Monday, November 28, 2011

Frank Miller And The Decline Of Hollywood

I usually stay away from articles that try to analyze politics through the lens of popular culture, as I tend to think that they are often a bit overblown. However, I believe that Rick Moody has written a very good piece on Frank Miller's attack on Occupy Wall Street specifically, and on the degeneration of Hollywood in general.

I think Moody is essentially correct in his critique of Miller and Hollywood. The American movie industry was never perfect, but it used to produce some very good, humanistic films. I know the inevitable reaction to this sort of critique is something like, "hey, I just go to the movies to escape reality and enjoy myself, not to receive a lecture in moral philosophy!" Of course a little escapism is fine, but like sugary sweets, it is best to only consume so much. Furthermore, the content of the escapism matters as well. I would much rather watch an old Ray Harryhausen fantasy film than most of the CGI-laden dreck that comes out nowadays.

More importantly, Moody is right to criticize the intensely militaristic and stupidly violent nature of modern action films. He is also right to see the modern, glitzy action film as worse than the more obviously silly action movies of the 1980s, which were often rather hammy compared to the more polished ideological blockbusters of today.

The fact that Frank Miller's tirades about "Islamicism" are not much different from the nonsense you might read in any typical neoconservative magazine is a rather frightening thought given the reality that these ideas are not really outside of the political mainstream, having influenced at least one American presidential administration. We have come a long way from Sylvester Stallone's portrayal of the Vietnam War veteran John Rambo in First Blood, which was at least somewhat interesting, not to mention other, superior films made in Hollywood's Golden Era.


  1. Great post, John.

    Actually, my favourite action movie is from the 1980's, namely Peter Weir's Witness - but it is so largely because it is so subversive to standard action-movie tropes. When the protagonist John Book (played by Harrison Ford) uses violence to try to achieve his ends, he only ends up endangering himself and his adoptive Radical Reformed community; he only manages to win by shaming his murderous adversary.

    It is a real shame that so much of Hollywood - and sadly, it isn't just the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, Zack Snyder and Michael Bay - has been too readily tempted by the promise of corporate fortune and funding from (for example) the various branches of the US military. But I think the problems of the myth of redemptive violence, of hyper-nationalism, of the rugged individual as the saviour of the world, go back much further in American cinema than the advent of the action film. It has struck me that many traditional Westerns (the predecessors of the action film) often also share these traits.

    All the best,

  2. Hello Matthew,

    Thank you for the great comment! You are right about American Westerns. Christopher Lasch once pointed out that what passes for "Christian values" among some conservatives are actually more reflective of the values of the Wild West than traditional Christianity.

  3. How did Hollywood react and respond to these changes in fortune? (the decline of hollywood?)