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July 30, 2008


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Conservatives, if you want to be tough guys, be tough guys. If you want to be whiners, go ahead and whine. But you can't have it both ways.

Incidentally, I like Jon Voight. I once attended a Q&A he gave, and he spent 30 minutes talking about how much he loved working on Anaconda. Political eccentricity just goes with the territory I suppose. People like him don't bother me, whatever I think of their opinions. They're like the proverbial crazy uncle whose rants and raves keep things from getting to dull at the dinner table. On the other hand, smirking little ideologues like K-Lo at NRO drive me up the wall (and that goes for both sides of the aisle though the right certainly seems to have the monolopoly on "woe-is-me by the way I hate those whiners on the other side" hypocrisy these days. All I want is to see twits like her and Hannity face up to the fact that a) the American people are NOT on their side; b) their complete lack of stoicism is unbecoming for people who like to consider themselves traditionalists; c) they are just as much knee-jerk ideologues as the more PC dopes on the other side.

D Cairns

It's a strange comparison for the right to be making, since according to Ann Coulter, as I understand it, the blacklist was a good thing.

Differences between then and now? As far as I know, there is no US government investigation to find out who's a Republican so they can be banned from working. Instead, we have the possibility that when an actor chooses to mouth off in public about his or her views, some potential employers might be put off. Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't that always been the case, and doesn't it fall under the heading "fair enough"?


It's true, Ann Coulter speaks for every last conservative. If she says it, I believe it.

As for the rest of it, no, I don't believe that Voight is going to lose much work for this, as he's been working steadily for forty years, and has been openly conservative for some time. Same with Dennis Hopper, and others. And Charlie Sheen didn't get bounced off his shitty TV show for being a 9/11 Truther.

However, I think it's quite fair to say that conservatives in Hollywood are looked at "askance" by their legion of liberal colleagues. And I just find the whole notion that they're whispered about as though they have herpes or something to be...I suppose "interesting" is the word I'm looking for.

Glenn Kenny

Your point is valid, Bill—but I also think it has to do with years of built-up perception creating a reality; a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. The fallout from both the Cold War and the counterculture molded Hollywood into a culture wherein the baseline expectation was that if you worked there, you simply HAD to be a liberal. Which of course is not so, and there's no legitimate reason it should be so. Might make an interesting historical study...

That said, I don't think Breitbart treats the issue with any particular acuity. "Mr. Spielberg, tear down this wall," was the title of his first column, and that was a cheap shot in any number of respects.


Yes, I would say that's most likely true, and would explain a certain amount of surprise felt by a large group of liberals who suddenly discover a few conservatives in their midst. But I get the feeling that "surprise" doesn't quite cover it. I think "blacklist" overshoots it, but the reaction isn't positive.


When the government revokes Voight's passport I'll take the HUAC comparison seriously.


I agree with everyone: HUAC and the blacklist was bad.

But does it bother any of you that, say, Dalton Trumbo was a lifelong unrepentent supporter of Communism, and Stalinism? What if he'd been a lifelong supporter of fascism, and Nazism?


Wait... Why is Jon Voight writing op-ed pieces for a newspaper? Or was that John Voight the periodontist?


For the same reason Sean Penn writes open letters to the President.

Glenn Kenny

Bill—interesting question, one whose answer, at least as far as I'm concerned, continues to evolve. It ties in with some of the observations Kent Jones made on a thread after I posted on Stephanie Zacherek's review of that Godard biography.

So—I'm actually not bothered by the fact that Trumbo was an unrepentant Stalinist, because Trumbo the artist means very little to me. I think most of his stuff is high-minded pap. The great films his name is attached, or not officially attached, to, aren't great because of him. If I thought he was a great artist, if I had some reverence or awe for his work, then, yeah, I suppose it would bother me. I'd be repelled, much as I'm repelled by the anti-semitism of Wagner or Celine or Pound. Except that for me, Wagner and Celine and Pound are all great artists whose works are worth grappling with. I wish they had not been anti-semites, but they were, and insofar as that is evident in the work, I have to grapple with it. All told, I think Flaubert's dictum to George Sand means more to me all the time: "The man is nothing, the work is everything." Judging artists by who seems the nicest guy, who's got the "best" politics, who's got the worst, and such, is like, say, choosing a President based on which candidate you'd rather have a beer with.

As for Trumbo, there's more sentimentality than Stalinism in the all-important work. But if he did in fact keep flying the flag for old Joe until his dying day, he doesn't even qualify for Kingsley Amis' famed designation "fucking fool" (e.g. a fool who you expect to know better).

And I think about as highly of Sean Penn's efforts in the op-ed arena as I do Voight's.


Yes, it bothers me. But what I look at is the movies, and when I look at the blacklist era what I see are tattered filmographies for many talented individuals. We'll never know just how much American film lost through those years, and no one has ever been able to prove that the national security was improved by it in any respect. The fact that Trumbo embraced a bankrupt and morally blinkered ideology doesn't turn Roman Holiday into I Am Cuba. Communism in the U.S. remained a distinctly minority view with no great popular traction whatever. (The same cannot be said, however, for quasi-fascist organizations violently enforcing segregation in the South.)

It is also worth noting that unlike Trumbo, a number of blacklisted individuals were not Communists at all, or had long since disavowed the party.

In any event, all this is a digression. While Glenn's line about "The Champ" made me laugh harder than I have all week, Voight is a talented actor who was memorable indeed in things like Midnight Cowboy and Deliverance. If he wants to write tendentious op-eds he can knock himself out as far as I'm concerned. The next time he's in a good movie I'll still go see it, and I find Wells' attitude puzzling. But his notion that a few people choking on their canapes when a cocktail-party guest plumps for Bush somehow equals the wreckage of the blacklist era is rubbish.

And anyway, aren't people like NRO's Corner all proclaiming that Christopher Nolan deliberately produced a pro-Bush allegory? They can't have it both ways -- "Hollywood's hottest director loves Bush, and the parallels are obvious, but all the same there's a GOP BLACKLIST I tell you." Why the insistence on turning Then Vs. Now into some sort of victimization Grand Prix?


Excuse me, that should be "THE notion that a few people choking ..." not "HIS notion." Bad pronoun antecedent. I was talking about Voight's defenders, not Voight.


Glenn, I'm actually pretty much with you on all of that. Admiring the artistic endeavors of someone who you also know to be a miserable bastard is a difficult conundrum we all have to wrestle with. But my point -- which, for some reason, I didn't bother stating -- was more that HUAC and the blacklist are always thrown around in these sorts of conversations without ever being put in its proper context. I am assuredly not the person who can really put it in its proper context, but I do think that it's worth noting that Trumbo WAS a Stalinist, and knowing what we all do about Stalin, maybe there was a good reason for HUAC. It all went very badly, of course, and people quite innocent of anything suffered. I'm just a little tired of all American Communists of the time being portrayed as brave little guys who just wanted the poor and meek and get their fair share. People like Trumbo -- and he wasn't alone -- supported a murderous, nightmarish tyrant, and wanted something similar to rise up in America. Whether they deluded themselves about the "murderous" part (I imagine they probably did) quickly becomes irrelevant.


Well, let's see here:

1) I do not care about the political opinions of Jon Voight.

2) I do not care about any opinion held by Jeffrey Wells (I can see the two of us in a bar having a beer rapidly turning into some kind of fistfight, which is why I don't visit Hollywood Elsewhere).

So I'm left with apathy. Voight's entitled to his opinion and frankly I'd rather have arguments over whether or not Obama is a socialist (and all the Europeans reading are laughing like hell at the idea, I'm sure) than yet MORE racewank.


If I based my moviegoing on a person's politics, I'd have missed an awful lot of classic movies from Ford, Hawks (who was anti-Semitic, f'God's sake), Capra, McCarey, etc., not to mention those starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Myrna Loy, Jean Arthur, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Adolphe Menjou, Clint Eastwood, et al.

I think I may set up a website to list all of the Hollywood folks who have acknowledged they're conservatives. The list would be several miles long.


Don't forget Kevin Sorbo.


My question was not rhetorical. I really want to know why Jon Voight is writing op-eds. With Penn, I expect it (and, like most people, find it annoying). I had no idea that Voight was one of those I'm-an-actor-so-I-have-to-have-a-public-opinion-on-everything blowhards. And why should the National Review really treasure his opinion? Why are the political opinions of actors so important? What about the opinions of sous-chefs on the NBA-referee scandal? Or the opinions of landscape architects on media consolidation? Am I the only one that sees the political thoughts of all actors as non-sequiters? If it's about the campaign money, then I suppose I can understand. The propaganda value of Voight's opinion for the Right, however, will probably be about as important as Penn's opinions are for the Left--i.e. neutral at best, but most likely harmful. I only wish the Democrats had FEWER actors on their side.


Joel - That's fair enough, and so I shall now answer your question: I have no idea. I know that Voight sometimes makes the rounds on conservative talk shows, though I don't think ever heard him.

As a conservative film lover, the only reason my day might be brightened by news of an actor's (or other artist's) political views would be if the person was talented I could at least think, "Well, there's ONE, anyway." Juvenile and meaningless, I'll admit, but one takes what one can get to get through the day.

Then again, you have a guy like Gary Sinise who is a conservative and is quietly out there doing good, decent, concrete things to help US soldiers and Iraqi citizens. I like knowing that, though his deeds would be just as good if he were a liberal, obviously.

Herman Scobie

I'm with those who ignore the political views of those in the arts. John Wayne's extremist opinions don't distract from my enjoyment of his excellent performances in The Quiet Man and The Searchers.

I admire Voight for his ability to restart his career as a character actor after his days as a star were long gone. Like William Hurt, he's actually much better in supporting roles than as a leading man.

The problem with his Obama comments is not that he's a conservative daring to offer his views in public. There's absolutely nothing wrong with celebrities talking about politics--as long as they're well informed about whatever the issues are. Voight's comments, however, verge on the ravings of a lunatic. Obama is the devil, and if he's elected, we'll all have to look under the bed before going to sleep. In this regard, he's the right-wing version of Sean Penn, a particularly obnoxious, know-very-little blowhard.

cadavra: I've always seen Loy identified as a devout Democrat, and I don't recall Jean Arthur's politics being discussed in John Oller's outstanding bio.

bill: While putting the blacklist into historical context, we have to remember that Trumbo and his pals didn't just wake up one morning and decide to be commies. Their views were products the social and economic turmoil of their times, helped along by the anti-union policies of the Hollywood studios. I haven't seen the new Trumbo doc yet, but in all the interviews I've seen and read, he comes off as an insufferably smug bastard.

I've been a loyal Wells reader since his Mr. Hollywood days, and while I don't agree with much of what he says about movies and other topics--his view of McCain's new anti-Obama ad yesterday was especially obtuse--he is endearing because of the passion and liveliness of his writing. He's a true American eccentric.

Glenn Kenny

To get back to some of the points made above by Bill and Campaspe...I think they're both right! In the scramble to claim the highest moral ground, more often than not truth, or at the very least, honesty, is the first casualty. Yes, HUAC as conducted was a travesty and a tragedy. And also yes, Alger Hiss was guilty as sin. And it goes on and on. But finally, Campaspe's point about the blacklist resulting in quite a bit more than social ostracization is what makes the latter-day comparisons most galling. Cadavra's list of some of our favorite stars is also constructive...it almost makes one believe that Hollywood was once a place of lively political debate rather than polarization.


While I don't particularly care about an actor's views once I sit down to watch a movie, neither do I subscribe to the idea that actors' political opinions are intrinsically worthless. There are plenty of actors with cogent and well-thought-out political beliefs, and plenty of examples of beneficial activism on the part of actors. Even if we're talking about a total gasbag, if an actor feels a duty to use his fame as a platform, so what? As distasteful as I found Voight's editorial, I find Laura's Ingraham's exhortation to "Shut Up and Sing" to be about ten times worse--as well as historically illiterate, since where would Ms Ingraham be if Mr. Reagan had followed her advice?


"Cadavra's list of some of our favorite stars is also constructive...it almost makes one believe that Hollywood was once a place of lively political debate rather than polarization."

Excellent point. Oh well. Those were the days, I guess.


I've had the art vs. artist discussion so many times that I'd prefer it if all art were created by robots in future.

What does interest me about this discussion is the fact that Voight was able to publish an op-ed in The Washington Times. Why does he get space and someone with fact-based opinions doesn't? Because 1) he's a celebrity, our country's new authority class on just about everything, 2) he's a celebrity who will draw stargazing readers, particularly fans of Angeline Jolie, 3) he's a celebrity who is guaranteed to say something so inarticulate that it will become controversial and buzz all over the world

Number 3 is the most important, and this post and all the other blogs that have commented on it prove how newspapers get traction these days. More and more pundits from government service are now on news staffs or regular columnists. More and more columnists are saying outrageous things that will provoke a response. If you read The Daily Howler regularly, you'll become very familiar with the culprits and their M.O. The internet has made it easier for pundit narratives to be accepted facts in a matter of hours. Whether you believe in Voight's opinion, his view is now travelling at the speed of light around the world. I wonder if Wells' is getting farther than the entertainment blogs?

When it comes to Hollywood, I wouldn't count on it being so all-fired liberal. People with money like to keep it, and that often brings out the conservative streak when push comes to shove.


Hurm? I was over at HE, reading the comments for the post wherein Wells explains himself, and someone there is glad I "boycott" that site. Did I say I boycott it? I can't imagine I did say that, because I don't. Also, this has been a very civil discussion, so I can only assume Mr. or Mrs. T. S. Idiot dislikes me because I don't agree with them about something.

Since I tried to comment over there, but had some log-in computer issues, Mr or Mrs. Idiot, if you're still reading, I apologize for not agreeing with you about whatever it is we don't agree about.

Glenn Kenny

That comment struck me as kind of odd too. But, you know, I cannot be responsible for any of the statements of commenters at Jeff's site.

Dan Coyle


THIS should be an interesting site to look at for y'all...


Wells is quite pleased with his new banning phase, so it comes as no surprise he would metaphorically suggest one in reality. Such is the distance between alleged liberals and future fascists.


I'm certainly not taking the opinion that someone's political views are meaningless just because that person is a famous actor. I'm taking the opinion that a newspaper asking a celebrity to write an op-ed piece BECAUSE he is a famous actor is weird. Unless that person has decided to run for office, or even plays a major role in some kind of political organization, then his opinion is just the opinion of average citizen--valuable when it comes time to vote, but inexplicably weird to encounter in a daily newspaper, even one that fills the Reverend Moon's coffers. However, I was not aware that Voight has been on conservative talk shows, which at least gives this editorial decision a smidgen of precedent. And Bill, I think that Sinise is an excellent person to point to and say, "Well, there's ONE anyway." A very good actor, and, from what I can tell, a decent guy.


There are indeed some actors and actresses who have opinions they can validate with facts and cogent arguments. Those opinions are valid, in my opinion. Jon Voight's commentary had neither. That the W.T. chose to run it is evidence to me that they wanted to create buzz, not encourage the development of insight.


Wait, why does anyone give a shit what Jon Voight thinks? Am I the only one who suffered through his astonishing non-performance in Transformers? Seriously, he raised "phoning it in" to the level of art. He didn't even phone it in, it's more like he text messaged it in. And the text message had lots of spelling and grammar errors. And the content of the message read something like, "I eat shit!"

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