Five months out from the onset of primary season, against all odds, against all reason—there is only one name on anyone’s lips. The unquestionable ringmaster of this topsy-turvy media circus is the man with the orange combover.
And yet, as much as Donald Trump has dominated the conversation over the last few months, one set of voices has been conspicuously uncritical.
It’s not like Hollywood to stay quiet on matters of politics—actors and filmmakers have been staples of American political life since Hollywood sprang up from the hills over 100 years ago. But with the rise of Trump, for once, it seems Hollywood has run out of things to say.
It’s not just the standard politician’s hypocrisy and double-talk that Trump cuts through. Take it from Owen Wilson, who summed up Hollywood’s conundrum in an interview with The Daily Beast last week, saying, “I think part of it is we’re so used to politicians on both sides sounding like actors at press junkets—it’s sort of by rote, and they say all the right things.”
Robert Redford, another usually staunch Hollywood liberal, has spent the last few days walking back comments about Trump’s unpredictability (comments that Trump promptly appropriated as an endorsement). “I’m glad he’s in there because him being the way he is, and saying what he says the way he says it, I think he shakes things up and I think that’s very needed. Because on the other side, it’s so bland, it’s so boring, it’s so empty,” Redford told Larry King on Larry King Now, to Trump’s delight.
Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston echoed similar sentiments, saying on a Nerdist podcast last month, “There’s something so refreshing about shaking up that world that is all about being handled, and here comes this loose cannon who has terrible ideas and would be a horrible president, but there’s something great about his ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit’ attitude that really kind of keeps others honest.”
People like Redford or Cranston or Wilson aren’t Trump supporters, but the fact that their comments have been misinterpreted as endorsements is yet another bind that censors artists in the public eye.
The film industry relies more and more on data as a means of controlling its losses, but even with numbers on its side, it is still funding flops. Hollywood is risk-averse with good reason—making a film costs too much money and the success of a film affects too many people’s livelihoods for the funding process to be treated cavalierly.
Gone are the days of the primadonna or the enfant terrible. Gone are even the red carpet disasters or the off-the-cuff acceptance speeches.
But the problem with removing the variables is the culture of fear that ensues when those variables are not replaced with results. Will this dress make the movie look bad? Will this comment deter someone from watching the film?
I don’t know, what does the data say?
Trump has been an unstoppable force in the GOP primaries because he’s the kind of guy who will bankrupt his company 11 times over without changing his tune. He is all risk and total chaos. He would be a disaster as president but how he would actually act as president is irrelevant for most people. People aren’t voting for Trump, they’re voting against politics.
That he comes from the world of reality television is only a bonus—why do you think Americans watch shows like Real Housewives and Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Apprentice anyway?
People are always quick to point out that reality TV isn’t “real,” that it’s scripted and constructed just like everything else. But people don’t tune into reality TV because they think it’s unstructured. We want to watch people say the things we can’t say and do the things we can’t do, because behaving badly in life is just as inconvenient for us as it is for movie stars.
In that sense, Americans hate politicians because we are politicians in our everyday lives. It’s not the lack of structure that keeps people glued to reality TV, but the lack of filters.
Perhaps due to scarcity, candor has proven a surprisingly valuable resource for Trump’s campaign. But at the end of the day, what is there that a politician can’t say that a movie star can?