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Mark Steyn Attacks Hollywood

Mark Steyn's provocative cover story, "Phoney Baloney: That’s what George Clooney and the rest of the Oscar crowd have served up," in the current National Review, is still behind a firewall. So I can't paste the whole long thing, which is designed to goad Lefty Hollywood into going crazy. I don't agree with any of it. But I grudgingly admit that Steyn, an effective writer, gets off a few zingers. Let the fur fly. Here are some choice bits:

"George Clooney’s triple Oscar nominations for acting, writing, and directing are said to be a significant moment in the life of the nation, and not just by George Clooney, though his effusions on his own “bravery” certainly set a high mark. “We jumped in on our own,” he said, discussing Good Night, and Good Luck with Entertainment Weekly. “And there was no reason to think it was going to get any easier. But people in Hollywood do seem to be getting more comfortable with making these sorts of movies now. People are becoming braver.”

"Wow. He was brave enough to make a movie about Islam’s treatment of women? Oh, no, wait. That was the Dutch director Theo van Gogh: He had his throat cut and half-a-dozen bullets pumped into him by an enraged Muslim who left an explanatory note pinned to the dagger he stuck in his chest. At last year’s Oscars, the Hollywood crowd were too busy championing the “right to dissent” in the Bushitler tyranny to find room even to namecheck Mr. van Gogh in the montage of the deceased. Bad karma. Good night, and good luck.

No, Mr. Clooney was the fellow “brave” enough to make a movie about — cue drumroll as I open the envelope for Most Predictable Direction — the McCarthy era!"

"He’s got some tough competition, of course. This year’s five Best Picture nominees are all “films that broach the tough issues,” as USA Today put it: “Brokeback and Capote for their portrayal of gay characters; Crash for its examination of racial tension; Night for its call for more watchdog journalism; and Munich for its take.” Whoops, my mistake. That should be “Munich for its take on terrorism.” In their combined take at the box office, these Best Picture nominees have the lowest grosses since 1986. That means very few people have seen them. Which in turn means these Oscars are likely to have the lowest audience ever. Okay, maybe not ever. In 1929, they handed them out to an audience of 270 in the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and no doubt by the time you add in overseas viewership from the many chapters of the Jon Stewart Fan Club this year’s audience will be up around 309.

"The fact that hardly anybody has seen these films does not in and of itself mean that they’re not artistic masterpieces. That’s why the Oscars are important: They can shine a light on undeservedly neglected art-house jewels that might otherwise get overlooked. But you couldn’t exactly call Brokeback Mountain overlooked. It’s the Jungfrau, it’s the peak of cinematic achievement. It’s an Everest papered from base camp to summit in rave reviews. And in the week the Oscar nominations were announced the world’s most ballyhooed art-house obscurity added another 435 theaters to its outlets — and business declined 13 percent.

"Maybe it’s because Americans are homophobes. Or maybe it’s because these films are not as “controversial” as Hollywood thinks. The more artful leftie websites have taken to complaining that the Religious Right deliberately killed Brokeback at the box office by declining to get mad about it. Look at Tinky-Winky in the Teletubbies: Those fundamentalist whack-jobs denounce him as an obvious fruit and the guy never looks back — he’s at his beach house in Malibu sipping margaritas and eyeing up the poolboy. But make a film that’s hailed as a gay masterpiece and Pat Robertson can’t even arrange a lousy multiplex in Dubuque that gets struck by lightning just for showing it."

"That’s why Hollywood prefers to make “controversial” films about controversies that are settled, rousing itself to fight battles long won. Go back to USA Today’s approving list of Hollywood’s willingness to “broach the tough issues”: “Brokeback and Capote for their portrayal of gay characters; Crash for its examination of racial tension . . .” That might have been “bold” “courageous” movie-making half-a century ago. Ever seen the Dirk Bogarde film Victim? He plays a respectable married barrister whose latest case threatens to expose his homosexuality. That was 1961, when homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom and Bogarde was the British movie industry’s matinee idol and every schoolgirl’s pinup: That’s brave. Doing it at a time when your typical conservative politician gets denounced as “homophobic” because he’s only in favor of civil unions is just an exercise in moral self-congratulation. And, unlike the media, most of the American people are savvy enough to conclude that by definition that doesn’t require their participation."

"You can certainly find new wrinkles on “racial tensions” — Abie’s Wahhabi Rose? — but Hollywood“ controversy” seems more an evasion of controversy. Ifyou want it in a single word, it’s the difference between the title of George Jonas’s original book —Vengeance — and the title of the film Steven Spielberg made of it —Munich. Vengeance is a point of view, Munich is a round of self-applause for the point of view that having no point of view is the most sophisticated point of view of all —a position whose empty smugness is most deftly summarized by the final shot of the movie, the Twin Towers on the New York skyline. For a serious film, it would be hard to end on a more fundamentally unserious note."

"I noticed the other day that Nigeria now has the third biggest movie industry in the world, after Hollywood and Bollywood. In the showbiz capital of West Africa, you can make a feature for 40,000 bucks. What talk radio did to network news and the Internet is doing to monopoly newspapers, someone will eventually do to the big studios, and one day we may wind up with a Hollywood in which, as Clooney might say, nothing is getting shot. In the meantime, Danish cartoonists are in hiding for their lives but George Clooney will be televised around the world picking up an award for his bravery."

Mr. Steyn is NR’s back-page columnist, and a writer for many other publications. His website is MarkSteyn.com


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