Love your enemy ...... everyone can change: Hollywood

IssueApril 2006
Comment by Sian Glaessner

We all like to be entertained don't we? And isn't it great that the hero gets the girl, the poor get rich and the good guys (us) always win?

Yes. The enemy this time is the sweetest of all - Hollywood. After all, how could anyone criticise that which gives pleasure to millions? Well. Hollywood might have been making us laugh and cry for generations but beyond the glitz and glamour there's the reality. A reality of oppression, exploitation and propaganda. So go on - add your pennies to the piles of cash the studio execs rake in time after time: after all - its not doing anyone any harm is it? Is it? Actually, it is...

How the west was won

First - oppression. The nasty reality was that for decades the Hollywood studios acted like senior clan members in the KKK. Prejudices were confirmed with every flicker of the silver screen. Black people were imprisoned in the apologetic girning of “Jim Crow” and Native Americans were, well, absent, as Hollywood ensured only one “authorised” US version of “How the West Was Won”.

These films were the classics of the post-code, post-war era that have informed American and World cinema ever since. They provided the dominant aesthetic to which international cinema would eventually be forced to succumb. [I had to look “post-code” up, so I guess it deserves an explanation: between 1930 and 1967 the Motion Picture Association of America adopted a set of production rules which placed limitations on artistic expression - notably to only present “correct standards of life” and that “no picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.” How dull, no wonder they had abandoned it by the “permissive” sixties! -Ed]

A mans' world

Then - exploitation. Race and gender suffered at the merciless hands of generations of WASPish film directors. From the barely pubescent chorus girls of the Busby Berkely spectaculars, to the more recent overtly sexual (but mostly submissive) soft porn sirens, it has been clear that Hollywood is a “man's business”. Even where female characters or actresses were allowed to rebel against type, there was no challenging the male gaze of the camera.

Teaching Stalin

And lastly - propaganda. Post-code Hollywood was consciously a propaganda machine. It was so effective that Stalin sent his best directors there to learn and copy. From Casablanca to Forrest Gump the message has hardly wavered. Individuality triumphs so long as that individuality does not diverge from the WASP vision of what all Americans should be.

There is a sentimentality and a self righteousness in this Hollywood vision - a rhetorical zeal that admits no opposition. The politics of authors, and directors, of screenwriters and actors fight a losing battle against the politics of the Hollywood production machine.

Sugar-coated pills

So what's there to love? Well. Precious little. But recognise it for what it is, a sweet machine churning out sugar coated pills of ideology that lobotomise the thinking man and woman, and there's a chance to fight it, to change it.

As the workers called for ownership of the means of production, so now it is time for the viewers, the audience to call for ownership of the “dream factory” of Hollywood.

Topics: Culture