The Poison Factory — An Expose of the Hollywood Brain
We all have them — fictional tropes that make our eyes roll or our blood pressure rise. Whether it’s cars that won’t start when a killer is in pursuit, talking gunmen, or damsels in distress, we all dream of having a red buzzer button to blast an electric shock into the buttocks of Hollywood writers. We fantasize about kidnapping them from the plush offices of their gilded boys club and blasting them off to an undiscovered planet called “Earth.”
But our frustration with individual tropes can hide a larger issue. In our disgust over comedies about people talking sex in the office or thrillers about macho heroes with a license to kill, we can miss the forest for the trees. When taken in aggregate, a lot of toxic social messaging is revealed in the “dream factory.” When we look at not just the compilation of what the Hollywood elite is telling us on our screens, but also what it is omitting from them, a bigger picture forms.
Is it, perhaps, not just a picture, but an agenda? Maybe this is not knowable. If we look closely at the picture, however, we can discern the inner workings of the Hollywood brain. And it’s painted in twisted colors.
Here are what the tropes tell us about how the Tinsel Town elite thinks.
Ordinary People are Losers. When not out saving the world or taking explosive revenge against bad guys, our heroes and heroines must come from some iteration of the media. They’re in TV, publishing, radio, pod-casting, video game design, or advertising. They’re actors, musicians, comedians, agents, You-Tube stars, or web designers. If we want to make a story about the lowly ordinaries, we’ll have to put them in one of the industries that serve us. They can be caterers, party planners, florists, publicists, servants, or lawyers. And if we want to say something about the lost — the real losers — there are these places called “offices” where apparently, cameras and winners are completely absent. These people are so deficient they have no hope of even interacting with us, or any other wealthy, famous circles — and they know it. Offices are purgatory for hopeless losers. They are prison cells for automatons from the 1950s. Thus the potential for humor here is endless.
Hey folks, get with it. If you’re not one of us, you’re nobody.
Masculinity is a three-letter word. Our most reliable fans continue to be boys and young men. The oldies are perennial goodies here — CIA, NSA, FBI, DEA, NRC, COP — all these letters spell MAN. You can also try SEAL, SF, RANGER, and any other government organization that will bestow upon him super-power technology and a license to kill. Then just give him a damsel to save or an enemy to avenge, and you’ve got them.
Never forget, guys. MAN = action hero.
Professional Women are Desperate Neurotics. There she is, with her business suit, brief case, and presentation before a board for her brilliant new ad campaign. But the workplace is a hard place. She longs for a man and a baby, and the desire to “have it all” has turned her into a flailing head case. It’s just that she’s so cute about it that a rich man finds her irresistible, and so do we. That wedding gown gets her out of her torment and into paradise. A feel-good story all around.
Remember ladies, the source of your unhappiness is your career. What you really want is a man to save you from it.
Mentally Challenged People are Hilarious. She’s not just a ditz, she’s seriously lacking some marbles. He’s a nitwit whose quirks and low IQ should get him committed. They’re all total losers — but they don’t even know it! Then make them totally selfish — just out to satisfy some weird obsession, and put them all together in some loser-land like an office. Or better yet, put them the dungeon of loser land — a discount super-store! Because nobody but totally stupid, ridiculous losers can be found in places like that. It’s a laugh a minute, every time!
Mentally challenged people are hilarious. And if you’re ordinary, you’re just as much a loser as they are.
Even the Poor are Wealthy. He’s a shoe salesman with a large single-family home in suburbia. She’s a waitress with her own apartment in Manhattan. She’s a maid at a gym who gets a weekly bikini wax. She’s an unpaid intern who eats every day at her favorite restaurant. He’s having to live off his income as a You-Tube wannabe! And they’re all so poor they have to share an Uber! But we’ll make them loveable losers, and laugh all the way to the bank.
Relax, folks. Even the lowest losers among you are wallowing in trust funds. Nobody’s actually poor and desperate.
The off-screen world, is of course, and entirely different story. I live in a world of ordinary people, who work in schools, offices, stores, hospitals, factories, malls, and yes — discount superstores, where I also shop. I don’t consider any of them “losers” because of the absence of cameras and celebrity in their lives. In my America, most men are not, and will never be, action heroes. And this doesn’t make them less as men. Most professional women I work with are married with families. Their husbands are also parents and also deal with problems of child care and competing obligations. A comfortable life requires two incomes. Nobody’s rescuing anybody from the workplace. Mentally challenged people work in our cafeterias, loading docks, and cleaning services. There’s nothing funny about them, nor are they “losers.” They’re just people who need help, making do with what they have. And the poor out here have no trust funds. They don’t inhabit restaurants, single-family homes, or have “people” to handle their grooming. We see them walking miles along the roads to grocery stores, because an Uber, shared or not, would cost them all they have for food.
But the human mind is vulnerable. Messages from our screens can hold powerful sway over how we frame the world and ourselves, especially for the young and unsophisticated. We all hear the Hollywood elite loud and clear.
“You are a pathetic, anonymous, office-dwelling troll. You are a loser.”
“You will never really be a man, but a macho attitude can hide your shame.”
“Your career is the cause of your unhappiness. You will only be happy back in the kitchen.”
“People are laughing at you because you are stupid.”
“There is no crisis. The poor are not actually needy.”
Maybe this messaging is deliberate, and maybe it’s not. It may only be a consequence of the Hollywood elite’s notorious practice of putting at least three states distance between themselves and the great unwashed masses of viewers. In the end it doesn’t matter. The effect is the same.
The only solution to a toxic drip of messages is to replace the messengers. There’s no shortage of criticism of the racism, misogyny, elitism, and general cluelessness of Hollywood’s top producers, writers, and directors. We are already seeing progress in books and video games, where the means of production and dissemination has been made available to a wider pool of creators. The expense of creating live video remains the only obstacle to breaking Hollywood’s stranglehold on movies and serials.
In this age of sweeping social change, we must not focus only on Washington and politicians. There’s another notorious city on a hill that needs storming.