CNN's own Glenn Beck believes that he's got some point to make about the way Hollywood delves into the political.
According to "USA Today," 26 movies with substantial political themes have been wide released over the last 20 years and, adjusted for inflation, four of them have made over $100 million.
Apparently, nobody in Hollywood cares. They care more about their message than money, because they`re back this weekend with Robert Redford`s "Lion for Lambs." Oh, I wonder how our soldiers are going to look in this one. It`s a U.S. film about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. It`s likely going to make "Fahrenheit 9/11" seem balanced.
Dios mio. There's nothing more tiring in all the world than listening to would-be cultural critics base sweeping conclusions on the movies they haven't seen and the books they haven't read. And did USA Today really assert that only "26 movies with substantial political themes have been wide released" in the past two decades? To me, it's telling that Beck uses "20 years" as the cut-off period, because that neatly leaves out two fervently anti-war movies (Apocalyspe Now, Platoon) that did gross over $100 million and three others that are universally regarded as great films (The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, The Killing Fields).
In fairness, recent films such as Rendition and In The Valley of Elah have hardly been blockbuster bonanzas - and Lions For Lambs isn't off to much of a start either. But does this reflect, as Beck believes, "...that we don`t want to see movies that America sucks." Well, frankly, America isn't lining up at the box office to see America's triumphs in the war on terror, either. The rah-rah actioner The Kingdom, has stiffed at the box office, $20 million shy of recouping its budget. And Paul Greengrass' universally hailed depiction of the heroic Americans aboard United 93 was beaten in its opening week by the Robin Williams comedy RV.
If moviegoers aren't supporting these movies, it's not because their messages don't square with public sentiment. As Beck's guest, USA Today's Scott Bowles points out, "the irony of all of this is that the messages that are in a lot of these movies mirror, to some degree, what we`re seeing in polls. I mean, certainly "Lions for Lambs" is taking a look at the war and whether we should be there, and that's a question that Americans are asking." He goes on to offer an explanation, "What they don`t seem to be able to gauge is America`s appetite for that subject matter, which is waning. I mean, if we are watching it 24 hours a day on news channels like CNN, people are going to be a lot less likely to spend ten bucks."
Admirably, Bowles keeps Beck from putting words into his mouth (though, since he represents a paper that believes only 26 movies with political content have been released in the past twenty years, what does he know). He points out that Hollywood has a solid track record of putting out movies where "the good guys win." "That`s why Hollywood makes the kind of money that it does," Bowles points out, "But that doesn't mean that that`s the only message you have to write about. I mean, just as we have the right to say whatever we want on this show, Hollywood has the right to make any kind of other movie that it wants to."
Beck's response to this is to say, "I'm just wondering when anybody who cares about the almighty dollar in Hollywood is going to say, "You know what? Maybe we should stop this." It's going to be so adorable when someone finally explains to Beck what a "loss-leader" is.
Of course, Beck has one card he plays that is, I guess, supposed to fully back up his contention that Americans want to consume depictions of America in which America doesn't "suck": "Then explain the success of '24,'" he asks.
Okay, Glenn. '24' most certainly depicts an America that more or less sucks out loud. The Executive Branch is, on a good day, depicted as being steered by shadowy cabals of military industrialists and populated by public servants who are corrupt and who regularly make decisions that imperil thousands of Americans. And that's not when members of the government aren't committing outright treason. Our counter-terrorist agency is shown to be wholly incompetent - they literally cannot go a quarter of an hour without getting bombed, attacked, infiltrated, duped, or fatally ambushed.
Into this mix is the hero, Jack Bauer, who gets by largely on a skill set of shooting people, torturing people, yelling into cellphones and magically transcending the bitter reality of Los Angeles' brutal commutes. He's saved our bacon numerous times, and what has his reward been? Utter and complete misery. When he's not being tortured himself, he's watching his family and friends either die in the wake of his actions or he's being wholly alienated from anything even resembling friendship or love. '24' is a horrific depiction of America, which relentlessly pimps the cynical viewpoint that no personal joy can be wrung from saving one's country.
But, yeah. It sells.