You would need to have eyes of stone to miss the decline of Hollywood over the past 20 years or so. I’m not just talking the quality of the films here – lazy remakes with casts a fraction of the class of the originals, low-quality sequels, CGI action movies – I’m also talking about the decline in the standards of some of its most famous stars. When Ricky Gervais gave the opening monologue at the Golden Globes in 2020, he displayed a masterclass in hard-hitting satire as he roasted many in the room with a series of hilarious observations about them working for Harvey Weinstein, maintaining friendships with Jeffrey Epstein and, above all, their breathtaking hypocrisy when it comes to the embrace of Wokeness. Gervais said:
‘Well you say you’re Woke, but the companies you work for…I mean, unbelievable…Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent.’
The problem Hollywood now has comes from its reputation as one of the centrepieces of liberal Left opinion in American society. For there are two characteristics that define this particular strand of opinion. The first is the inability of its disciples to practice what they preach. In other words, these over-entitled luvvies like to pontificate about the state of the world, its environmental challenges, the direction of politics in various situations, messages of peace, etc. But how many of them are true to those beliefs? The second trait is the uncanny knack of taking offence at just about anything perceived to be slightly controversial. Having now endured a decade and more of such people in powerful positions in the world of entertainment – both in America and in Britain, I think it’s safe to say comedy is a mere shadow of what it once was, dramas are more about ticking politically correct boxes than they are about captivating an audience, and celebrities preoccupy themselves with bien pensant ideologies over what it is they get handsomely remunerated for.
Hypocrisy and hyper-sensitivity came to a head at last Sunday’s Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles. Compered by Chris Rock, a figure well-known for indecorous humour, the main talking point of the night came after Rock made a joke about the hairstyle of Jada Pinkett-Smith and was subsequently assaulted by her thug of a husband in a scene one might expect more outside a kebab house after rival football fans clash. Will Smith brazenly confronted Rock, slapped him across the face before proceeding to shout a profane rebuke at the clearly stunned host. It was a credit to Rock that he managed to salvage the situation with professional aplomb. Rock, having lampooned Pinkett-Smith’s shaven headed appearance, initially drew laughter from Will Smith. It was only when his wife reacted with the predictable ‘oh woe is me’ response to the joke (so typical of what the rest of us have come to expect from the celebrity classes) that Smith decided matters would be best served by turning into a hooligan. Sunday represented the latest example, and certainly one of the most dramatic steps indicative of the long, sad, painful retreat of the American film industry from any semblance of good taste. It was an ugly, shaming moment – for Hollywood’s supposed values in general and Will Smith in particular. No other two minutes in recent times could more perfectly encapsulate the precipitous decline of America’s public culture.
Will Smith knew millions would be watching his actions that night. Yet he didn’t care. For many of today’s Hollywood premier stars are so cocooned from the real world, they truly believe the standards and consequences familiar to the rest of us do not apply to them. Such an arrogant mentality will surely be reinforced if the Academy does not demand Smith returns his Oscar, and if the Los Angeles Police Department does not charge him with common assault. These should be no way for that man to simply carry on as a major star as if nothing had happened. You have to go back all the way to 1973 to find an incident of remotely comparable gravity. It was when John Wayne attempted to attack Native American actress and civil right campaigner Sacheen Littlefeather, when she refused on behalf of Marlon Brando to accept the Oscar awarded to Brando for his performance in ‘The Godfather’. According to reports, Wayne had to be held back by six burly security guards as he allegedly attempted to grab Littlefeather and drag her from the stage. If security was necessary 49 years ago, why not last Sunday evening?
Could the answer to this last question lie in the racial background of both men? Let’s be honest here, had Chris Rock been attacked by Christian Bale, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon or Arnold Schwarzenegger all the usual suspects would have been robotically screaming the phrases of racial injustice by now. Portland, Minneapolis and New Orleans would be convulsed by violence. BLM activists would be touring the studios of NBC and CNN keen to tell anyone willing to listen what an ‘institutionally racist’ society America is. Even Joe Biden would be taking a break from his medication routine to enunciate (via a teleprompter, naturally) some balderdash about ‘white privilege’. However, it seems to me to be more of the evidence of ‘black exceptionalism’ in play when physical violence can be witnessed at Hollywood’s most prestigious night of the year, but the perpetrator escapes the consequences of his actions by way of an apology heavy on pathos and light on authenticity.
It could be the case that Hollywood can revive its shattered reputation on a whole host of fronts in the future. Maybe one day it will return to being the standard bearer of excellent and innovative film production, supported by actors capable of humility and the common touch. That said, it can never recover whilst most of its current stars, its executives and its ethos lie entrapped in a viscous mess of aching self-righteousness, entitlement and utter detachment from the public they purport to entertain. You, the reader, would never get away with what Smith did last weekend. Nor would I. So why should he?
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