Contemporary Hollywood Storytelling

Andrew Klavan has an interesting article in the Washington Post called 5 Myths About Those Tinseltown Liberals.

I listened to Klavan speak a couple months ago at a conference. He’s a very good speaker and an excellent writer. While he’s the author of the mysteries True Crime and Empire of Lies, he’s perhaps best known as the author the controversial, sure-to-enrage op-ed examining the similarities between George Bush and Batman.

In his recent myth-busting article in the Post, he eviscerates the pieties and hypocrisies of Hollywood. The most damning, in my view, is the inability of Hollywood to tell a contemporary story of good versus evil. While these types of stories are condemned as being simplistic (the world is much more complex, they say), the audience has a deep yearning for such classic tales. Yet, as the rash of anti-Iraq movies demonstrates, studio executives are profoundly uncomfortable with Americans (especially the military) being the heroes. Rather than being the cavalry, the appearance of the Americans or the American flag often foreshadows dark conspiracies and treachery (see Syriana, The Bourne Ultimatum). This stems from cultural and moral relativism, the belief that all cultures and belief systems are equal and deserving respect. It’s a creed that doesn’t want to make judgements and is, at best, profoundly ambiguous over the role of American power in the world.

Yet, audiences turned their backs on Redacted, In the Valley of Elah and the piously silly star-vehicle Lions for Lambs. Instead, they gave their money to The Kingdom, a movie which more people saw than all the anti-Iraq movies combined. The Kingdom featured a mumbling Jamie Foxx as a FBI counter-terrorism agent chasing terrorists in Saudi Arabia. It’s a standard thriller, highlighted by explosions, car chases and some overacting. Variety called it “quietly jingoistic” and said it lacked the complexity of Syriana.

Yet, despite its flaws, The Kingdom was a success. Why? Because good-versus-evil is an archetypal story, one that has been told around fires since the dawn of civilization, one that anyone, even a child, can understand.  Recently, watching a movie with my five year-old nephew, he got a little bored and asked, “Who’s the bad guy?” I thought it was interesting that he believed that all movies had bad guys. And that he needed people to root for and against if the story was going to work.

There was a time when Hollywood followed classic story structures, including black and white stories of good versus evil. However, as Klavan demonstrates in his article, the ideologically-driven industry of today frequently abandons good storytelling to lecture the audience. And if there’s one thing that Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that they don’t go to the theater for lectures.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is the author of The Swamp, a funny new novel that mocks the city America has come to hate.

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