(City Journal) -- Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once labeled writers and other creative people “engineers of the soul.” In his passion to control what people saw and read, Stalin both coddled artists and enforced unanimity through the instruments of a police state. Today, fortunately, we don’t face such overt forms of cultural control, but the trends in American and to some extent European mass culture are beginning to look almost Stalinesque in their uniformity. This becomes painfully obvious during awards season, when the tastes and political exigencies of the entertainment industry frequently overpower any sense of popular preferences, or even artistic merit.
Our cultural climate has become depressingly monochromatic. Award ceremonies, once a largely nonpolitical experience, have become reflecting pools for preening progressive artistes. Those emceeing the awards must be as politically pure as possible—sorry, Kevin Hart—and those winning acclaim get the best press if, besides thanking their producers and agents, they take a shot at Donald Trump.
This dynamic is not exactly the byproduct of popular demand. In recent years, ratings for the Oscars have fallen to the lowest levels since the awards were televised, down from over 40 million to fewer than 30 million. The ratings decline tracks the fall in movie attendance, which has sunk to a 25-year low. We’re a long way from a time when awards nights were dominated by popular mainstream winners such as West Side Story, The Sound of Music, or even the original Lord of the Rings.
Advertisement - story continues below