Imagine if Hollywood had always been above-board and mainstream. Quentin Tarantino would never have got his start. And we would never have gotten cult classics like Fight Club, Pulp Fiction or, dare we mention it, Saw.
But something quite disturbing has been happening to the Hollywood establishment in recent years. It’s turned from being an institution willing to push boundaries into something much more tepid.
What’s worse, it continues to believe that it is Avante Garde, even when, in reality, it isn’t.
The question for the rest of us is, why is this happening?
One answer is that Hollywood is increasingly serving a global audience. With China’s middle class growing, there’s a demand for movies that are acceptable in every state and don’t ask any hard questions. Would the Chinese government, for instance, want a movie that promotes individual liberty and freedom? Probably not.
The other issue is that Hollywood’s liberal project is essentially complete. There aren’t any dark corners left to probe. Many of the issues that Hollywood promotes, such as identity, are already mainstream. Exploring them is no longer daring or rebellious. Nobody is going to get into trouble for portraying gay characters anymore, for example.
Hollywood, though, isn’t keen to explore truly rebellious subjects – the things that genuinely would get people into trouble. For instance, it’s almost impossible to imagine a California-based studio putting a positive spin on the Trump administration in a film. It could happen, but that seems unlikely.
This Deadline article talks more about this problem in the context of action hero movies. Currently, the DC universe dominates Hollywood, with some new film adding to the story every year or so.
There’s nothing wrong with these films – they appeal to a broad audience. But they’re not asking or answering many philosophical questions. And they certainly don’t do or say anything controversial. It’s impossible seeing them pushing back against identity politics.
Art needs a twinge of rebellion to be interesting. It needs to break people out of their perspectives. At the moment, it’s failing in its duty.
We’re not saying that there’s anything wrong with the current politics in Hollywood – just that the institution seems to have lost its edginess. Where are the controversial movies? And why aren’t they being made?
Well, fortunately, it turns out that they are. According to Deadline, we’re likely to see action hero films based in the Valiant universe. And these, say the creators, will be more rebellious and challenging than the mainstream.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with the mainstream as such. But there always needs to be a counter-narrative. And at the moment, we’re not getting it.
Valiant-based comic book hero movies plan to change this. If Disney is PC, then Valiant is Apple Mac. It’s something new and controversial. And it’s willing to take risks that the mainstream studios are not.
The Need For Rebellious Movies
Every society needs to tolerate dissent. The trouble is that throughout history, regimes have attempted to stifle free expression, and that has led to all sorts of problems, including degradation of people’s lives. We all know examples from history.
It seems, though, that Hollywood is unwilling to entertain genuine dissent. Much of the alleged dissent it does allow seems to be targeted at a conservative audience from the 1960s, not the modern cosmopolitan one that we have today.
So what could Hollywood do to improve things?
Well, one answer is to stop producing films purely for the money. While generating cash is important, there are niche markets out there. And many of them would like to see a film that presents something controversial.
Another idea is to hire more actors, directors and producers with non-orthodox views about the world. If mainstream ideas are robust enough, they should be able to survive critique.
Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t look like Hollywood will choose this direction. At the moment, there are no economic incentives to do so. And the push-back in the media would be tremendous if any film appeared to promote something controversial – like being allowed to offend people.
Movies, however, are an important outlet for dissent. We need directors and producers to take risks and represent feelings and ideas among their audiences. When they don’t do that, controversial film-making will go underground. And the types of movies being made could be much worse than anything shown in the public forum.
Once upon a time, the liberal project was fundamentally a rebellious one – about overturning the status quo and creating a better world. Hollywood shouldn’t forget that when considering which movies it should publish.