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BrainGlutton
04-02-2005, 03:24 PM
Some discussions of the moral aspects of cineme cliches in this thread -- http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=307777 -- got me to thinking. Conservatives often accuse the "Hollywood elite" of being immoral, or amoral. I think the actual fact is that Hollywood has a definite moral compass, it's just a different one than the Red States have. If you want to make a truly amoral movie, you have to go indie, you can't get it made by a major Hollywood studio. And I don't think it's just because the producers and directors are trying to give a moral public what it wants; if it were just that, they would try to make more films acceptable to Red Staters. No, it's because they have their own moral values and, like most of us, don't like a story that says their values are false, or meaningless, or irrelevant to real life. Here are some rules they seem to live by:

Bad people (defining "bad" as anything from inconsiderate rudeness to serious crimes) who are not the protagonist will almost certainly get some form of comeuppance at some point in the story.

If a young character is played up as a slacker, indifferent, directionless, a disappointment to his/her parents, etc., then at some point in the film, the character will go through a life-changing experience that will teach him/her the value of hard work, having a purpose, and/or acting to help others.

You can tell a crime story from the POV of the criminal, but within limits. You can make a movie glorifying bank robbery, or even murder-for-hire. You cannot make a movie glorifying rape. (Whether slasher films "glorify" serial murder is a debatable point.)

The protagonist, even when a criminal, will display some sense of personal honor and consideration for others -- or at least a sense of limits. (In Scarface, Tony Montana, a man with very little morality, balked at the murder of children.) For contrast, this honor may be lacking in other, truly evil characters, who are usually the protagonists' opponents or rivals (and might even be police officers, as in the James Caan film Thief). (In Scarface, Tony Montana, a man with very little morality, balked at the murder of children.)

"Blaxploitation" is acceptable, you can portray blacks as committing really horrible crimes, and as being unspeakably crude and ignorant; but this is all implicitly blamed on their social background, on circumstances that are non-hereditary and beyond their control. No Hollywood film nowadays can send an unambiguously racist message, like Birth of a Nation did. And any white supremacist in the story is a bad guy.

Similarly, it is acceptable for a film to exploit women (i.e., to play off their sex appeal to men, even to treat them as sex objects and little more), but not to send a message that women are inherently inferior to men in intelligence, courage or character.

Same with homosexuality. A gay character can be ridiculous, or evil, but it's not because he/she is gay. The message that homosexuality is fundamentally immoral is right out. And a flaming homophobe is always ridiculous or evil (or a latent homosexual).

Religious characters, ministers or especially devout laity, can be portrayed sympathetically and as admirable figures -- but that is no longer the "default mode," as it would have been in B&W "minister movies" from the '30s through the '50s. Nowadays, a religious character might also turn out to be a fool, a rogue, a hypocrite, or a total psycho. And if a religious character is portrayed sympathetically, it will be for qualities an atheist could admire, and not because the character actually has God on his/her side. It is very unusual for a Hollywood movie, even if it is based on "religious" themes, to send a message bolstering basic elements of Christian doctrine. (Passion of the Christ is an exception -- but Gibson was able to make that only because he had reached a high level of success, fame and independence doing more mainstream films.) In an apocalypse movie, that stuff is just there for a story frame; the protagonists fight the Antichrist, but we don't hear them professing their love of God. (E.g., Constantine knows God exists and has no particular reason to love Him.) (The Left Behind films don't count, they're not mainstream Hollywood productions.)

Any religious bigot (i.e., any person who believes and asserts that all persons not of his/her faith are immoral, evil and/or damned) will be portrayed as an unsympathetic character, always.

Any others?

Bryan Ekers
04-02-2005, 03:44 PM
It's fairly easy to find exceptions to all your rules. I'd say, in fact, that no formalized "rules" have governed Hollywood since the Hays Code.

Rather than declare that a movie of nature X can't be made, I find it more likely that a major studio won't make such a movie because the resultant hassles aren't worth it. The decision is guided by marketing, not morality.

smiling bandit
04-02-2005, 03:52 PM
I always found that Hollywood glorified sex, but only the tawdriest sort of cheap lay imaginable without finding a 10 dollar hooker. And then they refuse to show anything good. :mad:

RikWriter
04-02-2005, 04:26 PM
And a flaming homophobe is always ridiculous or evil (or a latent homosexual).



Unless the homophobe is a black male. Then he can get away with it, and play it for laughs.

BrainGlutton
04-02-2005, 05:19 PM
Here's another: A rich businessperson is not necessarily evil (in The Edge,billionaire Charles Morse is an entirely admirable character -- and the only such in the story), but is guilty until proven innocent. Any really odious capitalist will either be brought down like Gordon Gecko, or go through a change of heart like Ebenezer Scrooge. An entrepeneur can be a hero, but only if he/she is a visionary like Preston Tucker -- somebody whose main goal is to bring the world a valuable new product or service, not just to amass wealth. A major corporate empire might not be brought down, but will be portrayed as evil, like the cigarette industry in The Source. "Greed is good" and "I owe the public nothing" are never acceptable messages in a Hollywood movie.

OTOH, really subversive or revolutionary messages are equally unacceptable. The problem is always with the moral character of the individual capitalist, not the capitalist system or the class system as such. And it is perfectly acceptable to portray a strident political "causehead" as naive or hypocritical.

Another: Any would-be censor is a bad guy, whatever his/her motives or field of concern. That's inevitable, I think -- we can't expect filmmakers, or creative artists of any kind, to be disposed kindly to censorship, whatever views they might hold on other political issues.

BrainGlutton
04-02-2005, 05:23 PM
Correction -- the 1999 film about the cigarette industry was titled The Insider, not The Source. (And the movie is really about the news industry and how it's dominated by commercial interests; except for the title character, the tobacco exectuves never emerge as individual characters -- they're just the faceless masters of this brooding, monolithic Evil Empire.)

BrainGlutton
04-02-2005, 05:26 PM
Unless the homophobe is a black male. Then he can get away with it, and play it for laughs.

You're probably right but I can't think of any instances. Did you have a particular film in mind? (By "flaming homophobe," I did not mean a person who gets the willies around gays -- you can always play that for laughs regardless of color -- I meant a person who gay-bashes, or expresses moral disapproval of homosexuality.)

BrainGlutton
04-02-2005, 05:28 PM
It's fairly easy to find exceptions to all your rules. I'd say, in fact, that no formalized "rules" have governed Hollywood since the Hays Code.

These aren't formalized rules, their general principles of acceptable conduct in the Hollywood film industry.

Rather than declare that a movie of nature X can't be made, I find it more likely that a major studio won't make such a movie because the resultant hassles aren't worth it. The decision is guided by marketing, not morality.

I'm sure marketing plays a role, but don't you think Hollywood producers, directors and screenwriters also have values that are important to them, and that affect the content their work?

RikWriter
04-02-2005, 05:33 PM
You're probably right but I can't think of any instances. Did you have a particular film in mind? (By "flaming homophobe," I did not mean a person who gets the willies around gays -- you can always play that for laughs regardless of color -- I meant a person who gay-bashes, or expresses moral disapproval of homosexuality.)

Low Down, Dirty Shame with Damon Wayans (I think...one of the Wayans bros anyway.) I also recall seeing it with other black action stars, but that's the one that sticks in my mind.

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