May 05, 2011

A common comic enemy


Kate wondered recently why so many time-travel television episodes/movies include a variation of the line: "In the future, I can't believe a B-actor will be elected president!" Okay, maybe writers are frustrated elitists who hate actors, but don't the actors have any self-respect?

Benjamin Schwarz gets at an underlying reason in this article about screenwriter James Cain (simply replace "Los Angeles" with the latest Hollywood gripe du jour):

Just as hipsters today use white pejoratively, denoting sterile, bland, non-ethnic suburbia, so sophisticates in Cain's day enjoyed skewering Los Angeles--[then] America's whitest, most Protestant, most bourgeois big city--as an artificial tropic teeming with displaced rubes, an opinion Frank Lloyd Wright neatly encapsulated in his contemptuous remark, "It is as if you tipped the U.S. up, so that all the commonplace people slid down to Southern California." So conditioned, writer after writer churned out the same derisive commentary on Los Angeles.

Because, as William Goldman observed, "Nobody knows anything" in the movie business, the reflex is to keep repeating whatever worked the last time until it utterly and undeniably fails, and then a few more times after that to make sure. So any "derisive commentary"--any trope no matter how overused--that once went over well takes on a life of its own.

Though it's also the result of the never-ending search for a Great White Menace that writers can mercilessly mock without arousing the ire of the professional offense takers. Add to this the earnest belief that there is nothing worse than having at any time (infancy included) been associated with anything held in high regard by religious conservatives.

The best way to dissociate oneself from the latter is to flock to the former like crows to road kill. Jokes about Republican politicians serve these ends perfectly. Actors willingly diss their own profession out of loyalty to their own ideological beliefs (and, to be sure, loyalty to a paycheck). Though I imagine self-knowledge has a lot to do with it too.

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