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
THERE WAS A LOT OF SOUL-SEARCHING in the weeks following Donald Trump’s election, especially among those who fill our various screens with news and entertainment.
Accusations of elitism and bias among the news media quickly spilled over to Hollywood.
Long considered a bastion of pathological progressiveness and wanton liberalism (Remember the blacklist? The one not starring James Spader?), film and television were accused of obsessing too much about things like transgender rights and how many black actors got Oscar nominations and not enough worrying about the concerns of “real Americans”: Rust Belt unemployment, devotion to guns, fear of porous borders, disillusionment with government, feelings of personal alienation and a general sense of a world run amok.
How, many wondered, could the creators and arbiters of popular culture have been so out of step with the viewers and moviegoers they serve?
The answer is they weren’t and aren’t. Because there is no notion more thoroughly absurd than that of Hollywood’s liberal agenda.
The real elitism of film and television — we like to watch people who seem richer than they should be.
Although many members of the entertainment industry espouse, often publicly, a left-leaning political slant, Hollywood is still dominated by white men who prefer to make movies and television shows that revolve around other white men — men beset by feelings of alienation, who often wield guns, who fight (or represent) corrupt government, and generally attempt to survive and/or save a world run amok.
Across galaxies, through the centuries, in every genre imaginable.
For every film that does not revolve around such a lead character, there are 78 others that do, just as for every series that features a transgender character, there are 8,000 that do not.
In representing the actual demographics of “real” America, television has done a slightly better job than film. But it’s still a mostly white, mostly male, mostly straight world fighting forces that range from the daily stress of family life to armed rebellion against encroachment by aliens, zombies and fascists both historical and imaginary.
Hollywood is still dominated by white men who prefer to make movies and television shows that revolve around other white men.
As for being pathologically progressive, well, nostalgia hasn’t been this big a seller since “The Wonder Years.” The big screen is littered with franchises of years past, while on television, the success of “Mad Men” and “Downton Abbey” sparked an arms race of time machines — back, back we went like companions in “Doctor Who,” checking in with the Vikings, the Wars of the Roses, George Washington’s spies, the Tudors, the Windsors, the ’60s, the ’70s, even, god help us, the ’80s. In every era, the oppression of certain groups — nonwhites, women, gays and lesbians — was duly noted but really not the point.
The point was the pleasure of revisiting who we once were, presumably before things got crazy, and watching how change, whether it’s the invention of the compass or desegregation, always freaks everyone out.
That, and all the groovy stuff.
So anyone who argues that, with the exception of “Duck Dynasty,” the creators of film and television have ignored the declared interests of Trump supporters has clearly not been watching.
Just for the record, the good folks of “Duck Dynasty” were one-percenters even before the show got made.
And that is the real elitism of film and television — we mostly like to watch people who seem richer than they should be.
Being as American as an invention can be, Hollywood doesn’t like to deal with class, except in stories about the British. America likes to pretend it is a classless yet perpetually upwardly mobile society — look, Ma, no aristocracy! Just a bunch of educated landowners! And Hollywood is happy to help, from both sides of the fence. Billions are harvested from so-called populist entertainment and celebrity is the local version of royalty.
But entertainment has always been a class issue because it always costs money, the kind known as “discretionary.” Folks with no discretionary income must entertain themselves; the rest of us pay.
Not always that much — just as Shakespeare’s Globe had the groundlings, early American cinema had the peanut gallery, where folks who were unable to afford the theater could immerse themselves in other worlds brought to flickering life. Cowboys and gangsters and society dames, cops and robbers and Charlie Chaplin, all immediately accessible in the ultimate democracy of black and white.
Radio, meanwhile, had put a tireless storyteller into every living room, and it was only a matter of time before the two art forms begat a third: television, which both symbolized, and further messed with, America’s complicated relationship with wealth and poverty and all the demographics in between.
Movies were for the masses, but television, at least in the beginning, was for the chosen few. Like indoor plumbing, electric lighting and the automobile, the television became an instant, and ongoing, symbol of class ascendance. Families that could afford a television, and all its subsequent iterations, inspired the envy of their neighbors; the windows of appliance stores drew crowds.
The set and increasingly what appeared on its screen were windows on a world of aspiration.
Because as TVs became more ubiquitous, the programming, and the advertising that supported it, grew more upscale — to attract the moneyed audience, yes, but also to support the general post-war mythology of suburban serenity. On “The Honeymooners” and “I Love Lucy,” couples still lived in tiny apartments and bickered about who spent what. But at the Cleaver house, mother June did housework in pearls and heels. And Donna Reed figured out how to fire her housekeeper.
Even more than film, television mirrored America’s fickle relationship with its own economics, which swung repeatedly between reality and desire. Norman Lear grounded us with the limitations of education, race and single motherhood; writers like Earl Hamner with “The Waltons” and Jason Katims with “Friday Night Lights” reminded us that not everyone lived in a city; shows like “Taxi” and “Laverne and Shirley” organized their days around work rather than hijinks.
But increasingly, the dance with poverty or unemployment that kept even “Bewitched’s” Samantha Stevens on her toes when the boss was due for dinner gave way to a warmer and hazier notion of work, and money, as either a calling (all those doctor and cop shows) or simply wallpaper. “Thirtysomething” took a lot of flak for the touchy-feely adulthood experienced by its cast, but in the years since, pretty much everyone who is not a detective, surgeon or lawyer is a college-educated professional who works only when it’s narratively convenient.
Stories that could have been about class injustice — “Breaking Bad,” “Shameless,” “Nurse Jackie” — were instead about other, more personal things. “Modern Family” became a critical hit despite being so un-modern that, in early seasons, each wing of the family had a single (male) breadwinner, and even “The Middle,” which is one of the few series in which the characters are truly working class, keeps everyone healthy and satisfied, albeit ruefully, with their lot in life.
Meanwhile, the business model of both TV and film redefined the term populist. At cineplexes renovated to resemble home theaters and keep “communal” to a minimum, there are no cheap seats; taking a family of four to the movies can cost $60, and that’s with no popcorn or drinks,
The cost of television, meanwhile, doesn’t stop with the set, available in an ever-widening array of sizes, rays and definitions; now cable bundles and streaming services are part of the monthly cost of living, for those who can afford them.
It’s no wonder film and television shy away from directly addressing class. Who wants to think too much about money when they’re sipping on an $8 soda? Or trying to get through the DVR queue they pay $150 a month for and can never seem to watch?
In this world it makes some sort of sense to consider Hollywood elitist, just as it makes some sort of sense to consider the millionaires of “Duck Dynasty” “real folk” and a billionaire reality host the presidential candidate for real people.
But that’s got nothing to do with liberalism, conservatives or politics of any variety. That’s just the good old magic of Hollywood.
On Twitter: @marymacTV