives either. When the GOP wanted to feature a movie star at the 2004 convention in New York, the best the party could come up with was Ron Silver, who once played, uh ... c’mon, Google ... Alan Dershowitz in “Reversal of Fortune.”
As lavishly paid members of the private sector, filmmakers admire public sector workers, such as soldiers, cops, and firemen, who risk their lives for the kind of annual pay that a Beverly Hills matron might spend on feng shui consultations. For example, Hanks passed up tens of millions in movie earnings to produce patriotic miniseries about the GIs of World War II and the astronauts and engineers of the space race.
And if movies tend to be skeptical that unbridled capitalism automatically produces the utopia foreseen by University of Chicago economists, well, filmmakers have all had some first-hand experience with just how far human beings will go to get rich. In Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey rages at the subterfuges of the banker, Mr. Potter, not because Capra was a pinko [he was an anti-FDR Republican] but because the director had similarly raged at his own boss Harry Cohn’s nefariousness.
Cinema, a medium of the visible, is innately ill suited for explaining the wonders of the invisible hand. But the movie’s basic message about business—that the magic of the market is no substitute for individuals making moral choices—isn’t necessarily anti-conservative. Capitalism is a terrific system, but it doesn’t absolve capitalists from the need for ethics