The Shape of Hollywood — Losing the Plot
by

According to Nielsen ratings, this year’s Academy Awards ceremony was a huge bust. The hoped-for watchers did not tune in, and the number of viewers tumbled. The television audience fell 19% from last year’s broadcast, the Wall Street Journal reports, continuing a multi-year slide for the landmark show.

It took less than twenty-four hours for Hollywood’s media claque, beginning with Vanity Fair, to assure all who would listen that the plunge had nothing to do with the left-wing consciousness raising of everything that Hollywood touches. In a next-day BBC review critic Nicholas Barber cooed:

There was Wes Studi introducing a montage in praise of war films, first in English and then in Cherokee. There was A Fantastic Woman winning the Best Foreign Film prize, and its trans star, Daniela Vega, introducing Sufjan Stevens’ performance of “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name. There was a female producer, Darla Anderson, thanking her wife, and a male writer, Adrian Molina, thanking his husband, when they accepted the Best Animated Feature award for Coco, a Disney/Pixar love letter to Mexico. And there was Jordan Peele winning his Oscar for Get Out, making him the first ever African-American to get the Best Original Screenplay prize—and making Get Out the first ever horror movie to get that prize, too.

Cherokee bilingualism. Trans star. Boy love. Thanking her wife. Thanking his husband. A love letter to Mexico. And screenwriter Jordan Peele, the black man of the moment, honored for his hate-whitey horror hit, Get Out, in which the inhuman monsters turn out to be that lovely white family named Armitage. The best picture, The Shape of Water, as the BBC’s Barber describes it, is a “Cold-War sci-fi romance, a call for the marginalised to band together against white patriarchy.”

No one is sure how much celebrities espousing political causes is a factor in viewers tuning out, the Journal observes, since “the sheer number of entertainment choices is causing an industry-wide decline in ratings across all TV programming.” But as yet Hollywood does not want to wonder.

Each year, what everyone calls “Hollywood” has less and less to do with Los Angeles, film, or theaters. The trillion-dollar global business, delivering multimedia on the go, spans television, gaming, websites, music, advertising, and news, and it revels in its power and prestige.

Hollywood’s A-list is almost all in for transformative social justice, which mixes calculated groupthink and “can I grab the spotlight?” As a result, America’s favorite Hollywood evening has mutated into hours of glossy political hectoring, this year in behalf of female empowerment, support for immigrants, and opposition to the National Rifle Association.

“Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion,” Harvey Weinstein declared in 2009. “We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe.” With telethons and global hugs, who needs nature or God?

During the 2000 presidential election, the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd described Hollywood values rising in Washington D.C. as “out-of-control egos, blatant materialism, a dog-eat-dog ethos, and a devotion to pretense,” watching the rise of political showmen. News viewers want something quick and lurid, something that’s “entertaining,” and they want it Twitter-brief. Message “journalism” seeks to mold minds, not to inform. The polity is getting used to the performance, tuning in for the fight club.

In the future, “thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit,” warned author Aldous Huxley in Brave New World Revisited (1958). But despite grievous social assaults that followed, prevailing family, school, and religious authorities kept the U.S. normative lid screwed on until the multimedia entertainment revolution and 2007 Apple iPhone.

Hollywood likes freakish, and so do its devotees. Criticizing tattoos, hookups, rap music, or trannies — saying the wrong thing on Facebook — might get you into trouble at work or school. Heaven forbid you should offend those who would consider your disapproval “hatred,” which entitles them to destroy your career or good name. Or maybe blow you away.

We’re getting used to that as well. First-person shooter video and computer games allow people to enact murder, not only watch it. That’s part of Hollywood’s multimedia platform too, a franchise worth billions.

Media accountants and publicists raise the specter of censorship and the thought police on their way to the bank. In fact, entertainment capitalists have no illusions what they are stirring up and the thrills they provide. New York- and Los Angeles-based wizards know how to stimulate appetites and points of view, and for a price they can do their magic in Washington, D.C. Privately, they exalt in their power.

Meanwhile, Hollywood doubles down on identity politics. It insists that depravity and imaginary violence do not lead to sociopathic behavior. It professes the product is mere fiction, that it has no real world effect. If you don’t like it, look the other way. You don’t have to buy it.

Apparently, that’s what the Academy Awards audience decided to do the other night, putting money-mad Hollywood into a very bad plot line that it will have trouble escaping.

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