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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/6/17

Why Is Filthy Rich Hollywood So #@?&*>%# Liberal?

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Message Manfred Weidhorn

Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Sign
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The folks over at Fox News have a bee in their bonnet: They perennially lament that the Hollywood crowd is deeply liberal. O'Reilly often takes note of that Tinseltown fact in a dismissive fashion, as if dealing with a bunch of pampered kids. The other network worthies do so somewhat plaintively, as if unable to get over the idea that the actors they love to see in their favorite movies do not requite that love. Making all that money and not voting accordingly--it's some sort of vocational and cultural treason!

Actually the Hollywood crowd is merely an extreme, highly visible, version of that "problem." Teachers, especially at the college level, are thought, correctly so, to be of a similar leftist persuasion, and of course, as we endlessly hear now in the Trumpist era, the journalists are equally guilty.

There are reasons for this sinister ("sinistra" is Italian for "left") political inclination. One is education and knowledge. Teachers, notably in high school and college, have to do quite a bit of reading as part of their work. So they know stuff outside their specialty that, say, stock brokers do not know. Before conservative hackles rise, let it be immediately stipulated that the accusation here is not that the latter are stupid and the liberals are intelligent, but rather a matter of how much and how varied is the information a person is exposed to. The way the Fox people, led by the grandiose O'Reilly, talk about black people's lives and deny white privilege, for instance, speaks volumes about their sheer ignorance. And you can quote no less a person than Newt Gingrich on that score.

In the same way, reporters are exposed to facts on the ground. Hence, if the conservative line is that most poor people are welfare recipients too lazy to work, reporters come across plenty of people who work hard at eking out a living on a near minimum wage. If government officials say no one goes hungry in the U. S., conservatives actually believe that narrative, while reporters see enough of the reality to be skeptical of it.

Lest this line of reasoning seem tendentious and abstract, note should be taken of some solid evidence of this conservative ignorance. Periodically O'Reilly boasts that the Fox audience is more well informed than that of other channels. But that cannot be true, insofar as multiple surveys show that high percentages of Republicans--who are the core audience of Fox--believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim, that climate change is a hoax, that white privilege is a racist myth, that employment rolls did not grow during the Obama years, and that blacks complain too much. Intelligent these Fox viewers may well be, but, because of ideological blinders, they are what Rush Limbaugh would call "low information" people.

But--to turn to the big kahuna--what about that damned Hollywood crowd? The answer is that their political proclivities are clearly a product of their line of work. The job of an actor is to get outside his own consciousness and imagine being someone else. Anyone else. In one play or movie he is a parent--a familiar enough role--but in another he is a physicist or a cop or a poet or a drug pusher or a politician or a refugee or a working stiff. He has to immerse himself in that role and, for the duration of the play or movie, become entirely that alternative person. That means that he is exposed to a vast range of people, that he achieves insight into what life is like from different vantage points, that the world he inhabits is multi-faceted, and that vicariously he leads many lives. The net result is that whatever their politics, whatever their individual character failings, actors in their line of work have of necessity to be--if one may use a conservative curse word--"sensitive." They feel things that the rest of us do not quite know. Such sensitivity to other lives explains Stephen Colbert memorable observation that reality has a liberal bias.

Now let us look at our affluent class. Some, like our beloved president, were born on third base, so they cannot be expected to know much outside their privileged, pampered lives. But many are self made men, who started out dirt poor, whether in the Texas hill country or the wilds of Brooklyn or The Bronx. A goodly number of actors also come from humble circumstances, but their line of work forces them to willy nilly sometimes retain contact with their roots. The billionaire hedge fund person, by contrast, is equally fleeing humble origins, but his vocation cuts him off from his origins. Buying and selling, building and manufacturing, ordering and speculating-- not to speak of living the plush life in every way--puts him in a new world. If he remember his original poverty, it is only as a bad dream. Having worked hard to abandon the tribulations of his youth, he asks why, if he could succeed, do not the others. Such an attitude leaves little room for sympathy and understanding of poor and working people.

Moreover, a businessman whose job it is to buy a company, sell its assets, lay off its workers, and curtail its pension obligations could not function if he allowed himself to worry about what will happen to the families and towns adversely affected by his actions. His responsibility is to his bottom line and to the shareholders. So even if he recalled his own early poverty, he is in a vocation which requires him to actively desensitize himself. That is the exact opposite of the actor, who even if he does not get a role as a poor person, yet, when seeing someone unfortunate, by habit and training asks himself what does life look like to that soul. If the top 10% cannot understand the ordeal of the bottom 90%, at least the actor tries to do so.

All that is a major reason for Hollywood being what it is.

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For 51 years Professor of English at Yeshiva University. Author of 13 books and over a hundred essays.
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