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Rising above celebrity: Ben Affleck

If Hollywood is the most significant cultural force around, then does it have any real political clout — or no clout? In a town where the political values of the average individual are far left of center, this is the question Steven Kotler posed to Ben Affleck, Warren Beatty and Lionel Chetwynd, three of the industry’s most politically active denizens. What follows is Affleck‘s answer.

I think Hollywood does have real political clout; in a practical sense a lot of money flows from the entertainment industry into political campaigns and money is at the core of this question. But it’s one thing to watch someone’s movies or hear their music, it’s another thing to share their values.

There’s resentment and envy that goes hand in hand with any kind of fame and the right has used that to their benefit. In the past 20 years there’s been a well-crafted effort to discredit Hollywood. It began with Reagan, when he started using the term “limousine liberals” — as if it were perfectly acceptable for rich Republicans to live this way, but for Democrats it’s somehow hypocritical — but the message stuck.

During those years, most of what the general public saw of Hollywood was Robin Leach; these days it’s E! Entertainment. But the feeling in America after watching programs like that is “what the fuck do these people know about my life?” That ire has been very effectively stolen and repackaged by people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, which is almost funny when you consider they are far richer than the vast majority of the entertainment industry.

It’s a form of “who’s looking out for you” populism that has been particularly effective considering the stridency of certain Hollywood liberals.

Look, if you’re going to get on television and start spouting off your beliefs without any sense of humor or irony then the message is going to come across as nagging.

The left has been telling people they’re living the wrong way, while the right appeals to Americans’ sense of pride. It’s hard to galvanize people when you’re battling against a message of who are these people to tell me how to live? outrage.

But what’s really going on here? Democrats in Hollywood are the only group of America’s super rich who are advocating paying more taxes. You’ve got to respect the people in L.A. who sacrifice both their time and their money to advocate the government taking away even more of their money.

Trial lawyers lobby for no caps on tort awards; the plastic industry lobbies to dump waste into rivers and streams; oil wants to drill in the arctic and price gouge when it suits their needs. But Hollywood doesn’t want anything.

And you also have to look at the good Hollywood’s done on the issue of race. Twelve percent of this country is black, another 12% is Hispanic, 10% is gay, 2% is Jewish — but when you add those numbers up you start to realize that a good portion of America has never really gotten to know someone who is Jewish, or black, or Hispanic, or gay.

Television and film and music has done an amazing job at bridging that divide, in explaining all the various cultures that co-exist inside America.

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