I must have been in college (or possibly even just high school), when I read a thoughtful essay in TV Guide, of all places, to the effect that people all over the world who had never met an American, or been to the United States, almost always formed their impressions of us based on what they saw in the movies, or in television shows. As one of our AFRTS public service announcement tag-lines had it – foreigners don’t know America, they just know Americans – and the Americans which the overseas movie and television audience saw was usually not a very favorable one. This essay must have been put out in the early 1970s, so I imagine the general picture is even less favorable now. Just think of current popular TV shows with an American setting – and consider how America would look to you if that was all you saw, and all you knew was Breaking Bad, a dozen cop shows set in big cities, and half a dozen sit-coms where the characters spend most of their time in suspiciously well-decorated living rooms.
Lately – especially in the wake of the Great Duck Dynasty Imbroglio of 2013, I have begun to suspect that the TV and movie tycoons don’t know America any better than those foreigners, as they seem to be looking at everything between the coasts and half a dozen trendy enclaves dotted here and there, though the same distorting lens. There is a disconnect between the people who make our movies, and the audience who watches them, a gulf between which is presently about as deep as the Grand Canyon. How else to account for … a lot of stuff, like Roman Polanski having the sympathy and support of many entertainment gentry while the rest of us recoiled in revulsion at the pervy old teen-molester. Or the popularity of the previously mentioned Duckers – yes, when their branded stuff is all over retail outlets in fly-over country, you can bet they are pretty darned popular. This popularity seems to have escaped the management suits at A&E, although probably not their accounting department.
And now I see a two-fer; both of which involve Meryl Streep. This is a rather a pity, as I had always thought of her as a darned good actress who had the sense to eschew both tabloid-fodder antics in her personal off-stage/off-screen life, and generally to keep a low profile when it comes to politically incendiary material. Alas, she felt obliged to accuse Walt Disney of being racist, an anti-Semite and a misogynist, in the course of presenting an award to Emma Thompson for a role that the latter played … in a movie about a Disney movie. Tacky, in the least, as the man has been dead for more than forty years and certainly in no position to defend himself against the charge of having been a man of his own time and not this presently tolerant and enlightened one.
And according to Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul whose production company has graced the viewing public with such serene, non-violent and principled movies such as Gangs of New York, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, one of his new projects is an anti-NRA opus. Supposedly, it will move the great American viewing public to drop their weapons and their NRA membership as if they were suddenly made of radioactive materiel. Accused of hypocrisy on this contradiction between his previous movies and his proposed one, naturally Mr. Weinstein swears that from now on, he will go forth and sin cinematically no more. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if his fingers were crossed behind his back. He has the great good fortune to live and work in places where he can feel personally secure, and obviously has little knowledge of and sympathy for those of us who don’t. I’d say I’ll probably boycott his movies from now on, but as I have never been to any of them anyway, I’m not certain that I can call it a boycott.
(Crossposted at www.ncobrief.com)