October 11, 2016
My NEW Taki’s column: Jonah Goldberg Goes to the Movies
Before every national election, TCM devotes considerable airtime to political fare, but this year—along with slotting in old reliables like The Best Man and Gabriel Over the White House—they tried something new: handing coveted “Guest Programmer” spots to National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and, as his opposite number, Leon Wieseltier, formerly of The (now eviscerated) New Republic. (…)
Wieseltier called out Trump by name on TCM. Goldberg, on the other hand, never so much as alluded to Hillary Clinton. I’ll bet TCM pointedly asked both men to restrict their remarks to the philosophical and abjure the nakedly partisan, and (of course) the liberal broke the rule and (of course) the conservative did not.
(Which, to quote a classic film that understandably wasn’t on either man’s short list, sounds like “the history of the world for the past twenty years.”)
So which movies did Jonah Goldberg pick?
RELATED: More on A Face in the Crowd…
Hollywood had never blamed itself for such chicanery, but Kazan’s sentiments would scarcely have been out of place at the Beverly Hills Hotel where in July 1947, a decade before A Face in the Crowd opened, the Progressive Citizens of America organized a conference on “Thought Control in the USA.” Virtually the last hurrah of the Hollywood left, this conclave marks the moment at which the industry’s progressives (or “cultural workers”) began to reverse themselves on the product they produced, turning away from wartime bromides to take a position closer to the Adorno-Horkheimer line (as well as that of the former Trotskyist, future neocon intellectuals of Partisan Review). Mass culture was a form of incipient fascism.
The critique became increasingly common among left and liberal intellectuals once Popular Front sentimentality was demobilized (and the sentimentalists were purged from Hollywood). Suddenly the inherent danger of horror comics, rock and roll, Mickey Spillane novels, and TV became the issue of the day. Writing in Dissent in 1956, Henry Rabassiere mockingly noted that “the newest fashion in mass culture is to scorn mass culture”—at least among “ultra-left” snobs. A Face in the Crowd was written and directed by two former Communists and recent friendly witnesses before the House Un‑American Activities Committee. And so, for all its topicality, the movie had its origins in the worldview of the thirties and forties left.
A Face in the Crowd is a dialectical corrective to the Popular Front mentality. On one hand, the movie can be easily construed as mocking the liberal flirtation with vulgar Marxism, with Lonesome Rhodes as a class-conscious, folksong-singing exemplar of the Common Man. (Lonesome’s instincts aren’t all bad. He’s naturally inclined to ridicule authority and is an equal opportunity exploiter—given his own TV show in Memphis, he demonstrates his populism through immediate, if token, racial integration.) No wonder the college girl Marcia is intrigued, even after she discovers that this hobo bard is as cynical as the Hollywood version of a CP apparatchik.
But old habits die hard, and so even if A Face in the Crowd parodies college-educated fellow travelers, it is, on the other hand, a generic antifascist scare film—albeit dramatizing, in a suitably popular form, everybody’s worst fears regarding the American culture industry. (It’s hard to know whether Adorno and Horkheimer would have felt horrified or vindicated by the televised image of Lonesome’s seventeen-year-old bride twirling her batons to Beethoven.)
RELATED: And more on Jonah Goldberg…
Guys like Jonah Goldberg would sooner take a job in the dreaded private sector than say anything nice about Trump or the people prepared to vote for him. As I’ve pointed out in the past, Goldberg is Exhibit A for the case against Official Conservatism and the party it has infested. Trump stands as the rebuke of the surrender caucus, that has profited guys like Goldberg so handsomely over the last two decades. If he has to concede to Trump, you know it was a great win.