Jon Chait’s peculiar, pointless wander through Hollywood’s liberal bias says a lot, I guess, about a lot– about mainstream liberalism’s passionate self-hatred, about liberal commentators’ refusal to straightforwardly express the superiority of their values (as conservatives have done to incredible political effect), and about what a weird form of toothless cultural liberalism New York Magazine now represents.
I find Chait’s repeated claim that conservatives are no longer fighting the culture war against Hollywood to be self-evidently absurd. We’re living in a world with Big Hollywood and An American Carol and Archbishop Dolan and seemingly hundreds of conservative groups that “monitor” Hollywood and televsion…. Michael Medved, quoted credulously and at length in the piece, enjoys national prominence. The Parents Television Council makes national news just about every month. It’s a bizarre claim, the kind that you can only make if you are living the secluded, myopic life that you think you’re critiquing.
But I’ll leave that fight to others. For my part, I just want to point out the incoherence of trying to talk about bias as an expression of anything other than the preferences of the person making the claim. Chait wants us to take conservative claims of cultural bias in Hollywood seriously. He wants to suggest that bias is somehow illegitimate even if he doesn’t agree with the perspective of those claiming bias. “Imagine that large chunks of your entertainment mocked your values and even transformed once-uncontroversial beliefs of yours into a kind of bigotry that might be greeted with revulsion. You’d probably be angry, too.”
You’ll note that conservatives would never undertake a similar project; you are not going to find a conservative writer concern trolling about the massive conservative bias in our military, or in our corporate world, despite the fact that both of these are vastly more powerful forces than Hollywood. Nor will you hear conservatives worrying aloud about the conservative bias of American Christianity, or sports media, or video games. The reason, of course, is that these biases are not seen as bias at all, but just the way things are. To conservatives and ostensibly liberal worriers like Chait, bias is only and ever liberal. Liberal bias in our African American studies programs is a problem to be solved. Conservative bias in the chambers of commerce? Hey, that’s life.
The truth is that there is no vantage point from which you can observe bias that isn’t your own contingent, ideological perspective. Nor are complaints about bias qua bias ever consistently applied. After all, I too hate Hollywood’s biases. I hate Hollywood’s bias towards capitalism, towards simplistic Manicheanism, towards militarism, towards the notion that all problems can be solved through violence, towards the very idea of righteous violence. I hate that Hollywood acts as if every happy life ends in romantic coupling, or that every happy couple has to maintain sexual monogamy, or that raising children is necessarily the endpoint of the good life. I hate Hollywood’s cultural colonialism, its sexism, its heteronormativity, its treatment of gender confusion as comedic. I hate Hollywood for its empty, useless cultural liberalism that suggests that structural changes are never necessary. I hate its bias towards the establishment.
Now: there’s nothing inherently different between my claims of bias and conservative claims of bias. And yet knowing Jon Chait’s work, I can say with certainty that he would never take my complaints seriously in the same way that he takes conservative complaints seriously. He would not ask you to put yourself in my shoes. In fact, as he is the kind of Very Serious liberal that merely dislikes those to his right but passionately hates those to his left, he would be far more likely to treat my complaints with straightforward contempt– which of course is merely to say that he is, himself, biased, as we all are. That’s the problem with claims of bias: there’s no way to stand outside of yourself. Better just to advocate for what you think of as right. (You know what I call more gay characters on television, more nontraditional families in movies, more anti-big business narratives out there? Moral progress.)
Oh, by the way, since it wouldn’t be a piece of neoliberal big think without some flat factual errors: Chait claims that “In Red Dawn, the paranoid 1984 action film about a Communist invasion of America, the Cuban commander of the occupying Communist forces (don’t ask) ultimately lets rebel leader Patrick Swayze go free, and the story ends with a meditation on the evils of war.”
And here’s IMDB’s transcript of the end of that movie:
Erica: [closing narration] I never saw the Eckert Brothers again. In time, this war – like every other war – ended. But I never forgot. And I come to this place often, when no one else does.
[we see “Partisan Rock,” with its memorial plaque, which she reads for us]
Erica: “… In the early days of World War 3, guerillas – mostly children – placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so that this nation should not perish from the earth.”
Yeah, it’s straight out of Eugene Debs.