Hollywood, Entertainment and Politics

Where does conservatism fit in with celebrity pop culture?

Flipping through the channels today, I came upon the 1995 movie “Clueless” featuring the young actress Stacey Dash who made an appearance in the 2012 presidential election news cycle.  If you do not remember, Stacey Dash retweeted a Mitt Romney endorsement in early October, before the election, and incurred a backlash of criticisms from the African-American community and the liberal establishment in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

The Stacey Dash “controversy” was much ado about little, and she was defended by a diverse cross-section of the media and political spokespeople.  Her situation was unique in that it challenged two assumptions about the constituent demographics of the Democrat Party: blacks and Hollywood.  It’s the latter which I want to talk about today.

The leftist leanings of Hollywood have become something of a cliché, but not an inaccurate one.  The celebrity endorsements for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 often came in whole cavalcades, with music videos, commercials and comedy sketches bursting at the seams with attractive familiar faces from TV and film.  Mitt Romney’s highest-profile celebrity endorsement came courtesy of the angrily doddering Clint Eastwood.  The whole question of the effectiveness of endorsements in swaying voters will be forever unanswered, and the question of celebrity endorsements is even more difficult to measure.  Even if a celebrity endorsement does not move a person to the polls, the cumulative effect on informing the overall culture cannot be ignored, particularly now in an age when media and technology blend information and entertainment so thoroughly.  It will factor into decisions and opinions f the public is constantly inundated with left-leaning news when seeking information, and endorsements of Democrats and their policies from the stars of their music, film and television when seeking entertainment.  People look to pop-culture to gauge what is mainstream, and it will be a problem for the right so long as conservatives are seen as squares and puritans while liberals are savvy and compassionate.

Examples of actors and celebrities on the left side of the ideological spectrum are as innumerable as the stars in the sky.  From the stereotypical standbys like Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, to the extreme whackos like Rosie O’Donnell and the thoughtful moderates like Sam Waterston,  liberals reign supreme in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.  I don’t personally participate in boycotts against entertainers because of their political beliefs; I still love Steven Weber’s TV and movie appearances regardless of what he writes for the Huffington Post. And while liberal ideology is more prevalent in these circles, it is not a complete monopoly.  There are celebrity voices on the right, if one strains to hear them.

In the 2008 Republican Primaries, Chuck Norris emerged onto the political stage with an endorsement of Mike Huckabee.  In 2012, Vince Vaughn publically supported the candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul (a little more hip and relevant than Ron Silver and Dean Cameron).  Republicans include Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, John Voigt, Robert Duvall, Janine Turner, Victoria Jackson – the list of GOP celebrities does seem to be smaller, more dated and more obscure (though this list is by no means exhaustive).  In the wake of controversial movies like “Redacted” (Mark Cuban’s docudrama about the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers), I recall hearing that Bruce Willis was seeking a film studio to produce his own war movie with a pro-America rightwing slant, but cold find no backers.  I do not for one moment suggest there should be some sort of affirmative action law to force studio executives to be “fair and balanced”; they are free to invest their money in what they believe in or what they think will bring in the most revenue, though there are people on the left who would like to use The Fairness Doctrine and Net Neutrality to correct the imbalance they claim exists in favor of conservatives on the radio and interwebs.

Years ago, before The Colbert Report, Comedy Central had a reasonably well-balanced political hour:  the left-leaning The Daily Show with Jon Stewart followed by the right-leaning Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.  We often think that there are simply no comparable funny voices on the right who can connect with the public as well as the likes of Jon Stewart.  I’ve often heard lamenting that no similar voice exists on the right, and talk of finding one reminds me of talk before a safari aimed at finding an albino gorilla.  After embarrassing-to-watch failures like Fox News’ The 1/2 Hour News Hour, I can see why the prospect of finding a “Daily Show for the Right” seems hopeless to many people.  The truth is that there are conservative entertainers and comedians like Dennis Miller and the aforementioned Colin Quinn who would be capable of sustaining a right-leaning television comedy/news show, but they would first have to be given the opportunity by network executives who seem to have made the advancement or nurturing of liberal ideology a part of their agenda.

The current best hope for a conservative voice in pop-culture, someone to serve as a counterweight to Jon Stewart, would seem to be Greg Gutfeld of Fox News.  Where else but Fox News would such a new voice have even the chance to become established?  Gutfeld has been the longtime host of Fox News’ late night show Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld.  More recently, he has become a stable in the ensemble show The Five which fills the daytime slot on Fox News which used to belong to Glenn Beck.  Even more recently, Gutfeld and Imus producer Bernard McGuirk have been appearing in a new regular segment on The O’Reilly Factor, and last night (16 Nov.) I saw Greg Gutfeld filling in for the first time as a guest host on O’Reilly.  These are all steps in the right direction, moving Gutfeld farther into the mainstream and out of late night obscurity.

I have to say it took me a while to warm up to Red Eye; for the first year or two it was on the air, it was something I bypassed while channel surfacing, dismissed as noise and smarmy talking-heads, but once I began watching and paying attention it grew on me.  Now, whenever I can stay awake late enough, I watch Red Eye every night before bed, to get a final take on the day’s news with an irreverent edge and no politically correct filter.    The show’s titular ombudsman, Andy Levy, provides a regular libertarian voice, but even more heartening is the show’s service as a forum for other libertarians (like guests Gary Johnson and Penn Gillett) and sane conservatives (like regular guest Congressman Thaddeus McCotter).

The ideological battle waged in the pop-culture theater is perhaps the most difficult for conservatives.  Editorial control and decisions about content and programming give the left a decided home-court advantage.  Fox News seems to be the only viable market for conservative alternatives, but the network already has a stigma that prevents many key demographics (like young people and minorities) from ever tuning in.  The Fox broadcast network airs many programs which take jabs at conservatives and it seems reluctant to try entertainment programming which deviates from the liberal narratives commonplace in the industry.  New Media and the internet is the next frontier, and perhaps the best forum in the future to keep liberty and founding principles relevant in pop culture.  Maybe a Legatus Libertatis Youtube channel should be my next endeavor.

-Legatus Libertatis

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