If there were ever a time in the whole of human history that America was so politically aware — or “woke” as referred to by your friendly neighborhood hipster — it’s now. The ascension of Trump has ignited a political awakening, and with it, a polarization of the nation into two factions: those willing to follow him to the gates of hell, and those who oppose him as fervently.
In the vanguard of the anti-Trump campaign is #Hollywood, an institution of privileged liberals so left-leaning that being a conservative member is equivalent to being a Jew in ‘30s Germany, at least according to Tim Allen. Critics have berated it for suddenly getting involved in politics, yet when all they've ever cared to talk about is jade eggs for female genitalia and which work yoga pose allows the best chi flow. A-lister Mark Wahlberg in an interview with Task & Purpose magazine weighed in, too:
“A lot of celebrities did, do, and shouldn’t [talk politics]. They might buy your CD or watch your movie, but you don’t put food on their table. You don’t pay their bills. A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family.”
Then there are the luxury cars, the plastic surgeries, wild parties, sex orgies, the flawless skin, toned bodies and the ageless faces. This is the perception of Tinseltown we all have — an earthly Elysium. Simultaneously, it’s the image it rather you didn’t associate with it.
Hollywood has, through out its history, shunned its portrayal of being constituted of vacuous, morally depraved brats. Today, it’s through actively participating in political causes. In its erstwhile days, however, a cabal of spin doctors working in the shadows was tasked with keeping its boy scout image unblemished.
Somebody Call For A Fixer?
During the golden era of Hollywood when the Studio System was still in place, stars were contractually bound to studios, only appearing in films made by their respective companies. Because studios were closely affiliated with the actors and actresses who headlined their products, they often went to great — and sometimes illegitimate — lengths to protect their employees’ public images.
Charged with watching over and keeping in line the studios’ most prized assets were the fixers. These glorified babysitters were experts in the art of manipulation and story spinning, masterfully quelling all sorts of stories and court cases that would have hurt the stars’ reputations and subsequently those of their employers’.
Perhaps the most famous of these shadowy figures was Eddie Mannix. You might remember Mannix from the 2016 Coen brothers film Hail Caesar! While the daily dealings of Mannix were portrayed as comedic in the movie, the real life figure’s activities were gangster-like: intimidating potential witnesses of Patricia Douglas’s rape, organizing clandestine abortions for Judy Garland and Jean Harlow, and making the murder of MGM producer Paul Bern look like a suicide — these were just the tip of the iceberg. It was of the utmost importance that Hollywood’s brightest luminaries weren’t caught up in any scandal, and were seen as upstanding members of society.
With above-average sexiness and opulent lifestyles, audiences could’ve merely perceived them as narcissistic sex objects. But slapping onto them the nice guy/girl image drew them further from stratospheric aloofness and closer to the realm of mortals, populated by legions upon legions of sycophantic fans spellbound by their charisma, charm and “hubba hubba” eliciting sex appeal. Humans crave for people who they can look up to, people who can inspire them to be something more than they believe themselves to be. In movie stars, we found these individuals.
Politics And Contemporary Hollywood: A Love Story
Decades later, after the demise of that incarnation, Hollywood’s still obsessed with its effigy. However, it’s markedly changed the way it runs things — no need for thugs in suits to suppress the potential leak of scandals, and a star is more likely to get support from fans rather than scorn if she has an abortion or an opioid addiction is revealed. Instead, it’s being socio-politically active. It’s Meryl Streep making an impassioned speech at the Golden Globes. It’s Casey Affleck doing the same at the Independent Spirit Awards. It’s Martin Sheen and Bob Odenkirk issuing a heartfelt plea to electors to prevent a Trump presidency, and it's Harvey Weinstein taking a dig at Trump's travel ban — the list is inexhaustible. Politics is Hollywood’s new way of showing they aren’t just a bunch of vain air-heads, a way of bridging the chasm between their social strata and ours.
“Sex doesn’t sell any more,” writes Alex Holder of The Guardian. “From Starbucks supporting refugees to Kenco taking on gangs, big businesses are falling over themselves to do good — and to let us know about it.” Much like how these brands support noble causes that veneer their personal agendas, so do celebrities. Like clockwork, their bullshit generosity and caring usually peak around Oscar season, with a reversal of roles which sees them fawning over other people in a desperate attempt to land the highly-coveted gilded statuette.
The Paradox Of Hollywood
Hollywood has always had a reputation for being at the nexus of glamor, vacuity and sensuality. But that’s a picture it has never intended to market. It’s always promoted the idea of itself as this place where anyone’s dreams come true, where a girl from an obscure small town can, through grit and determination, go from depending on tips to survive to having her name emblazoned on theater marquees — even though this is a gross over-sell of the American Dream, as most aspirers don’t make it.
It’s embraced ethnic inclusivity through support for Arab Muslim minorities, even though it recurrently casts them as terrorists, ergo reinforcing the negative stereotypes that rendered them to become pariahs in the first place. It’s adopted perhaps the most du jour social movement — feminism — building franchises around female leads and re-writing stories that degrade women, all this while still being misogynistic and paying them significantly less. And in a ballsy move has rebuked the over emphasis on sexual magnetism — a quality seemingly mandatory for all its stars, and one that draws mammoth crowds to see its movies — yet spends millions on red carpet-worthy apparel, skin care and chiseling out the perfect beach body. Such is the paradox of Hollywood; striving to be one thing while being its antithesis.
But, To Be Fair
It'd be unjust of me to generalize the whole of Tinseltown. I concede that a star can genuinely care about social causes. Carrier Fisher, before her death, was a leading figure in raising awareness for bipolar disorder, an illness she struggled with, and Patricia Arquette spoke out against the gender wage gap because actresses have been victimized by institutionalized sexism. But it's also undeniable that activism serves as a massive boon for Hollywood's publicity.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Hollywood today?