Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hollywood, History, and Economics

Tibor R. Machan

When Plato warned that artists cannot be trusted about truth because they deal with images, fantasies, not facts, he could have been talking about today’s Hollywood celebrities who are making movies after movies feeding the public half-truths and out and out misinformation. The latest one to join in this orgy of anti-capitalism and Neanderthal economics is George Clooney. Frankly I liked Rosemary much better since she tended to stick to what she knew something about, singing. George is now out there, taking over Martin Sheen’s role as the wise political sage who will awaken us to what we need to know about world economic and political affairs.

It is interesting that many moons ago, when I first got interested in Ayn Rand, everyone at the colleges and universities I attended scoffed at her novels in large measure because they carried a message. They were too didactic, not like those true novelists Joyce or Updike. But after a while quite a few of the novelists of the Left, like Gunter Gass, began writing message books. Philip Roth got on the bandwagon as well, so now Rand cannot be so easily dismissed. And Hollywood movies are now unapologetically preachy.

There were those, of course, before, mostly schmaltzy fare like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, much later, Seven Days in May. These made no secret of their Left wing bias, seeing to it that the audience never had its mind taken off the important notion that only little guys matter in life while all wealthy and productive people are crooks and that people who think America is worth defending must be fascists.

Their one virtue was, however, that they tended to be fictional through and through. Yes, they suggested that the bad guys must be business executives or right wing politicians while the good guys were “liberal democrats” to their bone. Still, that was palatable because it didn’t manage to do a disservice to history.

Clooney’s, Good Night, and Good Luck is supposed to be docudrama, about a particular period of Edward R. Murrow’s career and America in the early 50s. Syriana, in turn, is the massive conspiracy flick about the evil oil companies which doesn’t so much distort history but does completely misrepresent economics.

Talk about someone believing that commerce, especially in oil, involves a zero sum game—the oil companies’ gain must be our loss. As if nothing good was ever done with the oil they extract and refine and transport to where we can fuel up. No, they are just senselessly, even self-destructively, vicious and mean. It’s as if Ralph Nader had been the ideological adviser to Clooney.

In Good Night, and Good Luck, Murrow’s nemesis is Joe McCarthy. This is no great revelation to those who were around at the time or have some knowledge of recent American history. What is so appalling about the flick is that it pretends that everyone charged with being a communist and traitor was innocent like a newborn babe. No Hisses, no spies in the state department, nada. Only innocent artists and intellectuals with inquiring minds, “intellectuals” whose minds were under Moscow’s control! They somehow get the treatment by Clooney & Co. that Stalin used to give to the generals with whom he appeared in photographs and then had executed—they were smudged out.

By Clooney’s account, then, all communists in America were idealists with dreams of a peaceful world in which everyone loved everyone else and competition, rivalry, and anything less than intimate lovey-dovey among all had disappeared. Never mind that all efforts to make this dream a reality turned out to be hell on earth because the fantasy assumes that people are simply interchangeable, akin to voice in a choir (and therein only when they sing the same note together). But when Murrow was saving American from our Uncle Joe, it was the 1950s, not the 1920s or even 1930s when some delusion about the Soviets may have been excusable. The gulags were up and running full steam and Stalin had butchered most of his comrades and the American commies didn’t manage to hide well enough that they were mostly following Moscow’s orders.

OK, Joe McCarthy was a bully. But this Hollywood myth that he was a greater threat to peace and justice than Stalin and his American supporters is balderdash.

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