The Hollywood Revolt, Part 5: The Greatest Walt Disney, The Millennial Mark Zuckerberg, and the Collapse of the Left
Click here for Part 1 on Ben Shapiro's Primetime Propaganda, here for Part 2 on Roger L. Simon's Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine, here for part 3 on David Mamet's The Secret Knowledge, and here for part 4 on Breitbart's righteous Gen-X indignation.
Generation Y’s great filmmakers have not yet arrived. And don’t expect too many of them.
William Strauss and Neil Howe argue in their fourth book of generational theory, Millennials Rising, that the babies born from 1982 through 2003 are part of a “Civic” generation. This is the same as the GI Generation (the accurately named “Greatest Generation”) born from 1901-1924 who went through World War II as young adults.
The Greatest provided us with many cinematic giants but none made a deeper footprint on the 20th century than Walt Disney. The Disney Effect came not just in the artistry of his films but his technological innovations and capitalist ventures. He constructed a billion-dollar corporation which has changed our lives. That’s what leaders of Civic generations do: build transformative institutions.
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The Millennial Generation has already seen our Walt Disney emerge and release his equivalent of “Steamboat Willie.” It’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Facebook is only the primitive beginning of what he’ll build in the coming decades. Today because of our saturation in cartoons we fail to appreciate how groundbreaking “Steamboat Willie” and “Snow White” were to a world that had never seen such creatures. And so it shall go with Facebook in a few decades’ time.
Narrative films and television programs were America’s unifying, transformative cultural experience of the 20th century. Computers, the internet, and technology are their equivalent for the 21st.
If there was one key disagreement that I had with my friend Ben Shapiro over Primetime Propaganda it was how little he considered the implications of exponential technological growth in the political war with the Hollywood Left. Shapiro acknowledges in the book that a merging of television with the internet will happen someday but still argues that the primary goal of Hollywood conservatives should be to develop careers within the existing entertainment infrastructure.
It’s a worthwhile thought in spirit but such advice fails to consider the success of the blogosphere and Andrew Breitbart’s victories. It’s akin to urging conservative journalists in 2011 to try and get jobs at newspapers and magazines instead of just starting their own online publications.
Hollywood conservatives should be more concerned with developing their own technological, media, and entertainment properties in the world of the internet. They should be thinking not about the technological world as it is now, but rather as it will be 5, 10, 15, and 20 years down the road. (This is where the Silent Generation Doubt comes in – we must doubt that the cultural institutions we have had our whole lives will never become obsolete.)
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Consider Transcendent Man, the recent documentary about inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. The film is based on his 2005 book The Singularity is Near and builds on his past 20 years of accurate predictions of technological growth. This is the reality we forget: technology is constantly getting twice as powerful, half as expensive, and much smaller. And the speed of this doubling is accelerating. (Kurzweil has pretty startling predictions about how powerful computers will be by 2020, 2029 and 2050.) By anticipating the future technology we can position ourselves to dominate its use once it’s widely adopted.
Through Kurzweil we can see that the merging of TV with the internet is likely to happen much sooner (certainly within the decade) than most realize.
Movies and television are not always going to have the place in our lives that they did during the last 60 years. Not only will it continue to become cheaper and easier for the whole population to produce their own TV shows and movies, but the mediums themselves will become passé, like theatre and painting today. Roger Simon acknowledges as much in one of the sadder passages of Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine:
The dramatic film is, more than we admit, a superficial form and, in an odd way, dependent on its superficiality for its success. It is at its essence a quick emotional hit, a feeling that we are all engulfed with as we identify with the life on the screen, throwing ourselves into it. At its best (Casablanca, The Seven Samurai, Nights of Cabiria) this can be an inspiring experience with overtones of Aristotle’s catharsis, but it is not necessarily deep or complex. Nor is it engaging to the audience, except in a passive way. The interactive computer arts of the future may reach the mind and the emotions on far more significant levels.
This means that the Hollywood Left as we understand it is losing its powerbase. Just as the Left’s comfy home in the mainstream media is crumbling, so too with entertainment.
This was the great failure of Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School (see chapter 6 in Righteous Indignation.) They thought that by persuading leftists to invest decades of time in seizing the “means of cultural production” – the media, arts, and universities – that Marxism could actually destroy the country. But they failed to understand how cultural institutions are just reactions to the technology of the period.
As technology transforms the way we live our lives the old institutions crumble. This is the opportunity facing Hollywood conservatives today. The three components of the previous generations – Silent Doubt, Boomer Aggression, and Gen-X Independence – require one final ingredient to unify them together: Gen-Y Optimism.
That was the key for Civic Generation President Ronald Reagan, and here’s what it looks like on film for those so beaten down in the age of Barack Obama that they have forgotten:
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