Why don't the movies have plausible, real-world villains anymore? One reason is that stereotype-sensitive advocacy groups, representing everyone from hyphenated ethnic minorities and physically handicapped people to Army and CIA veterans, now maintain a liaison in Hollywood to protect their image. The studios themselves often have an "outreach program" in which executives are assigned to review scripts and characters with representatives from these groups, evaluate their complaints, and attempt to avoid potential brouhahas.Read the whole thing (and if the Journal's Web site wants you to subscribe, remember that Google is your friend). What I find ironic about Epstein's analysis is that, by making corporate types into baddies, Hollywood appears to be vivisecting its own golden goose. After all, what sort of entity better embodies the faceless corporation better than a pulp-churning, artistically tone deaf Tinseltown studio? Not that the studios necessarily mean to cut their own throats. Epstein notes how Hollywood's aversion to offending certain demographics arises out of a desire to safeguard revenue and that "CEOs and financiers have no connection with the studios' outreach programs." Yet as my undergrad literature professor Leland Ryken noted in one of his books, characters in stories "undertake an experiment in living ... [and] its final success or failure is a comment on the adequacy or inadequacy of the morality or world view on which the experiment was based." By portraying its own model of business as a failed existence, Hollywood undermines the very ground on which it stands.
Finding evil villains is not as easy as it was in the days when a director could choose among Nazis, communists, the KGB and Mafiosi, though they have served in a pinch. The 2002 apocalyptic thriller, "Sum of All Fears," was based on the Tom Clancy novel in which Muslim extremists explode a nuclear bomb in Baltimore. But Paramount decided to change the villains to Nazi businessmen residing in South Africa to avoid offending Arab-American and Islamic groups. "The list of non-offensive villains narrows quickly once you get past the tired clichés of Nazis," a top talent agency executive pointed out to me in an email. "You'd be surprised at how short the list is." And even Nazis have now aged out of contemporary-movie contention.
(Picture: CC 2005 by Shavar Ross)