November 28, 2005

Mark Steyn on Political Correctness At the Movies

Mark Steyn made some interesting observations on how "political correctness" has infected movies:

The average multiplex is surely not long for this world. Already, 85 percent of Hollywood's business comes from home entertainment — DVDs and the like. Suits me. Or so I thought until, on the way home from the hell of Harry Potter, I stopped to buy the third boxed set in the ''Looney Tunes Golden Collection.'' Loved the first two: Daffy, Bugs, Porky, beautifully restored, tons of special features. But, for some reason, this new set begins with a special announcement by Whoopi Goldberg explaining what it is we're not meant to find funny: ''Unfortunately at that time racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in ways that may have embarrassed and even hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups,'' she tells us sternly. ''These jokes were wrong then and they're wrong today'' — unlike, say, Whoopi Goldberg's most memorable joke of recent years, the one at that 2004 all-star Democratic Party gala in New York where she compared President Bush to her, um, private parts. There's a gag for the ages.

I don't know what Whoopi's making such a meal about. It's true you don't see many positive images of people of color on ''Looney Tunes,'' but then the images of people of non-color aren't terribly positive either (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam). Instead, you see positive images of ducks of color, roadrunners of color and tweety birds of color. How weirdly reductive to be so obsessed about something so peripheral to these cartoons that you stick the same damn Whoopi Goldberg health warning on all four DVDs in the box. And don't think about hitting the "Next" button and skipping to the cartoons: You can't; you gotta sit through it.

A Hollywood that's ashamed of one of its few universally acknowledged genuine artistic achievements is hardly likely to come up with any new artistic achievements. As the instant deflation of that Whoopi cushion reminds us, the movies are now so constrained by political correctness the very act of storytelling is itself endangered. That's something slightly more ominous than the feeble limousine liberalism many conservatives blame for the alleged box-office slump. Say what you like about those Hollywood writers of the '30s and '40s, but they were serious lefties. Their successors are mostly poseurs loudly trumpeting their courageous ''dissent'' while paralyzed into inanity. This year's Sean Penn thriller, ''The Interpreter,'' was originally about Muslim terrorists blowing up a bus in New York. So, naturally, Hollywood called rewrite. And instead the bus got blown up by African terrorists from the little-known republic of Matobo. ''We didn't want to encumber the film in politics in any way,'' said Kevin Misher, the producer.

But being so perversely ''non-political'' is itself a political act. If there were a dozen movies in which Tom Cruise kicked al-Qaida butt across the Hindu Kush, it would be reasonable to say, ''Hey, we'd rather deal with Matoban terrorism for a change.'' But, when every movie goes out of its way to avoid being ''encumbered,'' it starts to look like a pathology. And by the time Hollywood released this summer's ''Stealth,'' some studio exec must have panicked that, what with all this Bono/Live8 debt-relief business, it might look a bit Afrophobic to have any more Matoban terrorists. So ''Stealth'' was a high-tech action thriller about USAF pilots zapping about the skies in which the bad guy is the plane.

That's right: An unmanned computer-flown plane goes rogue and starts attacking things. The money shot is — stop me if this rings a vague bell — a big downtown skyscraper with a jet heading toward it. Only there are no terrorists aboard the jet. The jet itself is the terrorist.

This is the pitiful state Hollywood's been reduced to. Safer not to have any bad guys. Let's make the plane the bad guy. No wonder it's 20th century Britlit — ''Harry Potter,'' ''Lord of the Rings,'' ''Narnia'' — keeping those Monday morning numbers up. It's Hollywood's yarn-spinning that's really out of focus, and in the end even home entertainment revenue won't save a storytelling business that no longer knows how to tell any.

Indeed.
I will never, ever forgive Hollywood for re-writing the screenplay based upon Tom Clancy's novel "The Sum Of All Fears". In the book, the enemy was Palestinian terrorists. In the movie, the enemy became Neo-Nazi terrorists. Yeah, the threat of Neo-Nazi terrorism is so tremendous.... and, Hollywood wonders why the American public no longer finds Hollywood to be very relevant.
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