The Pernicious Change in Hollywood's Films

by John Spritzler

June 15, 2018

I recently went with a friend to see the 2017 Hollywood film, First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke. It was well-crafted, very dramatic, had great acting, properly portrayed Big Money as the bad guys who are polluting the environment, and was very entertaining. So what's to complain about?

My complaint with First Reformed is the same as my complaint with most Hollywood films made in the last few decades, because of how they starkly differ from films made in the earlier decades in one respect that is, I believe, the most important respect.

In the decades during and following World War II up until around the 1970s when things started to change, Hollywood produced films that made the audience feel uplifted and hopeful that ordinary people were basically good and could join together in solidarity to successfully challenge the power of the evil bad guys.

Casablanca (1942) portrays the apparently cynical Rick (Humphrey Bogart) rising to the occassion to put aside his self-interest to aid the fight of the good guys against the Nazis, and it also has the incredibly powerful and moving scene in Rick's nightclub where the patrons--at great risk to themselves--join in singing the anti-Nazi resistance song (the Marsellaise) in defiance of the pro-Nazi French Vichy policeman.

In The Magnificent Seven (1960) the bad guys are well-armed Mexican bandits oppressing the poor unarmed villagers of a Mexican town. With the help of the magnificant seven (portrayed by Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and others) the villagers rise up and defeat the bad guys. A very similar and equally uplifting story is told by Valdez is Coming (1971) starring Burt Lancaster as a very poor Mexican small-time lawman who, along with the poor villagers, is bullied and oppressed by the evil rich Mexican bad guy; the poor people prevail over the bad guy.

But things changed after the 1970s. Now Hollywood films tell those who enter the theater to Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here; Resistance is Futile.

The Coen Brothers gave us No Country for Old Men (2007) in which a psychopathic serial killer, despite the great efforts of the sheriff to aprehend him, gets away Scott free to keep on killing innocent people apparently forever as suggested by the film's final scene. When I saw this film, the Coming Attractions showed a trailer for a horror film in which the normal-seeming teenage neighbor kid who is hired to babysit turns out to be an ax murderer. Before the 1970s psychopathic killers were relatively rare in films but nowadays they're ubiquitous. At least in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) the deranged killer, Norman Bates (Tony Perkins), is aprehended in the end, unlike the Coen Brothers' 2007 killer, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).

When the first Star Wars film was released in 1977 it had an extremely uplifting theme about how poorly armed rag tag rebels were able to defeat the monstrously well-armed evil Dark Side. In fact, George Lucas secretly intended his Star Wars to be a protest against the Vietnam War, with the rebels representing the Vietnamese peasants and Darth Vader's Empire the United States government. I haven't seen the subsequently produced Star Wars films but my son, who has, informed me that the most recent ones are very different from the first in being real downers; for example in one of them Hans Solo's son murders Hans Solo.

Hollywood Is Just Doing What the Ruling Class Wants

The reason Hollywood is producing "Abandon Hope; Resistance is Futile" films now is the same reason that, starting in the 1970s, the ruling class began instituting a host of new government and corporate policies. I discussed this in my article, "Market-Driven Health Care and Social Control," written in 2000, about why the new HMOs were being used to deny health care when people needed it the most. What I wrote then didn't mention Hollywood films, but it provides the explanation for the change in these films. Here is what I wrote.

More evidence that social control is behind market-driven health care comes from looking at its specific timing. Why did elite organizations like the CED begin advocating HMOs as the first step of their "market prescription,'' in the early 1970's? [5] That was when America's corporate and government leaders re-evaluated the way they would have to govern in light of the social upheavals of the 1960's. From the time of FDR to LBJ, elite social control had been based on policies like the New Deal and the Great Society that were meant to convince working class Americans that corporate leadership would give them a better and more secure future. These policies, however, led to rising expectations and a sense of security that emboldened people to challenge authority over issues like the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, conditions of work, and welfare. In other words, the elite strategy of improving social conditions as a means of controlling people back-fired.

How profoundly the 1960's affected the thinking of elite leadership can be seen in the writing of Samuel P. Huntington, Professor of Government and Director of the Center For International Affairs at Harvard University, and co-author of The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission written in 1975. [8] Huntington's Report noted that, "The essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private,"[9] marked by a "sharp increase in political consciousness, political participation, and commitment to egalitarian and democratic values." [10] What especially frightened the elite was the fact that, as Huntington wrote, "In recent years, the operations of the democratic process do indeed appear to have generated a breakdown of traditional means of social control, a de-legitimation of political and other forms of authority... The late sixties have been a major turning point."[11] The Report concluded: "Al Smith once remarked that 'the only cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.' Our analysis suggests that applying that cure at the present time could well be adding fuel to the flames. Instead, some of the problems of governance in the United States stem from an excess of democracy... Needed, instead, is a greater degree of moderation of democracy." [12]

Corporate leaders abandoned the old method of social control embodied in the New Deal and the Great Society and began relying instead on a fundamentally different, "get tough," strategy designed to strengthen corporate power over people by making them less secure. This new strategy motivates corporate leaders' new enthusiasm for the "discipline" of the free market, which they use to justify not only market-driven health care but downsizing and attacks on the social safety net.

Market-driven health care is part of a pattern of government and corporate policy initiatives over the last several decades which have one thing in common: they strengthen corporate power over people by lowering people's expectations in life, and by reducing their economic, social, and emotional security. These policies include corporate downsizing and the "temping" of jobs; the elimination of the "family wage," so that now both parents have to work full-time and have less time with their children; drastic cuts in the social safety net of welfare and related assistance; the introduction of pension plans based on individualized investments that leave each older person to his or her own fate; and the use of high stakes tests in public elementary and secondary schools to subject children to the same stress and insecurity that their parents face on the job. In the workplace, employers have adopted anti-worker tactics that had not been used since the early 1930s, most notably firing striking workers and hiring permanent replacements, as President Reagan did during the air traffic controllers' strike. All these policies put people on the defensive and pressure them to worry more about personal survival than working together for social change.

Hollywood (owned by the same class of people who make up the ruling class) too is now lowering our expectations. Hollywood is doing it with films that are exceedingly well crafted, that are well acted, that are very dramatic, that have plots that label Big Money people as the bad guys, and that are very entertaining. They also have a sub-text that tells those who enter the theater to "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here; Resistance is Futile."

The ruling class's #1 propaganda theme is NOT that the rich are good people (they know they can't make people believe that!) but rather that it is impossible to remove the rich from power (because you're all alone in wanting to and who knows, your seemingly nice neighbor is probably an ax murderer) so don't even think about it, never mind actually try.

In First Reformed there is a character who is a minister of a large religious organization called Abundant Life, which supervises and funds the little First Reformed church the minister of which is played by Ethan Hawke. Abundant Life recieves big donations from the evil Big Money guy who is polluting the earth and who tells the ministers to "keep politics out of it," meaning not to criticize Big Money for its pollution-for-profit. The Abundant Life minister tells the Ethan Hawke minister, essentially, to keep politics out of it, to go along to get along. The only alternative to this, as the film informs us, is to give up the fight against the bad guys and realize that fighting them means committing suicide. Yep! Another great Hollywood film.

Be entertained at your own risk.

If you want to think about how we can truly remove the rich from power, then click here.



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