“Liberal Hollywood” is practically a redundant epithet in the modern culture wars, crystallized in the dark days of the communist witch hunts of the 1950s and perpetuated in more recent times by extreme right-wing pundits who see the work of the devil in every American movie that doesn’t end with a “U-S-A!” chant. But this week, a conservative movie watchdog organization released a quantitative study appealing to Hollywood’s bottom line. According to MovieGuide, quote-unquote Conservative films averaged more than five times at the box-office than Liberal films in 2011.
It’s not an altogether surprising finding – if a studio is going to spend $200 million to produce and market a blockbuster movie, the script will likely take great care to deliver a reassuring crowd-pleasing experience that doesn’t rock anyone’s boat – but what exactly makes a film Liberal or Conservative in the first place?
MovieGuide, which has been around since 1978 and is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its annual awards show tonight at a gala hosted by Dean Cain, pays special attention to Pro-Capitalistic versus Pro-Communistic content, in addition to classifying films that are feminist, politically correct, and “pro-homosexual.” The study ultimately weighs films that are “Conservative/Moral” against films that are “Liberal/Leftist,” leaving the reader with the unspoken understanding that “Leftist” is supposed to equal… Immoral?
“All we’re doing is putting out our point-of-view,” says MovieGuide’s Dr. Ted Baehr, who founded the organization as a family-friendly guide that analyzes entertainment content based on Christian principles. “The difference between us and other organizations is that we’re honest about it. This is our point-of-view. We developed it on principles, and we don’t expect everyone to buy into it. There are different ways of looking at films – there are a lot of advocacy groups out here and in Washington for every demographic and they each have their own of looking at the pie and [saying to the studios] here’s a way to make money or lose money.”
So… Captain America? MovieGuide claims it as clearly Conservative. Fair enough. X-Men: First Class? Sorry, mutants, anti-American. Mission: Impossible? Pro-American. Super 8? Subversive propaganda, apparently. (Your guess is as good as mine.) Though Baehr trusts in MovieGuide’s method of analysis, there’s bound to be a certain amount of subjectivity. Take, for instance, The Muppets, which Fox Business’ Eric Bolling recently accused of using class warfare to brainwash America’s children. Bollocks, says Baehr, who embraces the kids film as solidly pro-American. “Kermit is living in a beautiful home; he decides to get back their name and their studio,” says Baehr. “They don’t ask for a hand-out. They decide to work their way to the top again. And of course Gonzo has become a successful businessman, and he believes in free enterprise and property. So it’s sort of an Adam Smithian view.”
So tonight, Captain America will be in the unusual situation of competing artistically against The Artist, in addition to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and seven other films for the honor of Best Movie for Mature Audiences. Drive didn’t make the cut here, either, sadly. Nor did J. Edgar, The Ides of March, or Beginners, if you can believe it. “Some people might say, ‘We want movies that are realistic, where good doesn’t win at the end,’” says Baehr. “Well, I love Bergman’s Saraband, about five people who hate each other. They’re mean and they’re horrible. There’s no plot, there’s no story. But it only made $56,000 at the box office. Now was it art? Probably, yes. Whatever art is – probably the brother of Bob or Joe or Frank. The fact of the matter is that people want to experience redemption and freedom and they want to be able to live their own lives.”
Screenwriting legend William Goldman once wrote that the difference between “Hollywood” films and “independent” films was that Hollywood films aim to “tell us truths we already know or a falsehood we want to believe. Hollywood films reinforce, reassure. Independent films … want to tell us things we don’t want to know. Independent films unsettle.” I theorize that’s at least 90 percent of the reason behind the gross financial disparity in MovieGuide’s study. But what do you think? Do Conservative films perform better at the box office for any meaningful reason? Should Hollywood be making more Conservative films or do you think we have enough of them already? How liberal exactly is Liberal Hollywood?