Sunday, February 05, 2006

Brokeback

Is Hollywood too far to the left? Maybe. But the debate over Brokeback Mountain is tedious. I haven’t seen it (as a general rule, I don’t go to movies to watch people get their hearts broken) but by all accounts it’s good. The political content isn't in the story but in the fact that it exists as a film aimed at a mass market. But inasmuch as it is a modest commercial success, then that takes some of the political edge off, no? The real story not that some barrier has been traversed, or that people are flocking to catch some kind of cultural wave and flip the bird at Karl Rove (as Frank Rich proclaimed) but that it's an arty movie doing pretty well at the box office. Unusual, but it happens.

On the liberal issue, Matthew Yglesias notes that the demographic Hollywood aims at (urban, young) is itself pretty liberal, so it’s not surprising the content skews that way. But there is a more fundamental issue: Liberals are better at strumming the heartstrings than conservatives. The most common Hollywood story arc is that of an underdog combating and ultimately triumphing over oppressive forces (cruel or clueless parents, school cliques, evil empires, robot overlords, etc.). This formula encompasses an impressively wide range of stories and themes, few of them political. But it is also basically the same, romanticized way liberals view themselves – in a noble struggle to build a better society and achieve justice. By contrast, there is no similar, universally compelling conservative storyline. The hectoring triumphalism and exaggerated piety that run through modern conservatism (think Sean Hannity or Lee Greenwood) don't make for great storytelling. “Conservative” story lines tend to come out overtly political or clichéd and sentimental. Which is why Rupert Murdoch hasn't sent Roger Ailes to Hollywood - at least not yet.