Hollywood was founded by, and for generations run by, pure showmen who were fanatically devoted to giving the audience what it wanted. Today Hollywood’s message is, “Let us entertain you! But first, a brief lecture on what’s wrong with you, the audience . . .”
Artists and entertainment corporations have always been desperate to be taken seriously, hence their need to manufacture respectability via awards given out by high-falutin’, august-sounding institutions such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Sciences? You guys are creating pretty pictures, not curing cancer).
The Oscars originally went to box-office giants — glossy romantic dramas and swaggering historical epics. Then the movie industry divided into “awards pictures” and “audience pictures.” In the past few years, even the audience pictures have started to fill up with reminders about racism, feminism, immigration, etc. These are important matters, but people go to the movies primarily for escape.
One reason “Top Gun: Maverick” is such a huge success — the biggest movie of Tom Cruise’s career and probably the biggest movie of this year — is that it simply ignores all quarrelsome real-world issues. “TG:M” seeks merely to entertain, not to persuade you that the people who made it are virtuous.
Meanwhile, Disney’s much-touted “Lightyear” came out and did surprisingly poorly after a lot of week-of-release talk about the lesbian relationship in the film. The 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 kids’ movie, but the shocking underperformance must have Disney wondering whether people stayed away because they thought (even if mistakenly) that “Lightyear” was a message movie.
Disney’s decision to spend a couple of minutes of screen time reminding us that it’s a gay-friendly company may well have cost it millions in ticket sales for what was supposed to be its annual Pixar mega-blockbuster. Disney has to consider the idea that there might be many Pixar fans who have no problem with gay marriage who nevertheless would prefer the matter be left out of kids’ movies. Disney also chose a side in the Florida dispute about teaching sexual orientation to little kids, and it may have damaged one of the world’s most valuable brands.
James Patterson — the quintessence of a popular writer who doesn’t care about sending a message — was swamped with criticism when he suggested white male writers in Hollywood are victims of “just another form of racism.” That sounds dumb on the surface, but every producer in Hollywood is loudly proclaiming his commitment to inclusivity, which is another way of saying he is desperate to hire people other than non-handicapped straight white males. TV networks are proudly announcing new requirements that (at, for instance, CBS) at least 50% of staff writers be members of minority groups. Once hired, such staffers often push for stories about pressing social problems.
Result? A British TV survey 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 will never get on because it’s not woke enough,’” observes the Egyptian-born British comedy writer-producer Ash Atalla. Polling shows TV producers are much more interested in foregrounding issues such as transgender rights than the British public (which is notably more PC than we Americans are). In the US, a poll focusing on the entertainment industry found that 65% agree that corporate wokeness has gone too far.
It’s amusing that members of the entertainment industry often refer to it as “the industry,” as though they have forgotten the most important word. With the collapse in Netflix’s stock price, Disney’s box-office headache and the revival of “Top Gun,” Hollywood execs must be wondering whether their progressive politics have amounted to a kind of self-imposed woke tax.
Kyle Smith is critic-at-large for National Review.