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Why Hollywood might not be as liberal as you think

Actress Meryl Streep, recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, poses in the press room during the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 8, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.
Actress Meryl Streep, recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, poses in the press room during the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 8, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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Is Hollywood pushing a liberal agenda through the entertainment it makes? 

If you watched Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes Sunday night, you might think so. But Mary McNamara, the managing editor for arts and entertainment at the Los Angeles Times, doesn't agree. She recently wrote an essay titled "The notion of a liberal agenda in Hollywood is absurd."

The piece was published in a collection of articles that asks if Hollywood has lost touch with American values.

The New York Times' chief TV critic, James Poniewozik, also wrote about the ceremony in an article titled, "Trump Was the Elephant in the Ballroom at the Golden Globes." In it he analyzes the way in which celebrities broached the the subject of the president-elect.

Frame host John Horn recently talked with McNamara and Poniewozik about the assumption that Hollywood has a liberal agenda.

Conversation Highlights

Why Hollywood has a liberal-leaning reputation: 

Mary McNamara: There is this perception that Hollywood is progressive because so many members of Hollywood are publicly progressive. And because when we do have a show like "Transparent" or a movie like "Moonlight," there is a lot of talk about it. And, obviously, Oscars So White — that caused a huge conversation. But when you actually look at the overall product ... in terms of the kind of narratives, the kind of leads that you're seeing, the kind of attitudes that you're seeing. Whether it's the love of guns or [the fact that] white men still rule every screen. It really remains fairly traditional.

On examining the full range of political messages in Hollywood:

McNamara: There are liberal politics among the makers of television and film and music. There are also conservative people too. But the idea that Hollywood is somehow trying to subvert certain kinds of values by their television shows and their films — if you look at [them] in aggregate, it is as it ever was. There are things on the fringe, both liberal and conservative ... There this perception that somehow Hollywood is only taking about these certain kinds of issues, and that's just not true. "Game of Thrones" dominates whatever conversation it's in, and you certainly could not say that "Game of Thrones" has a liberal agenda.... When you say that Hollywood is force-feeding these ideas, you really have to cherry-pick to find specific examples of that.

On Meryl Streep's speech at the 2017 Golden Globes:

McNamara: She was talking very much about a specific incident in which he made fun of a disabled reporter and then, in a larger way, she was talking about the public discourse and talking about a certain meanness that he has injected in the public discourse. And I don't think that's something you can argue about — that is a simple fact. His style of rhetoric, whether you support him or not, is much more incendiary, it's much more mean-spirited than Obama's was.... I don't think it had anything to do with whether he was a Republican or Democrat. I think it has to do with what his public persona stands for.

On separating the work from the message:

James Poniewozik: I haven't done polling on this, but there's still a history of people attending the films of artists whose political positions they don't necessarily agree with. There's always the potential of blurring boundaries in a way that doesn't help you or help your cause. Which is not to say that's necessarily a bad thing, it's just that there are risks with it like any kind of messaging. 

On the rise in ratings from 2015 and 2016 at this year's Golden Globes:

Poniewozik: We have tended to see a ratings halo effect from anything that has the slightest Trump connection. At the Golden Globes at least, there was at least some question of, Are these awards going to address politics or not? Is this going to be the elephant in the room, etc? 

On whether Streep's speech was made more to the room or to the general public:

Poniewozik: There's a history of candidates, that you can often make your least self-conscious remarks when you're addressing a group of people who you assume share your beliefs and think just like you. In Meryl Streep's particular case, I actually thought that — kind of unusually for a celebrity award show political speech — it was more outward directed with, I think, maybe just a couple of points where it seemed to be playing to the room more than to America. 

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