Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hollywood's Politics

There's a good interview with Matthew Alford over at the consistently excellent New Left Project website.  Alford has just written a book on Hollywood films as propaganda for the American empire.

This is a longstanding and interesting debate: the extent to which Hollywood is dominated by whinging pinko liberals, as the American Right has it, or whether it is best understood as the ideological arm of American capitalism and imperialism.  Or does it matter?  Film studies has tied itself up in knots with this stuff for years, from the rejection of all film narrative as inherently reactionary which was fashionable in film theory circles in the 1970s and 1980s to the more recent drive to resuscitate and depoliticise the concept of entertainment.

As a useful antidote to the more ludicrous intellectual contortions that have attempted to make sense of film and politics, Alford puts it simply: "Nothing is ‘just a story’ – films are part of a socialisation process, just as we read Fairy Tales in part to help children make sense of the world. Of course, if someone asks you what article you’re reading in newspaper, it would be rather truculent to reply ‘It’s a propaganda piece consistent with establishment interests’. It would be more worthwhile though if you investigated the content of that article, identified its sources and what it omits, how it fits in with other material in the same newspaper, and so on. It’s the same with Hollywood – it does not suit corporate owners when audiences recognise the obscenity or the idiocy of the political messages they provide but this is best exposed systematically."

As such, Alford notes that "The US first declared a ‘War on Terror’ in 1985. Hollywood has stuck closely to Washington’s line ever since, including the trend for Islamist villains in the mid-1990s (True Lies, Executive Decision), as the ‘clash of civilisations’ theory was gaining traction. More recently, we have had movies like Munich, Back Hawk Down and The Kingdom that support the notion of Western benevolence in the quest to stamp out Islamic terrorism.

With regard to 9/11 itself, no major studio has thought to question the government’s narrative despite the incredible popularity of alternate takes on that day’s events. The Pentagon and the White House warmly embraced United 93 and a string of other similar films."

But Alford, what about all the exceptions?  Doesn't Hollywood make many films that critique the myths of American capitalism and Empire?

"There are a few, but look what happens to them… Genuinely critical films such as John Cusack’s War, Inc and Brian de Palma’s Redacted opened in just a few dozen cinemas in New York and L.A. Disney told its subsidiary Miramax to ditch Fahrenheit 9/11, which led to Miramax’s bosses leaving to create a new company. CBS, NBC and ABC all refused to advertise Michael Moore’s DVD in between news programming. The pattern is familiar."

This looks like a solid, interesting and useful bit of research and Montagu can't wait to read it.

No comments:

Post a Comment