This is the first post from new Legal Insurrection contributor Joel Engel
Early today, Professor Jacobson posted again about the movie 2016: Obama’s America, vis-à-vis producer Dinesh D’Souza’s response to reader criticisms, and concluded:
There’s something to that film which has touched a nerve, and not in a way liberals think.
When Dinesh D’Souza is stopped by passersby for a photograph in Greenwich Village, the skies are not as clear as they seem for Obama.
Exactly. With a box-office take rapidly approaching $30 million, 2016 is already the second highest-grossing feature-length documentary ever. In mainstream Hollywood, its success was totally unexpected—a word that carries the same irony Glenn Reynolds has imbued it with since Obama took office because it comes at the same time that Hollywood’s overall numbers are tanking.
It’s not just that, as the BBC reports, the overall box-office take this past weekend was the lowest for more than a decade. It’s that, in general, fewer people are paying to see movies.
The most obvious—and cited—reason for Hollywood’s decline is that it rarely produces films for adult audiences uninterested in comic-book characters, animation, fairy tales, talking bears, or dystopian fantasies—categories that fit 20 of the top 25 highest-grossing films so far this year.
But I’m absolutely certain there’s a more important factor—actually, two factors, inseparably intertwined. The first is that mainstream Americans—the kind who used to go with some regularity to the movies, whether they lived on the coasts or in “flyover country”—no longer see mainstream America represented on screen.
The second is that Hollywood’s elite have chosen nearly en masse to exercise their First Amendment right to make sure that they’re not mistaken for mainstream Americans. This has been a suicidal mistake.
In ye olde days of the studio moguls, stars were kept under wraps so that they never said anything publicly that might alienate a portion of the paying audience. Political comments, above all, were immediately squelched because the moguls understood the compact between actor and audience: An actor makes believe that he’s a character the audience cares about, and the audience suspends disbelief in order to care about the character. Whatever gets in the way of the audience’s ability to empathize with or root for that actor’s character will reflect at the box office.
Today, these famous faces who, for a living, repeat words written by others, have no compunction—indeed, they seem to have a compulsion—about flaunting their political views that they know, but can’t quite believe, aren’t shared by everyone.
Hollywood has become such an echo chamber for left-wing political causes that conservatives there think of themselves as Christians in pre-Constantine Rome; they complain of being attacked verbally for being “stupid,” and, irony of ironies, even blacklisted.
It’s a chicken-and-egg debate whether studios and producers know that they can’t get any A-list stars for a traditional, America-loving movie and so don’t even try, or whether these projects don’t exist because Hollywood doesn’t even think that way anymore.
In any event, this public violation of the compact between star and audience has had an insidious, trickle-down effect even on films that steer clear of politics. (See, for example: Julia Roberts’ career and paycheck in the decade since she said Republican falls in the dictionary between reptile and repugnant.) So when a movie like 2016 comes along—a documentary, no less—and expresses a message antithetical to mainstream Hollywood but is beautiful music to mainstream America, mainstream Hollywood has to come up with an explanation that preserves its moral vanity. And it does: racism.
Thus, Hollywood will continue committing suicide by a thousand cuts…and independent producers who manage to raise the money, as D’Souza did, for movies that appeal to the great unwashed may very well find it vastly easier to sign deals with distributors and exhibitors who are in business, after all, to make money.
Andrew Breitbart used to hammer home how important it was for conservatives to take back the culture. 2016 may yet prove to be a good start.