This is a very good article which first appeared in The American Prospect on how the American Left was tagged with the cultural snobbery/”elitist” label (class warfare anyone?) which I forgot to include in yesterday’s list.
This response letter I found at The Washington Monthly, which had linked to the TAP article, pretty much explains how Hollywood and the mass entertainment industry works as it does. Indeed, you can find the 1% in more places than just Wall Street:
“As a certified member of the “left wing Hollywood writers,” (member of the WGA for 26 years) I believe I have a few answers for this.
Forget all the questions about McCarthyism, since nobody actively working in Hollywood (i.e., people under 40) have a clue what McCarthyism was, other than when (if) they go to a meeting at the local Guild office and see pictures of people who are about the age of their great-grandparents, who they know nothing about since to them an “old” movie is anything made before 1985 and most of them do not watch Turner Classic Movies. So they aren’t out to get revenge on the working class for supporting Old Tailgunner Joe. They barely know who he was.
What happened in Hollywood over the past 30 years is that the system changed. People like myself, who really did come from a lower-middle/working class background, can’t break in any more because we can’t afford to work for free for however many years it takes. Myself, like many others way back when, I was able to learn the business while paying the rent and buying food regularly because I was fortunate enough to get hired to work for Roger Corman. One didn’t get paid much, but did get paid enough if you worked fast enough, and if what you did was good enough to get made you got to work some more and pay your bills while learning. We who went through it call it the “Roger Corman Film School,” and it’s got a pretty good list of grads, none of whom could repeat that today.
That system has been dead for at least the past 20 years.
What happened is that Hollywood became “cool” as a career destination for the upper classes back then. Starting in the early 1990s, kids with trust funds became the majority graduates of USC, UCLA and NYC Film Schools. They came to Hollywood and were willing to work as (unpaid) interns. All of a sudden, the people in those low-paying jobs one learns the ropes in were confronted with the worst kind of low-wage competition: no-wage competition. Why hire someone who needs $500 a week to survive when you can get someone with an Ivy League degree who will work for free????
The end result is that for the past 20 years, the people who “make it” into being in the paid part of the business come from social class backgrounds where they never had a clue what the working class was about (other than the illegal immigrant servants back home). There’s an old saying, “writers write what they know.” So how does someone who never worked for a living in their life write about those who do?
Another change was that many of us who came into the business, particularly those of the generations ahead of mine, came here with life experience. They had done other jobs, had other experiences. And that colored the choices they made about the stories to tell and how to tell them. Personally, it’s why I think movies made before 1980 were mostly good, and those made since are in ever-increasing numbers mostly bad.
In addition to the question of who writes, directs and acts in the movies is the more important question: who decides what movies get written, directed and acted in. 23 years ago at the time of the Great Writer’s Strike of 1988, the studios were still independent corporations, and were mostly run by people who were there because they mostly liked movies. Today, the studios are minor arms of intergalactic corporations run by bean-counters who think of movies as widgets. What they hate is the uncertainty of the old adage that the three rules of Hollywood are “Nobody. Knows. Anything.” They don’t like that every great movie was a crapshoot that could have turned out as bad as they were good, with equal chance. So they make “sure things,” or at least what they think are sure things (though the truth is there is no such thing), and the end result is the crap that fills the theaters every Friday, all tuned to the perceived likes and wants of teenage boys under 24. I was recently talking to Roger Corman, and I mentioned that I missed going to the movies every Friday night like I used to, that nowadays I might get to 3 or 4 movies in a year, 5 or 6 in a good year. Roger said he has the same problem.
But if you want to know where all those good movies are that you can’t find anymore, all those interesting stories, go look at the original programming on basic cable and premium cable. Want to know how capitalism grows and develops? Get the DVDs for “Deadwood.” Nothing Hollywood ever did on the subject of urban politics comes close to the incredible honesty of “Boss” on Starz – trust me, I worked 10 years in professional politics before I came here, and that story tells the truth as I experienced it, and not just in Chicago. Want a good western? Try “Hell on Wheels” on AMC. Want a story nobody else on the planet would have ever touched (I still can’t figure out how they pitched it to get it made)? “Breaking Bad” is what you want (“Mr. Chips goes to hell”). “Mad Men” is so far beyond “The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit” there’s no comparison. Want a great spy story? “Homeland” on Showtime. Want to know how politic corruption happens? Get “The Shield.” I could go on, but you get the idea.
And allow me to end by saying I always love reading some “genius” from New York City who’s never worked in the business telling me not only what’s wrong with the business, but how it got that way. To say “you morons don’t have a clue” is as polite as I can get. You really need crutches for your brains. Which is the main problem with east coast “intellectuals” and always has been.
But all you upper-class twits go on worrying about what ever happened to the working class and writing concerned articles about it. You have to produce something to get paid, right?