You look at our movies, and you know what we value.
Most of the time.
We value love. Especially in summer movies. (In Christmas movies, we value family.) The message of our romantic movies is encouraging and clear:
“Love is out there for everyone.”
A green-skinned ogre with a Scottish accent.
The implication, of course, being,
“If it’s out there for that guy, it’s unquestionably out there for you.”
So we have a cultural value, cheer-leadered by our entertainments, our movies in harmonious sync with our most cherished national beliefs. (Not that other countries don’t believe in love, but for them, as reflected in their entertainments, it is frequently more complicated. There seems to be more suicide involved. I am generalizing here, of course.)
This in-syncness is even more apparent in another cherished national belief:
As capable and courageous as our recent women’s national soccer team was, I predict that no movies will be made about their improbable journey to the Finals. Why?
Because they lost.
As I’ve mentioned before, my favorite sports movies ultimately involve not winning, the first Rocky and the first Bad New Bears movies being the best of the breed. In both movies, the protagonists made enormous strides, only to come up agonizingly short. Still, they “won” on their own terms, those terms being, as Rocky asserts in his cherished hope before the final confrontation, “going the distance.”
In subsequent Rockys and Bad News Bears follow-ups (plus, virtually every other sports movie), winning remains the dominant motif, (and, as a result, the movies suffer from terminal predictability.)
We like love, and we like winning. So we repeatedly make movies about them, celebrating the positive outcomes. These stories are in harmony with our national mythology. They are pep rallies for hope.
There is one genre of movie, however, dealing with what is arguably our most cherished and believed-in cultural value, where it seems to me, the movies contradict our professed national belief. I am referring, of course, to movies about
In movies about business, business is always the bad guy. Not just the misbehavors in business – the “rotten apples”, as it were – but the generic entity of business itself. Think about it. When was the last movie you saw where business – the thing that provides us with jobs, fuels our economy, generating individual and collective prosperity – was offered as the hero?
Americans “do” business. And we do it commendably well. Innovation. New technology. Increased productivity. Profit’s not a bad thing; it’s a positive indicator. A successful business did something right, and they were justifiably enriched for their efforts.
So why, unlike love and winning, which we also revere, are movies constructed so that business, virtually without exception, is the enemy? I don’t get it. We value one activity above all others, and we make movies proclaiming that that activity is fundamentally corrupt, exploitive, self-serving and disgusting.
Well, first, a distinction. Movies that criticize business are not criticizing all business. They are criticizing big business. We’re not talking about a price-gouging haberdashery or a small-town pharmacy that sneaks nineteen pills into a prescription bottle rather than twenty. I don’t believe that happens that much anyway. I may be idealizing here, but my belief is, when it comes to the small business scenario, you are less likely to cheat people you know.
Faceless big business, however, as portrayed in our movies, will rip of their customers anyway they can. Network, Wall Street, those World War II movies where the Dads manufactured defective airplanes, and their pilot sons flew in them and crashed. In all cases, the enemy is always cruel, corrupt and cold-hearted business. Can you recall one movie about coal mining where they said, “This is actually quite a good job. Our clothes get sooty, but otherwise, I really can’t complain.”
For conservatives, the answer to the negative representation of business in movies is obvious. Communists write the movies. Lefty, pinko, un-American, business-hating anarchists who never did an honest day’s work in their lives, like children, railing against their unjust parents, are, in their negative portrayals, irrationally and immaturely biting the hand that feeds them.
Well, I don’t know about that. Yes, writers are quite often whiney and disaffected misfits, naturally drawn to the “politics of the outsider.” It would not be surprising if, more often than not, their ungrateful minds churned up stories raging against “the system”, and the dehumanizing corporate structure that demands unquestioning obedience to the bottom line. It’s not only their contrarian character that turns writers in that direction, however, it’s the inherent nature of storytelling. “Everything’s great” is simply not that compelling.
I just think there’s more too it than that. Movie writers may want to throw bombs and detonate the status quo, but movie bankrollers –who ultimately control which movies get made and which movies do not – have a more traditional agenda. Like other People of Commerce, studios and independent financiers are in business to make money. You do not maximize your golden chance at profitability by saying,
“Let’s just make movies for liberals.”
That’s simply not a businesslike idea. By biasing your storytelling, you are cutting out half your potential audience. What kind of businessman would do anything like that?
Movies like Network were huge box-office successes. I admit I did not poll the political leanings of the people who paid to see Network, but I suspect it was more than just liberals.
It’s a weird situation, especially now that movie studios are no longer independent, but are owned by the mega-corporations the movies they produce so consistently malign. Why do mega-corporations make movies where they themselves are the villains? That’s easy. It’s business.
“If movies where they hate us make money, we’ll make movies where they hate us.”
The question is why do they make money? Why, more than Muslim terrorists, more the the Mob, Russian or otherwise, more than malevolent, metallic extra-terrestrials, is business the foremost “Devil Figure” in movies? And I don’t just mean for liberals?
Ideologically, America is about “bigger is better.” There’s nothing bigger – and therefore arguably better – than a mega-corporation. Yet people, seemingly of all political persuasions, buy tickets to hiss at the irredeemable arch-evil that is the mega-corporation.
What exactly is going on?
Maybe you can help me with this. I am not being rhetorical.
I really don’t get it.