I was sent an anonymous DM today that I would like to answer publicly – I have no idea who this person is. It’s an “alt account” by someone who is like so many others – living with the growing dread that we just moved through something that has forever altered how we evaluate film:
The left has won. Like is there any coming back from this? All of Gen z is on board as is the entire media. How do you beat that? It seems insurmountable.
Is it insurmountable? Maybe. Maybe this is the new normal or maybe it is a house of cards destined to collapse. But let’s dig into it, shall we?
What does the protagonist want? To be thought of as a good person. That motivates everything. To work now is to be thought of as “good.” That is why people apologize and beg not to be hated and beg to keep their status and their platform and admiration from their peers. What is the threat? Twitter and public shaming. This is why they must pronounce their virtue day in and day out on social media — see how good I am? I am on your side.
We got here over time, a wave of virtue that really started back in the 90s when so many of us spent time reading self-help books, watching Oprah and Phil Donahue, sifting through our problems, and perfecting who we were. Heading into the turn of the millennium, in the post-9/11 W. Bush country the Left became the side that was aiming for virtue, as opposed to the conservative Right.
We raised a generation we protected from every bad thing – bad words, losing contests, low self-esteem, depression, mass shooters, molesters. We kept our kids inside, insulated them, and isolated them as they found their way online. They built a new world order on sites like Tumblr where social justice warriors were born. It was “us vs. them.” They were “bad” and we were “good” and we would work towards that goal every day of our lives and in everything we did. That is why so many of the Best Picture contenders during this time were “good people doing good things.”
When Obama rose to power it really did seem like we’d finally realized what we had been working towards for so long. It was what felt like a kind of Camelot. Until it wasn’t. Trump’s win in 2016 caused such a shock wave throughout the Left that we were never really able to recover from it, even now after we’ve reclaimed power.
Every day we can see a jittery and terrified Left defending itself against half the country whom they see as invaders. There is plenty of fear and hysteria to go around, on both sides, but it’s the left that has been “attacked” as a country might be during a war. For four years we’ve battled it out online viciously. But things started to take a different turn last year when the left really began attacking itself. Probably because they had no power on the right.
But it really does feel like last year resulted in a political and cultural revolution that has decided “equality of opportunity” is not going to cut it and now we must aim for “equality of outcome” – in the arts, in science, in education, in sports – everywhere. They are really pushing too hard and too fast, which is now starting to alienate people in the middle but also on the left. They are just too afraid to say so out loud.
Comedians have been exiled to YouTube. Late-night comedians like John Oliver are now simply activists, feeding and preaching to their own side that already agrees with them. So what is that really? A self-serving sermon?
Journalists write in a strange sort of coded language that obeys the current rules Twitter demands but in ten years will be hard to read. It feels like we’re trapped in the fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes and we’re all just going along with something that doesn’t feel honest.
The truth is that Twitter is dominated by 15% of its users generating 80% of its content. Outrage spreads. Twitter makes money by driving its users to the brink of mental collapse each and every day. Go Twitter! We didn’t even realize we were headed here but now we have a public arena to threaten users with their “virtue credibility.” If you slip up even just once that awakens the mighty oracle of shame and you become the target.
It is also hard to imagine it won’t be like this forever.
If you scan the headlines and look at Twitter and Facebook you will feel not only afraid but hopeless. In the past year, I have heard from so many people who feel the same way. Many of them feel that the problem can’t be solved and they should just give up. Mostly these are the group that has, up until this moment, dominated the creative market — Ye Aulde White Men.
Trump’s rise, I figure, made white men the target and the threat. The idea being, all we have to do is get rid of them and we will have an equitable utopia. No marginalized person will be left behind and any discomfort they feel now is all the better. We want them to FEEL PAIN for the decades, centuries, or millennia that they have dominated. All they have to do is get out of the way, the theory goes, and other groups will have a turn. But what if they made the best movies? What if they are the best filmmakers? I am having a hard time thinking of any female directors right now that are better than the best of the best male directors. Does that make me a sexist?
I really do deserve to be disturbed by this dramatic shift, considering the years I spent lamenting the dominance of “straight white men” in the Oscar race. I understand why things had to change. But I also think we’ve gone beyond what was necessary and now are in danger of being unable to recognize what defines a great movie. Humans have been able to recognize good storytelling forever. Even if Gen Z would want our stories to adhere to a utopian doctrine even they can’t resist a great story and a great movie.
What really hurts us is our media’s sudden and abrupt silence on the truth, even in film coverage. So few people can risk upsetting Twitter that they just don’t. We have not found steady ground yet. If anything, our ground is shakier right now than it’s ever been.
The reason it feels insurmountable is that so many people are afraid to speak honestly. I would bet that 80% of people who work in Hollywood and cover Hollywood, and the Oscars, would agree that they are not in favor of “Cancel Culture.” But that same group would also not speak up about it on their various platforms because it is simply too easy to be called out, dragged in the public square, and unpersoned.
Compounding the problem is that the fight is, quite simply, on the right, not the left. From the moment Trump gave his “cancel culture” speech at Mount Rushmore the fight against it has been on that side. Sure, there are people who ride the middle like Bill Maher and various podcasts and a few people here and there that I know. But overall, most people are afraid of getting too close to the Trump line. If they have to pick a side, they will pick the left. They will align where their bread is buttered.
Not only do they still want to BE good, but they also want to be thought of as good. Most would simply never risk losing the admiration of their peers. Someday, Twitter and Facebook will be analyzed for what they revealed about that very thing – how the need to be seen as virtuous prevents us from standing up against something we don’t believe in.
But if you are, say, Arthur Miller in 1953 and you wrote The Crucible, or you were Orson Wells in 1941 and you made Citizen Kane, or Rod Serling 1989 and you created The Twilight Zone, or George Orwell in 1949 and you wrote 1984 – your influence will be felt through the subsequent decades because you were committed to telling the truth, regardless of whether it made you look virtuous or not.
To understand better where we are you should not stick to any one source for information. In a time of such extreme polarization and suppression of dissent, you have to read a wide array of sources. I would recommend Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds, Ben Shapiro’s The Authoritarian Moment, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind, Gad Saad’s The Parasitic Mind. There are many “Alpha Voices” that are able to name the problem and offer solutions.
Train yourself to be tough and resilient, to look at the truth with an unflinching eye. Do not try to protect yourself from it. Care less what people think of you or say about you. Know yourself better than they know you. Support and align yourself with people you actually agree with, rather than those who make you look good online. Support those who are attacked.
It’s important to be true to yourself and to your readers. To quote Solzhenitsyn, “You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” The one thing you owe yourself and your readers is at least an attempt towards honesty.
For all of my life movies were what rescued me out of every terrible thing – fear, sadness, loneliness, confusion, boredom. Movies made my life. I recently watched The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and it reminded me what I was like to go to the movies when I was a kid and see a movie like that. It’s so good, so entertaining, and made for a room full of people to sit on the edge of their seats and explode in applause at the end.
That is why, where movies are concerned at least, we really do need the market. We need to know what audiences think is good and why. We need the experience and the pleasure of watching a good movie, not because it contains a message of how to be better humans but because it is wildly entertaining and takes you on a ride you will never forget.
Is this the end? Did “The Left” win and does that mean we no longer care about great stories or great acting or great writing but value instead films that reflect our vision of utopia? Well – in the short run, without a doubt. This is going to be with us for a while for the simple fact that, for now, the fight is on the right so how can the Left mount any sort of offense? They can’t. They won’t. Probably it is going to take a red wave in Congress, maybe the presidency in 2024 and the market raging back for things to really shift. The industry will have to feel the cold shoulder of a fed-up public before they do anything about the status quo. We’re not coming out of this madness until we’ve defeated COVID and we have the free market back and it can say things we can’t say ourselves.