With a couple of pieces by Richard Rushfield and David Poland that spell doom and gloom for Hollywood’s future, I thought it was a good time to macro out and look at where we are right now. Their pieces are worth reading for sure, but in my view they, and everyone else, are dancing around the main issue. And that is what has happened to Hollywood in the past few years, let’s say six years. But really, it’s been a decade.
I have to face up to my own culpability in this. I spent many years — almost all of the time I’ve had a website — railing against the “white male patriarchy” where Hollywood and the Oscars are concerned. I blush when I read some of my old screeds. I guess I never thought the highest reaches of power in the film industry would ever swap profit for virtue, but that is indeed what many seem to have done.
They’ve done it for survival’s sake. They can remain in power as long as they do not piss off Twitter. But in so doing, they’ve mostly led to the problem of millions of people not wanting to watch what Hollywood is selling.
Top Gun Maverick is the story of the Summer because everyone knew out of the gate that it was good, and that it wasn’t “woke.” The public felt they could then trust the movie enough to spend money to see it and see it again, and tell their friends about it. That is what happens when you pay attention to the silent majority.
Before we get to what brought us to this point, we first have to talk about where we’re going. That is what is at stake right now politically, for sure. In terms of the film business, I agree with Rushfield and Poland in the sense that it’s probably going going gone — except for those who cut bait with the new religion of the Left and go back to doing what Hollywood does best. Entertain. Aim to satisfy the majority. Stop trying to “teach” people how to “do better.”
The question is who will be doing that? Who is prepared to start building outside the system? Some of the platforms have shown a willingness to confront some of it. Netflix for instance, advised employees to stop thought-policing artists or else be reminded where to find the exit door. Amazon has the wildly popular show Terminal List, which the critics trashed because they believed it was “conservative.” In fact, it’s simply an exciting military drama.
The weird thing about what’s happening right now is that the climate of fear has all of America talking about something that people who cover the industry try to deny. They can’t afford to. They could lose their job with one two-day swarm on Twitter. Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere is among the few who will brave the storm to push back, and for that he’s taken much heat over the years.
What we’re really looking at here is the latest iteration of Emperor’s New Clothes. The Emperor is naked but no one will say so until a little boy points out the obvious. The old way of studios and press working together meant that you can’t really publicize a movie unless there is some kind of story that emerges as a hook. Movie stars could do it. Great directors could do it. But when you have created a situation where everyone is too afraid to tell the truth out loud, no one can possibly identify the actual problem.
The problem can’t be fixed unless it’s identified. And round and round we go. I think almost everyone in Hollywood knows the problem. There have been some recent events that probably left Hollywood a little shook. I would say last year’s box office disappointments of movies that should have made a lot of money — like West Side Story and King Richard — is a good example.
Then there’s the Batgirl saga, where a $90 million movie was shelved is written about on the Left in terms of streaming service this and bad test screening that. On the Right, though, they make no bones about it. It was dumped for being the world’s “most woke” superhero movie. To me it seemed obvious. They release bad movies all the time. Aquaman is probably the worst film I have ever seen. So I doubt Batgirl’s badness could have been the only problem. I also don’t entirely buy the tax credit thing. No, there was something much bigger that drove them to kill it. I think the new owners of WB content wanted to stop branding DC as a “woke” franchise. Dumping the movie gives the brand some chance at survival.
I can’t prove that’s why. I just have a hunch.
Pixar’s Lightyear would probably have done better if there had not been headlines about the first same-sex kiss. That plays well on Twitter and among Gen-Z, but it also marks their brand as “woke.” They will win points for good intentions, but they risk giving up the big box office take once audiences suspect any movie they see from the company will be riddled with instructions on how people should think. Some call it “normalizing” content to change perception. And that’s fine, I suppose, if that is what you want to do. But doesn’t that put it in PSA territory?
Hollywood, the Oscars and this country is at a major crossroads. The battle is for the future. Generation-Z has changed everything. This has mostly to do with their having an outsized voice online. The louder they are, the more companies listen and try to placate them. As a generation bred to be consumers, companies constantly compete for their attention and their money. Millennials still dominate but Gen-Z is right behind:
The Boomers are responsible for having created most of American culture up to Obama’s presidency. They are now on their way out and eventually, the millennials will be taking over as the dominate generation that is inventing and re-inventing American culture. That is good in some ways, bad in others. The Boomers aren’t really going to help us through this moment because they remember their counter-culture days and that makes them more sympathetic to the “woke” movement.
My generation, Gen-X, is the only group that has maintained most of our subversive, or questioning authority mindset, which is why you see a lot of Gen-Xers like me pushing the boundaries of what is and what isn’t acceptable to talk about, think about or write about. This is the first time in my life I’m grateful to be part of that generation.
I come from the unique vantage point of having spent the last 28 years of my life, exactly half, online. That means I had a full life before smartphones, the internet and social media. But if you imagine everyone you know who is around 28 or younger, they have spent their entire lives with the internet, and much of it with social media and smart phones.
Human evolution, culture, society — it’s all a dance. It’s about adaptation, survival, endurance. It is a test to see who has the right stuff to make it through. Generation-Z has come of age as social media natives. They know no other way of living except that they rely on their phones a lot. Everything that happens to them happens on their phones. Anything that happens to them in real life, then turns around and happens on their phones. They have already grown up knowing that they must self-censor or they will be swarmed and attacked by their peers.
That generation — unless they make a conscious effort to unplug, which I hope they do — is never coming out of the online spheres. That is the future, full stop. But we’re not quite there yet. There is still a whole America that isn’t yet living online the way Gen-Z does. Gen-Z will turn out to buy tickets to movies if it’s something that catches their fancy but it isn’t something they’re committed to as previous generations were.
Gen-Z at the moment are most definitely in the Matrix and blue-pilled. They don’t yet know, most of them I figure, that they can rebel against the system if they want to. They tend to be mostly agreeable and compliant when it comes to a society instructing them how to think, speak, behave, etc. But there will come a day when that changes. They will likely push back against all of it. And THAT, my friends, will be a time to be alive.
Right now, though, we’re dealing with a media that doesn’t quite get the message yet about why people are going to tune out content that they see as inorganic and contrived to serve a specific agenda. The new religion of the Left is more or less like any religion. Where virtue is the goal, nothing else can survive. The idea is that they want to be good, to do good things means that all movies have to also be about being good.
The problem is that they only have one story to tell and that is of the oppressors and the oppressed by their own definitions of those two groups. They think that’s where the juice is. But that’s just what the internet thinks. Those who came of age online lived through a separation of two massive movements. Virtue signalers and trolls. You could see how Obama’s side was the virtuous side and Trump’s was the trolling side.
In a country with far too much division already, I fear the Left divides us into two kinds of people — in which one side must be “good” and behave well, broadcast that goodness all of the time, while their only named enemies would be those who do not go along with their religion. Imagine a movie made by Scientologists, for instance, where their enemies would be those who aren’t part of the religion.
For Gen-Z, that reversed hierarchy — most marginalized on top, least marginalized on bottom, where white, cis-gendered straight people are oppressors by default, and non-white or marginalized people are oppressed — makes for content most people don’t really want to watch. They already know where it’s going, what it’s going to say and what the “message” will be.
Complicating things further is that film criticism and entertainment news exists inside of a bubble of sorts. They speak a language only they understand. It’s one they share with the famous and the wealthy — celebrities are defined by their activism now. That makes almost all of the content they star in something that a lot of people want to avoid if they’re not part of that insulated hub.
That will work at a time when there are so many options for viewing content. But it also kind of kills the idea that there will be movies the majority will either pay to see or watch on streaming. If they’re niche, they’re never going to be that big.
Think of it like this: there is every reason for people to line up to see Top Gun: Maverick. Simple formula, delivers on its promise. There are many reasons to risk seeing a movie that is either about some kind of issue, or starring someone who is loud about their own politics, or involving a filmmaker who wants to be an activist with their work. It’s a simple numbers game.
Is there a fix? At the moment, I do not believe there is. One would have to evolve to not care what people think — like David Zazlov and Batgirl — or not be invested in being seen as “good.” To become a religion defector is a risky proposition that most aren’t up for. They have too much to lose and not enough to gain. That’s not something those in power want to do.
I think there is a pretty good chance we’ll be riding this thing until all of the wheels fall off. Those exceptions, like Top Gun: Maverick, that prove the point of how starved audiences are for non-“woke” content, are too few and far between.