Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Hollywood Sucks: No Middle Class

Recently, Will Smith in a Woman's Day interview disclosed he has an "open" marriage. [Hat Tip: Dirty Harry.] Note that many of the female commenters on the link approved of the arrangement, with laughable ideas such as "jealousy is learned emotion," nevertheless it's fascinating to see Smith's destruction as a movie star. All starting from this ill-advised statement ... telling fans he does indeed act like a movie star in his personal life.

Just as fascinating was the recent interview with Eliza Dushku ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Tru Calling") on how the concept for her new mid-season TV series, "Dollhouse" mirrors her life as a young actress in Hollywood. [Her character is some sort of clone who performs secret missions for a private company, then has her memory wiped clean at the end of each mission.]

Together, these two interviews show why Hollywood sucks. It has no middle class, and the people in charge can't make movies or television shows that appeal to ... the middle class.

Hollywood's creative class is fairly incestuous. Far too many writers and producers come from the Harvard Mafia, at one point 10 of the 12 "Simpsons" writers were from Harvard. Many others are second, or even third generation Hollywood Writers, like Joss Whedon. These are hardly backgrounds that give people an understanding of middle class values and concerns.

Instead, Hollywood is dominated by concerns ... of the upper class. Status competition, often hard left informed status competition, tend to dominate life in the Hollywood bubble, and dominate the projects it creates. As opinion writer Paul Campos put it, Hollywood's creative people live in a Jay Gatsby world. It's feminism, marxism, existentialism, all shaped by the need to get into that Kabalah class (because Madonna's attending it) before the neighbor. The type of attitudes parodied by Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Except in Hollywood, that's not played for laughs.

Of course "Dollhouse" will flop like "Supertrain" and "Pink Lady and Jeff," because while Eliza Dushku is a talented actress, her life is one that few people can relate to, or would have much interest in. Americans are only interested in Celebrities when they're caught doing something stupid and/or illegal, and then Americans like to laugh at them. Most of America is Middle Class. They are interested in stories about (idealized) versions of themselves. Young women in and of themselves are not enough to make a network, let alone a show purveying teen-girl princess fantasies, profitable, as I wrote in my post "Gossip Girl and the Aging of America." Given that "Dollhouse" can't even offer a princess fantasy, (it's an upper class "fantasy" of victimization, where of course the career travails of a Hollywood actress competing for million dollar paydays somehow makes one a victim, as opposed to say, being hacked to death by the local death squad in the Third World), the only question is how quickly it will be pulled. Or perhaps, just how bad it will be.

And of course, Will Smith is on the downward slide. Movie stars have to appeal to their own gender. Smith's role has been the largely care-free, heroic good guy that appeals to America's middle class men. They're unlikely to be happy with Smith's revelation that he's more George Clooney playboy than family man, and America's middle class men are likely to punish Smith by ... not seeing his movies as much. For most men, struggling with declining wages and rising costs, the middle class family is something to be treasured. The hedonistic lifestyle of playboys like Clooney or Smith is simply beyond their lifestyle and they resent it and it's practitioners. Clooney's been box office poison in any movie without "Oceans" in the title, and Smith is likely to follow him down, bumping into Tom Cruise along the way.

But Hollywood's nepotistic attitudes, particularly among writer/producers, keeps the focus inward. Instead of outwards, towards middle class values and interests. I wrote about Hollywood's heroism deficit but it has a love deficit as well. Hollywood's startling inability to tell romance stories, a few people like Judd Apatow notwithstanding, is the result of the inward focus on the status and power and wealth competition. Of course Smith has to reveal he's a "playa," and doesn't care about his public image -- he's in competition with George Clooney for playboy of the year status and nothing else matters. Too much wealth, for too long, has made Hollywood indeed like spoiled aristocrats on the eve of 1789.

If the primary concern of storytellers is getting over the next guy, with the first Prius on the Block, or out-competing the playboy, or getting in that Kabalah class, then of course romance, which is above all a working/middle class concern, is going to be impossible to tell. When your true love is in the mirror, it's hard to find room for anyone else in your heart. No wonder Hollywood sucks.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

good analysis. Will Smith went down in my book even though I got the impression he had not "opened" that door. Probably giving him too much credit.

wf said...

It´s not only Hollywood. Most french movies seem populated by academics, artists or the underclass - in any case, hip people who never seem to work. Oh, I forget to mention horny teenagers. The brits however still can ocasionally create believable regular characters once in a while, if you include tv shows.

Cosmic Condor said...

gee can anyone remeber when the hollywood heros were the guys in the white hats or daring GIs or airmen instead of the usial amount of nonconformist,malcontemps or neardowells and cruisading trial lawyers

Anonymous said...

Oh such observational TRUTH. The rest of the story is MONEY. We all know that. Sleaze = money somehow in that upper crust of hollywood. I dunno. Educated, caring, professionals, caring parents of the middle class...passe --guys and gals.
Then the 'we've got to help all the victims in the world' do-gooding; churches stopped selling indulgences oh, 400 plus years ago...
Entertainment passes for all the crap you want to watch all the time--its so over. When will the usa/and usaaphiles stop sending in the cash? Quien Sabe?

Yours truly,
FancipantsU

Innerpartysystem said...

George Clooney was quite good in Michael Clayton. Also Hollywood companies and producers have so much money that they don't really care if a film with him flops. He is part of the modern media aimed at reinforcing the status quo. I assure you, he will have a successful career until his death.

dijidog said...

Another reason they suck,is the fact that they do not choose to write new and original stories, but instead create re-make after re-make...there are an abundance of excellent writers in the world!

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Two thumbs up.

For trashing the very ideas of virtue and heroism, Hollywood deserves to lose the fight.

Anonymous said...

Oh, where is Humphrey Bogart when you need him! And he was fairly wealthy!

Anonymous said...

Lack of imagination is killing Hollywood. They keep renaming things over and over. Also I am tired of seeing two versions of the same darn movie coming out at the same time. In Cold Blood and Infamous, Dante's Peak and the other volcano movie in LA, and now Snow White and the Huntsman racing against Mirror Mirror. Really Hollywood? Why not take the cast and production bales of Huntsman and make it with the script for Mirror, then take the rest of the resources and use them to make an Anne McCaffrey novel into a new movie or TV series? Something by Mercedes Lackey or Lynn Flewelling. Robin Hobb or Lois McMaster Bujold. All have written amazing stories that would translate beautifully to screen as long as you don't butcher them. Oh if you're listening, please stop remaking foreign films a week after they are released. I know you think Americans are too stupid for subtitles, but these movies are NEVER as good as the originals. Let Me In had everything wrong with it that I just knew it would compared to the amazing film Let the Right One In. Ruined it guys. All the things that made the original good were over done in the remake ruining it. Gak!

Anonymous said...

I think that is also the reason why there's so many hollywood actors switch to television instead