Americans More Concerned With Vampires, Awesome Explosions, than Free Market Values in Entertainment

I’m glad to see a conservative group agrees with me that by a broad definition, Hollywood is a pretty patriotic place, comfortable making movies that embrace American values and seeing them do well at the box office. That said, the idea that it’s conservative to want “good to conquer evil, truth to triumph over falsehood, justice to prevail over injustice and true beauty to overcome ugliness,” as Movieguide says this year strikes me as a bit of an overreach. In case there was a question about it, just because I’m a professional progressive doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see Walter White end up dead or in the pokey; that I sit around in cahoots with that schemer Satan thinking about how to get inaccurate information about everything from the demographics of the United States to clean energy into popular entertainment; or that I’m dedicated to seeing brutalist architecture dominate movie sets or something.

More to the point, Dr. Ted Baehr, who founded Movieguide, says that “Moviegoers and TV viewers prefer movies and television programs that celebrate traditional American values like liberty, private property, the free market, patriotism, and limited government.” But is that actually what’s reflected in their nominees for top movies? Captain America: The First Avenger is about a wildly expanded federal government that, among other things, performs dodgy experiments on the troops. Thor is part of a larger story that sees entrepreneurial superheroes brought together and brought to heel but government bureaucracy. You could maaaaybe stretch and say that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is about an enterprising small businessman, but mostly, I think it’s about the boats that shoot things at each other and the zombies and the mermaids and Johnny Depp playing pretty gay. Thor is all about how unmarried lady scientists should fall for dreamy pagan gods and how science validates a non-Christian view of the world. And yes, I’m totally glad to see someone say that the Twilight movies represent“fringe worldviews,” but you know what? Americans love those fringe worldviews if they involve who want to have premarital sex with vampires but who wait because those vampires are just so darn oriented towards family values.

Look, I totally understand the desire to believe that America is secretly hankering after movies and television that reflect a certain set of values and if that darn Hollywood machine would only cooperate, the market would reap rewards and the right priorities would spread throughout the land. But I don’t think there’s conclusive evidence, in either direct, that that’s the case. And if conservatives really want to sell the idea that their values make for better storytelling, they’re going to need more coherent ideas than these, and a more compelling spokesman than, say, Dean Cain. This is a conversation worth having and hashing out—I think someone should do a big, comprehensive study of the ideas and values audiences report taking away from their favorite entertainment. But trying to claim American movies for conservativism, box office evidence to the contrary, isn’t the place to start it.