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Lights, Camera, Activism

Posted on May 10, 2012
Photo by Scott Beale

By Louise Rubacky

(Page 3)

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.

book cover


Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics


By Steven J. Ross


Edenridge Press, 386 pages


Buy the book

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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By jimmmmmy, May 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment

Gerrard .I remeber tough guy Bogart sucking up to Estes Kefauver live on TV during those “witch hunt” hearings,before Edward R. Murrow called bull-shit.

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By gerard, May 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment

Postscript:  Don’t forget, McCarthy’s chicanery knocked the political spirit out of Hollywood—what there was of it between the glitz and the gore.

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By jimmmmmy, May 14, 2012 at 10:39 am Link to this comment

Vector as a vietnam vet I’ve arrived at the same conclusion as you. Ms Fonda was right and courageous. A great American patriot. The vistas created by the carpet bombings were suppressed.

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By jimmmmmy, May 14, 2012 at 10:32 am Link to this comment

The definitive book on Hollywood is a book of that name by Gore Vidal .It’s historical fiction but has many facts about the start of the movie business and it effects on government starting around the 1920s these effects are still in play today.

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By vector56, May 13, 2012 at 5:20 am Link to this comment

The Movie “Battle Ship” is nothing more than a promotional recruiting piece of propaganda for the US Navy.

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By Jack W. Scott, May 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment

Thank you for the good article, this book begins to indicate the true scope of the problem of authority in America and the world.  “mass media is the multitiered conduit to public perception of reality.” is right on, Americans have their reality created, defined, and determined by their television experience. Most people think that if anything were wrong, television would tell them!  Oh, wrongo, publico, things have gone horribly wrong and television is NOT telling us!  Some scientists say that, due to ocean acidification, the oceans will die “in our lifetime”!  But, while it’s selling coal and oil and natural gas, does TV ever mention that it’s CO2 that’s doing this?  Nope.  Does TV ever even once show Solar Panels? Nada!  So, while the bloodthirsty audience grips their seats, waiting for the next exciting episode, the planet’s seas are dying, and when they go, that’s about it for us!  The fact is that Hollywood-Burbank is the ruler of this world, and while they get plenty of money for their cheap propaganda, their real purpose is Evil, pure and simple.  At the very beginning of their show-business career, they are all required to “sell their soul” to demonstrate their “dedication” to their art and craft.  And we can see the result in the character and content of their product.  I’m glad the political left is finally taking up on this obvious, ubiquitous element in our society, the omnipresent influence of the movies and television.

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By John Poole, May 12, 2012 at 11:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would have thought Clooney may have gone for a third party possibility backing.
He’s probably prepping for a senator or governor shot as a democrat once he tires
of films. Still it is disappointing. He values seem to be in the right place.

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By John Poole, May 12, 2012 at 5:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

for bim: I’ve felt Clooney was very engaged with notable cultural concerns of our
time so it is baffling why he would back Obama. I was hoping his type would
finally break rank and push for a third party. I don’t expect someone like Streisand
and her ilk to “get it” (we need a radical departure from politics as usual) but
Clooney seemed different. I guess he can spin as good as Obama in deceiving my

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By gerard, May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

Hollywood helped to create the fantasy world that was and still is “America”—whatever that illusory dreamworld is: The biggest most irresponsible nation in the presentday world; the lover of creativity and invention—especially A-bombs and drones; the “Christian” soldiers that kill more old men, women and children than any other nation on earth and are still so scared that they aren’t “taking anything off the table” (even “nukes”) and breathe down the necks of their own people. A mere 1% of its wealthiest citizens harbor retrograde delusions of grandeur, concentrating the wealth of the world in the hands of a couple dozen megathieves in New York City operating a handful of industries that are literally eating the world alive.  Well, there’s no end to the “asymmetries” once you get started. “And the Oscar goes to .....?”

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By Bernardo, May 11, 2012 at 8:36 am Link to this comment

Last night Clooney and friends (150 of them) donated 15 million to Obama.  Would you say that all of them are part of the 1% corporate ruling class?

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By vector56, May 11, 2012 at 5:27 am Link to this comment

Also, When Jane Fonda went to Vietnam she and her film crew recorded on film what “Carpet Bombing looks like from the ground. The bombed out schools and hospitals; the corpses of Women and children dumped is mass graves for public health. None of this seemed to have made it to the Corporate Media; but they gave unlimited air-time to Fonda sitting in the anti-aircraft gun turret.

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By vector56, May 11, 2012 at 5:20 am Link to this comment

Obama and the Democrats repeatedly hold up Ronald Reagan nostalgically as what a reasonable Republican should look like. I would also guess that most Democrats would have no problem having their picture taken with Charlton Heston.

Jane Fonda on the other hand usually causes most Democrats to run for the hills! The very thought of her sitting in the “Gook” anti-aircraft gun; laughing and carrying on with the enemy as if they were just as human as we are? Personally, I think Fonda had more “balls”  and integrity than “The Gipper” and “Movie Moses” combined! Bottom line is that the Vietnamese did not attack us; therefore they were not our enemies. As a matter of fact they were “victims”  and Jane Fonda had the guts to point that out.

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