I don’t hate Bari Weiss. I am interested in her perspective. I often disagree, but I find her much more honest in her expression of ideas than 95% of the right-wing menagerie these days. So I subscribe to Common Sense.
Apparently, she is making a fortune, so she is hiring writers to do interesting pieces. But the one that dropped Tuesday, Hollywood's New Rules, does a lot to explain why we can’t just all get along.
Full Disclosure: I am a Caucasian, jewish, cis-gendered middle-aged male who has worked in and around “Hollywood” for 40 years now. I’ve won some. I’ve lost some. But I have never spent time worrying about how my gender, sex, or color has affected my career. (I have worried about my weight and how it has affected my TV work… but that’s my own damned fault. Carbs and meat are a life choice.)
So I am reading this piece, by Peter Kiefer and Peter Savodnik, neither of whom I have ever heard of in my life, much less my 25 years as a working journalist. (They probably never heard of me either. So there!) I looked their work up. Kiefer’s work is almost all about national politics and Hollywood connections and real estate. Savodnik, almost completely politics.
So they go do a bunch of interviews to write a story about how terrible the “woke” movement in Hollywood has been for middle-aged white men… and even some people of color.
Here is where they are right. There is a thing going on. There is a lot of anxiety amongst the previously and currently empowered. There is a lot of scarlet lettering going on, especially on social media platforms like Twitter.
There is not a lot of generosity of spirit to people who are liberal allies who started 70% of the way to agreement with the far left position on inclusion 10 years ago, became 80% of the way to agreement 5 years ago, and are now lingering in the high 80s and low 90s percentile of agreement today.
There are people of color and women to a lesser degree being hired to fill unexpressed quotas. And the white power structure of Hollywood - that is still mostly that - is bending itself into pretzels (as long as they have their power) to give every appearance of prioritizing inclusion and cultural embrace… and not a few are actually sincere in that effort.
There is also still some well-disguised but flat out racism, sexism, and overall discomfort with the new “wokeness.” It is absolutely there. I don’t think it is the majority. But it is there.
I have personally been in the way of the “woke” buzzsaw at times, primarily in asking for people who feel that my 90% posture on these issues is not enough to understand that we are on the same team, even if I am not equally willing to be as absolutist as they often are. As a result, I have been called a racist. I have been made persona non grata in certain circles. And I have been ignored by some people I felt were my friends or at least intellectual companions.
I do not take being called a racist lightly. It is a violent reputational attack that is short only of being accused of actual abuses, illegal and other. But people who are on the absolutist side of this seem to feel empowered to do what they feel has been done to them, with as little thought or caution as those who have victimized them in much the same way.
All that said…
What a pair of fuckin’ yahoos these two guys are!
The stories they tell and the true feelings of many less-empowered-now people in Hollywood are not a point of dispute. I know these stories too. I know people who feel exactly as those speaking in the story, quoted or shielded, feel.
The problem comes when this opinion piece tries to position itself as a news piece. It is not a news piece. It is a one-sided, often-blind account of the fear of change going around Hollywood. Some of it is legit… but mostly, it is fear.
It could be, in the hands of serious writers, a piece about some legitimate concerns and discomfort, in a time of transition. It could have been about the overreach that we all know happens in every paradigm shift, in all businesses, in all times of change. It could have been a plea for a real consideration of whether this is the best path or whether there are changes that could be made that might frustrate some, but would not create this paranoia that is 100% happening, if only 33% earned.
But that is not what they wrote.
“The story wasn’t just about white guys not getting jobs. Nor was it really about the economics of Hollywood. It was about the stories Hollywood told and distributed and streamed on screens around the globe every day. It was about this massively lucrative industry that had been birthed by outsiders and emerged, out of lemon groves, into a glamorous, glitzy mosh pit teeming with chutzpah and broken hearts and unbelievable success stories that had made the American Dream a real, pulsating thing—for Americans and billions of other people who thought that if you could imagine something, anything, you could will it into being. It was a story about who we aspired to be.”
Besides the fact that any good editor fire them for writing so much florid nonsense, this is the stuff of a Big Lie. Make Hollywood Great Again.
There was plenty of horrible behavior in those glamourous mosh pits. Plenty of sexual abuse and harassment. Plenty of racism. Plenty of power used to conceal and destroy.
Oh, how the world loved McCarthyism. Oh, how the world loved Uncle Walt’s misogyny and anti-Semitism. Oh, how the world loved studio owners “sleeping” with every woman in their employ who caught their fancy. Oh, how wonderful indentured servitude was.
There is a metric ton of stuff to love about “Hollywood” and the work that was done here through the studio system years. But let’s not be ostriches. The faults of America in the last century of this nation’s history were all in clear evidence in “Hollywood” as well… some on the screen and every one of them off the screen.
Over and over in this piece, the position of its authors is to spin with all the blindness of Trump voters who don’t think they are supporting racism and sexism in America.
These guys make the sloppy argument that “the villains: The vast majority—from the Terminator to Hannibal Lecter to Gordon Gekko—were uber-white.” They even link to a list (zzzz) from The Hollywood Reporter.
Did they read the list to which they linked?
Six of the Top 25 villains are women (1 more who seems to have mental illness caused by living in a period that would not deal with non-traditional gender). 8 are Europeans or Australian. 2 are of Italian descent. 2 are animated. 1 is Cuban. 1 is a machine. 1 is an animal. Plus Darth Vader, Jack Nicholson and The Joker (who Nicholson played).
Do they get that these women who are the uber-villains are often brilliant acted and written tropes of the sexual anxiety of men? Test screening audiences decided that suicide was too good for Alex Forrest… she needed to be shot down by the wife with whose husband she had cheated. Streep’s Miranda Priestly is the only one who isn’t physically abusive or murderous. The rest are all laden with sexual subtexts (and not so sub). Even the Wicked Witch, whose power is threatened by a pretty little white girl from Kansas who killed her sister as the witch ages unattractively. 50 years later, Gregory Maguire tried to make up for it with Wicked (coming to a theater near you for 45 days in a year or two).
The villains that are from Europe and Australia? Is that about them being white or about America’s relentless xenophobia?
Cubans and Italians who kill people? Darth Vader, who has the voice of a black man intimidating everyone?
Yeah, guys… the Joker becomes very, very white. Good point.
“The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences—the industry’s central nervous system”
Seriously, gentlemen. Do you know anything about Hollywood?
I don’t want this piece to just be a point-by-point dissection of their piece. And there is stuff in their piece that is legitimately problematic and they are 100% to complain that no media outlet with real skin in the game will touch any of these stories with a 10 foot pole.
Those same outlets, by the way, wouldn’t touch the Weinstein story or other sex abuse stories with a 10 foot pole until one actress who was harassed by Weinstein but not abused allowed her name to be used by the New York Times. It wasn’t Harvey’s weakness as a producer. It wasn’t Ronan Farrow escaping the clutches of evil NBC. It was Ashley Judd putting her name in print. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Never forget… The Hollywood Reporter wouldn’t run Kim Masters’ Roy Price story until after the Weinstein pieces had broken in NYT and The New Yorker, even though she had nailed it.
But I digress…
There are hundreds of stories about people feeling pressured to hire women and people of color for all kinds of jobs that do not necessarily represent the best possible hires for the jobs.
BUT… there are tens of thousands of stories about people of color and women who have not been able to get in the door to show their value for decade after decade after decade. This is not a non-issue. And anyone who really argues that it is a non-issue has earned the brutal shitstorm coming their way.
No one - not even Sam Wasson, who is a friend - was more brutal about the disaster of the Academy Museum than I. I shredded it in just my second newsletter. My issues were far more than just the lack of Jewish history. I feel the museum was ill-conceived and disrespectful to the entire history of cinema by trying so hard to be politically correct.
There is plenty to attack. But these schmucks once again found the most petty ways of attacking. “(In what is now common practice in places like Los Angeles, an elder from the local Tongva tribe kicked things off with a blessing and “land acknowledgement.” The sanitation worker whose job it was to clean the podium between speakers dutifully wore his mask. The speakers did not.)”
Can you hear the Tucker Carlson smugness as you read that shite? I was backdoor disinvited from the party for being mean about Dawn Hudson and the museum, which they tried to make up for by sending me a year’s free pass. I have reason to be angry. But mocking them for showing respect to Native Americans, as they do in at America’s major festivals in Toronto and Sundance? F’ off!
Putting Real Women Have Curves next to Citizen Kane as though they are equals in film history… that is PC madness. Avoiding the great white American filmmakers of the last 50 years - during which there should have been more inclusion and opportunity - while giving special sections only to people of color sticks out like a sore and insulting thumb. Putting Chivo’s wide screen cinematography in small slivers, 3 at a time on 55” TV screens… insane. (That one wasn’t political…just breathtakingly stupid and offensive.)
This, too, is not political… but just stupid: “For years, the real money in Hollywood came from the television channels that broadcast reruns and old movies; residuals meant creatives were paid handsomely. But with the rise of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services, that model collapsed. And the vast majority of creatives had to make do with less.”
God bless them… not everyone needs to know the history of money and Hollywood. But don’t just make shit up. “Reruns and old movies”… what the hell are they talking about? And yes, the model is changing and changing fast… but it is far from collapsed. Streaming is not yet profitable. Television, via broadcast/cable/satellite still is. Won‘t be forever. But it’s paying for the transition.
There is more product being made now than ever in the history of film and television. Not an exaggeration. More product in production right this minute than we have ever had in the last 50 years or at the height of the studio system. And people are making vast fortunes on a level they never have before. And more people are making more fortunes.
This does not mean that there are not people - even very talented people - getting lost in the process. It doesn’t mean that the last 3 slots on every writing team had not better create or extend diversity, even if that is not the preference of the showrunners. It doesn’t mean that a bunch of people who are used to being treated one way are now being treated much less well.
But one more time… a lot of this is making up for decade after decade of lost time. And this argument that the product will suffer is a load of horse shit. On the best television shows, the top names lead and are really on top of it. There are stars of every writing staff and others. But if you aren’t in the room, you can’t rise to be one of those stars. And people of color and women have been excluded - evil intention not required - for decades.
I don’t like when people of color or women or women of color tell white men to shut up and deal with it. Being an asshole about it wasn’t okay for those white men when those women and people of color were relegated to buying lunch. And being an asshole is not okay just because you are on the right side of history. Everyone needs to stop virtue or unvirtue signaling and be decent human beings to other decent human beings. Period. In every field.
But “woe is us white folks” is not just mocked because white people are suddenly 2nd class citizens in Hollywood. We are not. The top of the food chain is still rarely anything but white and, bless their souls, some women have made it up there. Reasonable balance is still a long-range goal, even if we white people are bored with having to keep it in mind.
The boys close by shoehorning Mike White, who is an honest guy and a great sport, into saying something he isn’t really saying by insisting through the edit that girls on The White Lotus were symbols of writers rooms in Hollywood. I’m pretty sure that Mike White hasn’t been in a writer’s room for 15 years or longer. But this is typical of this kind of writing. The writer has an idea and they are going to make it work, even if it has to be manipulated to the point of not being truthful.
Obviously, these guys pissed me off. But let me say it again. There are stories that should be told. Everyone should be allowed their voice, even if they are not allowed their biases or the indulgence of their fears.
But when you tell one-sided stories, you lie.
Sometimes, we do it by mistake. That should be forgiven. Sometimes ideas or words slip out. Forgive this. Transition is hard. Be kind.
But there are some smart people who are promoting this shit because it seems edgy or daring or whatever. This piece, in spite of the amount of legwork, is a work of propaganda. And if you are pushing it as cool… you are a propagandist too.
I don’t take that accusation lightly. But ignorance and not having thought it through it 100% is no damned excuse.
Don’t be cautious because you are afraid. Be cautious because it is the right thing to do.
Golden Fucking Rule.