Hollywood’s Bizarre Obsession With Glamorizing Awful People
The new Hulu series “Mrs. America,” starring Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, is only the latest flashy project attempting to “humanize” a public menace.
Hollywood tends to look at powerful conservative women like strange yet fascinating siblings. These women are leaning in—but for something that appears to run directly against their interests, at least according to the evaluations of the liberal producers and filmmakers who romanticize them. But those further left on the spectrum tend to be more aware that conservative viewpoints espoused by the powerful, no matter the gender in question, are always in line with class and imperialist interest.
Mrs. America, the Cate Blanchett-starring Hulu series about conservative powerhouse and Equal Rights Amendment defeater Phyllis Schlafly; Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady, featuring Meryl Streep; Bombshell which depicted a sharp yet sympathetic Megyn Kelly as Charlize Theron in drag; and even Adam McKay’s Vice not only bask in the competence of reactionaries as they face various obstacles, but take pains to endear viewers to their unfettered patriotism.
These biopics tend to avoid serious scrutiny by casting the most charismatic and beloved actors working today to spin out as many tricks of interpretation as possible. In Mrs. America, Blanchett puts on a master-class performance of the stiffly trained and physically perfected as Phyllis, who has had a great education and written two hawkish books on national security. Still, she’s seen as a trophy by her husband and treated like an object by various men in government. Phyllis notices this unfair treatment, but profits from being in denial of it; she also genuinely sees the women’s liberation movement as a kind of childish refusal of family life.
But as the arguments break out between the Gloria Steinem/Bella Abzug second-wave feminist core and Schlafly’s what we now might call “tradwife” circle, it’s the similarities, and not the differences, between these groups that become more apparent; they are both angling to make U.S. empire work for them. And today, the dynamic goes on in the mainstream. Neither the liberal feminists nor the conservative anti-feminists seem to have interests beyond the enshrining of certain rights for certain groups; changing the world means tweaking the official order.
What we’re seeing with Mrs. America, The Iron Lady, Bombshell, and more is Hollywood reenacting the symbiotic political relationships of the U.S. empire, wherein neither of the acknowledged sides present a true threat to the status quo. Both the real Schlafly and Thatcher saw freedom as the ability of their respective countries to continue dominating and profiting off of that superior rank in the world order. If this meant the impoverished and persecuted at home and around the world must continue to be so, then so be it! Both women were adept at selling this point of view because of their masterful normative command of public speaking and their abilities to appeal so well to two overlapping spheres: powerful men and the people who gladly depend on them.
As long as the main point of political action among liberals is to acquire power through the consent of the status quo, there will never be much meaningful difference between them and the conservatives other than who gets what out of it domestically. The conservatives began noticing this earlier than the liberals and in both the U.S. and the U.K. have been using their tow-the-line dynamic with their counterparts in government to push the official agenda as far right as possible. Since the '80s, they have taken to systematically undoing decades of social democratic legislation secured by civil rights movements. It’s this phenomenon with which Hollywood execs have become obsessed.
The radical community-based and internationalist work of revolutionaries, of course, wouldn’t make for as flashy of a streaming series, and would require producers to actually hire black and indigenous actors in starring roles. So instead, we will keep getting wink-and-nudge girl power biopics about conservative and liberal figures alike, with high school term paper analyses of complex issues, and the wholesale neglect of any worldviews that stretch beyond the current status quo. If you’re interested in anything smarter than that, you’ll likely have to read subtitles and watch documentaries.