American conservatives are confused about Hollywood. They denounce modern Hollywood for its promotion of loose morals, but then they also praise the “classical age” of Hollywood.
This “classical age” stretched from the end of the WWI till the mid-60s. This was when the “New Hollywood” movement emerged, a movement represented by an ensemble of directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, et al.. They were inspired by European trends in cinema, especially the French New Wave, and by youth counterculture movements, such as the hippies. This “New Hollywood” would somehow pollute the erstwhile “pure” Hollywood.
Thus, they’d say that the works of D. W. Griffith or the Westerns of John Ford are “conservative movies,” as they represent values of masculinity, virility, family, tradition, patriotism, etc., which, for them, has a last lone representative today: The too-old Clint Eastwood.
Yet, as usual, conservatives seem to have an idealized perspective: Was Hollywood really a bastion of “traditional” moral values even in its so-called “classical age”?
Early Insider’s Testimony
In 1939, Nathanael West, a struggling screenwriter in Hollywood, penned his last novel titled The Day of the Locust, set during the Depression in the 1930s and precisely about how corrupt the American cinema industry was.
There have been many early critiques of Hollywood, such as one by Blaise Cendrars, the father of literary modernism in continental Europe, who 3 years before wrote Hollywood, la Mecque du cinéma (“Hollywood, The Mecca of Cinema”), and other European writers such as Joseph Kessel did the same.
But what makes West unique is that he was an “insider” within the industry.
This novel isn’t some obscure piece by the way. It has received critical acclaim, featured in Time magazine’s top 100 best English-language novels, earning a film adaptation in 1975, and one character, Homer Simpson, even lending his name to the most popular American animated series.
In the novel, Nathanael West basically unveils Hollywood. It’s a world filled with hypocritical and intriguing characters as dubious as what they portray in the movies, full of female manipulation, where every human value, from beauty to friendship to truth, are compromised.
We can’t go through the whole novel, but a quote in particular is quite telling:
All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theirs when they had enough. Finally that day came. They could draw a weekly income of ten or fifteen dollars. Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges?
Once there, they discover that sunshine isn’t enough. They get tired of oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit. Nothing happens. They don’t know what to do with their time. They haven’t the mental equipment for leisure, the money nor the physical equipment for pleasure. Did they slave so long just to go to an occasional Iowa picnic? What else is there? They watch the waves come in at Venice. There wasn’t any ocean where most of them came from, but after you’ve seen one wave, you’ve seen them all. The same is true of the airplanes at Glendale. If only a plane would crash once in a while so that they could watch the passengers being consumed in a “holocaust of flame,” as the newspapers put it. But the planes never crash.
Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. Their daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.
Here, West exposes the psychology of those influenced by Hollywood. Writing in the 30s (so, again, during the “classical age”) he says that Hollywood’s addiction to violence (the word “holocaust” by a Jewish writer who would die in 1940 is quite cynical) and its open portrayal of sexuality make the masses crave more and more.
In other words, those classical movies were portrayed by West as having a corrupting influence on the spectators. This is, of course, what the conservatives of today claim about contemporary Hollywood.
Naturally, West’s own novel ends in violence (the Biblical title is an indication).
The New Babylon
Kenneth Anger is an independent filmmaker who has been releasing movies since his teenage years.
An homosexual, he was one of the first to openly portray LGBT themes in his productions.
He’s also an occultist fond of Aleister Crowley and Jack Parsons, famed occult masters, and his 1954 short film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, was in fact explicitly based on the Satanic rituals of these two individuals.
In 1959 — so before the so-called “corruption” of Hollywood — he released a book with quite the title: Hollywood Babylon, where he exposes all the scandals linked to the “stars” of the “classical age” of Hollywood.
For instance, the rape (and following death) of the newbie Virginia Rappe by Roscoe Arbuckle, a star of his times, while another rapist, and a serial rapist in his case, was Errol Flynn, still remembered as the quintessential Robin Hood. All of this happened well before Weinstein.
You also had actors and actresses such as Wallace Reid and Judy Garland dying of drug overdose, while others such as Alma Rubens and Barbara La Marr were notorious drug addicts, all of that before the hippie movement.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other examples with popular figures involved in other immoralities (such as homosexuality, sadomasochism, and so on.)
One case worth mentioning is perhaps that of Jayne Mansfield, an actress who was also a sex symbol in the 50s, and one of the first Playboy‘s playmates, she joined Anton LaVey’s “Church of Satan” and died in “mysterious circumstances,” literally decapitated in a car accident.
Again, this all happened during the period American conservatives idealize.
It’s thus no wonder that the conservatives of the “classical age” in fact pushed the Motion Picture Production Code in the early 30s precisely because they weren’t satisfied with what “classical” Hollywood was propagating in terms of moral values, its vision of women, and so on.
But conservatives in the US are such an evolving ideological form of life that, perhaps in a few decades when one hundred more genders are discovered, it will be today’s films which will be hailed as representing “conservative values.” After all, even the most degenerate contemporary films still retain two genders (for the most part).
al-hamduliLlah we, as Muslims, have an objective morality and principled stance against Hollywood. From the very beginning in the “classical” age, the romantic narratives, the perverse gender mixing, etc., it was always bound to end in degeneracy. Classical Hollywood was just a trailer for the later horror movie to come.