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Lights, Camera, Activism
Posted on May 10, 2012
Like Warren Beatty, Belafonte understood the greater gain in remaining a backstage operator; they both served as key advisers to leaders they supported, and quietly applied their intelligence and charm to raise the money that has become a prerequisite of the election realm. Ross mentions George McGovern’s refusal to accept corporate money, as well as an alliance between Beatty and John McCain over campaign finance reform, but otherwise “cash-as-king” in elections is regarded in this book as an unchallenged commonplace fact. As we find ourselves in the age of billions rather than millions being spent on campaigns, this aspect of American politics is germane to the book’s topic, because the nexus of Hollywood and Washington is not just one of sparkle and hyperbole; it is a relationship like skin and nerves and has driven history to its current point.
Some of the famous on the left went beyond personal involvement in politics to create narrative content, and the fact that movies such as “China Syndrome” and “Bulworth” are made is cheering to some. But the notion that they have had lasting, transformative effect in this country is not in evidence. There are more than enough “Rambos” and “True Lies” every year to outweigh their impact.
So Ross is correct that it’s no draw between right and left in Hollywood; and there are many interesting alleys to wind through in his book. But one can reasonably expect a deeper analysis and vision from a work of this breadth. At the end, after finishing up with the recent antics of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the jolly cliché-meister himself, the author deems sincere the passions and intentions of all the individuals he covers. He concludes: “They fit the Founding Fathers’ model of citizen-statesmen in that they had a vision of the world they wanted to see and they were willing to work to usher in that change. And for that, they deserve our respect. If every citizen behaved like them, the United States would be a far better place.” Ross’ wrap-up is a little like a pretty Hollywood ending. It’s hard to see these stories adding up to that.
Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics
By Steven J. Ross
Edenridge Press, 386 pages
The widespread damage done by conservative ideologues and policies, on top of the personal losses suffered by activists—particularly those on the left—is minimized in a most polite way. Liberals and leftists indeed made many misjudgments and miscalculations, but of the people in these pages, all were either ruined or drained to the point of almost completely removing themselves from public activism. That is not the fate of the representatives of the right in the book, however simplistic or fantastical their messages.
“In many ways,” Ross writes, “[these individuals’] differences are less significant than their one common denominator: They were all passionate about improving the lives of millions of citizens.” What is significant to those who pay any attention to the American media-go-round is that the conservative impact continues to swell, the left has virtually no electoral representation, and few are the better for it. How few? Somewhere around 1 percent.
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