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TORONTO, Ont. /Troy Media/ – Contrary to the current reality, Hollywood hasn’t always been a monolithic fortress for liberal Democrats. Within living memory, it was more politically diverse.
From the 1930s well into the 1970s, Republicans – including very conservative ones – were a vibrant presence in Hollywood. And that presence stretched over a wide spectrum of talents.
There were powerful moguls like Louis B. Mayer and Walt Disney. There were directors like Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford and Howard Hawks.
Plenty of A-list movie stars were Republicans. John Wayne, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Doris Day readily come to mind. And however surprising it sounds, Rock Hudson campaigned for Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater during the latter’s ill-fated 1964 presidential run.
Of course, the most politically successful Hollywood personality of them all, Ronald Reagan, was a conservative Republican. Politically active for virtually his entire adult life, Reagan started as a Franklin D. Roosevelt liberal who, as late as 1948, was doing radio broadcasts in support of the Democratic presidential ticket. But his views and affiliations changed, culminating in his emergence as a major Republican figure in the 1960s. First he served as California governor and then, from 1981 to 1989, as president of the United States.
But while Democrats always enjoyed an edge in terms of Hollywood support, that advantage became a near monopoly over the last 30 or so years.
Today, it’s as if Hollywood is at political war with the new Republican president, Donald Trump.
This raises interesting questions.
Does Hollywood’s political stance count for anything? Are the exemplars of popular culture capable of shifting opinion on anything outside their own particular bailiwick?
They’re certainly good at raising money. And if money is the mother’s milk of politics – as California Democrat Jesse Unruh claimed in the 1960s – then Hollywood is undoubtedly a major player.
Beyond that, though, the situation is murkier. Hillary Clinton enjoyed massive Hollywood and entertainment industry support, in both financial donations and in-person campaigning. The Democratic candidate in November’s election still lost.
Perhaps rather than being an indictment of Hollywood’s political effectiveness, Clinton’s loss was merely a reflection of her personal deficiencies as a candidate.
Still, it’s hard to make much of a case for the persuasive power of celebrities in general and Hollywood in particular. The public, it would seem, can distinguish between someone’s role as an entertainer and their relevance as a political instructor.
So what are the implications for Hollywood’s position in American life?
This has nothing to do with free speech. It’s Hollywood’s prerogative to be as outspoken and politically active as its denizens wish. And nothing says they have to be fair, balanced or even rational in the process.
However, from the days when it first became America’s dream factory, Hollywood has occupied a special position in the public imagination. You could even describe it as privileged.
Various scandals may have caused outrage, offending the social mores of the day. But the public always held an underlying affection and willingness to forgive. After all, the stars and the movies told stories that people could relate to, and spoke to their aspirations for a bigger and better life. In a sense, Hollywood was America writ large.
But what happens when half of the country realizes that Hollywood actively despises their political beliefs and values? Special relationships have foundered on less.
Then there’s the inherently transactional nature of politics.
Yes, there are decisions driven by good faith perceptions of national interest and assessments of the right thing to do. But many decisions are simply made to look after your constituents and interest groups that support you.
And in a world where Republicans control all three federal levels and the majority of state governments, is it really smart for an industry to explicitly define itself as exclusively Democratic? Who are you going to call when you need a favour?
Trump will certainly face many challenges as president, some of which might cause him to crash and burn. But I doubt that hostile fire from movie stars like Meryl Streep will fall into that category.
Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit. Pat is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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