Neil Gabler (Author) moderated by Dr. Judith Rodin.
Celebrating The Conversation: Public Discourse in Action Tape 1, Session 1
Dr. JUDITH RODIN: OK. Why don't we get started. Good morning everyone. I am delighted to welcome you. Many of you, welcome back. And to some who are new guests and participants in this sixth and final plenary meeting of the Penn National Commission. We're delighted to have you here.
I apologize for the enormous amount of material that was sent out to you and hope that you will see it by way of background. The readings, of course, were very useful for--to--for the meeting today and tomorrow and I hope that you did have a chance to look at them. The others were for your background reading. What we've done is put into your materials in your blue notebook one-page summaries of the research findings and of implications that are taken from the--the larger set of materials that--that you have. I often think that in academics we assume that the weight of the output is correlated with the event--the outcome itself and I know that that's not the case.
Let me say a word also by way of introduction about the two new Penn constructions in which you have been. The Inn at Penn which just opened in September, which I hope is--is pleasing to you, right next to a very large bookstore, that I hope you'll have a chance to visit during your time here. And then this building, Irvine Auditorium, which has just been reopened and you may have been tripping over some of the construction, depending on how you came, and has been completely restored. And I hope you'll look in the main hall while you're here because it--it's really quite wonderful and we're thrilled at the--at the renovation and, in this case, the restoration. I only mention that not to celebrate that Penn, like other institutions, is--is spending money reviving itself and building new construction, but to tell you that we are doing it in a way that continues our intentional strategic commitment toward civic engagement and that all of the new construction at the university has, as it intent, not only to build new buildings or restore wonderful old buildings, but to build economic capacity within our community. And so our projects have almost 50 percent women and minority-owned subcontractors.
We have regulations that all of our tradespeople have to have a certain number of people from the local west Philadelphia community working on the projects in order to get the work from the university. We've used our Wharton entrepreneurship program to start new businesses among our west Philadelphia neighbors. We're working with a very extensive welfare-to-work program as part of our construction projects. And it follows, in a way, very strongly from the work that we are doing on the commission, the notion that a civically engaged university is a university that builds community with its community in a way that develops capacity and infrastructure and hope for the future and we are very, very committed to that as an outcome.
I'm going not to review what we've done over the last three years. Indeed, I--I have asked Steve Steinberg to do that with us at lunch and we'll have some time at our lunch conversation to look back on what we've accomplished and what we've learned. But this meeting marks a transition to another phase of the project of which the commission is a part. We've been discussing the various aspects of community, how communities arise, how discourse within communities has the--plays a role in either positively or negatively transforming the way that communities operate and, importantly, the way that a civil society operates and sees itself.
We have come, I think, very significantly over this time to begin to be more interested in the positive mechanisms for community building than--and learning examples and constructing our own through discourse leadership, through community initiatives, a variety of sorts then we have been to focus on our original proposition which was that incivility was problematic for a civically engaged society.
It's interesting. I--I was thinking about Richard Lapchick's presentation to us and--and the time in which we focused on--and--and my own first presentation, which we focused on Roberto Alomar and Latrell Sprewell. And I think since then we've also seen Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and--and most recently, although only celebrated for it in death, Walter Payton, but very clear examples in the sports area and in others that there are so many positive mottoes as well and it's heartening to see that and to focus on them.
It's the picture of possibilities and opportunities that in some way explains the transition that we begin today. As we've listened and--and distilled your insights over the last three years into a coherent vision of contemporary life and--and contemporary discourse and community-building, our eye has really been focused also on what we could do that would be transformative. We all agreed initially that we would not write a single report at the end and that would be the commission's product. I worry that we interpreted that to mean that we would write thousands of reports and that would be the commission's product. But, hopefully, the thousands of reports alone will not be, and--and after three years of talking in part about what's wrong with public conduct in culture, about the failures of leadership, and the fragmentation of our communities, that we really can, as we've all been gearing to do--and pockets of suggestions arising in all of our conversations--talking about the exciting possibilities for improvement. And each of the sessions during this meeting focuses on that task, which is: How do we make better things happen? What existing programs and practices can we build on? What kinds of changes in leadership and institutional conduct are really possible?
Many members of--of the commission have deep theoretical understandings of democracy and community-building, institutional leadership and discourse. Only a few of us, I would say, are really deeply experienced in the contemporary practices of politics or entertainment or--or innovative programs within communities and that's why widening the conversation at this meeting is so important.
And I want to say a special word of welcome to our presenters and guest participants. We think that your presence and participation at this point in the committee's work is crucial to the next phase and we have much to learn from your experience. We need to learn more about what really works in the trenches of public discourse: What can and what cannot be changed and improved? What are the concrete steps that will make better things happen? So this morning, we've asked film critic and author Neal Gabler to examine the ways in which films and entertainment shape, limit and especially expand our vision in public culture in--in a variety of ways. Then Larry Lessing will lead us in our long-awaited, long-anticipated exploration of possibilities for new forms of community and--and productive interaction and discourse in cyberspace. We then have the InterAct Theater Company, a local company that's received much national acclaim, to demonstrate specific techniques and work with us and work us through those techniques that they're actually using to break down barriers to dialogue and helping groups and individuals communicate across boundaries of difference.
Moving from those sessions, this evening and tomorrow morning, we have an extraordinary gathering of experts in the practice and study of political discourse, in particular, that will help us the exam--to examine the possibilities for making one of our most important national conversations more engaged, more productive, more welcome, frankly, into the homes of our citizens. This evening, Ed Rendell, who is the mayor of Philadelphia and the new chairman of the Democratic National Party, will join us. Tomorrow morning, we have commission members Karl Rove, Tom Luce and Kathleen Jamieson. Join--joining us, former commission member Paul Begala for this important and--and, I think, quite unique conversation.
And finally, we'll have a chance under the leadership of Jay Rosen to learn more about the actual practices of--of promoting public discourse and good public discourse, having invited several of the leaders of the most compelling community-building groups that came from David Rife's latest research and--and analysis. So this is a meeting in which we turn our gaze--our--our gaze to the concrete possibilities engendered by our work, and we are very much looking forward to that.
With so many new guests and participants and with many--a cyberaudience we have lis--listening and--and looking in, I just want to say one additional word, and that is that our--our focus has been not only on what the Penn National Commission can do or even what a--our institutions and programs and leaders can do. But I think we've all focused on this as also an effort to ask what we as individuals can do. And--and there's been a very personal commitment on the part of the members of this commission to take individual leadership and individual responsibility for broadening this set of debates and for, really, arriving at not only an understanding, but an individual set of--of commitments to how to enhance community, re-engage the polity and expand our civil doc--discourse, civil dialogue and national sense of community as we move forward. And I think if--if each of us views this as--as a personal commitment, that so much more can be accomplished, and I look forward to that.
I'd like to begin the first session--and, unfortunately, Rochelle Gurstein, who was to have introduced our first speaker, came down with the flu last night and called and won't be able to join us. So, Neal, I'll take on that welcomed task. One of the most difficult aspects of the issues we've examined is the overwhelming influence of popular culture, and we thought the overwhelming influence of mass marketing of--of entertainment and culture, both on the substance and the perceptions of public discourse. So as we look ahead to ask ourselves what we can do to improve the situation, it's especially important to see how film now characterizes whether it is contributing to or merely reflecting major transformations in how community and discourse are characterized and how our culture really has been engaged.
Neal is going to help us imagine how the power of cinema might be turned into an asset in the creation of a more robust and productive polity and--and set of discourse communities. Neal is one of the most thoughtful commentators on public culture and mass entertainment. Indeed, he's been described in articles about him as one of America's most important public intellectuals. A former academic--although no one is ever a former academic--recipient of Guggenheim and Freedom Forum fellowships, Neal Gabler taught at the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University before turning full-time to movie criticism and writing. A serious student on the culture of celebrity, he's written books on Walter Winchell--that book was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1994--a book on the creation of Hollywood, and he's currently at work on a biography of Walt Disney. His most recent book--and we had a--a piece from it in your materials--captured--captures in its very title perhaps the essence of the problem that we confront. It's called "Life the Movie."
So for all of us who have wondered whether we're becoming characters in some kind of all-encompassing "Truman Show," it's my pleasure to welcome Neal Gabler on behalf of the Penn National Commission.
Mr. NEAL GABLER (Author, "Life the Movie"): Thank you very much.
I'm a little intimidated facing this distinguished group of scholars and educators from whom, I have to admit, I've learned a great deal in my life. And I thought I might just start by giving back to you some of the things that we've learned from the movies. A friend of mine recently sent me a list of lessons that we have learned from the movies. And I thought before we knuckle down to serious business, I want to share a few of these with you.
At least one pair of identical twins is born evil.
Should you decide to defuse a bomb, don't worry which wire to cut, you will always choose the right one.
It does not matter if you're heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts. Your enemies will wait patiently to attack you, one by one, by dancing around in a threatening manner until you've knocked out their predecessors.
Honest and hard-working policemen are traditionally gunned down three days before their retirement.
Rather than wasting bullets, megalomaniacs prefer to kill their archenemies using complicated machinery involving fuses, pulley systems, deadly gases, lasers, man-eating sharks, which will allow their captives at least 20 minutes to escape.
During all police investigations, it will be necessary to visit a strip club at least once.
It's easy for anyone to land a plane, providing there is someone in the control tower to talk you down.
You're very likely to survive any battle in any war, unless you make the mistake of showing someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.
Should you wis to--wish to pass yourself off as a German or Russian officer, it will not be necessary to speak the language. A German or Russian accent will do.
The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris.
A man will show no pain while taking the most ferocious beating, but will wince when a woman tries to clean his wounds.
If staying in a haunted house, women should investigate any strange noises in their most revealing underwear.
All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with large red readouts so that you know exactly when they're going off.
Police departments give their officers personality tests to make sure that they are deliberately assigned a partner who is their total opposite.
And finally, when they're alone, all foreign milis--military officers prefer to speak to each other in English.
Now I've been invited here this morning to discuss how the movies have portrayed public discourse, and how that portrayal may affect our public discourse. But before I delve into those matters, I think it's important to recognize that the movies themselves are a form of public discourse. Most obviously and narrowly, the movies have addressed a range of subjects from sexual behavior to race to war to social responsibility to juvenile delinquency to such other pressing issues as fending off an alien horde bent on conquering the Earth or destroying humongous monsters trampling through our cities and overturning our public transportation systems, or deflecting asteroids headed directly toward our planet.
There is, however, another less obvious and more generalized way in which the movies have become a form of discourse. This one having less to do with a specific content of any single film than with the act of moviegoing itself. Almost from the inception of the movies late in this--in the last century, moviegoing has constituted a cultural declaration in the national conversation. Ordinary citizens flocked to the movies, recognizing that here was a medium that belonged to them. And not only because it was accessible and relatively inexpensive, it belonged to them because there were none of the cultural pretensions and prohibitions that attached to so many other arts, and none of the cultural condescension, either. You could chat at the movies. You could neck at the movies--you still can. You can eat at the movies. And the vestiges of these activities remain, to this day, in what I have described as `the Whitmanian slurp of soda and the crunch of popcorn.' Now just think of it. Imagine going to the opera or to the symphony or to the ballet lugging your box or bag of popcorn, and you'll see what I mean. You just don't do it. In a way, even eating and drinking is a cultural declaration.
In a sense, moviegoing has always been a slightly subversive activity. Subverting the elitist idea of what art is supposed to be, which is why elitists condemn the movies on aesthetic grounds and why moralists condemn them and continue to condemn them on moral grounds. To this day, conservatives cannot countenance the fact that having commandeered the country's political agenda, they have not been able to commandeer its cultural agenda.
And I got an example of this as I was flying in on the plane. I was thumbing through a Newsweek magazine, and I came across this little note by George Will, which I scribbled hastily and I will try to read to you now. In athletics, the legs may be the first thing to go, but in academics, the eyes are the first thing to go. Will is writing not about the movies here, but about another facet of popular culture, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. And he says, `Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead cannot be held accountable for the character of all their fans. But he and the band were pleased to be thought of as keepers of the flame of the '60s. The band's music may have been grand, but the band has promoted much more than music. Around it has hung an aroma of disdain for inhibitions on recreational uses of drugs and sex. During the band's nearly 30-year life, the costs of liberation from such inhibitions have been made manifest in the millions of shattered lives and the miles of devastated cities.'
And I might add that one could have written--written and read virtually the same thing about the movies earlier in this century.
Frankly, what I think George Will and those who criticize popular culture don't understand is that there may actually be a cause and effect relationship between their caterwauling about the debased state of American popular culture and the embrace of that culture by the general populace. Because they fail to recognize this nose-thumbing, contrarian, Democratic impulse that moviegoing exercises, especially among the young, which is why there are still 20 million people who go to the movies on a weekly basis.
Perhaps the single-most intense pleasure of moviegoing,' the critic Pauline Kale once wrote, `is this non-aesthetic one, of escaping from the responsibilities of having the proper responses required of us in our official school culture. It's the feeling of freedom from respectability we have always enjoyed at the movies.'
And if the conservatives fail to recognize the cause and effect relationship between their disapproval and public approval, they also fail to recognize another cause and effect relationship, I think, one between the sense that our political system is unresponsive to public needs and the feeling that the popular culture is responsive. The sense of disempowerment in one arena becomes a sense of empowerment in the other.
Critics may say, and they say this constantly, that Hollywood is governed by a liberal media elite that doesn't give the public what it wants. But no one can make the argument, I believe, that Hollywood isn't trying to give the public what it wants. That's what Hollywood exists for. All of which is to say that whether one likes them or not, the movies are Jacksonian. They are expression of public will against all the forces that seem to disregard us.
And, in fact, we just got an example recently. If you've been following this publicity about the film "Omega Code"--"Omega Code" is a film that was financed by the fundamentalist Christian right, and it's an adventure movie, and it's been heavily promoted in fundamentalist pulpits across the country as an alternative to Hollywood's fare, thus giving those people who allegedly are put off by what Hollywood provides some option. And in point of fact, we--we--if you've been reading this story in the entertainment press--I mean, the film has made $2 million in--in--in grosses. And this is something that the fundamentalist right has--has boasted about. But anyone who knows about tallying grosses in Hollywood knows that $2 million doesn't even make you a blip on the Hollywood radar screen. In a sense, they're trying to make something non-transgressive for a very transgressive form.
Now when you move to the matter of how the movies have portrayed public discourse, you immediately discover something: They don't. There's very little public discourse in American film. And I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising. The movies, after all, are a kinetic medium, a medium of action. Discourse, particularly rational discourse, isn't exactly going to provide nail-biting suspense. Watching public discussion is much more likely to be like watching paint dry.
Still, I selected a few examples of how Hollywood has presented public discussion on screen. The first is from Frank Capra's classic, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," which is about how idealism can survive in a system of corruption. The scene here--and I'm assuming you've probably all seen this film, if not recently, but at some point in your life--is of naive Senator Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart, chosen by the political machine, because he was seen as malleable, now waging a filibuster against the forces of evil.
(Excerpt from "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington")
Mr. GABLER: I don't know about you, but I think it's still effective.
The next scene I've selected is from "Field of Dreams," which is, as you undoubtedly know, about a young Iowa farmer who suddenly is inspired to build a baseball field. But this scene is not about the baseball field, it's a public meeting in the school gymnasium about censorship.
(Excerpt from "Field of Dreams")
Mr. GABLER: My last scene is more recent. It's from Warren Beatty's "Bulworth." Here, Senator Bulworth, having suffered a nervous breakdown during his campaign, decides that he's going to tell the truth, rather than dispense the typical political bromides.
(Excerpt from "Bulworth")
Mr. GABLER: Now you may notice something from these clips. In the first place, they present issues as a matter of conflict rather than of conflict resolution. Each assumes that there is a truth, and that truth is thwarted by forces of ignorance, as in "Field of Dreams," or outright corruption and greed. For truth to triumph then, one has to defeat the forces of ignorance or greed. In the second place, one might also notice that the airing of public issues is really less a matter of discussion or negotiation than of individual action. People don't band together to accomplish their ends in American films. That's what happens in the old Soviet movies of Eisenstein. In American movies, people may be inspired to act, but the inspiration is almost always an individual, a hero. In fact, I believe that that may be the real subtext of virtually every commercial American film.
We are constantly being reminded, subliminally and otherwise, of the importance of being important. Whether it is the emphasis on the star above the title or the compositions that invariably favor the heroic figure, as you saw here, or the narratives that are driven by the hero's actions, we are being told that not to be at the center of action is to be swept to the margins.
Schwarzenegger may kill dozens of bad guys in one of his films, but no one cares about them. I don't think that anyone, myself included, sits and thinks, `Does this fellow have a wife? Does this fellow have children? Does this fellow have a mother and father?' No, we don't care about them because we realize that they're there as fodder. They don't matter. The only one who matters is Schwarzenegger himself.
I think most of us are aware that a good deal of our public discourse has been shaped in the image of the movies, and specifically, in the image of these two elements, which are so fundamental to our moviegoing pleasure: the centrality of conflict and the valorization of the individual.
Now let's take the first of these endowments. When it comes to social issues, we now tend to think in terms of plots. It seems that every issue is resolved into a Manichaean dispute, a battle between good and bad, which favors drama over fact. This, of course, isn't an entirely new phenomenon in the world of public affairs. Jeffersonians portrayed America in its infancy as threatened by demonic federalists who support a essential authority and affected, aristocratic ways. Jacksonians portrayed Americans threatened by rich, intellectual dandies, populists by Eastern banking interests and anti-populists by populists. Reaganites by free-spending liberals and Clintonites by political moralists.
But while political narratives are nothing new, the mass media have intensified them, I believe, virtually demanding that issues somehow be configured as plot if they are going to get a public airing since it is the political drama that the media love, not the dull recitation of positions and policies. And that's why Ronald Reagan, in opposing the Soviet Union, invoked the specter of an evil empire, and scolded those who wanted to remove themselves from what he called the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. And that's why Arianna Huffington, in floating the presidential possibilities of actor Warren Beatty, described his chief political asset as being a master storyteller, someone who could frame the issues for the public in ways that will get them to care. Good, exciting plots like the recent showdown over the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on the one hand, or the showdown over the president's indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky on the other, are the ones that are most likely to get media attention for the obvious reason that those are the ones, like the movies, that are most likely to be entertaining.
And I might add parenthetically here, that throughout the '80s, liberals were accused of having no ideas. When, in fact, what they lacked were not ideas but good plots of the sort that animated liberal politics during the Depression when you had economic royalists to attack. The conservatives may not have had better ideas, but they did have better plots. Citizen politicians whacking away at big government and the United States facing down the Soviet Union.
In the process of turning policy debates into movie narratives, these plots are also more likely to be divorced from the politics they purport to frame than the old pol--plots which were designed, after all, not for entertainment value, but to sharpen political distinctions between opponents and to rally the troops.
What the media emphasized in the Test Ban Treaty, for example, was not the substantive points of the treaty. We got almost none of that in the political media. They emphasized the political gamesmanship between the president and the congressional Republicans. And even those of us who listen to NPR got kind of hourly updates on Trent Lott and Clinton facing down one another.
And when it comes to electoral politics, we now all take it for granted that the coverage will consist primarily of telling us who is ahead and how he might stumble; the so-called horse race aspect. It has become so much a part of our politics that every candidate is now expected to have a personal narrative for the media to retail. George W. Bush is the prodigal son; John McCain, the war hero; Bill Bradley, the non-political politician. Only Al Gore seems to have no narrative, which may be the occupational hazard of being a vice president. He's condemned to be a sequel to the president's narrative. And I might also add that the press then amends these plots, almost on a weekly basis. We had the press amending George Bush's plot by asking about his cocaine use. This week, the press is all in a dither about John McCain's temperament and whether he has a presidential temperament. Next week, it will be something else. But these are not really points that address his capability to be president. They are points that give us a certain amount of entertainment value.
The emphasis on the plot has one other consequence besides separating the dramatic form from its content. Again, one that I believe is directly related to the movies. As anyone who listens to talk radio can attest, it forces our discourse to extremes, since it's at the extremes where the greatest drama and the highest entertainment value lie. In American policy discussions, whether it's on "Crossfire" or "Nightline" or "Meet the Press," or simply in a postmortem of a presidential speech or debate, we always get the pairs. The yin and the yang or, less charitably, the mongoose and the snake. You just poke them a few times and then you watch them go at it. And since this is the way that the media now present policy discussions, participants understand what is expected of them. And what is expected is combat. But if we tend to think of policy issues in terms of plot, setting one side against another, we also tend to think of them in terms of individual action, and that also distorts public discourse. Actually, more than distorts it.
Let me explain. Robert Dahl, the esteemed political theorist, once described pluralist democracy as a government in which instead of a single center of sovereign power, there must be multiple centers of power, none of which can--would--none of which is or can be wholly sovereign. In practice, this means, among other things, what Dahl called constant negotiations among different centers of power in order to make decisions.
Now talk about non-cinematic. Multiple centers of power? Constant negotiations? Huh-uh. In the movies, there is one center of power and there are no negotiations. Action--anyone who negotiates is a nerd or a wimp. In short, pluralist democracy makes for a terrible plot. And Americans know it. They're exasperated by the mess this form of government inevitably entails. And they are constantly searching not for leaders, who swear their fealty to the system, but for leaders who vow to change it. And from "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" to "Bulworth," we find one unmistakable message: The system stinks.
The basic appeal of H. Ross Perot, I believe, was his promise that as a no-nonsense businessman he simply wouldn't tolerate the system's red tape. He'd just cut right through it. And this is also the promise of punitive candidate Donald Trump, citing his swift construction of the Wollman Ice Skating Rink in New York Central Park as the paradigm for his perspective rule. He says, `You just do it. That's all. You just do it.' Now this isn't political talk. At least not the talk of a pluralist democracy. This is movie talk. And it taps into one of the greatest satisfactions of the movies, the vicarious thrill of a hero overcoming every obstacle, vanquishing every foe. In effect, it's a politics of anti-politics, a politics that challenges the very basis of our democracy by replacing the mess with the all-powerful hero acting for right and good.
Now as powerful effect as this is, the movies may have had a more powerful effect still. One that is a result not of the movies serving as a model for public discourse, but of the movies operating as a kind of consciousness, a way of framing our reality. We usually think of policy discussions, at least those in this august company, as being substantive. By which I mean that they deal with problems and they examine how we're going to solve them. You present possibilities, you analyze outcomes, you assess political avenues and roadblocks on those avenues. But there is an aspect of public policy that has less to do with solving problems than in making one feel as if the problems don't matter. It is the idea, of want for a better term, a feel good. And this is important comp--it is an important component, both in the movies and in governing, especially in this age of mass media where public officials can communicate to the public directly and often, and where marshaling public support has been more important than marshaling party support.
As the first president to take full advantage of the national media, Franklin Roosevelt understood the importance of this cheerleading function. Even before he devised a strategy of dealing with the Depression, he was massaging the public psyche, rallying the public mood, telling people they had nothing to fear but fear itself. Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, both--both largely disdained this responsibility, but John Kennedy understood it, too. He knew that his personal glamour would become the national glamour, that his self-confidence would become the national confidence. But no one understood the importance of feel good as instinctively or had as natural a gift for it as Ronald Reagan, who had, of course, not incidentally, come to politics from the movies. Reagan had learned a great many things from his years in Hollywood, especially about the art of performance. But the most important lesson, I believe, that he learned was that people flocked to the movies because they liked the way the movies made them feel. Reagan brought this basic piece of intelligence to his new profession, recognizing the affinity between what the movies did and what politics could do if only one reimagined the form. In fact, reimagined it as a movie.
Reagan's revelation was that politics didn't have to be about policy. It could be about raising spirits. Now this is not to say that the actions taken during his administration with his endorsement didn't affect people's lives. Obviously, it did--they did. It is to say that for Reagan himself and for a good many Americans as well, the perception of the president as a genial leader made his policies largely irrelevant to them. As Donald Trump recently enthused about Reagan on the Larry King show, where he was announcing his exploration of his own presidential candidacy, and I think he echoes the sentiments of a great many Americans in saying this--of Reagan--`He'll go down in history as a great president. And not so much for the things he did. It's just that there's a demeanor to him and a spirit that the country had under Reagan that was really phenomenal, and that's really a big part of being president. And it certainly is a big part of being president now.'
Now this may constitute the other Reagan revolution, one that I suspect was much closer to his own heart than the conservative orthodoxy so often attributed to him, and one that may have much more enduring ramifications for our public discourse. Reagan turned politics into a placebo by regarding Americans not as a constituency to be served, but as an audience to be uplifted. He recognized that politics, like the movies, could itself be a form of escapism. And that the presidency need not be a bully pulpit to hector, but rather could be a bully pom-pom to root. The charm of his presidency, especially after Carter's fixation on malaise, was that there was never any malaise. And I might add here that malaise makes a terrible plot as well. Who's the hero when there's malaise? No. No malaise. Instead, it was always morning in Reagan's America.
Now how did he accomplish this? He accomplished it by reframing issues as anecdotes and stories, many of them drawn from the movies themselves. I'm sure you've all heard the story that Reagan told frequently about the young gunner during World War II who was in a plane--who was shot and the plane was going down and he was frantic, and an older soul on the plane embraced him and said, `Don't worry, son, I'm going down with you.' And Reagan always told this, as I'm sure you know, as if it had actually happened. When, in point of fact, it was a scene from "A Wing and a Prayer" in Hollywood.
He accomplished this by creating cinematic images that were impressed into our consciousness, like the welfare queen. Or one that I've always remembered and that used to tell frequently about the common man who invented a beer can holder and became a millionaire as a result. Or the Star Wars anti-missile system. And he accomplished this by borrowing movie dialogue. There was a story that the New York Post wanted to headline in the wake of the Achille Lauro seajacking, they wanted the headline to say: They Can Run, But They Can't Hide, the old Joe Louis line about Billy Kahn. Now Reagan hadn't said this, so the New York Post contacted Pat Buchanan, who was then the communications office. And they said, `We've got this wonderful headline.' So Buchanan contacted Reagan. Reagan said, `They can run, but they can't hide.' It got recycled back and it became the headline of the New York Post.
He accomplished this by bringing absolute narrative clarity to any situation and by making his performance before the cameras, the measure of his performance in office, something that we now know is a--a part of our political discourse. There's a wonderful line that one of Walter Mondale's advisers said in 1984 during--prepping for the debates, he said, `We spent more time discussing ties than East-West relations.' And I have a feeling that's true of anyone now who preps for a televised debate.
In effect, for Reagan, as his biographer Lou Cannon has observed--that is the biographer who really wrote about Reagan, as opposed to the biographer who wrote about himself--the presidency was a movie and he was its star. And if this meant that statecraft was replaced by stage craft, that presentation superceded policy, I think in Reagan's mind, it seemed a relatively small price to pay for what you got. And what you got was exactly what you got from the movies: an ineffable sense of pleasure, a wonderful sense of security.
And this, I think, may be the most profound effect of the movies on our public discourse. Engagement with issues increasingly gets pre-empted by escapist entertainment, whether it's the entertainment value of the conflict itself, or the entertainment value of pretending that the conflict can be easily resolved, or the entertainment value of being distracted from the conflict altogether. Whatever the source of the entertainment, the purpose of the cinematic mode of discourse isn't to resolve our differences, but to make us feel better about ourselves, which is not insignificant. It's important. But it is not the same thing as confronting our problems and meeting our challenges either.
So the task is sent. For those who want to encourage discourse, who want to stimulate a rational exchange of ideas, the challenge is to usher us from the movie theater into the real world, from the darkness of wish fulfillment into the light of reason. Until then, the movie will just keep on rolling. Thank you very much.
Dr. RODIN: Thank you so much. We do have time for questions. You take them from here.
Mr. GABLER: Certainly.
Dr. RODIN: Kathleen.
KATHLEEN: Now the--I--let me--let me offer you an alternative explanation of Reagan. I--I think Aristotle said something very important when he talked about apodictic and the end of apodictic being spectatorship, not judgment, and I think that's what you're tapping into in a very provocative way. But rather than suggest that that is not an important function of the civic leader, I would argue that the kind of state building that happens when you reconstruct your sense of identity as a citizen in this state, which happens through narrative forms, largely, is the basis for putting in place the value assumptions that lets you deliberate. And that in an environment which many of those who've been called into question--you know, during the Carter presidency, some explicitly, some not, in the form of the so-called malaise speech, that what Reagan managed to understand or someone understood for Reagan was that he needed a form of discourse that was able to put in place the value assumptions and reinforce them to the extent that the country was able to work from something towards something in the future. And the piece of evidence I would draw for that is what I think is one of the finer speeches of the Reagan legacy, which is the speech at Normandy, in which he's rehearsing the values of World War II. Classic apodictic fashion. He's telling narratives. These are the boys that plan to hope, these are the men who took the cliffs.
That narrative structure ends with his reading the letter of a young woman whose father was unable to go back because he's died of cancer, but she has gone back, and he reads the letter for her. We're now reclaiming a sense that the country could, in fact, engage in just war after Vietnam, which is not an unimportant claim, but the end statement that Reagan makes in that speech is his promise--her promise to her father, he translates into, `We must always be prepared, so we must always be free.' And I think that's a classic move to use what is a narrative structure in an apodictic context to rebuild the value premises that then let's him create the basis for an argument about Star Wars.
So I would like to suggest an alternative, which is that Reagan did everything that you suggested, but that the end was more noble than I think you end--end with.
Mr. GABLER: Well, I--I mean, I--I--I agree with you and I didn't mean to--to impute that there was a lack of nobility here. Neil Postman, in his new book, talks about we need narratives not because they give us truth, but because they give us meaning. And--and I think that is absolutely true. I was--I've been reading John Dower's book called "Embracing Defeat" about the--the occupation of Japan. And he talks about how important it is in--in Japan, in the post-war period, for them to build new narratives that will give their lives meaning, and I believe that's true. But I don't think it's an either/or proposition. And--and I think what we need is we need narratives, clearly, to give us a sense of meaning and direction. But we also need engagement with policy so that those narratives get down to the trenches, to use the word you were talking about earlier. And I think that's--unfortunately, the first tends to negate the second, rather than work in tandem with the second. But I--I think your--your point is--is well-taken.
Dr. RODIN: Martin.
MARTIN: And--and let me suggest that there's something deeper than hero and individual in the scenes you showed and in what's appealing here. I--I think the deeper thing is that there--there are zero sum games, there's winners and losers. And I bel--I believe you've described the past, not the future of both the movies and of discourse. Let me say why. I--I think when nations are poor, at war, in famine, in desperation, that it's perfectly natural that the entertainments and even the sciences they turn to are about zero sum games, about winning and losing, about damage, about healing, about repair of damage. But I think when nations are in surplus and not at war, the people--what counts as entertainment--turn to a different vision, and that's the--roughly the non-zero sum game, in which something new is created out of the conflict, in which both sides win, which there isn't a good and evil side. And it--it's interesting that you showed a--"Field of Dreams." I mean, that's a great entertainment, but that is a non-zero sum game movie. That's a build it--there's no winner and no loser in "Field of Dreams." That's build it and they will come.
So I want--I want to suggest that part of the challenge for discourse and for entertainment is to create movies, to create dialogue that's about non-zero sum games, that there are heros of those things and there are individuals of those things. And unlike the emotions that are produced by the zero sum game movies, which I think are relief and love and hate, the emotions that are produced when you see a non-zero sum game, I think are--get back to what Kathleen was talking about, they're in the class of awe.
Mr. GABLER: I--I wish I could be, you know, as optimistic as you are, that that's going to happen, but I don't believe it will. I believe that there is something fundamental in the attraction of those individuals on screen whom we've always valorized. And we valorize them because they can do things that we as individuals can't do. And I don't see that the--that the themes of our films are changing in that respect. In point of fact, I think there's a--there's real continuity there of between a matrix and, you know, movies of the '30s, for that matter. I just think that this is something fundamental. It's a fundamental identification. And I don't believe that that's going to change. I think there will be other movies made in other ways by other people, and there is growing a whole independent film movement. Now what I'm talking about here, and I was careful to talk about commercial American films and Hollywood films, because I think they have a different orientation than independent films. But in Hollywood, I think that this is going to be the--the theme and this is going to be the matrix.
MARTIN: I--I think it's fundamental when the audience is in desperation. I think you're right about that. But I think when the audience is not desperate, they're looking for a larger vision.
Mr. GABLER: But I--I think you also have to understand that the audience for these movies, you know, skews very young. Hollywood skews very young. And--although the audience is aging now, as the baby boomers age, you know, there's--there is that transgressive aspect of movies. And what you're addressing is a non-transgressive, a healing, kind of discourse. But as--as the--as the father of two teen-agers, I can tell you, that that's the last thing they want to go to the movies to see. I mean, what they want to see is transgression, and, hopefully, it stays on the screen.
Dr. RODIN: Michael.
MICHAEL: Well, I--I don't know what to make of what you said, because it seems to me that--I'm quite sure that we passed through a real substantive revolution in America--not just political thought, but the way we understand the world and--and--and the way we think about policy in the 1980s. And I find it difficult to separate out that revolution from--from Reagan. So whereas I don't doubt and--and I can see in--in--in my own experience of Reagan, a reflection of the points you're making about the movies and Reagan's conception of the presidency in terms of the--of--of--of the movies. I--I just can't see that as--I--I--it seems to me that just doesn't do justice to what happened during the Reag--Reagan--Reagan years. And so I--I guess what--I--it seems to me--are there two processes going on? Is one unrelated to the other? Are you really arguing that Reagan had nothing to do with a complete sea change?
I mean, I speak--that is, I did live through the '60s, and I stand in front of my classes today of students who fi--I mean, it's--it's amazing to get them to discuss what they think the '60s was about. And you could also--it's an exercise which is very similar to getting them to discuss what the Depression was about. But the way they think about the world, the way they think about policy, indeed, the way I think about policy has nothing to do, really, with the way we thought about it going in to the--to the Reagan--Reagan administration.
So i--what your presentation raises for me is this question of if--if Reagan operated in--in--in--in the movies, how did he accomplish such a fundamental change in the substantive debates which we have about policy in the United States today?
Mr. GABLER: I think that's a good question, and--and le--you--you--you mentioned earlier that--is there--is there two processes going on? One thing that I think this audience may not be, you know, as attuned to because you are so deep into policy discussion--and I live in a small community where nobody really cares about policy discussions, except if they read them in the newspapers or--or see them on television--is that there is the debate that goes on within government and among individuals in this room, which is, you know, always going to be substantive debate. And there's the way the discourse is framed out there, in the media and for ordinary people, the vast, you know, majority of the citizenry. I think those are two different processes. I think there are two different things going on. I would never say--and I didn't say, you know, in my remarks--that the Reagan presidency was non-substantive. That's not--clearly, I mean, that's a foolish--you know, it would be an idiotic remark to make.
What I'm saying is that he changed discourse, and that that discourse now can be detached from substance. It's--it's almost in a way free-floating. And we see the way that the media frame events. Again, I--I go back to the Comprehensive, you know, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Now where in the public, among ordinary citizens, was there a discussion--we know that the poll said something like 80 percent of the people supported the treaty, but where was the discussion of the treaty? I read newspapers. I read magazines. I listened to the radio. As I said, I w--as I said earlier, I was listening to NPR on a regular basis. And what I heard was, you know, `The president and Trent Lott are--you know, they don't want to meet one another or maybe they will meet one another or the Democrats have--have dug themselves a hole on this one and Trent Lott'--now that's a way of framing a policy issue. And I would submit that it's a way that we frame a good many of our policy issues now.
To get back to what Mr. Segman was saying, it's winners and losers. It's who's on top and who isn't. It's not the substance of the policy. And--and I--do I think that Reagan, you know, made this sea change, you know, by himself? No. Obviously not. I think there have been many periods in American history where policy discussions have not been, you know, substantive, necessarily, but have been about the conflict. But I think that this is an ongoing process, and I think he certainly accelerated it. So I wouldn't sa--I think there are two--two processes going on.
Dr. RODIN: Leon, you were next.
LEON: I'm--kept thinking back to the McCarthy-Army hearings. And the book that Samuel Stouffer wrote on that based on public opinion surveys of citiz--a cross section of national citizens. And among the findings he came up with are consistent with your interpretations, namely that there was two titans battling each other and the main interest was winning and losing. Who's going to win this? There was an entertainment value to it, and it was like a baseball game and s--and so on. And you could, at that point, say Army-McCarthy hearings as movie. But in the probes, there were terms of winning and losing, criteria of who would win or lose. They were not exactly correlated with the people's attitudes toward communism or civil liberties, but they were--they were linked very closely as to how the combatants behaved. So that it was extremely important that McCarthy blew it. And it was extremely important that he didn't behave according to certain rules; that--that these were of the--the terms of winning and losing and it wasn't just these two people fighting as an outcome. That there were some talk about democracy going on and talk about discourse and talk about procedures going on, so that there are these different levels. You might say they didn't get down to the--is McCarthy wrong on communism or right on com--that one wasn't so much in their minds as to what was going on in this political struggle, so that was a kind of multiple levels rather than a--than a--a simple movie.
Mr. GABLER: I--I think that's a--that's a good point. And--and--I mean, what you're really saying is that he didn't behave heroically. And that that was something that people responded to at--at some--either some overt level or some subliminal level. I mean, I always thought of--of--you know, watching the old kinescopes of the Army-McCarthy hearings. What would have happened if he did behave heroically? What would have happened if instead of Roy Cohn looking the way he looked, which was the very personification of evil, whether he was or not--I'm saying how he looked on screen--what if he looked like John Kennedy? What if he was handsome and dashing? What if he was courtly in his behavior? What if McCarthy--instead of being, you know, jowly and--and, you know, angry with that high-pitched voice of his--what if he had, you know, a deep--what if he acted like Joseph Welch acted?
Now one could say that he couldn't do that because there was something that was bound up. The value system was bound up in the behavior, which is, I think, essentially what you're saying, and that may be--very well be true. But I always think what--you know, what if the roles were switched, but not the ideology? I mean, we can only guess. I mean, it--we--we don't know.
Dr. ROSEN: Jay.
JAY: I want to ask you, Neal, about middle grounds between the worlds that you've sketched out. Between, let's say, fairy tales on the one hand and position papers or between--you know, Hollywood on one side and the Brookings Institution on the other side. Because, you know, we often sort of feel that there's two possibilities. You know, one is this grand narrative strategy on the one hand, and the other is the plotting recitation of actualities on--on the other. And it seems to me that all the interesting problems lie in the middle. So what I--what I wanted to ask you is, who and what forms of discourse, what genres in the media, what political practitioners seem to you to get some essential points about narrative and the media on the one hand, but are trying to accomplish something within public discourse on the other. Who in--in the media does this? H--which is, you know, neither archetypal mythologies on the one hand or the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on the other, you know?
Now in--when you think about that middle ground, President Clinton, for all his manifold and spectacular flaws, seems to me to be somewhat in that territory or--or have the idea that one must do that, because he's amazingly well-informed about issues and will often educate people about things like the earned-income tax credit, or something like this, in his public appearances, but he's--also has a gift as Reag--Reagan did for telling stories and for communicating with individuals. But maybe he's not a good example. But maybe there are people in the media or genres of discourse that seem to somehow in some organic or effective or original or fresh way mediate between these two worlds.
Mr. GABLER: In a way, I feel like I'm carrying coals to Newcastle to talk to you about this very issue, because this is, of course, your bread and butter. But I--but let me say, you know, first of all, that I think one of the things that's coming out of this is that the best kind of--of discourse is a pluralistic one. You know, Professor Jamieson was saying, `Well, we need these narratives.' I believe we do, too. O--obviously, we need substantive discussion of policy. You know, we need that, too. And I think we need people who can somehow mediate between these two worlds.
Now who is doing it? Well, I mean, there are journalists who do it. I mean, you can read any newspaper, and you can read, you know, op-ed pages, and--and there is analysis, and you can get that. But I don't think it is as central in the coverage of--of our policy debates as it should be. And I don't think it's central because I think that, you know, the media--and this is not, you know, necessarily a criticism, you know, of them, frankly, but the media have a tendency to find ways of framing issues that they think will get public response. I mean, that's just a natural thing, I mean, as a writer. I mean, they are not policy analysts. You know, to me, I mean, they're writers. And what they're trying to do is--saying, `How do we frame this? How do we get a public to understand this?'
Now that can also distort things. And--and I think you--you've really touched upon what is the critical issue here. The critical issue is to find individuals, both in--in the political arena, and, I think, more likely--the more likely candidates will be in--in the arena of the media to--to perform this central function: to be able to frame issues so the public can understand them, but not do it at the expense of substantive discussion of issues.
Now that's a challenge. And I think that it's--it's up to people in the media to take up that challenge. Because you won't necessarily get rewarded for it. I mean, as we saw from, you know, the--the Monica Lewinsky situation. I mean, you get rewarded now--I mean, everybody wants to be Woodward and Bernstein. Now everybody wants to be Mike Isikoff. That's where you get the books. That's where you get the movie sales. That's where you get the money. That's where you get the heroes. That's what people want to do. I think, you know, it's--Isikoff, when he said, `My model was Woodward and Bernstein,' you know, some journalist 10 years from now is going to say, `My model was Mike Isikoff.'
But you've got to find someone and I think they're out there, you know, who says, `No, you know, my model isn't, you know, Mike Isikoff. My model isn't Woodward and Bernstein. I want to do the--the grunt work. I want to be the person who says, "Lookit, this is--this is what this policy issue is about."' And--and I think that's--you know, I--I say, am I optimistic about this? Not particularly, because, you know, my whole theory in my book is that this is an entertainment-driven society and that newspapers have to sell. And that the competition for newspapers is not other newspapers, or even television. The competition for newspapers and television is everything. We are in a--in a kind of uni-entertainment environment. You can read a newspaper, or you can watch a video, you can go to the movies, or you can listen to radio, you--I mean, that's the kind of environment I think in which we live. And in that kind of environment, what is--what--what is going to prompt a journalist to say, `I'm going to opt out of that a little bit,' when the rewards might not be there for opting out of it, frankly.
I mean, we reward those people. We reward the Mike Isikoffs of the world. And if you reward them, you're going to get more of them. So somewhere these other kinds of journalists have to be rewarded and, hopefully, there will be journalists who--I mean, I think it's a self-motivated thing. People who say, `I'm going to--I'm going to--to be a public journalist.'
JAY: Point taken.
Dr. RODIN: Neal, why--why can you--why wouldn't you argue, or couldn't you argue, something that was completely opposite? That is, if we view heroes from the movies as being those whom we want to celebrate as our political leaders, part of that heroism is that they're all-knowing, that there isn't that much complexity or--or pluralistic perspectives, because they don't need it.
Mr. GABLER: That's right.
Dr. RODIN: They have all of that knowledge in--in their own heads. And I was struck, and I'm sure many of us read Maureen Dowd yesterday in The Times, and she--she quotes one of our colleagues, Bud Trillin, and a Christmas game that he and his wife, Alice, played, which is that they would give each other countries for Christmas. And so Alice would say to Bud, `OK, I'll do Iran for the whole year,' meaning Bud didn't have to read about Iran, he didn't have to know which dictator was in charge. He didn't have to worry about that for a whole year, because she was going to read it and she was going to tell him about it.
Now I find, as Maureen Dowd, I think wa--was quick to comment, that her criticism of George W. was that he's not willing to do Iran for us and that--and that--that we want--we should want of our political leaders, as hero, that they know things, or that they should know things, that we don't know or that we don't want to bother to know, because we're trusting them to know it.
Mr. GABLER: Mm-hmm.
Dr. RODIN: So why wouldn't we want a more engaged, knowledgeable, policy-driven, omniscient politician coming out of our movie heroic myths?
Mr. GABLER: Well, I--I think that, you know, George W., frankly, has tapped into something in not knowing all those things. I think that, you know, it's not that we valorize the president as being all-knowing. We valorize him as being someone who can get things done and who understands us. And I think you can play that card another way. `Yeah, I don't know all this stuff. Neither do you, and who cares?' Ultimately, `I've got advisers for that,' which is what George W.'s been saying all along. `I've got advisers who can do that.' I'll tell you, I think that plays reasonably well with the public.
You know, there's--there's a--there's--there's a deep--you know, Richard Hoffsteader. There's a deep, you know, strain of anti-intellectualism in this country. And--and I think people are very distrustful of individuals who know everything. I hate to say this to a--thi--this august company where you do know everything, but I--I think, you know, that--that--you can play that very easily the other way.
Dr. RODIN: OK. Carolyn, you're our next ...(unintelligible).
CAROLYN: As we talk about this issue of how we trade public policy issues, in particular looking in the direction of opportunities for supporting it...
Mr. GABLER: Mm-hmm.
Dr. RODIN: Get the mic. Oh, thank you.
CAROLYN: Oh, sorry. I want to come back to the issue that came up between Michael and you where the focus was on the--today we have two tracks.
Mr. GABLER: Mm-hmm.
CAROLYN: We have what I would call the expert track, which is represented both by the academy and by the politicians. And we have the media track, which I think you very eloquently said is moving us further into f--entertainment, which makes it difficult for them to be a second track with real integrity.
Mr. GABLER: Exactly.
CAROLYN: I think there's a third track that should be on the table that has arisen in a way because both of those other tracks have less focus and ability to con--hold peoples' attention.
Mr. GABLER: Mm-hmm.
CAROLYN: If you take that fact about Walter Cronkite used to be 60 percent of households were watching him. Now we take all four major channels and it's about 17 percent of the population. I think the third track that has to be taken seriously in a different way is how citizens themselves frame these public policy issues in the context of their daily lives. And they come up--they have to make meaning. To stay an effective human being, you do make meaning, whether you have all the facts or not. And they tend to--let me give one example that I think makes the point. People who've looked at the issue of education, public education reform and the issue of safety in schools. Still today in 1999, we keep this as separate tracks. Public policy experts over here voted gun control on this issue and go to teacher's quality and standards on this issue. In poll data and intensive citizen interviews that I became accessed to as a chief of staff in a state in the '80s, citizens--parents, teachers and children--were integrating the issue of safety and quality of education articulately as early as 1980. And there's some way in which we do not have an institutional basis for bringing that intelligence as a third track into how we begin to define issues when we're looking for broad public outreach about heading in a new direction on one of the very, very difficult problems facing us.
Mr. GABLER: I--I--I mean, I agree with you. And I think one of the problems is, to--to get back to the notion of the movies, is that we don't have a way, a matrix, for that. I mean, before we can have an institution, we have to have a matrix. You know, the movies give us a matrix for thinking about the world, whether it's, you know, a zero sum game, winners and losers, however. You know, one--one looks at that matrix and says, `Lookit, this is how the world is. It's very convenient. It has categories and we can fit things into those categories,' which is what the media generally does now, and, what I was saying earlier, some politicians do. But where's the matrix for the middle way? I mean, that, I think, is a--is a critical issue. And where is it going to come from, this middle way of thinking about issues? I wish I had an answer for that, but I don't. All I know is that there is a hole. There is a hole in a matrix about thinking and framing issues. And perhaps this commission, you know, is--a part of its duty is to--is to examine how do you fill that hole? How do you create that matrix?
Dr. RODIN: That's right. Bob and then Drew.
BOB: I--we've gone onto these wonderful subjects and I'm a little embarrassed to return to your talk. There were some problems I had with it. You started the talk--or at least I thought we were going to examine ways in which the movies dealt with issues we could call public discourse. And we saw these three examples. Very quickly, you turned to the way in which movies then became the idiom for public discourse, kind of movies of all sorts. And that's a big subject and that's a very difficult one to get a grasp on. And you've studied it and I wouldn't try to, you know, challenge that, but I'd like to go back to that very first one because that seems, to me, you left us with a pretty grim message about heroes and simplicity and good and bad buys and oversimple resolutions.
If you recast the meaning of public discourse to include community action or collective action in movies, wouldn't you get a more optimistic message? I'm not a movie buff. I can't cite all these examples. But I have this collective memory of many instances in the movies where people find a problem in front of them--I'm thinking of Joyce Appleby's report on communities in the 21st century. And it seems to me the movies speak to that capacity of people who are not experts. It's something of the subversive capacity you were talking about. We go to the movies because we're really pissed off at the system, you know, we'd really like to sort of see it pulled down. And there are, it seems to me, innumerable examples in movies of ordinary people, so-called, who gather together, who find a problem, who gather together and who act upon that problem in collective and almost spontaneous, but in the end, self-organizing ways. Is it simple? Yes. Is it a narrative story that wouldn't have a match in ordinary life? Yes. But does it offer us a different model about self-empowerment, about the capacity of people in small settings to say, `To hell with you people out there. We're going to take care of our problems ourselves'? Maybe that's a little more optimistic way of seeing the movie imagery and ways in which we would like to identify the possibilities of public discourse for the future.
Mr. GABLER: I wish I could be, you know, as optimistic as you are about that, you know, plethora of images. But I--I really don't think that they exist anywhere near--I mean, quantitatively speaking. I mean, I think on the one hand, you have films that valorize individual action and that occasionally, as I say, stir people to take action. But they take action because an individual stands up and says, `Let's do it.' And the idea is that, you know, people are generally kind of pacific and passive, but, you know, if somebody will get up there and lead the way, he can use them as an instrument to get things done. But I think collective action is something that Hollywood looks on--and I'm talking now about commercial films and not independent films--that Hollywood looks--Hollywood looks on, I think, you know, very skeptically.
It's just not--you know, you--you can get something like "The Magnificent Seven," which is, you know, collective action. You know, seven people who are experts in each of their, you know, areas get together to--to--to do something but that's not what you're addressing here. And--and I think that there is something deep in--in the Hollywood psyche, if not in the American psyche, that says, `No,' you know, `not collectively.' You know, we do this--you know, one man stands up, and it's usually a man, unfortunately--you know, one man stands up and he gets it done. Now we may assist him, he may mobilize us, but one man gets it done. And--and there are--I mean, there's a few films of King Vidov's in the 1930s which are about collective action. But even "Grapes of Wrath," when you look at that--I mean, Tom Joad gets it done!
BOB: You know, I'm thinking about a movie like--gosh, here once again, you know, my--my galloping Alzheimer's is a problem. That--a movie about a women's baseball team...
Mr. GABLER: "A League of Their Own."
BOB: Yeah, that sounds like it.
Mr. GABLER: But, again, you know, the women get together...
BOB: And there are individuals in it but in fact it is that team that in the end defines what they're able to accomplish. It's not the manager. Hanks is the follower of this team, which in effect--and we have personal stories. There are narratives. We have the old passing and the new winning or something like that in it. But it is, it's a collective team (unintelligible).
Mr. GABLER: But compare that then--compare that to one of Jean Renoir's films in the 1930s where there was no single figure held up above the other figures. They were all collective and all figures are on the same valence. Now if you look at "A League of Their Own," you know, Geena Davis is the star of the movie and she's the star of the team. Not only the star of the movie, but it's interesting that they make--she's the star of the team. You know, it's not as if all of these individuals are on the same valence working toward, you know, a single end. And that's what you have to have.
BOB: It's collective action. Not perfect equality but collective action.
Mr. GABLER: Well, it's collective action but I think they still valorize, you know, an individual. But--but, you know, your point is--is, again, well-taken. It's just that you don't find that very often. You find that--you know, if you're looking quantitatively, they are few and far between. You know, somebody doesn't go in Hollywood and say, `OK, now we want a bunch of people get together and they're going to, you know, do something.' You know, it just doesn't really work that way. You say you get Tom Cruise and he's going to do something! That's the way it works.
Dr. RODIN: You're--you're next.
Unidentified Man: I'm not sure it happens in real life, either.
Mr. GABLER: No. It may not be, that's true.
Unidentified Woman: I have a question about your notion of audience and I've been thinking about it. I thought about it a little bit when you were talking. But it seems to me it's gotten to be more of a problem as we've had our discussion and that is you have a notion of audience that in some ways is very reassuring because it bespeaks a unity of the American public that we would like to imagine existed, I think. But we've spent a lot of time on location talking about fragmentations in the American public and we--in the past few minutes we've been talking about this movie audience that responds in a certain way and yet at the same time we've been assuming this kind of generalized response, there have been little hints that there are those who dissent from that response or that that audience is characterized by certain attributes.
Mr. GABLER: That's true. Yes.
Unidentified Woman: You talk about it being very young. We seem to be--we, as a group, as "intellectuals," seem to be excluded from that audience. And so I wonder how does your argument get complicated if you complicate the notion of audience that you've offered?
Mr. GABLER: Well, I think you're absolutely right. I mean, it's--it's foolish to think of this kind of unitary audience, particularly since--I mean, it--one of the things that television and movies are constantly doing is looking at demographics. And who's our demographic? And who can we exclude because they really don't go to the movies and who are we targeting these movies toward?
Unidentified Woman: It's only black movies and white movies.
Mr. GABLER: And there are black movies and there are white movies and now I think, you know, the independent film movement has really become a separate orientation. I mean, Hollywood movies are basically directed towards a relatively young audience...
Mr. GABLER: ...and independent movies now are directed towards an older audience, and--and the twain don't have to meet anymore, which is something that was--it's a very different situation than the movies in the '30s and the '40s, when you were thinking generally about a kind of unitary audience. The whole family could go to the movies. Today, I mean--and, again, having two children of my own, I mean, the family can't go to the movies that often, you know, most of the movies are R-rated.
But--but let me put that--that issue aside for the moment because what we're--what we're really talking about--what I'm addressing here is not an audience necessarily--the demographics of that audience--but a mind-set. And I think the movies have permeated how we think about the world so deeply over the last 100 years that it's not a matter of this group of teen-agers goes to the movies and--and this group of baby boomers doesn't and therefore they're not--their consciousness isn't affected by the movie consciousness.
I think the movie consciousness permeates us in so many different ways other than moviegoing, frankly. It permeates us, as I was saying earlier, in the media and how the media frame issues. It permeates us through television. It permeates us through education. It permeates us in a whole variety of ways so that in this sense we are all an audience. Because all those fragments that you talk about may not go to the movies, may not watch television. You know, there are different audiences that do different things.
But in the sense that the consciousness of that audience gets permeated by--or at least affected by--a movie consciousness, I think we're all affected by that. We all tend, you know, to--to frame reality in larger ways or smaller ways through that matrix, and I include myself in that. I'm not--this is not an us and them situation is what I'm saying. I mean, I think we can't avoid it. How would you avoid it when you live within a culture in which we are constantly bombarded by narratives and images which have been affected by the movies?
And I think, you know, television--you know, some scholars see television as a completely distinct entity from the movies. But I see television as--as really a kind of mo--you know, portable form of the movies. That so much of what we see on television has been affected by movie narratives, by movie images. And--and it's with us, you know, on a--on a daily basis.
Dr. RODIN: Larry?
LARRY: I want you to think about what we--what--well, let's just call an accidental feature of the movies for a second, that they're extremely expensive to make well. And because they're extremely expensive to make well, that imposes a certain discipline on people who make these movies about who they're targeted for. And--and this is inviting you to think a little bit more about the demographics. And then compare that--what I want to call an accidental feature of the movies--to, for example, writing books, which, you know, somebody can go off for four months or a year into the woods and write a book and bring it to market after that in a way that they can't go off for a year...
Mr. GABLER: Mm-hmm.
LARRY: ....and write and make a movie and then bring it to market. Now I want you to compare that because let's imagine this accidental feature of the movies changes so that the architecture of making movies is not such that it costs millions of dollars to do but that, you know, the technology changes such that basically anybody can put together really high-quality movies like this. Would you expect the dramatic structure to say the--stay the same?
Mr. GABLER: That's...
LARRY: Because I'm not sure if you looked to the dramatic structure of books you would think, you know, it follows this particular stru--and--and maybe that's because books vs. film, I don't know. But I'm just inviting you to think about the relationship between the necessary audience and this dramatic structure.
Mr. GABLER: That's a very interesting question and I suspect that what you're talking about--though this is not my fear--field of expertise and we do have some experts here--will happen on the Internet, where you will have films that you can download, films that can be cheaply made and distributed over the Internet. But here's my suspicion: Studios gamble big. They go to the big table at--at the movie Las Vegas because they know that only gambling big can they hope to win big.
And what that means is that--you know, a movie--a movie may cost $100 million but if it doesn't cost $100 million, you know you're never going to make $200 million. This is Hollywood's way of thinking. And in point of fact, if you've seen correlations between budget and audience, it's--it's a--it's a way of thinking that is true. I mean, it is--it is validated by attendance. And it's even more valid when you think of the foreign market, which is very much directed towards the kinds of movies that they cannot make because their countries cannot support the special effects and the action and whatever that American movies can--can, you know, support.
So my suspicion is, that, you know, you'll find more tiers. We're talking about tiers of discourse. We'll find more tiers of movies. There will always be the blockbuster because that's where money is. You know, Willie Sutton, `Why do I rob banks?' Because that's where the money is. Why are studios going to make big movies? Because that's where the money is. And there will be these independent pictures which make much less money. I mean, even a "Blair Witch Project," you know--which is, I guess, the highest grossing independent movie of all time, inexplicably, you know--but only grossed, you know, $100 million-something as opposed to a success, which is, you know, now nearing $300 million.
And then we'll get these movies that'll be shown on the Internet which will definitely have--I mean, independent movies have different narrative structures than Hollywood movies. I--I suspect that Internet movies, if that's indeed what the distribution will be--distribution mechanism will be--will have different narrative structures than independent movies. But when you're talking about books--I mean, you--you're really--you're talking about such different--a different scale of audience. I mean, as a writer, I can tell you that--I mean, you can get on the Best Seller's List if you sell 50,000 books. If 50,000 people go to your movie, you better be looking for another profession.
Now--I mean, this is something I find almost scandalous, that so few people--it takes so few people to get a book--I mean, you can put them all in--in Shea Stadium and that's it, you can have the number-one best seller. I mean, you look at--at books that--you know, I--you look at something like "Tuesdays with Morrie" and what does it say? They had an ad, you know, `Two years on the Best Seller's List.' Three million copies in print. This is a country of 260 million people; there's three million copies. That doesn't mean sold, that means there are three million copies in print.
Now move that over to the--the Hollywood arena. Now three million copies, that would be three million patrons, let's say, paying roughly $5 apiece, which, believe it or not, is the average ticket price--although if you live in New York or Los Angeles, you're paying $9 or something--and--and you'll see that that's $50 million. That's the opening weekend for any halfway decent, you know, Hollywood picture.
So you're dealing in different scales which allow you--when you're dealing on different scales, it allows you more latitude. The movies where playing with different narrative forms when nobody was going to. You know, in the late '60s and early '70s, you could have a Robert Altman come in and say, `Lookit, I'm not going to make a film within the typical narrative structures. Why? Because nobody's going to the movies anyway.'
But when you gamble $100 million on the chance that you're going to make $200 million or $300 million and people are going to the movies, I mean, what--what tends to happen is the movies become more generic. And I think the--the narrative structures become more rigid.
Dr. RODIN: Cass.
CASS: Yeah. The remarks--your remarks, seem to me, they describe two dichotomies. The individualism vs. collective action dichotomy and the heroes and villains vs. substantive engagement with maybe gray area. So the message, I guess, was that there's an implicit politics to Hollywood that has those two features. But the clips you showed show a lot of other possible dichotomies. And what--I wondered whether you could speak a bit about that. It may be that along some dimensions Hollywood is too heterogeneous to have easy formulations of what it's concerned with and not. But with your--with your clips that--there is implicit criticism there of moral relativism, of political passivity, of current government and of the current social order. In--in some sense in all of them. So there's dichotomy there. You know, there's a claim that America has become morally relativist, but no Hollywood film comes close to e--embracing that.
Also there is kind of silence and no criticism about what some consider the repression of religion or indifference to religion or something. That was kind of off the table. Alleged political correctness wasn't identified, no stand was taken on that. There's nothing about homosexuality, one way or the other. So--so what I wondered was whether the--the two dichotomies you describe, which seem right and very important, aren't complemented by about 40 others. And to get at Hollywood's implicit politics wouldn't we want to try to isolate those?
Mr. GABLER: I--I--I completely agree with you. And I--you know, one thing I ought to take on here is that the word we've been using is `simplicity.' We've been using that a lot that, you know, it simplifies. Now it's not a word I used because the narratives may be simplified, which is not the same thing, obviously, as being simplistic, but what the narratives contain is not necessarily either simplified or simplistic. I mean, the narratives themselves are clean. They have to be that way or we're not going to respond to them, in my estimation. But there are all sorts of values within those narrative lineaments that we respond to.
And, you know, I can't go, you know, one by one, you know, down the--down a list but I would say that American movies purvey values that they think their audience will respond to without crossing a line, and--and--and kind of having that audience disassociate themselves from the film. So that there are certain values that movies won't purvey. An--and I'll give you an example of a film. There was a John Milius film some years ago now called "Red Dawn," as you--it wasn't a success, and I'll tell you why it wasn't a success in a minute.
It was about a--a Russian invasion of the United States and how Americans--actually, it was a collective movie. It really was a collective movie because even though Patrick Swayze was the nominal hero, it's really about a group of teen-agers who fight as a guerrilla warf--as guerrilla warfare--fight the Russian invasion. And there's a moment in that movie where they come upon a young Russian soldier and he's unarmed. And they capture him and they say, `Well, now what do we do with him?'
Now almost anyone in this room can tell you what Americans do with an unarmed Russian soldier. They take him with them and, you know, whatever, because he's lost in this cou--and that's how Americans operate. Because within the American value system, that's what we do. That's it. In this film, Patrick Swayze takes out a gun and shoots him. And it violates every value and--you know--I mean, the film was, obviously, a disaster. But I just use it as one example.
There are certain things--there are certain lines you--movies are transgressive but, you know, it's--it's--you know, like--like Ken Mu said, `Life is absurd, but some things are too absurd.' The movies are transgressive, but there's some things that are too transgressive. And movies operate within that--that boundary. About a whole ranges of issues from religion to homosexuality to race to whatever. I mean, there are--there are a whole range of--of issues that the movies that operate within these boundaries you can transgress. But if you transgress too much, people don't want to be in the theater. They don't want to be there with that movie.
And in a way--I mean, this is almost the best form of censorship available. You know, there are people who want movies to be censored or whatever, they talk about Hollywood responsibility. I mean, I--I believe that the audience, in a way, exercises this responsibility in that they won't want to see Patrick Swayze shoot an unarmed Russian soldier with a gun. Some will, but the vast majority of people in the audience will not.
And so the dichotomies you talk about, which are, you know, virtually infinite, you know, operate in those--in those parameters--and you can see, you know, a host of id--you know, different positions on a host of issues in our movies about all sorts of things. Some that valorize religion, some that, you know, really never attack religion but attack the fundamentalism, like "Footloose," of religious prescription.
Dr. RODIN: Joe.
JOE: I have a lot of different reactions sort of swimming around to what you said in my mind and I'm not sure I can get this really clear, but let me take a stab at it. In your remarks later, after the talk, you said that--at one point that you thought that the reason journalists framed issues the way they frame them was trying to get the best frame in order to under--enable the public to understand.
NEAL: That's one reason, I would say, yes.
JOE: I--but I--that's the one I want to pick up on. Because I guess I really--I don't believe that's true of the journalists who have been most affected by the--by the--the ethos that you describe coming over from movies. I think it's the newspapers--the best newspaper journalists still do try to do that. But I think that--I think that what is driving most television journalists, which is the one I think we're really--the kind we're really thinking about terms of pervading the public, is a desire to--to make a headline, attract an audience of--attract the largest audience they can possibly ha--they possibly can, beat their com---beat the--beat their--beat their competitors to it. Now that's not new.
JOE: It's not new in the world of journalism. And I guess I'm thinking back to journalism--political journalism in the 18th century in the US, as well as in England. It's always been sensationalist. And I'm wondering if the--the media culture that you describe insofar as it relates to public discourse, particularly about politics but not just about politics but about issues, really is responding--is--that television just happens to be the media of the 20th century. That what it's responding to essentially is something very deep in the way in which the public looks at this circus of public events and is more interested in some kinds of things than other kinds of things. And so I do--I'm not sure that telev--television happens to be more pervasive maybe--maybe in res--in--ma--in relation to the public as a whole than the pamphleteering and the--the proliferation of newspapers that--that existed in the 18th century and the 19th century.
But I'm not sure that--that--that it's all that different. Now finally, I want to go back to what Calin was saying just a minute ago. There's something about the way the public gets information about public events that has nothing to do with the media culture. I mean, I think it's operating at many different levels, as you suggested, tiers. I think there is a cut, a--a tier in which the public perceives events through the large, in the horse race, politics in the--in the conflict focused--in the hero focused way. But I think that there are multiple levels and people do get information through six degrees of separation from people that they know who have ideas and who have beliefs about these things. The public is really--if you look at the polls on different public issues as I have done, what you find is that the public today is much more--much better informed about the subtleties of--of--of political--of--of public policy issues than they appear to have been in the past.
I'm not sure that's right, but at--but--but than they appear to have been. The public has mani--has manifest in a number of polls on major issues a remarkable capacity to understand the--the subtle differences between different approaches. Maybe they did with respect to the--to the--to the nuclear testing issue. I don't know. I know that they did with respect to the issue of the--dealing with the--the medical of--bill of rights issue, because I happened to have looked at that very recently. They understood quite clearly that, you know, there were--there were benefits to one plan, there were--there were costs to one plan, there were benefits to the other, there were costs to the other plan. They understood that and it's reflected. So I guess what I'm saying is that despite...
Mr. GABLER: Right.
JOE: ...despite this media culture, the media approach, as you described, or the movie approach through the media to politics and public affairs, the public is getting this information from somewhere and I think that's a very interesting part of the way we need to look at the question because there may be ways of shaking it.
Mr. GABLER: Well, you've said two things that--and the--the second--now I agree with you that--I mean, we are a very diverse society with all sorts of different sources of information. Now clearly--I mean, the media, the television and--and newspapers are the main source of information. But there are other ways of getting information and--and you'll never find me denigrating the American public. I mean, I--I'm always amazed at--at, you know, how astute they are.
The first thing you were saying is that this is not new. I--I--in fact, you've just kind of given the thesis of my book because what I talk about in the book--this is not revolutionary. This is evolutionary. We're constantly finding new ways, new, more sophisticated, more pervasive ways of entertaining the public, whether it's through the journalism or in other ways. And this was true in the 19th century. I mean, the penny press was clearly an entertainment medium. It wasn't just an information medium, it was an entertainment medium. Information comes in all packages. But the information they were purveying came in one package: sensationalism.
And--and I think, you know, the difference now may not even be one of pervasiveness. It may be one of sophistication, that we're more sophisticated about how the system operates, which is one of the reasons why I think we don't always respond to the system the way that one--one might anticipate we would respond to it. And the system itself is more sophisticated in how it's entertaining us. I will just give you one--one little anecdote. When I was out promoting my book, I did "The O'Reilly Factor," which is one of these cable television programs that is dedicated to public policy as comment. I mean, that's essentially what it's about.
And I said to O'Reilly--you know, I said, `You'--the Lewinsky story was going on and he was one of these people who, you know, every day--the drumbeat was constant. And I said, you know, `You're really going to miss the Lewinsky story.' I mean, which is--as a--I know you all probably know this is true that, you know, `It--it boosted your ratings and when it's gone, you know, your ratings are going to go back down again.' And he look at me and he said--and he said this one air--he said, `Oh, no. He said there'll always be JonBenet Ramsey.'
And I--I think, you know, that that's a kind of--of media consciousness. And if not JonBenet Ramsey, then, you know, something else because there will always be what in my book I call a lifie, which is a movie written in the medium of life that the media can then, you know, exploit for our entertainment pleasure.
Dr. RODIN: Just...
JOE: Can I ask a follow-up question?
Dr. RODIN: Yes.
JOE: This has a--totally irrelevant but it's one I've thought about it in the course of your talk--talking about movies. I guess I wondered why a--I think about maybe the best movie I ever saw recently--in recent--recent years which will show you how many movies I've seen, was "Chariots of Fire." Now I want to ask, you know, which--with--I want to--I'd like to get a better understanding of why we don't have more films like that, which really do address the sort of thing that you were talking about--"The Omega Code," in fact, was aspiring to, but couldn't do.
Mr. GABLER: And again, I would go back to, you know, risk factor. I mean, the risk factor of making a small movie for--now a small movie is $20 million or $30 million, you know, is much higher than the risk factor. And this is just all cost analysis--I--the risk factor of making a $100 million movie. I mean, it really comes down to that. You know, the more simplified the narrative structures, the more likely you can export that movie, the more likely that a young audience will respond to that movie.
The more complicated the film--it's almost a difference between popular literature--and literature, one could ask the same question. Why Stephen King and not John Updike, you know? Well, one is, you know, relatively simplified narrative structure, the other is not. More people are going to read one than the other and, you know, Stephen King gets $40 million for, you know, a four-book deal and I don't know what Updike gets but I can guarantee you it's considerably less than that. And I think that's the--you know, the short answer.
Dr. RODIN: We have so many more questions and we're out of time. Will you folks indulge me five more minutes because I think that there's wonderful conversation here, I hate to cut off all the questions. We have one at least on our Web-based group...
JENNIFER: That's right.
Dr. RODIN: ...and, Jennifer...
Dr. RODIN: ...if you want to start with that we'll just take a few minutes.
JENNIFER: We have a question from one of our participants on our Web site rel--and it's related somewhat to--to your point, Jay, and also to Joel Fleischman's point. `It seems that politics as entertainment discourse that uses entertainment-style methods are--to invoke the title of a relatively recent film--a case of the tail wagging the dog. There seems to be real danger in this cycle. How can the public or audience sift through it all? Are there good models?'
Mr. GABLER: Well, I--I--let me invoke Nancy Reagan. I mean, you just say no. You know, we're a very sophisticated public and we have to respond with sophistication. You know what? I think it's--it's amazing that, according to The New Yorker this week, Steve Forbes will pour, you know, some $10 million-something into New Hampshire and drive down--I guess he's targeting George Bush because George Bush is in the lead, just as he targeted Bob Dole four years ago--and drive down his numbers. Now you say to yourself, if you're--if you're a voter in New Hampshire, you know what's happening. You know that he's spreading either disinformation or whatever about this candidate. Why should that drive down the poll numbers? Why don't you just disregard it? Why don't you just say, `He's pouring $10 million here. He's saying things that I didn't believe two weeks ago, why should I believe them now? And, you know, it--it won't be part of my mental process.'
We know that the media is going to find something about all of these candidates and that it's going to latch onto--as I was saying earlier--this week it's John McCain's temperament. It was, you know, George Bush's cocaine. Guaranteed they'll do something about Bill Bradley. I mean, that's the way it works. So why don't you just disregard, say, `This is fun. This is entertaining. I kind of enjoy this but I'm not going to let it affect how I--how I respond to the candidate.'
You see, we can have our entertainment and eat it too if we play this game, you know, wisely. I--and then in the pop--in--in doing so, we may actually convert the press into responding to us differently. I'm not hopeful about that but I'm more--I--I'm somewhat hopeful that the public can learn to disregard those things that have nothing to do with the qualification of a candidate or with substantive public policy discussions.
Dr. RODIN: The members of the commission will have more of a chance to visit with Neal at lunch and continue your questions. Let me take the last question from Wendy Steiner, who is another expert in modern culture that--chair of the English department at Penn and the director of the Penn Humanities Forum. Wendy.
Ms. WENDY STEINER (Penn Humanities Forum): Is it OK if I speak without a microphone or should I...
Dr. RODIN: Yeah. You need a mic.
Ms. STEINER: OK. Of course, you make statements like this and immediately counter examples come mind. I think of "The Mod Squad" or something. Isn't that the one with Mr. T, where everybody was a specialist and they all worked...
Mr. GABLER: "A-Squad."
Ms. STEINER: The...
Mr. GABLER: "A-Team." "A-Team," excuse me. Yeah.
Ms. STEINER: "The A-Team."
Mr. GABLER: Yeah.
Ms. STEINER: And--OK. But this argument that says you have to give the public what it wants and the public only wants what we give it, is--because it's totally shaped by the media in every way. It's one of those circles that become the real fix in any--and--and you--you can justify anything under those grounds. The fact is that there are all kinds of things that Hollywood could do in making a film that could break into the cycle of fairy tales presented as hard-hitting whatevers.
And--you know, I--I'm constantly struck by how little advantage is taken of all the different kinds of genres. All ki--the genres and kinds of fictions that are available to Hollywood. Something like "American Beauty" that was just made. It strikes me as a very tough movie and apparently people have liked it an awful lot and I--I really think that Hollywood can tell people that they're going to like something and they very often do even when it doesn't fulfill the kinds of patterns that it allegedly prefers.
But it--but--but the one--one of the kinds of plots that is so seldom dealt with is when it talks about unsurety where there are equally good alternatives and people just don't know what to do under those circumstances, which is a very important kind of plot for a democracy to take into account where you have to deal with opposing viewpoints, where there's right on both sides...
Mr. GABLER: Right.
Ms. STEINER: ...and--and negotiate your way through that. I mean, there are things that Hollywood could do that would be of tremendous service to the--to the American people and so to--simply to keep on going and dishing out more of the same is--on the grounds that it no doubt is the only way to make money seems a very defeatist way of going about things.
Mr. GABLER: I--I'm not ju--you're certainly not going to find me defending Hollywood on this--on this basis, but let me just--let me just say a few things. In Hollywood, I mean, there's a way to fail. And, you know, you look at this in very human terms, these are people who have a job and they want to keep that job. And if they fail the way that everyone else fails, they keep the job. If you fail in new ways, you don't. I mean, it really does come down to that. Now in "American Beauty," you know--will be a success and one presumes it will be nominated for the Academy Award and whatever and will wind up now--I guess it made $68 million coming into this weekend and, you know, one assumes it'll make something like $100 million.
That's very, very good. But if you're a studio head and you've only got "American Beauties"--and that--and that movie's a success, a risky success, you're not going to hold your job. And--and so what--what we're really talking about is not--not the morality of this but the--the--who wants to take the risk? Who wants to take that risk, put himself on the line and say, `Oh, that idiot. Why in the world did he make that movie? Why in the world did he do that?'
You know, it's one thing to make a Schwarzenegger movie and fail. You can survive that because anybody would have made the Schwarzenegger movie. So he's only doing what everybody else in the studio would have done. I mean, it--it's an industry that is very much geared to saying no, not to saying yes. Like almost every industry in America. Like college admissions or anything else. It's all geared to saying no. Because if you say yes to the wrong thing, then you lose your job. So I--I'm not quarreling with what you're saying, I'm--I'm simply saying that there is kind of logic to the system within Hollywood. And those of us who want better movies, you know, we--we may want to say, `Well, why don't you crack that logic? Why don't you operate in a different logical system? Operate outside that logic.'
But again, I--you know, I don't want to be a--a Cassandra here, a doomsayer, but I don't think it's very likely to happen. Now we'll get another--we'll get, you know, five more movies like "American Beauty," as we always do whenever there's a success, and chances are all five of them will fail. But--and then nothing will be done for another, you know, few years and then there'll be another movie that will come out and, you know, small movie that will be successful and Hollywood will try and imitate that. You know, imitation is the sincerest form of flatulence.
Dr. RODIN: I'd like to thank Neal for a really provocative session.
Mr. GABLER: Thank you very much.
Dr. RODIN: We are adjourned to where?
Unidentified Man: ...(Unintelligible) the lobby.
Dr. RODIN: OK, through the lobby into the other side. Thank you.
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