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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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Though his most recent hit was a stint on Celebrity Big Brother, his Web site refers to him as “one of the most sought-after male talents in film and television today” and “one of the few Hollywood actors versatile enough for key roles in everything from The Usual Suspects to Bio-Dome.” 

Other efforts are also frustrated. According to the Washington Post, the new film " Atlas Shrugged was supposed to star Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron; instead, the long-awaited adaptation of Ayn Rand's freedom-loving tract has come to the big screen with actors you've never heard of and no distribution deal.”

And there is no small amount of jealously over the skills on display in liberal Hollywood, including one presenter’s embarrassed compliment for the narrative structure of James Cameron’s Terminator--embarrassed, because Cameron also made the anti-war and environmentalist Avatar. The pro-charter school polemic Waiting for Superman was the subject of unqualified support. As I wrote at In These TimesSuperman, directed by An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim, was panned by many education scholars. But for many conservatives, the film’s success was proof that conservative ideas can win ground on the left, especially when they’re dressed up as a story of poor people of color fighting for justice.”

One young filmmaker at the Hollywood panel expressed his annoyance that festivals would not accept his films, though he suggested that revenge was possible: he claimed that he is chairman of the Mississippi International Film Festival screening committee. “All the liberal documentaries that came through, I shut those down fast,” he declared. (The Mississippi Film Institute says that the speaker was not the chairman of the screening committee but rather a volunteer, and that films were never rejected because of their political content.)

One man was upset that no one was interested in his film, Fear of a Black Republican, “the movie that neither political party wants you to see.” He, like everyone in the room, was by all appearances a white Republican.

Yet B-list actors can make Grade A politicians. For Ronald Reagan, thoroughly lionized at CPAC or any conservative gathering, the invocation and performance of heroic virtues first tried out in Hollywood made a presidency. Reagan is now the stock character for a new generation of political thespians. The drumbeat about manliness, character, virtue and resolve was deafening at CPAC. For all their bluster, it is the conservative movement that brought Hollywood values and a silver screen sensibility to Washington.

Citizen’s United: More than a horrible Supreme Court decision

“Don’t wait for Godot!” Kevin McKeever implored the crowd. He told the audience to steel itself for the rigors of the industry. “It could be that you’re just selling the DVDs out of the trunk of your car. That’s how MC Hammer started!”

While the creatives burrow into Hollywood, the explicitly political new media is bypassing the mainstream. In doing so, they cut out the middleman and directly reach out to their base. Counterintuitively, this strategy also increases pressure on mainstream media to reflect their viewpoint: Breitbart.tv promotes video hatchet jobs; conservative radio and cable news then hector the mainstream media into picking up a fabricated “story” with their perspective baked in; and, finally, the mainstream media succumb to the pressure and oblige.

Citizens United is best known as the plaintiff in the 2010 Supreme Court case that overturned the McCain-Feingold law, obliterating campaign finance restrictions. One might have forgotten that Citizens United is also one of the most important media organizations on the political right. The group put on a constantly running film festival at CPAC, presenting the torrent of documentaries they have produced in recent years attacking President Obama and Hillary Clinton, celebrating Bachmann and Palin, opposing immigration and the ACLU.