The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, November 26, 2007

Why, "It's Just Hollywood"!

My comments about "The Mist" and "The Green Mile" triggered some comments leading back to the sociobiological observation that images in successful films NEVER include a complete path to reproductive success for non-whites: Boy meets girl, boy screws girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, boy and girl live happily ever after. The major and most consistant missing piece is the sex. Another major missing piece is that pesky survival thingie.
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Nancy asked: "I get the impression that even if black viewers were viewed as a niche market, they would still be considerably underserved. If I've got this right, you aren't just saying that movies in which black men have satisfactory sex lives don't make much money, there are incredibly few such movies.

Wouldn't some moderately ambitious producers want to have a lock on over 10% of the market? It's easy enough to explain if you assume that prejudice frequently overrides the desire for money, though.”
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I want to address this, and also the difficulty people have with avoiding the conclusion that this is “just Hollywood.” The frequency with which people say this would be irritating if it weren’t so common…and therefore, I think, indicative of a deeper problem than simple denial. Of course, one could take the position that my own perceptions on the matter are simply WRONG. Granted, that’s possibility. However, I’m going to proceed bravely on the assumption that I’m right, and see where that leads me.
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Remember: my personal position is that most human social dysfunction is the result of universal tendencies gone awry rather than problems specific to group X of Y. I present that perception clearly and bluntly, and not hide it under layers of obfuscation. Here we go…
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I'm saying that the movies make less money, and that THEREFORE fewer of them are produced. There IS a niche market, and it's called Direct-To-Video. You can find it in video stores, but not distributed through mainstream channels. What does this mean? Less money for writers, directors, actors, craftspeople, technicians--a cheaper, lower-quality product. Also, film is a collaborative medium, and most of the people who have the knowledge are white. It's just true. And if they are less inclined to help you, then you are floundering without the development assistance absolutely critical to produce work of substance.

Well, shouldn’t “true artists” do the most important work, regardless of monetary reward? Well, sure, but that is some tiny percentage of artists and artisans. Most work for money. The same percentage of blacks as whites as Asians. Nothing particularly special about this. Which means that blacks would have to be DIFFERENT from whites to produce a different result. If they are essentially the same, the material aimed at black audiences will be of lower quality.
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So the standard I look at to make my little straw poll of American racial attitudes is: movie that makes over 100 million dollars where a black male has sex. The percentage of movies making over this amount with black stars is approximately the same as their distribution in the population…they just don’t have physical intimacy. White guys have it in about 25% of such films. The statistical gap is telling: this isn’t Hollywood. It’s the audience. There ARE films in which black men have sex—they just fall far below this level of success, indicating that the percentage of white moviegoers who will support them drops off drastically. So yes, they’re out there, but I use their lack of success to indicate unconscious racism on the part of audiences.
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Now, then, having clearly stated my thesis (for the hundredth time) I wanted to look at why it seems to be so difficult for people to get out of the “it’s Hollywood” mindset.
1) They have no idea how Hollywood works. Does anyone out there doubt that “Hollywood” (accepted here as a global term for the American movie industry) operates as, well, an industry? In other words, that it follows the money. This is why any time a film is successful, they INSTANTLY try to figure out sequels, copies, remakes, etc. Anyone disagree? Anyone seen a big hit not instantly copied by Hollywood? Exactly the same way it is in any other industry. That’s all it is, or has ever been.
2) The idea that the exclusion of non-white male reproductive behavior is based on universals is too depressing. If you’re black, it would feel like you’re surrounded by enemies. If you’re white, you are guilt-ridden to realize “your team” may be responsible for more human pain than you’ve acknowledged. If you’re on the Left you doubt your faith in human Goodness. If you’re on the Right, you doubt the Level Playing Field necessary to believe there should be no Entitlement programs. If you’re a Racist, you lose the Level Playing Field you need to believe in to insist that differential social results must be the expression of innate tendencies. I feel no depression at all. Innate “wiring” can be overcome, but only with conscious action and internal monitoring.
3) The idea that, if what Steve is saying is true, we must march, or have social programs, or protest, or some such. Hell, no. I’ve never said that, and never will. I just point it out because otherwise I’m carrying it around in MY mind. I carry the weight of all of it, and look out at a society—black and white, Left and Right, in denial. Innate human tendency means Everyone, or 80% of us. That would go along with the Discover magazine article (80% of whites have unconscious negative responses to blacks. I read that as: 80% of tribe X will have negative reactions to tribe Y, especially if there is a visual difference.) Or the research on the Amygdalic response to the “Other.” Or as I put it: “Racism is like Sexism, if Men and women didn’t want each other for Sex.” All the hostility, none of the advantages.
4) Acknowledging that there is this IHT (Innate Human Tendency) doesn’t mean you have to change your political orientation, sacrifice, contribute, or anything else. It DOES say that if can’t pretend that you are interested in social justice in this arena. You don’t give a shit? Fine. That’s you’re right. But the problem is that people aren’t wired up that way. They HAVE to believe they’re the good guys. Want to keep your tax dollars in your pocket, and people are asking for money for minority school lunch programs? You have to believe that they don’t work. Or aren’t necessary. You literally aren’t capable of believing they’re a great idea to help a people who got totally rat-fucked on their way to the American Dream—and not saying “yes.” I challenge one single reader to deny that. You literally have to either say they don’t work, or aren’t necessary. That means that if I’m right, and the popular acceptance of certain images (sex) is indicative of deep and pervasive problems in society that influence blacks on a daily basis, you can’t believe you’re a good, Christian American and not do something about it. So you can’t believe it. You have to try to isolate it: “it’s just Hollywood” you think. It’s just those damned Liberals. Wow. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
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So there you go. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, be ye black or white, male or female, looking at what I’ve been staring at for thirty years is PAINFUL. Live with it. I’ve been. The way out of the woods is an accurate map. You can’t live with delusion and simultaneously build a life of authentic meaning.
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So…grasp the reality, and have the courage to say you don’t care. Fine. Or grasp the reality, and do all you can to help. Fine. Or grasp the reality and hate. Fine! I’d certainly rather you hate “the Man” than yourself. Or grasp the reality and try to understand the universal human condition. Better still. But don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend. That is pure cowardly, delusional crap. There is no awareness, awakeness, or adulthood lurking there.

7 comments:

Dan Moran said...

Very nice. It does look like the comments have traveled, though.

Mushtaq Ali said...

The comments have not been lost, but it may take a day or so to get them back up.

There will be other minor changes going on at the site over the next few days as I tweak the code to get everything working the way I want it to.

(me being Steve's webmaster and suchlike)

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Mustaq, thanks--the new format is a lot easier to read, and I had no idea so much improvement was possible. This is probably a clue about doing human potential work.

Frank said...

If your data regarding the statistics for movie that makes over 100 million dollars and black sex is correct, I think you conclusion is hard to avoid.

I myself wouldn't know if your data is correct because a) I don't view that many films where I could evaluate its correctness and b) I don't particularly care for films with sex scenes outside of actual porn.

I however accept your data (mostly because I have no way of gathering such data and I assume your interest means that you are paying close attention), and as a result your conclusion. But I have no idea what, if anything, can be done about it.

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