Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 2001 / 1 Kislev, 5762
Lewis A. Fein
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- MORE than ever, Americans need inspiration from the nation's entertainment industry. What most citizens require, and what Hollywood used to produce regularly, is a sense that -- once comfortably seated in a theater of velvet, chrome and symphonic power -- film will transform its audience. Translation: Americans do not want politically irrelevant films, where the nation's fictional president, disguised by makeup and exclusively tailored, belabors the country's fascination with guns, girls and gangsters.
In truth, Hollywood is (or was) about American exceptionalism, about colossal cutouts -- of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- that dot the international landscape. These larger-than-life images, usually juxtaposed against the grind of urban poverty or the iron glove of authoritarian society, are not an ironic joke; rather, the America of Rocky Balboa, or even a country that popularizes -- though citizens themselves cannot pronounce it -- the surname of a former Austrian bodybuilder, is a land where (1) freedom and ethnic identity are important, and (2) momentary escape is a metaphor for political liberty.
Indeed, Hollywood is an international passport toward personal freedom. But the language Hollywood articulates, as well as the imagery it exports, too often includes a sense of national self-loathing; where patriotism is abhorrent, religion retrograde and conservatism nonexistent.
The America of John Wayne, not to mention the land Stallone and Schwarzenegger admirably yet sometimes incompletely fill, is weakened: the matinee idols of contemporary society are pretty, not handsome; examples of plastic surgery, physical training and measured diction. Today's movie stars are mimics of masculinity, method actors that impersonate heroism with a hand mirror and studio assistant.
Ironically, the modern movie star enjoys great international recognition, yet remains relatively insignificant. Crowds may cheer him and young girls may beseech him, but his presence is merely momentary. In short, the modern movie star is known by all and idolized by none.
The modern movie star lacks what other international celebrities, particularly American luminaries, possess: achievement. For it is not simply an actor's smile, nor his nonchalance which inevitably amplifies the sound and action of his admirers, that inspires awe among citizens; it is the actor's cinematic heroism, from defeating communist tyrants to arresting corporate crooks, that drives people wild. People idolize Sylvester Stallone as an earnest boxer, not a failed comedic actor; people memorialize John Wayne as a cowboy, not an insufferable smoker; people cheer movie stars for what other ordinary mortals cannot or simply will not be --- gigantic heroes of charisma and imagination.
So, why does Hollywood continue to produce anti-American nonsense? In part, filmmakers suppress their patriotic instincts, using film as a form of self-analysis --- whereby deviant behavior (by leftist standards), including but not limited to gun ownership and Caucasian masculinity, undergoes attack. The villain of modern cinema is no longer a rapacious Indian or a violent pirate, currently entertaining baseball fans from Atlanta to Pittsburgh. Rather, the enemy of contemporary film is America itself.
American self-hatred is a form of perpetual pessimism that ignores the glory of this nation's achievements, while highlighting -- no, forever complaining about -- what America does wrong. Self-hatred denies every American the opportunity to celebrate our national successes and extol our collective triumphs. Amidst prosperity, self-haters only see poverty; amidst freedom, self-haters only talk about tyranny.
The promise of America, and the purpose of American cinema, is that freedom wins. What people see influences how they behave, traversing continents for liberty. And, just as films can or should glamorize heroism, citizens of the world may one day use nine letters to answer the question concerning what constitutes the American imagination: