Download: A Note to Readers: Full Disclosure
AwardsDaily readers, like so many in Film Twitter, friends and family have wondered how my perspective could have changed so dramatically in the past few years. Jim writes:
I cannot believe you’re now calling for a return to five Best Picture nominees after years of begging for ten. I shudder to think who it was that got in your head over the past few years. First a Biden supporter then a vow to never vote for another democrat again, and now this. I just do not understand.
I’m going to write to explain this without writing 5,000 words because who needs that in their lives? I went from being a Critical Race and Gender Theory Hillary/Biden supporting true blue Democrat to someone who criticizes the Democrats constantly and would not vote for them (although what one says in anger on Twitter should never be taken that seriously, yet we take it too seriously every day) and is sympathetic to and defensive of MAGA. And even Trump himself. It is tantamount to openly practicing witchcraft in the town square in Salem in 1692.
So first off, no I’m not a witch. I am not a Trump voter (I live in California so it would not matter anyway) nor do I think any of things they fight for are things I would ever fight for. There is nothing in the America First platform I would want to vote FOR. However, I fight for their right to fight FOR the things that matter to them because THAT is Democracy, like it or lump it.
Fascism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism are the opposite. Winston Churchill famously said, because if anyone would know he would, that Democracy is the best option of everything else that has been tried. Fascists, however, believe that Democracy is ultimately a failure because having too many people deciding things muddies the plan. For Hitler, having complete control of businesses, entertainment, the minds of people, deciding who can and who can’t benefit from the economic system and even who should live or die is preferable to a bunch of people fighting for what they want.
Indeed, Germany prior to Hitler’s rise had three strong movements in the mix: what we would call moderates, Communists and Hitler’s socialists, or what would become fascism under Hitler. You know how that story ends so I don’t need to tell you what happened. But you do need to understand how and why it happened. The side that demands ideological compliance is the side that pulls away from Democracy and towards either fascism or totalitarianism.
Hitler needed to blot out, overcome, and dominate all other influences in Germany to rise as the one true leader and perhaps take over the entire world — high on meth, completely insane and ruthless, he was able to pull that off until the allies beat him back. Churchill (my hero) was a big part of that.
So how you get to Jews being carted off to concentration camps at all, never mind murdering them by the millions, is that you convince a whole citizenry to go along with it, either by force (they will be arrested or shot if they dissent) or with a campaign of dehumanization. You make them so angry at and afraid of and disgusted by Jewish people that you can simply drive them off in cattle cars and Germany is going to be made to feel safer.
When a society becomes accustomed to removing the dissenter, purging the undesirables, and using terms like “feeling safe” you know you’re in the danger zone. You are no longer living in a free society. You are living in a society that is operating from a place of both hysteria and dehumanization.
I realized this in 2020, that I was a part of a group of people dehumanizing another group. In this case, Trump and his supporters. I’m not sure if it was being locked down, or seeing two people I dearly loved dying and thus cutting out two of my main points of contact with free thought and free communication, or my daughter moving away, or the fear of COVID — but it all sent a chill down my spine. There was so much unfiltered, bottomless hatred and dehumanization coming from my side — the side with just about everything from Hollywood to all industries of power to much of the money and culture). Hatred directed toward another side — the side that had already been mostly shut out of the system, that Hollywood ignored completely, whose towns had been gutted by bad trade deals, with no economic prospects, many with no university education, etc.
It seemed off balance to me. I’d always been on the Left and we were always pushing back against the powerful. But now we were the powerful. Oh sure, we’ve ordered things so that we continue to often feel like the oppressed side, meaning we have reversed the hierarchy to put marginalized people at the top of our priority list, based on race, gender, etc. Since we measure our power now on the Left by the structure of that hierarchy, as long as we focus on those things we can ignore just how much power we do have, and just how much we have marginalized much of the country.
As a person with too much empathy (I hate cutting basil leaves, I feel bad watching people ride horses, the horses look so miserable) I could not stand on the side of the people with all of the power doing something I knew was morally wrong. So I made a conscious effort for the past year or so to spend a lot of time inside the world I did not know. I saw that the media was wrong. My friends were wrong. What you are being sold every single day just flat out isn’t true. And even if you could find a few clear cut examples doesn’t mean the whole of the Right are nazi/whitesupremacists/insurrectionists/antivaxxers/electiondeniers/homophobes/transphobes.
The more I tried to see things clearly, the harder it was to communicate with people on my side. I liken it to a fear bunker where a whole community has walled itself off from the rest of humanity. The stories they tell inside that fear bunker make all of them afraid all of the time but very few are willing to open the door, make the trek across the long prairie, climb the mountain and introduce themselves to the monsters over the hill.
That’s what I did. And for me it gave me peace of mind. Now, as I see my side ratchet up the dehumanization, as it even reaches to the governing level in ways that are unprecedented for a Democratic country, I remain fearful that we’re headed down the wrong path.
And by the way, through all of this and for the last few years I myself have been chased around by zealots online and called all sorts of terrible things. I’ve been the center of witch burnings on Film Twitter. But most people I know on the Left, with VERY few exceptions, see their fellow Americans on the Right as disposable. The non-compliant are open targets for the worst that can be thrown at them. You all might remember Devin Faraci, whom I once defended for years on this site and in public, standing by him at some cost to my own reputation. I could easily have gone along and called Devin a rapist and applauded his demise, but I couldn’t because something inside of me told me it was wrong. But after all that, even Faraci threw me under the bus on Twitter, scrabbling for a little clout.
I can’t play the victim on this, though. If I didn’t want to be picked on or screamed at I would surely be a good Puritan and keep my mouth shut. But I find it difficult to not say something when I think what I’m seeing is wrong. That is just my own obstinate nature. I remember that scene in Rod Lurie’s The Contender where Joan Allen is being asked again and again to confess and publicly what isn’t true about her and she refuses. She thinks the question itself is wrong, that the behavior around the witch hunt is wrong. I agree with that.
“Principles only mean something when you stand by them when they are inconvenient.”
The Contender was made during an era where the Right, not the Left, were the puritanical witch hunters. That is how I grew up — for decades. That is because after JFK, politics went one way and culture the other. In the lead up to JFK, to 1960, America had come out of the last cycle of the Fourth Turning (before this one). We came out of the roaring, hedonistic Twenties with a cold shower poured on American culture with the Great Depression. That economic downturn set into motion events that would lead to dictators and fascists and WWII. By the end of the war, however, America would inherit a fear of Communism. We’d made a pact with Stalin to defeat Hitler but now we were worried about infiltration of Marxist ideas (man would McCarthy be blowing a fuse right now).
After the war, America under (one of my favorite presidents) Eisenhower, became a kind of fake-normal. A utopia where everyone was held to a kind of paper-doll kind of life. It was the baby boom, the nuclear family. It was “normal” American life. Underneath that normalcy, of course, there was a storm brewing. Civil Rights, the sexual revolution, gay rights, women’s liberation, nuclear angst, and the generation gap — all led to the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s. JFK was so good looking, so cool, that he managed to influence culture in a way we would not see for about 50 years, when President Obama would be elected.
Obama blended in with and influenced American culture like no other POTUS has in my lifetime, certainly, maybe not since FDR and JFK. Reagan had some effect, no doubt, but on the Left there was pushback to Reagan’s capitalist-driven America. If you’ll recall (or probably you won’t since many of you weren’t born) in the 1980s we saw a rollback of the effects of Civil Rights and the Women’s movement in entertainment and advertising. That was frowned upon as tokenism.
You see whiffs of a turn in films at the end of the 1970s, like Kramer vs. Kramer which can be seen in some ways as anti-feminist, and then you see this scene from Network:
Now, can you imagine anyone making fun of activists in that way today? No. Because it doesn’t happen. But by the end of the 70s there was fatigue from all of it. Eventually, youthful hippies would grow older and trade their activism for comfort, which is how you get to The Big Chill, which is really about selling out.
There are so many people in Hollywood who are living in fear of telling stories now, of speaking the truth, of confronting the truth about who we are as a culture now. We have created a culture of snitches who rat out others for thought crimes. They seem to gravitate towards the non-compliant, like me and “tattle” to others. My friend Jeff Wells gets a lot of it. Our colleagues in the awards industry will gossip about things they saw me say on Twitter or Facebook and Jeff will come back at me with a warning. “I beg you, stop talking about Trump. I beg you, please, for your own good.” Every time he does that, though, it makes me want to write another Substack piece ABOUT Trump.
Why, because it’s the thing we’re not allowed to talk about in any way except complete and utter disgust and hysteria. No one really stops to think that this is the same guy who starred on Celebrity Apprentice, the ’80s gadfly who represented to many people the supreme template for ’80s ideology around unapologetic wealth. So now we have extremely wealthy people pretending that they’re not wealthy, or that they care about things like climate change while flying around on their private jets. I find it personally very fascinating.
One reason Trump is being dragged back every day to Twitter even after being banned is that it’s far too boring without him. Every fundamentalist religion needs an omnipotent evil to justify their own behavior. They might be a lot of things but they aren’t THAT. I personally find it strange to live in a bunker of fear where I’m not allowed to talk about anything except the prescribed doctrine. I guess that makes me a bad person, a thought criminal.
I got online in 1994. The internet’s commitment then was to freedom. Anyone could start any kind of website they wanted. You can’t imagine what that felt like. You had no panopticon like Twitter — the ever-watchful Big Brother keeping people in check. I launched my website because anyone could do anything. I trusted the Silicon Valley overlords to hold these truths to be self-evident, that everyone online was created equal. We willingly gave them so much of our time, our data, and our personal thoughts — now, they’ve turned around and suddenly lurched towards authoritarianism.
You might not care that people are banned from Twitter, or that they are fired from their jobs, or that they are treated like human garbage by the richest people in the world, but I do. I can’t not care about them. If you’re asking me to join you in your hatred and dehumanization of them I can’t and won’t do it.
Truth matters when it comes to art, science, history, comedy, journalism. It matters because that is what keeps us sane as a culture. We do have comedians and scientists and journalists who do still commit to the truth, no matter what it has cost them. But we are creating a 1984-like ecosystem that would only have been possible by eliminating the free market and putting everything inside of social media hive minds.
Now, we CAN get to 1984. We have an inside and we have an outside. If you are kicked out you can’t take advantage of the new economy online and you will be screamed at and dehumanized. If you stay in you have to follow the strident rules of Ingsoc. George Orwell wrote 1984 as a critique not of the fascist Right but of the totalitarian Left at the hands of Communists. He captures perfectly militant utopians pretending like nothing matters except the New World Order they have defined. History doesn’t matter. Language doesn’t matter.
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak,”
Nothing that happens in human society is new. We repeat the same patterns over and over again. What is in our DNA is baked in over millions of years. We will always form tribes. We will always dehumanize each other. We will always go to war to kill each other. Social media has just made this common human trait very easy to identify. Have you ever been in a Facebook group or any other sort of closed system and you watch how people must become homogenized? And that sooner or later there are dissenters who start speaking privately, forming a mutiny and eventually go to war with the group leaders? They then break off to start their own group.
I’ve seen this same pattern play out again and again, whether in a Reddit true crime group or a Facebook group devoted to Hillary or even a TikTok fandom that springs up around a really cute young man (yes, this happened with the fan base of Whiteyy18 where two tribes formed and then attacked each other). You see it on Film Twitter all the time too. Various film critics groups are “in” or they’re “out” depending on what happens in the secret conversations of members.
I didn’t want to make this long but now it’s getting long.
So to simplify, I believe what is happening to the Left with their fear and hatred and hysteria over Trump is DESTROYING the Left. As long as they see Trump as an omnipotent super-villain instead of a guy this climate of fear, hysteria and witch hunts will continue. How long can it survive? I don’t know.
The reason Hollywood can’t tell good stories anymore in Hollywood is because they are so cut off from half the country and, thus, removed from the “struggle” of everyday life. If the controlling ideology is that all we have to do is remove oppression (patriarchy, white supremacy, heterosexuality) we will have our nirvana at last, that’s not going to take you anywhere.
I can’t convince you to “like” or accept Trump supporters. The fear is simply too all consuming. But I would just say take time to get to know them outside of the doomsday bunker of the Left. You might be surprised by what you find. They’re just people. They come in all different skin colors, religions, etc. What they seem to have in common is that they’re working class as opposed to the kinds of sophisticates who dominate Twitter and the Democratic Party of late.
You can’t tell the American story unless you can tell the real story of the class divide. You can’t even see what I happening unless you can see things from both sides of the spectrum.
The story of Nomadland, for instance, would be about Trump supporters or Bernie supporters. The only thing missing in that movie was the MAGA flags festooning their vans. Not all but probably many of them I would guess are people who feel shut out from the American system.
Why do I think there should be five Best Picture nominees? Because I think the Oscars, like Hollywood, like the Democratic Party, are drowning in their own good intentions. I think they see themselves as high priests of a religious movement rather than a group of people who reward artistic excellence. I’m not even sure if we know what that means anymore. When there were five we could build momentum around one film and one director. Without that, we have Best Picture decoupled from Best Director and that runs counter to what I think about the Oscars and why I got involved in the first place.
So what happened to me is simply that my curiosity eventually got the better of me. My desire to have a voice and brain that is free from the constraints of dogmatic or religious thinking drove me to want to communicate what I actually think versus pandering about what I should think.
There is an interesting passage in 1984 that reminded me somewhat of Trump’s effects on culture. This isn’t about what Trump actually says or does. It’s about who he has become in the minds of the Left and how they spend each and every day devoted to “two minutes of hate”:
“Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheeplike face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne; besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these powers it was generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day, and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were—in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him.”
I understand that much of what we’re living through now is due almost completely to the effects of social media on our species. Since I’ve been online for 28 years I can have the long view on how this country changed, how the media changed, and how Hollywood has changed. I might not have noticed how seamlessly Democratic politicians are woven through The Oscar race and Hollywood — like Hillary Clinton and Obama’s presence on Netflix, or most of the documentary features or shorts functioning as a kind of propaganda for the Democratic Party — had I not pulled myself out of the bubble of the left to see the whole picture.
I can’t help how my mind works. I’m not always proud of what I say on Twitter, which is why my personal account is private. But I have given up caring that much when people point a finger at me and ask, “What happened to you?” I can only do what I’ve been doing for the past 28 years online. Write from my heart. Write the truth.
The end of 1984 is, I think, one of my favorite passages in all of literature. Winston Smith resisted Big Brother for a long time. Everything that he cared about was taken from him — love of language, of history, even actual love. It wasn’t enough to be obedient. They wanted his total devotion. So they put his head in a cage for hungry rats to devour. His greatest fear. That did it. They finally got him:
“The voice from the telescreen was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Winston, sitting in a blissful dream, paid no attention as his glass was filled up. He was not running or cheering any longer. He was back in the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain.
He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
If it came down to it, if not for leaving my daughter motherless, if I could not expressed myself truthfully and honestly then I’d rather be dead. For me, the only thing that has ever mattered throughout my life is truth. In art, in science, in film. That doesn’t mean movies should be docudramas. But it does mean artists are free to tell the truth about the human experience. How else could you ever get a great book like 1984 or a great movie like Network.
When I was a kid, my stepdad turned around and said to me, “If you ask one more question I’m going to punch you in the mouth.” I did stop asking him questions that day, but my mind is built in a way such that it is constantly wondering, constantly asking, constantly curious. This has taken me down many roads in my life. What I would have to trade in order to shut up and comply is too high a cost, my friends. If it offends you, you have 99% of alternative content to migrate towards. I only know one path.
If you’ve made it this far I hope I have illuminated a few things.