Why Hollywood Loves Big Business

Why Hollywood Loves Big Business

On Sunday, March 5, 2006, George Clooney won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and gave a rather remarkably smug acceptance speech.  In it, he patted himself and the rest of Hollywood on the back for being “out of touch,” by which he meant more morally sophisticated and progressive than the rubes and hicks in the rest of the country.  Although the speech was fairly short, it was, nevertheless, so memorably supercilious and self-satisfied that Trey Parker and Matt Stone turned it into a plot device (and the butt of a joke) in an episode in the tenth season of South Park (“Smug Alert”).

Interestingly, the movie for which Clooney won that Oscar was “Syriana,” a tiresome anti-Big-Oil, anti-America, anti-“blood-for-oil” bit of Hollywood agitprop/scream therapy, the likes of which were common when George W. Bush was president.  This is “interesting,” we think for a handful of reasons but mostly because “Syriana” is notably one of the more anti-business movies of the last couple of decades.  In 2010, in a long and fascinating Wall Street Journal piece about Hollywood’s use and abuse of capitalism as a villain, Alex Tabarrok (a professor of economics at George Mason University and the director of research for the Independent Institute) singled out “Syriana” by name:

[N]ame as many movies as you can that feature mass-murdering corporations and corporate villains? That one is easy: “The Fugitive,” “Syriana,” “Mission Impossible II,” “Erin Brockovich,” “The China Syndrome” and “Avatar,” to name only a few….

Even when a corporation is not the primary villain, Hollywood lets its dislike of commerce be known. The most grotesque character in the “Star Wars” films represents commerce, Jabba the Hutt, a literal business worm. And just in case the message in the movie wasn’t clear the graphic novel featuring Jabba is titled “Jabba the Hutt: The Art of the Deal.” “Star Trek,” by the way, is no better. The capitalists in “Star Trek” are also represented by ugly, money-grubbing creatures called Ferengi who make their money by following rules such as “Employees are the rungs on the ladder to success—don’t hesitate to step on them.”

Hollywood’s anti-capitalism is not accidental. It stems from three sources: the rage of directors and screenwriters against their own capitalist backers, the difficulty of using a visual medium to depict the invisible hand, and an ethical framework which Hollywood shares with most of our culture that regards self-interest as inherently immoral or, at best, amoral.

It’s clear.  Hollywood hates business.

Or…at least it used to.

Last month, Tabarrok revisited his thesis about Hollywood hating business and capitalism in a short post at the Marginal Revolution blog.  He wondered if, perhaps, Hollywood and “the culture” were “becoming more pro-business”:

[P]erhaps things are changing. Three recent movies do a good job highlighting a different perspective on capitalism: Flaming Hot, Air and Tetris….

While these films may not secure a spot among cinema’s timeless classics, each is engaging, skillfully made, and entertaining. Moreover, each movie offers insightful commentary on different facets of the capitalist system. Bravo to Hollywood!

We hope that, at some future date, Professor Tabarrok will examine this potential “change” in Hollywood and the culture in greater detail.  In the meantime, we have some thoughts of our own.

The first thing we noticed about the films cited as being pro-business is that they all have something in common.  “Air,” for example, is about Nike, an iconic American company – an iconic American company with a specific political bent, as we noted in our commentary on the company and the movie just a few short weeks ago:

Nike is big, powerful, successful, politically active, and shockingly hypocritical.  It embodies an absolutely bizarre blend of social phenomena that demonstrates the futility of some aspects of social investing and of the pushback against it and also proves that much of what passes for “social conscience” among corporations is entirely fabricated.

Nike supports endless social justice causes.  It advocates for leftist political issues.  It pays big bucks to Colin Kaepernick, the cop-hating, Castro-loving NFL quarterback who hasn’t actually been an NFL quarterback in years.  In short, it does everything that conservatives and opponents of politicized companies detest.

We went on to discuss Nike’s partnership with trans-influencer Dylan Mulvaney, a partnership the likes of which killed Bud Light but did nothing whatsoever to the sneaker company.  Nike, we noted, is largely immune to the “get woke, go broke” mantra chanted by many social conservatives.  The company does what it wants politically and rarely (if ever) pays a price.  If anything, its political stances have helped build its brand with target consumers.  Nike is a star in the social justice universe.

As for the other two movies Tabarrok mentions – “Tetris” and “Flamin’ Hot” – the former was produced at Apple Studios and is distributed by Apple TV+, while the latter is a Disney film.  As some of you may know, Apple and Disney constitute Chapters 10 and 11, respectively, in The Dictatorship of Woke Capital, which is to say that they too are among the stars in the social justice universe.

In his above-mentioned acceptance speech, George Clooney declared that the entertainment industry tends to be “ahead of the curve” on the great social and moral issues of the times.  This is largely untrue.  Nevertheless, as the predominant means of cultural transmission to an otherwise culturally illiterate society, it does possess the ability to portray itself as such.  It does possess the unrivaled ability to take burgeoning social and moral matters and transmit them to mass audiences, depicting heroes and villains in terms that comport with its moral agenda.

What we suspect is happening here is precisely what Professor Tabarrok says, Hollywood is softening in its antipathy to Big Business.  What we further suspect, however, is that it is doing so not because it is also softening its views on capitalism but because it no longer sees “Big Business” as a purely capitalist construct.  Rather, it sees business as an ally in the corporatist drive to leaven capitalist economics with cultural leftism.  It sees business as an ally in spreading its social and moral message to the benighted masses.

A great deal has changed in the entertainment industry since Tabarrok first wrote on this issue 13 years ago.  Disney, a longtime entertainment giant, has been transformed by Bob Iger, inarguably one of the most politically aggressive CEOs on the planet.  Apple, which is also led by one of the most politically aggressive CEOs on the planet, has also transformed, from a telecommunications company to an entertainment and media giant as well – and it has also become the biggest corporation (by market cap.) the world has ever known.  It is hardly a coincidence that these two companies would be involved in the pro-business shift of Hollywood because they are, in large part, the reason that shift is possible, the reason that anyone in the entertainment world would even consider business and appropriate ally in the battle to “fix” American culture.

Ben Affleck – whom Tabarrok notes directed “Air” – is your standard Hollywood leftie.  He is dim, knows just enough to be dangerous, and is hostile to those whose views differ from his.  As we noted previously, the Australian Financial Review called “Air” “possibly the greatest marketing gift ever handed to a multinational corporation….”  We feel confident that Affleck would have had no part at all in creating such a marketing gift for Nike if it had ditched Colin Kaepernick or if it had kept its Betsy Ross flag sneaker or if it, like Bud Light, had been the kind of company that would throw Dylan Mulvaney to the wolves.  But that’s not the kind of company Nike is.  It’s an ally – as are Disney and Apple.

It is, in our estimation at least, no accident that Hollywood wants you to know this.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.