Monday, June 13, 2011

Politics & the movie business

"I'm the money." 
quote from Shakespeare in Love

There was a feature in Sunday's LA Times about someone called Ben Shapiro who wrote a book called Primetime Propaganda - The True Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV.

In his book, he says this:

  • Shows like Friends and The Simpsons are "insidiously brilliant leftist propaganda."
  •  A Gunsmoke episode promoted civil rights.
  •  The Mary Tyler Moore Show embraced the radical feminist movement.
  •  Happy Days creator Gary Marshall is anti-big business liberal with socialist leanings.
 Okay, by now some of you are furious, some agree, and some don't give a damn. And I tend to steer away from politics in terms of internet duels. But I have been asked this question from time to time by my more conservative friends.

All two of them.

The question is: Are conservatives denied the same opportunities as liberals in the film/TV business?

What do you think?

Well, first of all nobody asks you your political leanings when you take a meeting. It is always about the idea, the story and ultimately the screenplay. As they say, the word business is part of the phrase show business.

But there are far more liberal people in this business than conservative ones. The most simple explanation is this; liberals tend to be attracted to show business, to tell their stories. Conservatives tend to go after big business. The Arts vs the business world.

Like I said, that's the simple explanation.

Conservatives tend to be very religious, some overly religious. One of my conservative friends is super Catholic and the other is strongly Jewish. I'm a Catholic who hasn't been to church for 40 years.  I get along fairly well with the Catholic woman but we never discuss politics. Her answer to anything I rant about is "Teddy Kennedy".

The Jewish friend and I actually go at it now and then, but have learned to laugh it off. We can coexist.

But most Republicans I know of are the crews, not so much the storytellers. One grip once asked me why "you writers" always write stuff about life instead of good war movies? A few days later he wanted to show me his trunk full of automatic weapons.

There are a handful of liberals who changed parties, one of the Zucker brothers (the Airplane movies) became conservative after 9/11. His last movie, about beating up Michael Moore died at the box office. For one thing, it wasn't funny.

Shapiro mentions that TV played a major role in helping the civil rights movement like it was a bad thing. He quotes agents who told him his political views would make it impossible to get a job in this town.

Take me, I'm Canadian, have my green card, which gives me all the rights of a U.S. citizen except for voting or serving on juries. My friends usually smile and say I'm lucky! I am liberal in politics, which would be interpreted as leftist here whereas in Canada I'm considered middle of the road. Canada's Conservative party, in power now, is more like middle of the road Democrat here.

Nobody's ever denied me work as a Canadian, in fact they didn't ask if I was Canadian. Well, except when it came to filming a US show in Canada, my status was desirable as I would qualify for content rules.

Are the liberal Americans trying to take over the country with such propaganda like Mary Tyler Moore, Sid Caesar, Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, Dick Van Dyke Show, the Mod Squad which featured a black actor in a series (along with Bill Cosby in I Spy).

Maybe they are, I certainly don't consider politics when I write, I write from my life and how I interpret the rest of the world. Do I make jokes about Conservatives, of course I do but I'm sure they make jokes about Canadians.

When John Ford directed The Grapes of Wrath from Steinbeck's novel, the rage that came from the conservatives was enormous. Republicans actually threatened Ford and Zanuck who ran 20th Century Fox, igniting a controversy over migrant workers conditions in the 1930's. Zanuck was being pushed against releasing the "socialistic and communistic" movie that dare suggest a problem within America.

One image I remember before Obama was elected, was a white woman from the south, crying out on CNN, "Where is my America? I want my America back". I realized then that the America she wanted was 1955 and that America is never coming back.

But the bottom line is this:

Mr. Shapiro also recounts his troubles trying to sell spec scripts. 

Really?  Is there something there I don't get? Are you just mad because you think they passed on your specs because of your politics?

Note to Mr. Shapiro, I am a left-leaning writer who worked for Bobby Kennedy in Indiana in 1968 and I have 34 spec scripts on the shelf I haven't sold. And never once has anyone asked me my party affiliation for the 18 movies I worked on.

Maybe your stories just aren't very good.