Did you know President Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was the mere puppet of a right-wing conspiracy of angry Southern militarists who were alarmed by Kennedy’s secret plans to get out of Vietnam? Did you know the AIDS epidemic in Africa is the product of capitalist greed in the pharmaceutical industry? Did you know Ronald and Nancy Reagan were racists who mistreated the black butlers in the White House?
If you didn’t know these things, you haven’t been learning American history from Hollywood films. Unfortunately millions of Americans do get their history lessons from Hollywood, not from school books.
Hollywood and American history have always had a troubled partnership, from “Birth of a Nation” to “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Apocalypse Now.” But these days, you have to wonder why history isn’t suing Hollywood for a divorce.
None of this is really new, of course, and we have always been tolerant of “literary license” in converting historical events to filmed entertainment. But the gap between history and entertainment is getting wider, and there are good reasons to worry about that.
As a young high school social studies teacher, American history was one of the subjects I loved to teach, and it’s not a good thing that American history is no longer a required subject for graduation in many places. But worry not! That knowledge gap is being filled: Kids today learn all they need to know about history at the movies.
No? Do you think maybe there might be a few gaps in that Hollywood syllabus? Come on, don’t be a fuddy-duddy; get with the program!
I don’t recall ever taking my class to the movie theater to learn a history lesson, but maybe I should have done that. We missed so much history it’s frightening.
By “Hollywood,” of course, I mean the entertainment industry as a whole, which may still be headquartered in Southern California but includes New York City, London and wherever Robert Redford is hanging his hat these days. Television and all video entertainment are obviously part of the picture as well.
History can be entertaining, and real history is often stranger than fiction, so naturally history will be a source of storytelling for Hollywood. But forgive me for wishing those highly talented writers and producers had more respect for historical truth and were not so enthralled by leftist myths about our great nation.
Why should we be concerned by Hollywood’s leftist bias in its story-telling if that liberal bias has always been there? Well, there is one big difference between today’s leftist bias and what we experienced in the 1930s or 1950s or even the 1980s. The big difference is not in Hollywood’s product but in the lack of any balance provided in our schools. Both Hollywood and our educational institutions are dominated by the same desire to denigrate patriotism and put a huge spotlight on our social warts, not our achievements.
The gap between fact and fiction is widening not because Hollywood is more uniformly leftist than in the past – which is probably true – but because the history lessons taught in our public school classrooms now resemble Hollywood fiction more than historical fact. Previous generations of young adults had a foundation in basic American history that provided a context and a balance for the propaganda spewed out of Hollywood. Today’s high school graduates are lacking the foundation and that framework.
The Hollywood of the classical era of film, the 1940s through the 1960s, had directors like John Ford who could tell a story using heroic characters that exemplified American virtues. John Wayne’s portrayal of Davy in “The Alamo” is closer to the truth of that historical event than anything coming out of Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese.
We should tremble every time Hollywood decides to remake any classic patriotic films based on some real event in history. Can you imagine what Susan Sarandon would do with the Scarlett O’Hara character in “Gone with the Wind”? Does anyone want Brad Pitt to reprise John Wayne’s iconic cowboy-hitchhiker in “Stagecoach”? Are you eagerly anticipating what “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” will look like with George Clooney as the pilot and the script redone to highlight the “incipient racism” of firebombing an Asian population?
Hollywood is not the only segment of our culture now under the spell of leftist myth-makers, but its influence is enormous and pernicious. There are exceptions, of course, and we need to applaud and encourage the actors and artists who choose to buck the trendy fashion of anti-Americanism. But given the intellectual fashions popular in our universities, where Ernesto “Che” Guevara is a heroic figure instead of the psychopathic thug he was in reality, don’t bet the farm on a change in direction anytime soon.
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