The contentious presidential campaign was filled with accusations of elitism and bias by the media -- from the news to entertainment. Many supporters of Donald J. Trump saw his victory as a repudiation of the so-called liberal elite.
So as 2017 begins, we ask: Is Hollywood representing all Americans? Are Hollywood values out of sync with American values?
It's the start of a conversation we'll have all year with Hollywood's creators, consumers and observers. Most of all, we want to hear from you. Is Hollywood out of touch with your America? Here's what our critics and writers have to say:
- Blame the movies? KENNETH TURAN on potent Hollywood visions that helped elect Trump
- TV's affluent bubble: MARY McNAMARA on Hollywood's reluctance to deal with class issues
- Fear of the powerful woman: JUSTIN CHANG on working women and men still behaving badly
- Realistic or cliche?: JEFFREY FLEISHMAN on film's working-class men and women
- Building distrust: LORRAINE ALI on destructive TV portrayals of Muslims and how TV can help fix things
- Video games to politics: TODD MARTENS on how Gamergate trolls helped set Trump's political attack playbook
- No 'Middle' ground: MEREDITH BLAKE on TV's working-class hero, 'The Middle'
- Bracing for backlash: TRE'VELL ANDERSON on LGBT Hollywood's vow to keep fighting
- Still angry: MARC BERNARDIN on 'This Is Us,' a rare TV view of simmering rage in a black professional
- Arts fighter: MARK SWED says maybe Sylvester Stallone wasn't such a bad idea for the NEA after all
- Rap pirates: Run the Jewels' Killer Mike and El-P get political with RANDALL ROBERTS
- Standing Rock legacy: CAROLINA A. MIRANDA on the pipeline protest that could be the future of dissent
- Cuba unplugged: RANDY LEWIS on a music scene that grew up in isolation
- Voice of protest: Conor Oberst talks with AUGUST BROWN about music's power
- The provocateur: CAROLYN KELLOGG on Milo Yiannopoulos' $250,000 book advance
- Survival kit: JOHN SCALZI's 10-point plan for making art in the Trump era
WHEN A COLLEAGUE SHARED a British tabloid report that Donald Trump was considering appointing a certain Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone as head of the National Endowment for the Arts we rolled our eyes, speechless.
Stallone has since said he would decline any offer for the top arts spot from Trump. Yet — and I can’t believe I am saying this — Sly Stallone may not have been such a bad idea for the NEA after all.
How fundamentally the world has turned in 2017.
Four years ago, when there was still hope that President Obama might turn out to be an arts leader, I had proposed that for his second term he eliminate the NEA altogether and instead create a Cabinet level department of culture, putting us on par with the rest of the world’s civilized countries. I further suggested as candidates the two most probing, visionary and persuasive artists and public intellectuals I could think of: the director Peter Sellars and Bard College President Leon Botstein.
There are many in Congress who would gladly eliminate the NEA to save an infinitesimal fraction of the federal budget (less than four-one hundredths of 1%, to be exact), replacing the NEA with nada.
There are many in Congress who would gladly eliminate the NEA to save an infinitesimal fraction of the federal budget (less than four-one hundredths of 1%, to be exact), replacing the NEA with nada. What the agency needs now more than vision is a fighter. A little star power wouldn’t hurt, either. Could Rocky save it?
Obama never promised to be an arts president. What candidate does? (Bernie Sanders did, but he is the only major one in recent memory). Still, there were indications early on that the Obama White House would prove to be a second Camelot, following the example of the arts-embracing Kennedys.
The mood for Obama’s first swearing in was classily set by classical musicians in 2009. Violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gabriella Montero warmed up the dignitaries with John Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts,” written for the occasion. As with so much in Washington, a phony controversy ensued when it was learned that the quartet instrument-synced, but it was simply too cold to offer “Simple Gifts,” which required nimble fingers on strings and keys. That may have also been the start of giving Obama cold fingers when it came to the arts.
Even so, for their new home the Obamas borrowed from the National Gallery the most sophisticated art that had graced White House walls since Camelot. The first family occasionally showed up at the Kennedy Center or museums. The first lady hosted afternoon gatherings of musicians from different disciplines. We were told that the president was a reader of poetry.
The most promising sign of all was Obama’s unpretentious grace in the company of artists. He said the right things. We took it for granted that he supported the arts and understood their importance for the betterment of society. The vast majority of artists in America felt that Obama was on their side.
So we coasted. The president had to pick his fights, and the NEA, it turned out, was never to be one of them. In 2009, another phony controversy occurred when the far-right website Breitbart News reported that a spokesperson for the Obama administration had reputedly tried to politically influence artists. That pales next to President Reagan personally phoning up theater critic Dan Sullivan at The Times in 1981 to ask that he prop up Reagan’s old Hollywood pal Buddy Ebsen, whose new musical was a flop.
Ultimately, Obama appointed as NEA heads Broadway producer Rocco Landesman in his first term and arts executive Jane Chu in his second. Both proved personable promoters of the arts and the agency, treating their posts more as caretakers rather than visionaries. I used to regularly see a representative from the NEA at the Los Angeles Philharmonic during previous administrations when something particularly novel was presented. No more.
Still, the agency appeared to mean well. Its minuscule budget, always under $150 million a year, got divvied up to museums, performing arts groups, local education agencies and community projects as best it could. Landesman and Chu spent much of their time as arts activists, drumming up business.
But let’s get real. France’s federal arts budget rose last year to more than $4 billion! That’s $575 per person for the arts, as opposed to 45 cents per person in our country.
What this ultimately means is that while Obama valuably helped the mood of the arts in America, he did less for the arts infrastructure. He displayed considerably greater interest in pop culture and sports than in arts advocacy. He handed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to but a handful of noted and deserving artists — including architect Frank Gehry, painter Jasper Johns and Ma — whereas he picked a significantly larger number of Hollywood stars.
Mood, nonetheless, matters, and the vast majority of American artists are now worried about a Trump administration. We’ve heard the reports of the transition team struggling to find willing performers for the inauguration. According to Itay Hod of the Wrap, the Trump team has gone so far as offering ambassadorships to agents who can lasso a star, all to little avail. Operatic crooner Andrea Bocelli backed out, but the 16-year-old operatic crooner wannabe, Jackie Evancho, seems to be in. The Rockettes and Mormon Tabernacle Choir (minus members who are opting out or quitting in protest ) thus far fill the insipid bill.
Meanwhile, artists who became complacent under Obama no longer are. President Lyndon Johnson did not decide against running for a second term because of a painting; Richard Nixon (who happened to support the NEA) did not resign as president offended by a symphony. But protest artists the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Robert Crumb and many others created a national temperament that helped change governments.
Antagonize the artists, and it may seem as though the world’s turning in 2017 will, in fact, be back to the late 1960s and early 1970s.