Friday, December 08, 2006

A Thought On Hollywood Liberals

The explanations why entertainment folks lean left usually identify two factors: they make their livings via emotion, and they aren’t very bright. That’s too facile. I offer two factors which have more explanatory power.

The entertainment industry is already an uncomfortable coalition between the Business tribe and the Arts & Humanities tribe. Performers are expected to have their primary allegiance to the A & H tribe, and they have conflicts in their daily lives with the B tribe. They are expected to uphold the tribe as much as possible in such conflicts, though everyone recognizes that price is a powerful artistic persuader. When you go to battle for a cause, even in small ways, your loyalty to that cause increases. Note how frequently TV, music and film do unsympathetic portrayals of other tribes – business, law, military, southern, religious - but how positively it portrays its own. If you are an undeniably crummy person from the A & H tribe, you will be portrayed sensitively as a complex and tormented character. The black and hispanic tribes get portrayed as either very good or very bad. They are coalition partners in liberalism, but can be chucked at need for a price.

Many entertainers do not originally come from the A & H tribe. They may be drawn equally from the other American tribes. They are accepted on sufferance because of their attractiveness, talent, and/or presentation. Barbra Streisand has a wonderful expressive voice and is a good comic actress. She is not very bright. Her acceptance early in her career into the A & H tribe would likely have been tenuous. At this point in her career she could probably afford switching to whatever tribe she chose. But loyalties die hard, especially when you have paid something for them.

The explanation that entertainers are not generally intelligent always seemed inadequate to me. They are likely distributed across the bell curve as all the rest of us are. But when someone has extreme beauty or charisma, we look for flaws, so that we might feel superior. Those of us who are intelligent are likely to use that as our judgement point. As intelligence is defined so variously, half the population can provide some evidence that they’re in the top 10%. Thus most of us estimate that Attractive Person X is less intelligent than we are, and are often right. But Glenn Close was a Phi Beta Kappa at William and Mary. Meryl Streep went to Vassar and Yale. They would both be A & H tribe members even if they had not been actresses. Stupidity cannot be assumed. It doesn’t hurt you as much in the entertainment industry as it might in some others, which is why it stands out.


Ben Wyman said...
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Ben Wyman said...

I started writing up a long reply on the state of celebrity intelligence in response to this post, but it started getting bigger and more unwieldy as I wrote it, and so finally I gave up on it. I'll just say that I think a much larger percentage of these celebrities fall into the higher intelligence bracket than one would naturally figure. We've just been mostly flooded with news on the five or six who quite obviously do not.

But rather than laboring to make that point seem plausible, I will instead make this point:

Since a very large percentage of actors in Hollywood are liberal, and a number of these are very wealthy people, there's a lot of liberal guilt being built up out there. Fortunately, they've found a solution: making just one film about the Iraq War, global warming, the oil industry, or homosexuality eases 90% of liberal guilt, especially if you take a large pay cut to make it. It doesn't matter very much if the movie is particularly good or not.

Then, having eased your liberal guilt and "done your part," you now have the right to be smug about it for the next several years.

If you do two or three films like this, you have now been given the right to be self-righteous and insufferable for as long as you see fit. George Clooney moved into this mode about a year and a half ago, and he's been completely impossible to deal with ever since, which is why South Park had such a field day with his Oscar acceptance speech.