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Conservative 'Sleeper Agents' in Hollywood? The Right Wing's New War for Culture

The new conservative mediamakers are shedding the baggage of culture war hangups, freeing up energy to infiltrate culture industries and attack the left.

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The Passion of Christ made over $370 million domestically and over $241 million worldwide, aggressively reaching out to churches nation-wide, a readymade publicity channel for religious right films. The 2009 film The Blind Side won an Oscar, made over $255 domestically, and simultaneously hit a number of right-wing sweet spots: Sandra Bullock is a Southern Christian lady who saves a black boy from the black ghetto, “shedding nuance and complication in favor of maximum uplift” over “vague stories meant...to conjure a world of violence, dysfunction and despair.”

In popular culture as in politics, conservatives don’t openly defend the oppressor against the oppressed. They deny that any such injustice exists--particularly when it comes to race. The overall goal is simple: more movies with clearly defined good and evil. Less moral ambiguity.

Producer Ralph Winter, who made The Fantastic Four and the X-Men trilogy, is an evangelical. He also produced the film versions of the best-selling “Left Behind” book series--the plot of which is: what happens when Jesus comes back? He throws all the non- or wrong-believers into a lake of fire. He has also made a number of “small-budget, direct-to-video movies based on popular Christian novels.”

“I think things are changing in Hollywood,” said Nolte. “You do have a better environment to walk into than there was five years ago. Andrew Breitbart has a lot to do with that...For your country, I think it’s a very patriotic thing to be willing to go in there.”

Megachurches are also tapping their substantial resources to produce sophisticated media in-house. Evangelical producer Dallas Jenkins, the son of one of the “Left Behind” series’ two authors, is now director of visual media at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago and is planning to produce feature films directly out of the church. This is a remarkable feat of vertical integration.

TheChronicles of Narnia and even Lord of the Rings strike religious notes in the guise of fantasy. One Baptist writer, though acknowledging that the “Hobbit habit of ingesting mushrooms and smoking ‘pipe weed" got translated into drug use for counter-culture readers,’ was pleased that the Christian J.R.R. Tolkien had set out “the reality of evil and the task to struggle against it."

After a major delay caused by Chapter 11, MGM is planning to release its remake of the Cold War classic Red Dawn. The original Soviet invasion of the U.S. will be Chinese in the new version.

The biggest, most recent and utterly surprising coup for the religious right is the 3-D “documentary” of tween idol Justin Bieber, whose mother is a devout evangelical Christian. Paramount has a Christian outreach plan with special church screenings, which a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article calls “a page torn from the Passion of the Christ marketing playbook.” (Though Wonkette notes that Focus on the Family is worried that Bieber has fallen prey to an “entertainment industry [that] is a sexual and political minefield” thanks to an ambiguous comment about pre-marital sex.

Hollywood is a complicated thing for the right, which hates it for sex and moral ambiguity but celebrates or declines comment on the glorification of war and crass commercialism. And they blame liberals for everything, including stuff that most liberals dislike. Left-wing forces cannot be held responsible for the music video of 17-year-old pop star Miley Cyrus writhing on a bed in her underwear. The conservative hysterics about Hollywood ignore the role big business plays in keeping the system conservatives so cherish up and running.

Stephen Baldwin, the youngest Baldwin brother and a born-again Christian who was supposed to speak at CPAC but had something else come up, actually got an “HM” tattoo in honor of Hannah Montana after Cyrus promised that if he did, Baldwin would get a cameo appearance on the show. He never appeared.