Dan Glickman, the puckish new president of the Motion Picture Association of America, tells how he got to walk down the red carpet on Academy Awards night in Hollywood. Nobody paid any attention to him. In the lobbying world of Washington, he's the glamour man from dreamland, but to real movie fans he's as invisible as J. Alfred Prufrock in a salon of English ladies, Willy Loman at a Holiday Inn in Cleveland or Ralph Nader at a class reunion at the Electoral College.
This amuses him because it speaks to the gap between the politician in Hollywood, who works hard to keep the box-office cash flowing westward, and the stars who work just as hard bashing the White House and Congress, where he does his work. When he got his job last year, succeeding Jack Valenti, some Republicans in Washington felt insulted. How could they expect a Democrat to work with them to solve "the Hollywood problem"?
He arrived in Washington with the arrival of the results of a Harvard study criticizing "ratings creep." A movie that would have been R-rated a decade ago is likely to be rated PG-13 today. A movie X-rated 40 or 50 years ago is almost family fare now. Glickman, perhaps predictably, thinks criticism aimed solely at the moviemakers is unfair. What the movies are reflecting, he says, is "culture creep." Excessive violence and tawdry sexuality in the movies merely reflect changes in the culture. He's probably right about the culture, but Hollywood must take part of the blame.
The new president of MPAA is not an impersonator of Barbara Streisand, Alec Baldwin or Whoopie Goldberg. He brings certain bipartisan qualifications to the job, a man at home in either blue or red state. He knows how Washington works. He was a congressman from Wichita, which could be a twin of Peoria, the stereotypical redoubt of what we once called Middle America. He was secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton administration; he quotes his wife as cleverly noting that "culture" is the larger part of "agriculture." He loves movies, recalling how he spent most of Saturday afternoon as a boy sitting through a double feature, a serial and two cartoons and went home wanting more.
He acknowledges, as anyone from Kansas would, that the perception of Hollywood is that it's considerably to the left of where most people in America live. He sees his job as building bridges between red state and blue. In a free-wheeling conversation over coffee and Danish at The Washington Times, he told me how conservatives share certain important interests with the liberals in the movie industry. As an industry, Hollywood makes an economic as well as cultural impact. Movies create jobs, which makes more jobs and increases trade overseas.
"Our industry is the only one to generate a positive balance of trade in every country where it exists," he says. "Our movies earned $8 billion in the domestic market last year, but $15 billion in the international market." Although China allows only 20 foreign movies to be screened - officially - each year, the very size of the market requires a better job of selling American movies. Movies at their best can export American values: "Movies show other countries things about us they want to copy, and Republicans ought to see that as consistent with their view of a strong America with a strong impact in the world."
At the moment, the biggest candy-and-popcorn issue for Washington is piracy, and definitely not as Johnny Depp in "Pirates in the Caribbean." Film pirates, knocking off illegal copies of new movies, cost the industry over $3 billion a year. On a recent trip to Mexico, where he toured the world's largest flea market, he counted more than 400 stalls selling pirated films (including "Pacifier," a new "family" movie produced by his son).
This week, Ted Olson, the solicitor general for the first President Bush, argued for the entertainment industry in a complicated property-rights case before the Supreme Court. Hollywood and the recording industry argue that current law permits the copying of songs and movies, and sharing them on the Internet. This enables young people to grow up learning how to steal. But the industry also wants to encourage creative technological innovation. "Consumers want a legal, hassle-free, reasonable cost for buying their movies online," he says.
Perhaps, but a lot of consumers prefer free to reasonable if they can get it. If he can find a way to satisfy both his bosses and the customers, he'll deserve the red carpet next year.