I just watched the new movie “Bombshell,” the highly lauded film that tells the story of the fall of Fox News head Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. It has some truly strong performances from some fine actors but — and this is in no way intended to downplay Ailes alleged abuse — it moralizes quite a bit about the conservative news industry and what it takes to make it.
And as I watched it, with the background of Sunday night’s Golden Globes still all over the mediasphere, I couldn’t help think (again) how hypocritical Hollywood is. Because for all the shocking moments of harassment — the most arresting is a scene where one fictional character (a reported amalgamation of accusers) is asked to lift her dress to expose her underwear — we know Hollywood engages in the same, and possibly worse, if the Weinstein allegations are true.
And there’s a lot in the film that suggests that the women got on board because they were ambitious and went along with the idea that “legs sell.” It’s empathetic to those women, but it certainly casts them as unwilling, and sometimes willing, accomplices in their own struggles.
And it’s that phenomenon of selling a product that’s interesting to me in relation to Hollywood, which is burdened by the same narcissism and ambition that leads to abuse and, often, denigration.
This brings me to Ricky Gervais’ takedown of the L.A. glitterati at the Golden Globes. It’s tempting to think the people assembled in that room were horrified by his brutal and honest roasting of them. But that’s a mistake, I think.
Everyone, even Gervais himself I believe, knew what the comedian would do when they gave him the job. They’re self-aware. But they needed him to do it because their product isn’t as appealing to Americans as it has been in the past and their industry is shifting and changing in ways that have left many titans turning to Netflix and the smaller screen to adapt (think Scorsese and “The Irishman”).
Like the good capitalists they are, they brought in someone who would appeal to the sensibilities of Americans tired of being told how to think, and shamed for thinking about things in ways different from the Hollywood elite.
It’s always fascinating watching capitalists espouse ideas that are better suited to centrally planned economies, but it’s really nothing new. The point is, narcissists, some studies suggest, are actually pathologically pretty close to neurotics. So Hollywood, a veritable club of narcissists, is worried about their paychecks. Hence, Gervais was brought in to make sure America tuned in. And it worked.
The good news is, though all an act, it was funny. And that’s what Hollywood is supposed to do: entertain us.
If they show signs of backing off political moralizing, then we’re moving back in the direction of balance. And that’s a good thing. And we can get back to rolling our eyes at their unabashed narcissism without feeling bad for not supporting climate change, and still loving them for the drama and the power of their onscreen performances.