The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why are artists so liberal?

Beyond a doubt, most of the actors in Hollywood lean liberal. In fact, I suspect that most artists, anywhere, lean to the left. Since "Hollywood" the industry is composed of film, television, and music, the business of Hollywood is maintaining a flow between artists and marketplace. So, more than probably any other industry or town, it is concerned with the artistic temperament. New York has fabulous theater, publishing, and a healthy television industry, but is primarily the economic center of America.

Even though actors are merely a fraction of the production crew of any film or television show, many of the people behind the scenes: craft services, writers, directors, prop and costuming...are also artistic types. Above them you get MBA types (producers, execs, etc.) and above those you have the people running the multi-national conglomerates buying up everything in sight. I'd say the actors lean way left, and the business types calling the shots lean right.

Personally, I think that the hunger for cash on the part of the congloms overrides everything. But the actors are the only people most folks know. They're the ones who go on the talk shows and so forth, and they certainly drive public opinion of what "Hollywood" is like. The question of why so few Right-leaning actors/directors are willing to put up their own money to produce a pro-Iraq movie (actors DO use their own money. Mighty rarely, but remember "Passion of the Christ"? Mel Gibson made about half a billion dollars on that one.) I know of no profitable film that Hollywood hasn't tried to duplicate. Nature of the beast.

People who think that such a film would be profitable but are not interested in betting their own money on it...well, that's interesting. Don't know quite what to say about that. Clint Eastwood can make any damned movie he wants. I doubt VERY seriously that he worries that "people won't want to work with him anymore." Maybe they don't think there is profit in it, and aren't willing to take the loss? Clustered production deals would raise the money--but then if the film bombed, you've lost clout and gained nothing.

I'm really not sure what's going on there...

But the question is: why do artists lean left? I think that you have to start with basic definitions of "Right" and "Left." Needless to say, if you let either side define the other, the results wouldn't be pretty. As I probably lean Left at this point in my life, I can't claim to be above this. But I'll try, by defining "Conservative" as looking backwards to the strength of proven past performance, and "Liberal" as looking forward to the possibility of a shining future.

Unfortunately, we have to live in the Present, not the past or future, so anyone who is too attached to either is, from my point of view, missing the point. If we accept this definition (and hopefully, it is equally supportive and denigrating of either side) then artists would seem to be those who are trying to take current reality apart to create something new. Actors, writers, directors, etc.--they thrive on the image that has not been seen before, the new combination of emotions, and so forth. Quite commonly, executives complain that the artists are naive children, while the artists complain that the executives are brainless Nazis. Sound familiar?

The only problem, as far as I'm concerned, is between the people on either end who don't get the joke, and think that their end is superior. Each then accuses the other of the exact same crap that THEIR side does when upset. A perfect example: take a look at the Primaries. Clinton's supporters were no more "Conservative" than Obamas, but as they began to get desperate, their attacks sounded just like the Republicans. The PUMA sites are just pitiful, venom and yearning mingled into a truly toxic brew. I wish them healing. I mean, these women are suggesting that Obama is flying home to Florida to POISON his grandmother, because she can verify that he wasn't born in the U.S.

Good Lord.

Each side accuses the other of stealing elections, of playing dirty, of harboring bigots, of being disloyal to the American dream, of not caring about the poor, and so forth. Each side produces its statistics and experts to try to "prove" these charges.

Could you have an artist class that was MORE conservative than the general population? Possibly, if, for instance, there was a major artistic movement that proclaimed that some period in the past produced the superior art, so that everything was measured by what has come before. I'm sure it's happened in the past, and will again.

And will we ever have a time when the blue-collar workers, executives and CEOs are, on average MORE liberal than the average American? I really don't know. It would take a better political theorist than I am to figure out how that might fit together.

What I do know is that, should Obama win, he's really got his job cut out from him in terms of bringing the country together. I'm pulling for him. I grasp the tight-rope he's had to walk his whole life, and that if he didn't learn to care for both sides, he would be torn apart emotionally. He may be uniquely suited to bring America back together after seasons of damn-near civil war.

Or not. We'll see.

28 comments:

Irene said...

I've always felt that it boiled down to comfort. People who are comfortable, are doing well, with the status quo, do not want the status quo to change. They are conservative. People who are not comfortable or who are not doing well under the status quo, want change. They are liberal, So you get very logical breakdowns by class and wealth: conservatives = those who have class or who make money the way things are, and liberals = those who don't and who therefore figure they are more likely to benefit from change.

This is obviously a very broad generalization: there are plenty of folks who can look outside of their own personal circumstances and take the perspective of what's in the best interest of the larger community. But I don't think that's actually a majority of the population.

Artists, of all sorts, traditionally get into that business because they have perspectives, attitudes, mindsets that challenge the status quo. That's what makes art interesting. It is, intrinsically, a liberal mindset. However, since audiences tend to be most comfortable with things that match the status quo, the most (financially) successful pieces of art are those that align pretty close (if not 100%) with expectations - in other words, those that match the status quo. So the really really wealthy actors are the ones who make those successful pieces: those who have done a good job of realigning their personal priorities and stances to match the status quo. In other words... they become conservative. They have succeeded in the world the way it is, and they do not (necessarily) stand to benefit from change.

Kai Jones said...

I think conservatives don't want to risk unintended consequences of untried possibilities that necessitate giving up known benefits of long-term partial solutions, while liberals don't want to put tried-and-true benefits of partial solutions above finding a solution to the problems untouched or made worse by the partial solution.

Irene said...

Yeah, what Kai said.

Dan Moran said...

Leaving politics out of it and concentrating on social attitudes (and painting with a really really really Big Brush) conservatives at their best are keepers of That Which Works. Liberals at their best are the inventors of That Which Works.

Gay marriage was a radical idea twenty years ago and is a clearly liberal one today. It'll win in the long run because it's the right thing to do and there's no real fiscal cost associated with it -- liberals usually win those fights and they'll win this one. (Hell, they won the 5-day workweek and that did have a financial cost associated with it. So it's not hopeless even when money is involved, though it's much iffier.)

And a hundred years from now conservatives will be quoting the Bible to justify gay marriage, and ignoring the parts that are inconvenient, and the right of adults to marry each other will be a "conservative" value.

Though those bastards who want to marry the aliens from Aldebaran are plainly screwed up and suffering from biological deviancy ...

The problem with liberals in broad is that most great new ideas are awful ideas, and it takes time to evaluate them and separate the 90% bad from the 10% good (and the 1% that are really important.) And by time I mean generations.

That each side needs the other is anathema to both of them, but there you go. :-)

Mike Ralls said...

> I doubt VERY seriously that he worries that "people won't want to work with him anymore." <

It's not necessarily a binary state. Most people _want_ to be liked by their peers and don't go out of their way to piss off their peers.

Look, I've worked in two radically different work environments; schools and a car dealership. For lack of better terms, one had a very liberal vibe and one has a very conservative vibe. Now I don't fit comfortably in either camp as I disagree with key points in both. So did I go out of my way to identify myself in the school as a passionate supporter of conservative cause X or in the dealership as a passionate supporter of liberal cause Y? Nope. Didn't feel any need to do that at all.

There is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) pressure to being part of a group in which 90+% of the people believe Y.

Also, I seem to remember you musing one time that one reason sexy-black-male-movies don't succeed is that the people doing them may not believe in them. Couldn't the same apply to a pro-war movie? If 90+% of the people doing the day-to-day work in making that movie disagree with its main point, are they really going to be giving it their A game?

Frank said...

I'd say the actors lean way left, and the business types calling the shots lean right.

On what basis do you assume this? Stereotypes?

To whom to you think Lew Wasserman of MCA studios contributes to? Or Dave Geffen founder of DreamWorks?

And it's not just Hollywood. Major contributors to Democrats include Steve Jobs, the Apple Computer founder; Steve Tisch, producer; Peter Morton, founder of the Hard Rock Cafe; Edgar Bronfman Jr., the Seagram's heir and studio executive

You know, generally it's a mistake to assume that just because you are rich or in business you automatically support Republicans. Because as we have seen over and over again, it's just not true.

Many of the richest families in America are Democrats.

Josh Jasper said...

I think it's because looking at the world and reflecting it through an artistic medium is task that's more attractive to liberals than it is conservatives. I think it's because art needs to be visionary and currently, it's encouraged that artists be radicals. This is partly because people expect it, but also because art buyers for living artists are also liberal.

It's partly what it means to be an artist, and partly where the market is. If rich conservatives bought tons of contemporary art, it'd be easy enough to find conservatives who'd create art for them.

Frank Sauer said...

Wynton Marsalis, for instance, is a conservative, artistically, and I don't know what his political views are. His chosen area of work is jazz, but not the newer styles of the 1960s -free jazz, so called- well it was new back then. In any event, his expression uses older forms, in a genre which usually prides itself on newness.

Marty S said...

I lean to the right and consider myself a moderate conservative, but it has absolutely nothing to do with conserving the past. If it did I I wouldn't be a science fiction addict and particularly a Steve Barnes fan. I'm all for change, when I think its the right change. I am conservative based upon what I personally see as best for myself and the country. So I am for programs to provide pre-school education for those whose parents can't afford it, because I believe in the long run it is the best thing not just for those children, but for the nation. It helps us make optimum use of our human resources. So it is with each program/issue. I evaluate them on a cost/benefit basis(cost and benefit not necessarily being financial and I support them or oppose them based on my evaluation. Some times I end up supporting the liberal viewpoint, but more often I end up on the conservative side so I identify myself as a conservative.

Shady_Grady said...

I would imagine many artists that come out of a Romantic or Classicist framework would be more conservative than the average person of their time.

I don't know that that would automatically translate into their politics , but it might.

Tolkien was conservative as was CS Lewis. HPL was extremely conservative, to the point of preferring the 18th century to his own but also wound up supporting FDR.

Brother OMi said...

Dan Moran is right. being liberal or conservative is relative.

personally, i see that actors just try to be hip. some try to be too hip and it fails (Warren Beatty and Tom Cruise are a good examples).

Clint Eastwood doesn't try to do that at all. Eastwood has been a hollywood stalwart for decades. he has that respect.

Marty S said...

This is completely off topic, but I can't resist. As I type Alan Greenspan is testifying on the crash to congress. He has just blamed the mathematical model of risk for the crash. He testified that the model was developed using twenty years of data from when the economy was good and that the model would have given different results if a longer period of time had been used and the crash wouldn't have occurred. The developer of the model won a Nobel prize for developing it. This shows how much faith we can put in statistical models. As I keep saying just because somebody publishes a study/model doesn't mean "You can take the conclusion to the bank".

Josh Jasper said...

The flaw in the model was that it figured that "industry regulation" was better than government regulation.

Marty S said...

Josh: The first domino in the current financial crisis was bad mortgage debt and he failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These were the creation of Democratic administrations and represented government regulation of the market designed to allow low income people who couldn't afford homes to own them. When either side allows their philosophy to over rule common sense we get disaster and blaming it all on the other side only prevents us from seeing what really needs to be done. Yes, the Republicans over deregulated in some respects, but the Democrats contributed their share to this crisis too.

Vooper said...

I found this TED video on this topic fascinating. Personally, I think everybody really does falls into one of these categories, but as marty pointed out, just because you lean one way doesn't mean you blindly make your decisions based on it.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

Pagan Topologist said...

I have a hard time viewing conservatives as somehow OK people, en masse, although certainly many of them are. In my view, real conservatives want to do the following:

1) Eliminate any right to education and make it a commodity like gasoline or paper.

2) Eliminate Social Security, so that millions of elderly will starve to death, thereby assuring that the survivors are all contributors.

3) Beef up the military to the point that the rest of the world is terrified of us.

4) Force people to reproduce at a high level to provide plenty of cannon fodder for purpose 3), above.

I could probably think of many other things, but I find this whole mindset to be totally wrong.

Josh Jasper said...

The first domino in the current financial crisis was bad mortgage debt and he failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

It's an interlocking set of dominoes. The large financial organizations selling default credit swaps actually pressured banks to sell mortgages. The loan structure was bad, but it's only about a third of the problem. If we' kept regulating our financial industry, we'd never have been in such a big mess. We could have weathered, this much easier if it were just a housing bubble. Housing bubbles happen, and only portion of the mortgages were actually bad to begin with. Without the economy crashing, all we'd see is a small portion of the country suffering.

To put it this way, the mortgage industry had the flu, the banking industry started spreading it to everyone.

Marty S said...

The stereotypes on this are unbelievable. My number 1 hobby is duplicate bridge, but my number two hobby is photography. I belong to several photography groups and my walls are covered with my photos and I even participated in an exhibit at our local library. So even though I am a conservative, I do have an artistic side. I am pro the best education possible for as many people as possible. I am pro a strong defense, but not for offense but as a deterrent to those who would otherwise start wars. Iraq may have been wrong, but it was Saddam who started the first gulf war.

Josh Jasper said...

There's a difference between a hobbyist an artist who makes a living by creating art. As nice as your photographs might be, they don't make you a professional artist.

Pagan Topologist said...

Marty S: I completely agree that Iraq started the first Gulf War. AND, what we did in response was quite sufficient to prevent Iraq's doing any such thing again.

For all his cruelty, Saddam Hussein ran a stable country, which would have been even more so without the sanctions. It is unlikely to ever be that stable in the future, at least within the next fifty years.

It is interesting to me that the position of women in Iraq appears to have worsened since the fall of Saddam Hussein, while in Afghanistan, the exact opposite is true.

Marty S said...

Josh: I didn't claim to be a professional artist, just have an artistic side. However, I have come to the conclusion today that my conservative leanings may be more a core part of me than I thought. Today I was singing the song "The bear goes over the mountain" to my grandson. It has always been one of my favorites and I have always valued its message, but today I thought of it in terms of this post and that the message in a way is conservative in nature

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about this question for a while. I am an artist, and educator and a writer. And I am conservative in my core beliefs while my imagination is "over the top". Is this what separates me from other artists? For a while there I was thinking this was a left brain/right brain thing, but ended up concluding that it wasn't. Then I started to think it was an economic thing - it being difficult to make a living in the arts, wanting some economic "guarantees" or such. But then you have the Hollywood types throwing all their cash at Obama. So I still haven't figured this out. Maybe what makes me conservative is the fact that I am a Christian. It has everything to do with core values. Maybe that's why Obama's "charisma" never affected me. I was immune to that mass hypnosis.

MacGyver said...

Hey! What if we reverse the question? Why are artists conservative? Deep inside most people, not just artists, are strong individuals who take responsibility for their role in the world.

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Michelle said...

The stereotypes on this are unbelievable. My number 1 hobby is duplicate bridge, but my number two hobby is photography. I belong to several photography groups and my walls are covered with my photos and I even participated in an exhibit at our local library. So even though I am a conservative, I do have an artistic side. I am pro the best education possible for as many people as possible. I am pro a strong defense, but not for offense but as a deterrent to those who would otherwise start wars. Iraq may have been wrong, but it was Saddam who started the first gulf war.

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