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What liberal Hollywood? Ogos 12, 2006

Posted by ummahonline in Kolum, Vox Pop.
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By: Haris Zalkapli

If there is one thing we can clearly see from the recent Academy Awards, it is that Hollywood is overtly political and proudly liberal, especially in today’s post 911 world.

The fact is, Hollywood and American popular culture has always been largely a liberal domain, except the time when Rambo reigned supreme during the era of Reaganite cinema when black and white was clear. Good presidents are almost always Democrats, and bad presidents (or president wannabe) are almost certain Republicans. Films such as All the President’s Men, Nixon and The American President are some that uphold that “rule.”

And history has shown that politics and popular culture often do not see eye to eye. One well?known case was the clash between the then president George H W Bush and the liberal pop culture community in an election year. The conservative Bush accused the entertainment industry of corrupting the American people, especially the young and impressionable.

A war of words ensued. The democrats on the other hand, embraced pop culture and consequently, the line that separated pop culture and politics was blurred. In that year’s presidential elections, the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton won the presidency, with a little help from his friends in pop culture. TV loved Clinton and helped him win.

This years Academy Awards, and the films competing for various prizes in countless film festivals this year are perhaps the most political in recent times. Today, pop culture’s clash with the political establishment are in many ways a reminiscent of the Vietnam war era, when pop culture figures such as Bob Dylan and John Lennon were at the forefront of protests. Many of the films in this year’s competition are criticized by the religious right for the liberal values they are accused of promoting. And clearly, we can see that the accusation is not an exaggeration.

Hollywood, to a large extent dictates what is cool. The entertainment industry largely holds a barometer for social acceptance in America. Ever since Philadelphia in 1993, gay characters have been less and less sensitive and career?killing for male actors. In today’s pop culture, it is even an in thing for a woman to have a male gay friend as one of her best friends. All this has made the conservatives’ blood boils. And of course to many outside America Hollywood has always been seen as anti?family values, and as a liberal propaganda establishment.

There is clearly a liberal bias, as conservatives are seldom given a proper voice, as seen in movies like Good Night, and Good Luck, Fahrenheit 911 and The American President, to name only a few. Hollywood is liberal, inasmuch as films like Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Transamerica are widely accepted and praised.

Nevertheless, this demonstrates a society that is open, often with a lot of sense of humor to reflect and laugh at themselves, unlike developing countries all over the world. Clearly, in America, pop culture has an important role to play. And often we can see that this role is undertaken quite effectively.

And whatever the criticism, Hollywood does a great service by bringing into the light issues such as freedom of the press and offering a critical look at a country’s foreign policy, actions of multinational corporations and many other matters that are important to people irregardless of their political affiliation. In a way, these films offer entertainment while at the same time opening up debates on difficult questions that few can ask effectively.

But that is not the entire picture. Hollywood does criticize the American government but there is unfortunately, a limit. From Back to the Future to Executive Decision, portrayal of Muslims has changed very little, and minorities are still caricatured. For instance, in Syriana, terrorism is shown as being caused by poverty, something that is not really based on reality. And madrasah is presented as a breeding ground for terrorists. Again, this has been proven to be a simplistic assumption.

In fact, much of the response of Americans to 911 attacks, and their views on Muslims and Islam is the result of Hollywood’s inaccurate and misleading portrayals of Muslims. Ironically, America’s conservatism owes significantly to the libertarian Hollywood.

This has shown the extent of America’s projection of soft power to the entire world, as described by Harvard’s Joseph Nye: “This new political and technological landscape is ready-made for the United States to capitalize on its formidable tools of soft power, to project the appeal of its ideas, ideology, culture, economic model and social and political institutions, and to take advantage of of its international business and telecommunications network.”

While being the bastion of liberal values, Hollywood is also at the same time part of the complex machinations that hold the current American?dominated world order. Pop culture is one of America’s biggest exports, and it is in America’s interest that the world continues to buy Hollywood. American soft power supports the super power’s hard, raw power. And you can’t rule if you’re not cool.

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