Why Hollywood Is So Damn Liberal
Updated: Sep 27
This post was originally published at smerconish.com
With the Academy Awards upon us, we’re once again hearing about how Hollywood and more specifically the “Hollywood Liberal Elite” are out of touch with mainstream America. We’re hearing how leading conservatives won’t watch the show because they don’t want to have to listen all those political comments and jokes. In fact last year Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted, “Watch celebs spew ignorant political venom at the Oscars?? Nah…think I’d rather have a colonoscopy. Both happen from the same location.”
Here’s the thing, though: Hollywood isn’t actually that liberal monolith that Fox News wants you to think it is.
This proclamation might seem farfetched. “Will & Grace” is back on the air and “Murphy Brown” is coming back, too – what more does one need to say? And as a left-leaning Hollywood liberal (but definitely not an elite one), I’ll admit that there are lots of liberals in Hollywood. But “Hollywood” – when used as a critical word – consists of two distinct groups, the famous actors and directors, and the not so famous writers and other creative people who comprise what conservative pundits snidely refer to as “Hollywood,” and yes, they are predominately liberal and proud of it.
Thinking of Hollywood in these terms misses a crucial group, however: the vast majority of workers in our industry. We have construction workers, electricians, carpenters, lighting people, grips and gaffers (people set things up, take things down and drag things back and forth). Drivers, caterers, crane operators, computer operators, cooks, secretaries, stunt artist, accountants, on and on. Basically, Hollywood is like any other major industry, with lots of different jobs with different skill sets required and different incomes that come with them. They just happen to work on a movie or television set, but like most Americans (even the Hollywood creative who aren’t super famous), they punch a clock, do their job, and go home to their families. Are some of them liberal? I’d assume so. Just like in any town, though, many of them are conservatives, and I’d wager that where they fall on the political spectrum is the same as any other industry, in any other town across this country.
So why do all those creative types insist on giving “Hollywood” a bad name? Based on my experience, it’s simply that one of the essential prerequisites for most people who choose to pursue a career as an actor, writer, director or some other ethereal part of what the general public things is show business, is that at their core they have a liberal thought process. Think of it this way, why do most priests tend to hold conservative views? Does the church require them to so, or is simply that a more conservative outlook would tend to be part of the make-up of someone who would gravitate towards the priesthood?
It’s important to understand that in this context, the core of this liberal/conservative clash, is not politics, but rather about basic personality and in case of those engaged in artistic endeavors, an “openness to experience,” what Professor Lewis Goldberg of the University of Oregon called one of the “Big Five” personality traits. According to standard questionnaires, liberals tend to be the kind of people who want to try new things and experience new ideas. Conservatives tend to be less interested in new experiences, preferring order, structure, and security in their lives. Psychologist Robert McCrae, who conducted extensive personality studies while at the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health said, “Open people everywhere tend to have more liberal values.” Neither personality trait is better. They just lead to different lifestyles and occupations attracts different kind of people.
When your potential success is tied not just to ability and dedication but also to relocate in just one or two specific locations, then an individual’s openness to leaving their family behind plays an important role in determining who goes to Hollywood.
And it’s not just about moving to another part of the country, but an openness to accepting that notion that success and “the American Dream” is long-shot but that they are willing to throw caution and probably sensibilities to the wind. Understanding that the odds of success are stacked against them but not caring. It doesn’t matter that everyone tells them not to take that road. That they might never make it. That they’ll struggle financially and quite probably won’t have that house, that family, that American dream lifestyle. Accepting that there might be moments of success and fulfilment along the way, but each job will be temporary and fleeting. A day here, a couple weeks there. Maybe if someone is really lucky, they’ll work on something for a few months but then it’s over. And with all that information in hand, they think, “Yeah, sounds good, that’s the path for me because I’m going to succeed.”
These crazy people pack up their cars with whatever they can and drive to Los Angeles, a place they’ve probably never been and don’t know anyone, with no job, no place to live, hardly any idea of where they even start on there quest. These people don’t doubt for a second that they’ve made the right choice. All those rules and norms about how one lives their life have to be thrown by the wayside for them to do this sort of thing. To these people, it’s not clear why anyone conforms to what society expects. They meet others just like themselves, but completely different in where they grew up, their economic background, their color, their religion, sexual orientation and yet they are just like them, they have this dream.
These are the actors, the writers, the musicians, the people who create things that no one else sees or hears, and they support each other both in spirit and in careers. They help each other find jobs and friends and new families and as often as one succeeds they help others succeed.
Some of these risk-takers gain fame and money and power, and the perception of Hollywood as politically liberal stems from the fact that this group of people does most of the talking for the creative side of the industry. While assuming they speak for all of Hollywood is a mistake (just like assuming the far left or right speaks for the entirety of their party), even these rich and famous hold onto how they got there. They still maintain that same feeling about not conforming to what society expects. They had a chance and took it, and they believe everyone should have the same chances. To them, it’s obvious that no one should have to worry about discrimination or healthcare or other obstacles put their path, and because their basic nature is to be outspoken—to create ideas and stories that compel people – they speak. Since they are famous people listen when they speak, and thus they become the voice of Hollywood.
The Hollywood creative culture, from the struggling artist to the rich and famous, is not liberal because Hollywood demands that they must be liberal. Rather, these free spirit demand that Hollywood be liberal.