JWR Julia's mischegoss

Jewish World Review June 12, 1998 / 18 Iyar, 5758

Scared little
white folk

By Julia Gorin

THERE USED TO BE BLACK PANTHERS. They were black. Now we have Black Panderers. They're white. The Panthers were a little scary. The Panderers are just plain scared.

When I saw previews of "Bulworth" I thought, "This looks different: a white politician being honest with his South Central Los Angeles district about what's ailing their community. Wow! Did he just say something to mock the Democratic Party? This could be inspiring." Even the critics were calling it "refreshingly honest!" and "surprising!"

Then I saw the movie.

The message: all that ails the underclasses is the fault of the power structures and the rich. The solution? Take more money from the taxpayers, take all of it away from the rich, give it to the poor, and make it impossible to become rich in America...The Republicans don't care. The Democrats are liars. The only pure thing out there is socialism.

That's surprising?

Of course not. It's Hollywood. It's Warren Beatty. "Bulworth" ties him with Barbara Streisand for the Number-One slot of what could be today's Hollywood Ten.

In "Bulworth", Beatty, who directed, co-wrote and starred, left no cliché on the cutting room floor. In the film's most unoriginal scene, executed in a cheaper and more predictable fashion than versions of the same scene in earlier films, two white patrol officers harass a gang of young black crack dealers.

The scene starts with the youths revealing a gun to intimidate Beatty's character, Senator J. Billington Bulworth, into "buying."

"Wouldn't you kids rather have some ice cream?" offers an un-phased Bulworth. "I'm buying."

They take him up on it. Everyone's friends. Gun-toting, crack-dealing kids are harmless.

The police car drives up, an officer calls one of the kids "you little black piece of s---," and mashes ice cream in his face. Bulworth does the same back to the officer, throws him up against the car, and threatens to report him. Never mind that in the real world—senator or not—he'd be taken in for assaulting a police officer. A second ago, the "innocent" kids Bulworth's protecting from the evil officer-harassers were going to kill him. But he's already forgotten, and expects us to do the same.

We did. The all-white, mostly 20- and 30-something audience I watched the movie with fell for it, applauding the scene and its hero. At the end, they applauded the whole movie. I, along with a handful of middle-aged people, just sat silently dazed.

Throughout the film, the young white audience felt compelled to laugh at the bumbling white folks—as they so often do at movies--and applaud Black Panderer and Company even when there were no black people in the audince to take notice. Besides, black people mostly don't pay attention to this silly and exaggerated sympathetic white behavior, or they see through it.

Ask Gen-Xers what they thought of the movie, and they'll offer an enthusiastic but short, "It was cool!" That's it.

Unlike the still-lost children of the ‘60s Left, blindly clinging to the dream of a Liberal Utopia—as the guilty little white critics whose reviews celebrated the film do--the people at the theaters cheering on Beatty and friends while booing the white rich or the white uniformed in the movie, were not doing it because they felt any strong conviction for the idealistic politics the film was espousing. They did it because they're all just scared little white people who feel relief when a white guy gets it in the face, and nervous tension when a black guy gets it. Of course, the latter doesn't happen much in movies or TV anymore.

We Gen-Xers are a vacuous generation, and we don't analyze. Nothing really means anything. It's all just for fun. No wonder the filmmakers targeted the 17-to-30 crowd for this one. That was the only smart thing about their movie. They were betting on people who wouldn't think about it long enough to make a judgment one way or the other—people who would eat up the hip-slash-filthy language and the black-white interplay but for whom the deeper message would be almost subliminal.

The scared little white director couldn't even leave out a scene in which the two black street girls tagging along with the senator throughout the movie put a white church choir to shame, illustrating the stereotype that any black person has a naturally better voice than a roomful of white people who work hard at it. This may be true, but it's a dull cliché. (The two actresses' voices were later dubbed over by black singers with better voices.)

The funniest thing about the film, of course, was that Warren Beatty thinks he understands socialism.

He's admitted in interviews that the mission of the Democratic Party should be opposition to the rich. Does that include himself? I wonder, if he were rich not through craft but through owning a business—the kind of rich where you've hired hundreds or thousands of people and the company's survival relies on more than being offered a script once in a while, would he be as strident?

To prove that he puts his money where his mouth is, Beatty offered that he turned down four better-paying jobs to do this labor of love.

But we're not talking about turning down gigs. We're talking about taking money away from people and companies who've earned it legally, over years. If we do that, who will be left to hire the people he's trying to bring into the fold, once they've been uplifted? The Government? Beatty's good friend, Russian poet-dissident Yevgeniy Yevtushenko could tell him how uplifting that is for the populace. So could my Russian- immigrant parents.

In the movie, Senator Bulworth falls for a Compton ghetto goddess, played by Halle Berry. We're introduced to her family, the South Central exception: tight-knit, doing things together and enjoying one another's company. There's even a grandmother who gets joy from tending her garden.

My guess is that there aren't too many well-kept gardens in South Central, and that even if you had barbed wire and an iron fence, you couldn't keep one. Because people don't like to see you have what they lack the patience, innovation and caring to create. Just like people burned their neighbors' cows during the Soviet Union's recent transition so the people couldn't sell the milk and possibly have a better life than the rest, so would they burn your garden every time you tried to grow it. Now that's socialism, LittleWarren.

Then there's a drug-dealing capo whose soul the good senator touches, and who decides he'd prefer to fix up the ‘hood rather than make a killing doing what he's been doing.

There's also a corrupt insurance company executive who's contributed enough money to the senator's campaign and personal wallet to keep the senator in his pocket. Now there's a smart way to bring your audience together: evil big business. And who doesn't hate insurance companies? But guess what, they hire a lot of people, and they provide a service.

That's reality. Welcome.

But Hollywood types have the luxury of avoiding reality for most of their lives. That's why socialism and communism have always held a special place in their hearts.

At the climax of this Beatty-made Fantasia, we're given a glimpse into the future of his new world—of its new malcontents—the corporations.

But we shouldn't pay too much mind to this airhead actor's vision. After all, it's impossible to so much as follow his rambling and incoherent answers to even the most simple of interview questions. Like any adept politician, he uses 16 words to accomplish what can be said in two—and still says nothing.

Be grateful for your looks, Warren. They're still what's doing it for you.

It's too bad there isn't an island out there in Eastern Europe, some remnant of the former Soviet Bloc. I wish there were. We could call it Soviet Island, and it would be a mandatory five-year sleep-away camp for every young American. That way we could avoid future Warren Beattys—and we wouldn' t have so many white people too scared to distinguish fantasy from reality.

JWR's Julia Gorin is a stand-up comic and commentator whose work has appeared on National Public Radio, in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News, among other national media.


5/98: Susan McDougal: a real stand-up kinda guy
2/98: A fun-house painted white
1/1/98: In defense of the appetizing shiksa (taking on Kate Winslet's critics)
12/10/98: Confessions of a Refusenik gone secular

© 1998, Jewish World Review