Hollywood's disconnect

Posted: Jul 26, 2005 12:00 AM

The standard entertainment industry reaction to Hollywood's box office slump reveals the same shallow, materialistic mindset that helped create the problem in the first place. The left-leaning thinking that dominates the movie business follows a common liberal instinct to deny the spiritual dimension to every problem, thereby profoundly compounding the difficulties.

Tinseltown's recent setbacks suggest a crisis of major proportions, with a May USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll showing 48% of adults going to movies less often than in 2000. For 19 consecutive weeks, motion picture releases earned less (despite higher ticket prices) than the year before. Projected ticket sales for all of 2005 indicate a disastrous drop of at least 8% ? at a time of population growth and a generally robust economy.

USA TODAY ran a headline, "Where have all the moviegoers gone?" under which insiders discussed their desperate attempts to rebuild the shattered audience: "The lures include providing high-tech eye candy through 3-D digital projection and IMAX versions of movies. ... Stadium seating, which improves views, is just now becoming standard. Other theaters are opting for screenings that serve alcohol to patrons 21 and older."

More balance needed

Revealingly, none of the studio honchos talked about reconnecting with the public by adjusting the values conveyed by feature films, and replacing the industry's shrill liberal posturing with a more balanced ideological perspective.

Something clearly changed between 2004 and 2005 to cause an abrupt drop-off at the box office, and the most obvious alteration involved Hollywood's role in the bitterly fought presidential election. The entertainment establishment embraced John Kerry with near unanimity ? and bashed George W. Bush with unprecedented ferocity.

Michael Moore became an industry hero and the most visible symbol of the Hollywood left. Innumerable callers to my radio show expressed resentment at the strident partisanship of top stars; no one ever complained about the lack of 3-D digital projection or alcoholic beverages at concession stands.

Despite efforts by entertainer activists, a majority of voters cast their ballots for Bush. If even a minority of those 62 million GOP voters ? say, 20% ? reacted to Hollywood's electioneering by shunning the multiplex, it could easily account for the sharp decline in ticket sales after Bush's re-election.

Another values-oriented phenomenon of last year similarly contributed to missing moviegoers: The Passion of the Christ earned $370 million by drawing religious-minded patrons who had long avoided movies altogether. Amazingly, no major release in the 17 months since the opening of The Passion attempted to appeal to that huge, wary churchgoing audience. Walt Disney Co. hopes that the faithful will flock to theaters during Christmas season to see the adaptation of the Christian allegory by C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but that promised deliverance is still five months away ? an eternity in show business time.

Meanwhile, conventional wisdom ignores all ideological considerations in explaining the sudden box office collapse, concentrating instead on purely material excuses (high ticket prices, availability of DVDs) that have, frankly, applied for years. This knee-jerk tendency to offer direct, physical solutions to deep-seated problems constitutes an unmistakable element in the liberal outlook that remains Hollywood's reigning faith.

Liberal tendencies

To combat threats to the family from out-of-wedlock births, for instance, the left offers birth control and abortion ? though illegitimacy soared as "reproductive choice" became widely available. On crime, liberals stress gun control ? despite statistics showing states with widespread gun ownership producing less criminal violence. To fight poverty, progressives want more funding for welfare and public housing ? ignoring the destructive impact of a culture of dependency and the failure of government projects in every big city. On the core question of terrorism, liberals blame economic deprivation, suggesting foreign aid to dry up anti-Americanism ? downplaying the depravity at the heart of Muslim militancy that draws its murderous leadership from the Middle East's most privileged classes.

This same habitual blindness to spiritual, substantive dimensions of every significant challenge continues to handicap Hollywood. Paramount Pictures recently announced that the first major thriller dramatizing 9/11, with Nicholas Cage as a rescuer attempting to escape the wreckage, will be directed by notorious conspiracist Oliver Stone. Aside from his recent drug busts and box office bombs (the gay-themed Alexander and his documentary paean to Fidel Castro, Commandante), Stone has compiled a vast collection of anti-American statements, including his 1987 declaration: "I think America has to bleed. I think the corpses have to pile up. ... Let the mothers weep and mourn."

Meanwhile, Tinseltown will continue to weep and mourn as long as its bosses depend on the likes of Stone to portray the worst terrorist attacks in our history. Americans aren't stupid, and we're not all apolitical; many (at least a third) are even self-consciously conservative in both politics and values.

In Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign, his staff kept focused with the help of a sign: "It's the economy, stupid." In their campaign to bring back disillusioned moviegoers, Hollywood's honchos ought to consider similar signs, reminding themselves, "It's the values, stupid."