Hollywood's Failing Memes
By Staff News & Analysis - July 26, 2010

In the spy thriller "Salt," Angelina Jolie (left) gets quite a workout. She kicks, karate-chops, and pistol-whips about thirty men. She kills many others with such weapons as a machine gun, a broken bottle, and handcuff chains, which she uses to strangle a guy. She jumps from an overpass onto a moving truck and from there onto another; she rappels down an elevator shaft without a rope; and she blows a hole in the floor of St. Bartholomew's Church, on Park Avenue, so that the man speaking in the pulpit, the President of Russia, will fall into the basement, where she is waiting to shoot him. She also uses a syringe to draw a paralyzing fluid from a hairy black spider the size of a fist. I could easily do most of these things myself, but wrangling the spider is beyond me. – The New Yorker

Dominant Social Theme: These are entertainments, gossamer and bright, and no one does it better than Hollywood.

Free-Market Analysis: We take a time out, in this article, to cast our admittedly jaundiced eye on the beautiful Angelina Jolie, perhaps the world's biggest female movie star. Why focus on Angelina Jolie? We find in her, to be frank, a well-traveled and weird intersection between Hollywood, international politics and personal private/public female behavior in the 21st century. There is no doubt that Jolie embodies a kind of dominant social theme: She is a woman for the ages, a thoroughly modern type, juggling motherhood, career and movie mayhem on a vast scale.

Jolie shops for children in Africa and gives them odd names. She and her husband purchase real estate in New Orleans after Katrina nearly wipes out the city. She globe-hops for UNICEF and is an active proponent of the United Nations and world peace. She makes movie after movie of the most indescribably violent sort, with mayhem, blood and guts flying everywhere. Even stranger, for a women of such fine-boned grace, it is Jolie that does much of blood-letting and destroying. She has made a specialty of playing government agents, double-agents and murderers. Every movie is yet another opportunity to display female egalitarianism as Hollywood sees it – equal opportunity manslaughter.

Yes, it is unfortunate fact that women's liberation has, Hollywood-style, evolved into the notion that women are free to be as violent as men. Not all men, in this cinematic day-and-age have been feminized (think Stallone and Schwarzenegger) but women like Jolie, the biggest female stars, have become hyper-violent. One thinks of yesterday's big actresses like Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Munroe and wonders how they would fit into today's hyper-violent context.

In truth it is not Angelina Jolie's fault. Hollywood is the victim of its own peculiar set of imperatives. Increasingly it functions as an overt propaganda arm of the American Imperium. It reflects all of the dominant social themes put in play by the powers-that-be. At any given time, you are apt to find releases featuring dashing FBI agents, clear-eyes CIA agent, agonized personal injury lawyers, vehemently concerned and socially conscious congressmen and presidents who fly their own fighter craft into the waiting mouths of flying saucers the size of cities (Independence Day).

Hollywood also has all the problems that the Anglo-American elite has. The current configuration of Western society needs an enemy desperately. Command-and-control economies always do. But the last (probably phony) enemy that the West faced that was believable was the USSR. Islamic fascism simply isn't weighty enough to serve as proper counterweight to the Western Leviathan. It is instructive that this Angelina Jolie movie has Russian bad-guys. And whenever possible Hollywood digs up German Nazis as well.

It is tempting to see, in Hollywood, the decline of modern power elite memes. Hollywood is increasingly disassociated from the reality of Western and American life. In America people are suffering from collapsed economies and imploding industries. In Hollywood, business is still the enemy, a powerful alien force that must be defeated. In America, the real government – powerful, monied and arrogant – socializes vast swaths of what is left of the US economy. In Hollywood, government bureaucrats are empathetic problem-solvers, determined to make a difference and working for the betterment of all. In America, a full-fledged Tea Party movement has sprung up to confront the Leviathan that Hollywood continues to celebrate.

When leading artists can no longer present culture as it is, but are reduced to self-parody, then the culture itself is no longer authentic. This is in our humble opinion a most important point. Humans are above all metaphorical animals. When the dominant story-telling of a society becomes disconnected from its reality, then the sociopolitical narrative has lost its hold. Without some sort of animating theme, the culture is doomed to decay.

This is why dominant social themes are so important to the power elite. These memes organize society and point people in an agreed-upon direction. When people cease to believe, or when the themes grow too ludicrous and are unbelievable of themselves, then the organizational "glue" of society begins to fail. Eventually people find other narratives. But they may not be the ones that the elite prefers or can control. This is a danger for the powers-that-be.

After Thoughts

What is the American narrative these days? It used to be one of individualism, entrepreneurship, family and community. The mythos was agrarian and frontier-oriented. But the elite succeeded in the 20th century, when it was most untrammeled, in swapping these verities for woman's liberation, big government militancy and welfarism, military and civil policing and anti-free-market activism. Now in the era of the Internet, with collapsing economies and an inability to manufacture believable dominant social themes, the elite has nowhere to turn. It is a victim of its own success. Hollywood's distress signals a larger one.

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