Hollywood was founded by pure showmen and run through generations who were fanatically devoted to giving audiences what they wanted. Today the message from Hollywood is: “Let’s entertain you! But first, a quick talk about what’s wrong with you, the audience. . .”
Artists and entertainment companies have always wanted to be taken seriously, so they have to establish legitimacy through awards presented by pompous, lofty-sounding institutions like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (science? You make beautiful pictures, not cure cancer).
The Oscars originally went to box-office giants – glittering romantic dramas and swaggering historical epics. Then the film industry split into “award pictures” and “audience pictures”. In recent years, even viewers’ pictures have been filled with memories of racism, feminism, immigration, etc. These are important issues, but the main reason people go to the cinema is to escape.
Part of the reason Top Gun: Maverick is such a huge hit – the biggest movie of Tom Cruise’s career and quite possibly the biggest movie of this year – is that it simply ignores all the cantankerous real-world issues. TG:M is merely trying to entertain, not convince you that the people who made it are virtuous.
Meanwhile, Disney’s much-hyped “Lightyear” came out and performed surprisingly poorly after much talk about the film’s lesbian relationship during its release week. Same-sex marriage is a small part of the story and no one should be bothered by the existence of gay people, even in a children’s film, but the shocking underperformance must make Disney wonder if people stayed out because they thought (even if incorrectly) that “Lightyear” was a message film.
Disney’s decision to spend a few minutes of screen time reminding us that it’s a gay-friendly company may have cost it millions in ticket sales for what would become its annual Pixar mega-blockbuster. Disney has to keep in mind that there may be many Pixar fans who don’t have a problem with gay marriage, but who would rather eliminate the issue from children’s films. Disney also took sides in the Florida dispute over sexual orientation education for young children, and it may have hurt one of the world’s most valuable brands.
James Patterson – the quintessential popular writer who doesn’t care to send a message – was inundated with criticism when he suggested white male writers in Hollywood are victims of “just another form of racism”. That sounds silly on the surface, but every producer in Hollywood is loudly proclaiming their commitment to inclusivity, which is another way of saying they’re desperate to hire people other than able-bodied straight white males. TV stations are proudly announcing new requirements (e.g. at CBS) that at least 50% of employed writers must be from minority groups. Once hired, such employees often push for stories about pressing social issues.
Result? A UK TV poll found that 62% of viewers think political correctness has gone too far.
“I’m in a lot of meetings now where people tell me, ‘This is never going to go on because it’s not awake enough,'” observes Egyptian-born British comedy writer and producer Ash Atalla. Polls show that TV producers are much more interested in bringing issues like transgender rights to the fore than the British public (which is far more PC than we Americans are). In the US, a poll focused on the entertainment industry found that 65% think corporate vigilance has gone too far.
It’s amusing that members of the entertainment industry often refer to “the industry” as if they’ve forgotten the most important word. With the collapse of Netflix’s stock price, Disney’s box office headache, and the resurgence of Top Gun, Hollywood execs have to wonder if their progressive policies amount to some kind of self-imposed guard tax.
Kyle Smith is a critic for National Review.