Although there are some conservatives in Hollywood, the more interesting point is that movies with conservative values tend to do well at the box office.
But guess what: ever more Americans are shunning Hollywood’s wares—and disgust with Left Coast politics, both on and off screen, clearly plays a part. In a time of declining moviegoing, what gets people out to the theaters, it turns out, are conservative movies—conservative not so much politically but culturally and morally, focusing on the battle between good and evil, the worth of heroism and self-sacrifice, the indispensability of family values and martial honor, and the existence of Truth. Hollywood used to turn out a steady supply of such movies—watch just about any film from its Golden Age of the thirties and forties—and it still makes them once in a while (sometimes thanks to off-screen lefties like Steven Spielberg). We may soon see a lot more of them.History appears to vindicate this claim.
The size of the market for such conservative films first grew clear in the late sixties and seventies, when Hollywood nearly stopped making them. Swept up in the era’s revolutionary spirit, the industry junked its decades-old production code—which mandated respect for marriage, the military, and religion, and forbade cussin’ and nudity—and went in for movies geared to “a rebellious generation . . . challenging every cherished tenet of American society,” as leftist film scholars Seth Cagin and Philip Dray approvingly put it. Production-code-era Hollywood hadn’t ignored the darker side of human existence, but even its hardest-boiled noir films weren’t anything like this. The countercultural movies of “New Hollywood”—such as Arthur Penn’s violent, criminal-glorifying Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Robert Altman’s cynical antiwar comedy M.A.S.H. (1970), Hal Ashby’s sordid paean to the sexual revolution Shampoo (1975), and Martin Scorcese’s urban nightmare Taxi Driver (1976)—wowed critics, who shared their anti-establishment and anti-American attitudes.But if the numbers show that liberal, cynical films don’t get an audience, why doesn’t Hollywood get the point?
But moviegoers turned up their noses. Weekly film attendance in 1967, the first year after Hollywood dumped the production code, plummeted to 17.8 million, from 38 million the year before (television had already eroded moviegoing from its late-1940s peak of 90 million a week). “In a single one-year period,” Medved notes, “more than half the movie audience disappeared—by far the largest one-year decline in the history of the motion picture business.” That audience then hovered around 20 million for the next three decades, despite a growing U.S. population.
There’s a simple explanation of why Tinseltown churns out so many commercial duds. Elite filmmakers want to make moola, of course—and they still do, lots of it, though not nearly as much as they could be making. But giving the public what it wants isn’t their prime motivation. More important is their wish for recognition as artists from peers, critics, and the liberal elites, says Emmy- and Oscar-nominated writer and director Lionel Chetwynd, one of Hollywood’s most vocal conservatives. “And it has been true from the late sixties on that if you wanted to be seen as an artist, you have to be a liberal—you have to rail against the government, be edgy,” he adds. Having the right artistic vision can mean other social advantages, too. “Making something commercially successful and appealing to a broad public, like The Incredibles, is less likely to get a Rebecca Romijn look-alike to sleep with you than making dark, hard-hitting, critically acclaimed material like Million Dollar Baby,” says longtime Hollywood watcher [Michael] Medved.In a market economy, ordinary Americans can hold the cultural elites accountable.
This, of course, is why the left so much likes Public Broadcasting. Without the discipline of the market, government funded stations can cater to the biases of their narrow liberal/left core audience.