In all of our briefings, our authors aim to make a reasonable case and supply the facts and referencing to support the argument made. But some briefings make a more controversial case than others. We consider this one of our more controversial briefings.
American foreign policy is widely recognised as the main explanation for current levels of anti-Americanism but other factors can contribute to the problem and create an environment which makes anti-Americanism easier to breed. One of those factors is the output of Hollywood.
Examination of Hollywood’s role should begin by comparing the output of the past with the output of today. The America depicted by Frank Capra, for example, was an America where there was corruption (Mr Smith Goes To Washington) and economic hardship (It’s A Wonderful Life) but it was a positive, aspirational America. There are still many Hollywood films that portray America warmly but there are many more that paint a very negative, violent view. Film critic Michael Medved has noted that the films that are most exportable are those where imagery trumps language and that imagery tends to be violent and often sexually explicit: “Explosions and car crashes do not require translation”. This imagery is particularly likely to offend more traditional societies. Medved also notes that the citizens of “Pakistan or Peru, Poland or Papua New Guinea” do not have the daily experience of ‘real America’ that is obviously available to American residents. People living in Ohio or Texas can readily discount Hollywood’s output as fictional or exaggerated. Non-Americans don’t have the same experiences with which to put Hollywood films into context. They don’t know that characters on national television are fifty times more likely to be victims of violence than real American citizens. If violence is over-represented other studies show that the religiosity of Americans is greatly understated. President George W Bush worried about this problem. In 2002 he told Chinese students that “Our movies and television shows often do not portray the values of the real America I know.”
It’s also important to note that the primary motivation of this ‘X-rated’ output isn’t economic. The motivation stems from the cultural preferences of Hollywood. Research by two economists - Arthur DeVany of the University of California at Irvine and W David Walls of the University of Hong Kong – has shown that most money is to be made from family-friendly output but Hollywood persists in putting a disproportionate amount of its creativity into more controversial film-making. A case in point has been a recent slate of films that all attack – directly or indirectly – President Bush’s prosecution of ‘the war on terror’. Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, Gavin Hood’s Rendition and Brian de Palma’s Redacted all did poorly at the box office.
On another occasion AmericaInTheWorld will list films that capture America’s true character but in this briefing we note four of the anti-American themes that are most popular in recent output:
Disdain for middle American values: American Beauty won all of the big Oscars in 2000. It painted American suburbia as hugely dysfunctional. Michael Medved: “This embittered assault on suburban family life shows a frustrated father (Kevin Spacey) who achieves redemption only through quitting his job, lusting after a teenaged cheerleader, insulting his harridan wife, compulsively exercising and smoking marijuana.” Other recent films also look down on middle America. Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm and Warren Schmidt’s About Schmidt stand out.
Distrust of corporate America: In the original version of The Manchurian Candidate the ‘baddies’ are communists. In the remake the baddies aren’t Islamic terrorists but US big business. Critic James Bowman was unimpressed: “Why not mention the real enemy? Part of the reason is doubtless the fashionable leftism of Hollywood which, like Michael Moore, prefers to blame the terrorist threat on anyone but the terrorists, but especially on George W Bush and Dick Cheney. Thus Manchurian Global is made up to look like Halliburton while Miss Streep’s corrupt senator, though she may resemble Hillary Clinton, is really a John Ashcroft type, supposed to be seeking a curtailment civil liberties for her own purposes and not for any genuine security concerns.” There is a similar theme in Mission Impossible II. Tom Cruise is betrayed by US secret servicemen who are working on behalf of the 'military-industrial complex.'
Distrust of the CIA and American government: The Bourne trilogy is in so many ways superior to the Bond movies but the villain of the book – Carlos the Jackal – becomes the CIA in the film. The Government is also the villain in The Day After Tomorrow. The global warming disaster movie succeeds in pinning all of the problems on the USA; especially the obviously Republican government. No Director has taken more delight in smearing the US government than Oliver Stone (the same Stone who admires Hugo Chavez). His JFK film was an extraordinary assault on the integrity of the US government.
American inferiority: Michael Moore is the most prominent filmmaker who is
determined to portray America as stupid. Moore’s belief that Americans are
stupid has been publicly stated: "(Americans) are possibly the
dumbest people on the planet ... in thrall to conniving, thieving, smug pr*cks. We
Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don't know about anything that's
happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing." But other
films follow the same pattern. The main theme of Two Days in Paris with French
actress Julie Delpy and her American boyfriend is one of US stupidity and European
Hollywood's contribution to anti-Americanism abroad, Michael Medved, The National Interest, 1 July 2002
Hollywood Takes on The Left, Stephen Hayes, The Weekly Standard, 11 August 2008
Hollywood and anti-Americanism, a National Public Radio discussion, December 2006
 ‘Hollywood's contribution to anti-Americanism abroad’ Michael Medved, The National Interest, 1 July 2002, at http://www.allbusiness.com/government/3583980-1.html
 'The Manchurian Candidate (2004)', James Bowman, AllMoviePortal.com, at http://www.allmovieportal.com/m/2004_The_Manchurian_Candidate82.html
 'Hollyweird Hugo Chavez Fan Club: Oliver Stone signs up', Michelle Malkin, 29 December 2007, at http://michellemalkin.com/2007/12/29/hollyweird-hugo-chavez-fan-club-oliver-stone-signs-up/