Hollywood Exports a Tarnished America

Ask yourself this question: Does the image of America you see portrayed in television shows and movies look like the same place in which you live and work?

What if your only glimpse of U.S. culture was obtained through a Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan looking glass?

In nations across the globe, there are people who may never get the chance to visit the United States or have contact with a single American. Yet their impressions of this country are in great part formed by the TV shows and motion pictures that are routinely dispatched by America's entertainment industry.

Once upon a time, Hollywood delivered, in awe-inspiring fashion, iconic images of Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, John Wayne and others. The world fell in love with distinctly American heroes who never failed to project optimism, courage, loyalty and unshakable belief in freedom, fairness and justice.

Director John Ford established Wayne as the embodiment of the nation -- the cowboy -- rugged, independent, courageous, gallant and true.

In a disturbing revision of that time-honored image, the 1969 Oscar for best picture went to "Midnight Cowboy," the only X-rated feature ever to win in the category. The film relegated the cowboy's occupation to that of a male prostitute. Unfortunately, for Hollywood productions, things have in large part continued in this vein.

Since the late 1960s, U.S. entertainment exports have painted for the world a picture of America as a place of extreme violence, rampant crime, unapologetic narcissism, licentious exhibitionism and extraordinary self-loathing. It is a misshapen and seriously flawed America, a place in which no reasonable person would want to live.

America's recent film exports include a brutal set of films that have no apparent purpose other than to display senseless, sickening and sadistic visuals. "Hostel" took in $33 million abroad, which represented 41 percent of its total revenue. In the film, young people are sold to wealthy businessmen, tormented and killed for entertainment purposes. Three "Saw" films, which spotlight torture and degradation, have taken in almost $160 million in foreign box-office receipts, which represents about 44 percent of the films' total revenues.

James Hirsen is a best-selling author, commentator and law professor. For more information on this debate series, go to www.iq2us.org. These films and similar ones lead our neighbors abroad to believe that America and its people are devious, depraved and extremely dangerous.

One aspect of Hollywood's American projection has been particularly corrosive. As purveyors of the narrative, one might expect Hollywood filmmakers would vary their presentations, depicting representatives of the free market and those engaged in business sometimes as heroes and sometimes as villains.

But on television and in movies, Hollywood, for the most part, has presented the American corporation as a repository of evil. Always the villain, never the hero is the overriding corporate theme of modern cinema. Along with it, a secondary theme has emerged in which a reluctant hero character who invariably takes the form of a journalist, crusading worker or single mother, ends up saving the day.

In Oliver Stone's "Wall Street," Gordon Gekko, a caricature of a businessman, places greed on a pedestal.

In "Syriana," a film for which George Clooney won an Oscar, suicide bombers are depicted as noble and heroic while businessmen are shown to be fiendish and contemptible. One of the "suited" villains in the film defends dishonesty, declaring, "Corruption is why we win."

When remaking a previous release, Hollywood cannot seem to leave old plots alone. The movie version of "The Fugitive" introduced a co-conspiring pharmaceutical firm (not in the original TV show) to share the dastardliness with the one-armed man. For the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate," the source of treachery was transferred from a totalitarian government to a Machiavellian corporation.

And just as in "The Insider," "Erin Brockovich" and "Silkwood," "The Constant Gardener" equates business with the netherworld.

Apparently, in today's Hollywood, prosperity is taken for granted; a sort of "wealth happens" attitude. With this mind-set, wealth becomes a zero-sum game, a "finite pie." Hollywood seems to have embraced the lie that if someone gains, someone else loses.

James Hirsen is a best-selling author, commentator and law professor. For more information on this debate series, go to www.iq2us.org.

The real story that needs to be told is the one about the exquisite American economic system, which unfetters the individual and, in so doing, fosters greatness. It is what has allowed past luminaries such as Thomas Edison and current living treasures such as Steve Jobs to create, innovate, flourish and spread their success. No "finite pie" but, rather, a geometric prosperity.

But instead of cinematically telling stories of the many modern-day rugged, independent, courageous, gallant and true cowboy-entrepreneurs, residents of Tinseltown remain transfixed in their world of cognitive dissonance. They embrace central planning but deeply resent studio interference in their work. They see eco-values as foremost virtues but stand out as one of the biggest polluters in the L.A. area. They prosper because of the free market but constantly depict it as a source of evil. They want guns banned but create and distribute torture films. They shun traditional faith but flock to New Age gurus.

The sad truth is that Hollywood's distorted presentations are assisting in perpetuating poverty, suffering and misery among the very people whose interests they claim to feel compassion. And in the process, they have managed to drag the once great Hollywood image of America through the mud.

Last year, a remake of an American symbol was not spared from a neo-Hollywood makeover. "Superman," who in print, on television and in film always stood for "truth, justice and the American way," had the "American way" words of the film remake excised.

Maybe it's because Hollywood has created an "American way" that no longer fits with either truth or justice.

James Hirsen is a best-selling author, commentator and law professor. For more information on this debate series, go to www.iq2us.org.