Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hollywood Conservatives: The Thoughtful Post

The idea that Hollywood is the only place where co-workers feel uncomfortable talking politics at work -- adorable.

Seriously? I get back after 14 hours on location with no internet, and apparently people are unclear what I meant on the last post? Let me go into the comments ...

... okay, that's pretty hilarious. I have Josh Olson not only swearing that in his experience working with many conservatives he's never seen or heard of any of these problems, but he's using his own infamous reputation as an asshole as his cred. That, my friends, is self-awareness.

I also like how he calls out the bullshit Kelsey Grammer peddles about US veterans hiding their service. He's right -- that doesn't pass the smell test if you've spent five seconds on an actual set. That set is full of TEAMSTERS, sparky, and these days probably includes several ex-servicemen (we had some Iraqi vets on our first episode crew). Anyone dissing US soldiers on a set in Hollywood ain't gonna make it away from the craft services table in one piece. The claim is equally ridiculous if set in the executive suite.

Right, let me do two versions of this post.


1.) If you are a Hollywood conservative who feels uncomfortable talking about politics because most of your co-workers are aggressively, vocally liberal --you are a person with whom I sympathize.

To be honest, I don't sympathize to any great degree, because frankly you should grow a pair. But I get it. I would urge you, however, to go ahead and bring it up in conversation if you feel so inclined. It'll be fine. It's been fine for the last 15 years I've been having arguments in writers' rooms. It'll make an interesting lunch. Just don't mistake argument for oppression, because that's punk shit.

If you think I can't empathize with your plight, you have not been at the shabbat dinners where I suggested that Israel clusterbombing Lebanon was a war crime. To be fair, the time I asked how much longer Jews could "legitimately play the Holocaust card" was probably a wee more awkward ...

2.) If you are a Hollywood conservative who feels you may lose work because liberals will torpedo your career -- you are a person with whom I sympathize ...

... but doubt that it will be a problem in 99.9995% of situations, based on my 15 year career of hiring, and being hired by, and working with conservatives in Hollywood. Counter-examples of career damages are anecdotal (I mean that in the statistical, not disparitive sense), and no system can correct for individual intolerant douchebags.

I understand your unease, even if I think it's generally unjustified. A bit like liquid explosives on planes, if you get my drift. Oh, and you kind of have to pretend that post 9/11 Hollywood never happened. But cool.

3.) If you are a Hollywood conservative who believes that conservatives in Hollywood currently suffer widespread, organized and systemic career damage at the hands of liberal Hollywood to an extent which is in any way comparable to a blacklist, never mind The Blacklist -- which as noted involved Congressional hearings, public disgrace, federal jail time and the utter termination of your working careers -- you are the self-pitying self-indulgent narcissist with your head super-far up your ass to whom I was referring.

You may also be a manipulative hack who enjoys the publicity that comes with being a contrarian. Either/or. Possibly one spiced with the other. Or you may not actually understand the meaning of the word "blacklist." I'm down with any of these.

I would note there seems to be a non-negligible difference in how these things are handled in the TV and film worlds -- film seems to be more extreme. Also, there's definitely a generational issue. Where Baby Boomers seem to hold their beliefs quite passionately, Gen X was the Reagan Generation. The majority of us are conservatives, we grew up in a pretty conservative context as far as politics and culture go, and so even liberal Gen X'ers tend to have a bit more of a get-along vibe.

Most of you can move on. If I seemed like I was being glib, before, it was because I assumed everyone would understand the last post was addressed to that third category of humans. For those of you who want me to "engage", fine -- but this is time I'm not getting back on my deathbed, and you owe me. Some of my conservative readers raise some good points -- and seem to be getting spooked unnecessarily -- so let me see if I can hack this out.



We have to do a couple things, here when looking at articles like the one in The Hollywood Reporter: "Republicans in biz feel stifled, bullied", or the various arguments about the plight of conservatives in Hollywood. We have to parse out the claims, by severity and intent. Now, this is sometimes tricky, because perfectly justifiable claims -- discomfort, anecdotal evidence of discrimination, etc. -- are often in these articles lumped in with arguments of a larger scope. Not only that, these larger arguments are often put forth by people who seem to have ulterior motives, or are linking smaller examples in an attempt to imply patters of behavior unsupported by statistics or common sense.

For example, the article somehow moves from a general discussion of the social plight of conservatives in Hollwyood to Andrew Klavan's argument that liberals (apparently all of us) think all conservatives are "evil", persecute them as if they were indeed evil, and then neatly moves on to Klavan's claim of how movies made by "people who sit around at Skybar discussing their pacifist world view" have seeped into culture excessively and been subsequently rejected.

I mean, seriously, step back -- what the hell does that section about Iraq movies have to do with the rest of the article? Nada. But it is some goddam tasty message discipline. The whole "there isn't conservative entertainment because we are actively being foiled" argument has neatly hijacked, for a few lines, what might otherwise be a pretty interesting piece on Hollywood culture.

(NOTE: I have been to Skybar, and there's very little political discourse going on. However, big bonus points for the "effete dissolute Hollyweird elitism" card being played by an actual Hollywood screenwriter. That is some populist jujitsu there.)

In a a cumulative, ascending ladder of severity:

Social discomfort -- you feel uncomfortable bringing up your political views in mixed company, and when you do you feel "bullied."

Well, okay, sorry. Like I've said, most of my encounters of this kind are nothing more than heated lunch conversations. Then you get back to work , because you are making television and there is no goddam time for anything else occupying the brain pan. If you feel the argument is crossing into actual hostility, it's fair to call"foul" -- but hey, that's common sense you'd use in any other argument in any other setting.

However, please remember -- you belong to a group which so demonizes your career and co-workers that the mere mention of your city of employment is a one-word shorthand for "life-destroying sodomites and traitors". Hollywood Conservatives are like Log Cabin Republicans: "Oh, yeah, they hate us and everything we stand for -- but not us specifically. So that's cool." It can seem a bit inexplicable, and things may get a bit spiky.

Career Damage -- as noted in the comments, there seem to be a few incidental anecdotes of people losing jobs once they become high-profile Republicans/conservatives. Yet I and multiple other commenter have years of experience countering those few stories. You want to know when I met Mel Gibson? In the office of Dean Devlin, the dude who produced Who Killed the Electric Car? When I met Stephen Baldwin? When he started working with Ross Richie, owner of BOOM! comics, who is politically so far left I could argue he's Molly Ivins' brain transplanted into a Texas halfback's body. Working with or hiring a conservative is so common, there's even a shorthand for it I've heard countless times: "Great guy. Just don't talk politics with him." At which point you nod knowingly and hire the person, becaue they are the best person for the job, and the job is everything. If you become very good friends you argue over wrap party drinks.

Now, if it seems like I'm arguing from anecdote, I am. Because that's what the opposing argument is. And as we here at Kung Fu Monkey know: the plural of anecdote is not data, so if the argument is based on trading anecdotes, it is no argument at all. So you can either listen to some people (oddly the same five people who show up in all these articles) who always seem bend the discussion around to their own specific agenda, and you can be freaked out -- or assume it's chill and just put your head down and work.

However, I will put this out there, publicly: if this happens to you, if you lose a gig because you are a conservative, you e-mail me at If it seems real, I will dedicate a separate blog post to every single incident that crosses my desk.

On a side note, there was one commenter who noted that in some jobs, as a low-level dude, you need to keep your mouth shut, or you'd be fired. You are Category Two, and I sympathize. However, I will point out -- I once saw somebody fire a five year old. I've seen people fired because they didn't go get their boss's blow fast enough. Welcome to Hollywood. It's awful. Politics will be the least of your worries in your hopefully long career.

Collusion on top of discrimination in order to further a specific entertainment agenda: The industry infrastructure -- either social or professional -- needed to support this sort of widespread collusion frankly just doesn't exist. I'm going to revisit the flaws in the latest versions of this argument (apparently, the entire Hollywood entertainment industry was bent to the singular mission of making In the Valley of Elah, only to be foiled) in a later post, but for now just review here and here where I use actual data to make my point -- something you will see sadly but consistently lacking in all counterarguments. And I mean all.

But right now it's 1:30 in the goddam morning. Work on your spec, and we'll be back soon with some media and writing discussions.

In the Comments: your favorite "fired in Hollywood" story.


DJ said...

I love "Sky bar". Being a Canadian, socialized medicine loving, liberal, commie I love anywhere in LA I can smoke. I smoke because of the socialized medicine and because the legal smoking age in Canada is baptism.

John said...

Can I just say, Rogers, that "the plural of anecdote is not data," sweet zombie Jesus I'm gonna put that on a plaque over my desk. Brilliant.

marc said...

Does anyone know the origin ? Was it part of some vicious liberal attack on Reagan ?

psa said...

I've watched a dumb ass hippie mofo get frog marched off set for repeatedly dinking with props and being a lazy, stoned fuck wit. I've seen people fired for incompetence or just plain bad luck, wrong place, wrong time. Hell, I lost a call back fight due to the sort of every day, petty politics that have nothing at all to do with one's larger political views. I've worked with crew members that were veterans of Gulf War 1, in Canada and their politics were plain for all to see and nobody was about to question them, not because they were afeared but because those cats were damn good at their jobs. Doing 14 hour days, if you are the biggest liberal on earth and you suck at your gig, you're gone. If you are a star at what you do and you sit somewhere to Reagan's right, you'll be a very busy cat. The myth of the politics of Hollywood and all of its branch offices is belied by the actual interest of the game, money. Make money = good. Not make money = bad. Everythng else is a side issue.

Joshua James said...

"However, please remember -- you belong to a group which so demonizes your career and co-workers that the mere mention of your city of employment is a one-word shorthand for "life-destroying sodomites and traitors". Hollywood Conservatives are like Log Cabin Republicans: "Oh, yeah, they hate us and everything we stand for -- but not us specifically. So that's cool."

That was so awesome -

yesminomu said...

KitsuneStudios said...

On a side note, there was one commenter who noted that in some jobs, as a low-level dude, you need to keep your mouth shut, or you'd be fired.

That's not Hollywood, that's LIFE. Plenty of conservative/liberterian MBAs out there perfectly willing and able to swing the axe the other way.

I'm only semi-associated with Hollywood (Canadian Animation). The only firings I've seen were work related issues: Person A had an ego so big that he felt actual work was beneath him, claimed his scribbles would "Revolutionize the industry" and screwed off for a week, 2 weeks into his employment. The other went into hiding after missing a deadline, to the point where his parents couldn't find him, and we had to call the cops to see if he was still alive. The second time that happened, he was gone.

Me, my first layoff cam a month after getting a lecture on loyalty for asking to get a copy of my first professional work for my demo reel. I was laid off for an intern who knew more software than I did, and was nearly fired in the following 2-week period for trying to find another job on company time. It was the best lesson I've ever received in "Corporate Loyalty".

Cunningham said...

Welcome to Hollywood. It's awful. Politics will be the least of your worries in your hopefully long career.

Yeah - I think you hit the nail on the head, John. In Hollywood your career can be damaged in so many ways that your politics is waaaay down on the list. I've seen some awful things...


anonymousassistant said...

Thanks for clarifying your position. I was disappointed to think that you lumped us all together, and I'm glad to learn I was wrong.

As for "Welcome to Hollywood" (or even, "That's LIFE"), true enough, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Ally said...

You know what John? I don't think it's appropriate to discuss politics, sex or religion at work. I come to work to work, and they get their money's worth. But I don't come to work to argue, and I really, really resent the number of people I run into in the course of doing my job who:

a) Have the ability to fire me (I'm an assistant in a tough, volatile, paranoid department. Being good at my job - which I am - should be enough, but anyone who works in this business knows that's not how it works.)
b) Assume that everyone who surrounds them not only holds the same political beliefs but really wants to talk about them in a work setting. This involves the assumption that naturally I would really like to talk shit about "The Others" with them.

I'm a liberal who's going to vote for Obama, and I'm not claiming that I got fired because someone was mean to me about politics, but I am telling you straight: people, powerful executives, have responded with horror that I declined to be drawn into a "We hate Palin!" conversation, people have point-blank asked me if I was anti-abortion, people have point-blank asked me who I voted for last time, people have point-blank asked me who I'm voting for this time, people have chided me openly for saying mild things like "I don't really like to talk about things like that at work". My favorite is the exec who, in a meeting that derailed into Palin-bashing, turned to lowly, note-taking me and said "You're not voting for her, are you?" My boss, my boss' boss, etc were in that meeting. What am I supposed to say? "I don't think that's any of your business, and it's inappropriate of you to even ask that question at work"? I make 16 dollars an hour. I just want to do my freaking job and go home. That's not a hill I'm going to die on. So I shook my head and said that no, of course I would never vote for that crazy lady, and after a few minutes they left me alone. Maybe that's okay to you and a lot of other people because I really am not voting for that crazy lady, but I don't think it is. At all.

A lot of this stuff you find so offensive - people whining that it's hard for them at work - could be avoided if people just remembered that no, it's NOT APPROPRIATE to have conversations at work about how retarded Republicans (OR Democrats) are. You strike me as a really decent guy who happens to enjoy arguing at work. And you know what, if I were the assistant in your room, I would profoundly resent how insensitive you were to my discomfort when you turned to me for the umpteenth time with some version of REPUBLICANS ARE DUMBASSES AMIRITE? I would sit there and be amazed that you didn't get that no I cannot speak my mind to a man who has the ability to derail my career.

Josh Olson said...


As a feature guy, I can't speak to the TV experience specifically, but these things aren't so radically different in my end of the business. If I'm in a story meeting, nothing is off topic. It can't be. Rape, incest, the existence of God, the nature of reality, the pros and cons of the Iraq war, the size of my pecker... these things are not only all fair game, they HAVE to be. What we do doesn't exist in a vacuum. EVERYTHING IS MATERIAL.

You're clearly eloquent and thoughtful, and I would imagine someone of your intellect would be an asset to whoever they worked for, but if you are made uncomfortable by the mention of certain subjects, you should probably reconsider your decision to work in or near the creative side of this - or any - business.

And yeah, the waters get muddy. A discussion about a plot point in your script taps into current events can easily degenerate into a mindless round of Palin-bashing, but at the same time, something may come out of that that's useful to the work.

Believe it or not, I not only understand your discomfort, I even share it sometimes. I'm enough of a contrarian that when I find myself in a room full of people who take it on faith, for example, that I think Palin's a moron, part of me recoils. I want to argue the point, I want to confront the perceived smugness. At the same time, when it comes to THAT subject, at least, I take it as a tacit acknowledgement that they don't perceive me as a moron, because, let's face - the woman's a train wreck.

Today's stupid political argument is tomorrow's third act set piece. I do understand your discomfort, and I sympathize, but no subject can be off limits in a writers' room.

John said...

Josh Olson speaks the truth. (Which is not surprising.)

While I can appreciate Ally's sentiments and sympathize a bit, if you're in this business - by which I mean showbiz in general, I work in the theatre myself but the moral of the story is the same - there has to be the simple realization that we don't work at a bank. This is not a normal job and the normal rules don't apply.

It doesn't mean that you don't act like a professional, but acting like a professional here is based on a different set of criteria than a "normal" job.

As Olson points out, if we had to hew to the rules of the rest of the working world, we'd never get any work done. And speaking from my own personal experience, if we had to stick to the "don't date your co-workers" rule none of us would ever get laid, since getting to sleep with at least one other person in the show is practically a contractual guarantee in the theatre.

Ally said...

Josh, I absolutely get your point. (And I promise I am not sitting in the corner feeling scandalized about stripper jokes.)

I know that a lot of people enjoy arguing, and I genuinely don't want them to stop arguing. I don't even want them to stop going "Hey, want to argue with me?"

I'd just really appreciate it if people were able to respect my disinterest in arguing politics with them. (And if they didn't take that lack of interest as evidence of me... being some kind of neo-con fascist, that would be pretty great but may be too much to ask.)

John said...

You could always just say, "eh, I don't really follow politics."

Or claim you're a member of the National Socialist Libertarian Green Party. That'll shut down conversation really quick.

(Note: actual political party. I am not making this up.)

Anonymous said...

Ally -

Part of your problem is that any workplace geared towards producing products which communicate with an audience is to a certain extent in the business of surfing the zeitgeist. So the jokes flow.

I worked at a mail order company with a catalog that the customers enjoyed for its humor. We were cracking jokes all day, every day. To not join in and push other people further along the paths they were on would have been destructive of the work atmosphere. And we were selling frickin' nick-nacks.

I can't even imagine hoping to end the running jokes in an actual entertainment company. YOU get to decide what everyone else can talk about? Without at least coming up with some witty way to keep the conversation going? Find a job in some other field.

Monsterbeard said...

Wait, I came to the comments actually looking for termination horror stories. Come on people, give me nightmares!

qdpsteve said...

Ally-- just wanted to write to say, although Josh also made some good points in rebuttal, I empathize and generally agree with you 100%. No matter your politics or the work environment, your privacy has value and should be better respected.

You're the kind of "liberal Hollywood type" this aspiring (conservative) screenwriter hopes to work with someday. :-)

Clark said...

Congrats, Conservative Republicans in Hollywood. You've successfully discovered what the far greater number of us liberals working in businesses of somewhere between 100 and 500 employees have already discovered in the rest of the country. Most of your co-workers are shocked to discover you don't share their political views.

Only, owning to the fact that there's a LOT MORE Waukesha, Wisconsin's (yes THAT Waukesha..."spittle emitting rage at socialist Democrats at a McCain rally" Waukesha) than Hollywood, California's out there, there are a LOT MORE of us, and yes, your complaints do seem like whining to me (and I suspect, the bulk of us). I had a co-worker member of the liberal underground at my workplace informed by her boss that she'd, "never hired a democrat before," in a tone of voice that strongly suggested she'd try never to make that mistake again.

So if you feel uncomfortable in your politics, try to are carrying the karmic balance for a LEGION of white collar workers everyehere else who endure an ENDLESS ONSLAUGHT of "Nobama" emails, of "have you heard the latest about Hussien Obama" watercooler conversations, and pro-conservative cartoons left on your desk in what might be considered "humor" drive-bys. I'm sorry no-one appreciates your McCain support.

But stop feeling sorry for yourself. Because, from where I'm sitting, that's just narcissistic, self-indulgent BS whining from a group of people I increasingly feel are never so happy as when they're feeling sorry for themselves.

darms said...

I've got nothing to do w/Hollywood/film/video but I've had to put up w/right-wing blowhards at various jobs the last thirty+ years - da poowr wittle consoivwatives fweel poisecuted these days? Awww, gee, ya poowr babies, leeme pway you a wuwwaby on my tiny viowin...

Singularity said...

I worked for a management company in Beverly Hills. The CEO of my company fored an assistant because she brought him a cup of coffee with bubbles around the rim. To be fair, she had been asked to scoop out the bubbles...

Singularity said...

and by fored, I mean fired, of course...

Monsterbeard said...

Bubbles around the rim? That's what I'm talking about! I can't wait to get fired from a job like that!

Also, with all due respect to whatever political beliefs you have, can we not be dicks to each other about it? I respect someone a whole lot more if they're turning away from the Two-Minute Hate, rather than throwing a book at the screen.

Josh Turner said...

In Athens, the birthplace of democracy, your political affiliation became part of your name, and was voiced when you met someone. Understand your beliefs, and be prepared to stand by them, and people challenging them won't scare you. We all need to sack up a bit, and be prepared for people to disagree with us, otherwise there will never be real debate in this country, issues will lack nuance, and those that disagree with us will be "other."

John Bates said...

On a side note, there was one commenter who noted that in some jobs, as a low-level dude, you need to keep your mouth shut, or you'd be fired.

That's not Hollywood, that's LIFE. Plenty of conservative/liberterian MBAs out there perfectly willing and able to swing the axe the other way.

I'm not a Hollywood worker. Instead, I spend my time dealing with Wall Street types, and though I've never been shy about voicing my views, I've also never been one to announce them. Fortunately, I'm good enough at what I do so that I rarely even wince anymore when my CEO introduces me as "the company's token liberal."

On one particular occasion I was introduced that way to a room full of billionaires. We all did our regular pitch, and then the meeting broke up into the typical meet-n-greet.

Amidst the ebb and flow, I wound up briefly standing alone in an isolated corner of the room. One investor in a meticulously tailored suit kind of sidled up to me, looked around, and in a low voice said, "You know, I'm a liberal, too."

The moment was surreal to me. I was quite caught off guard, and almost laughed at the apparent absurdity of his caution. I really didn't know how to respond, so I blinked and asked, "But do you know the secret handshake?"

сборные дачные дома said...

I fully match with the article.