Beating up the big, bad media

Conservatives have long bemoaned the way big business is depicted in movies and television, seeing conspiracies of Hollywood leftists behind every palm tree. The charges have always felt overblown, ignoring that evil tycoons owe more to the vanquishing of Bond-era Cold War villainy than intelligent design.

Lately, though, I’m not so sure.

After months in which writers, actors and their surrogates have railed against corporate moguls’ Dickensian greed, it’s easy to wonder if the antagonistic view toward big bad media hasn’t even subconsciously informed the way talent portrays big business.

The studios have certainly played their part by growing more vast and multi-national since the 1988 writers strike, and guild negotiators have done everything they can to equate them with Halliburton and Exxon. In his latest communiqué to members, Screen Actors Guild national exec director Doug Allen keeps referencing “major global media conglomerates” running roughshod over working-class performers — quite a mouthful unless you’re determined to make a point.

Although there’s already been a Bond foe partly modeled after Rupert Murdoch (in “Tomorrow Never Dies”), this summer nevertheless appears to have upped the ante.

In two popcorn movies featuring jihadist terrorists, “Iron Man” and “Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” those threats actually play second fiddle to the main heavy — a ruthless industrialist.

And while global-warning deniers are still having fits over the environmental message in Pixar’s “Wall-E,” they’ve had less to say about the related plot thread — that a massive corporation called Buy N Large has essentially transformed future generations of humanity into a race of Barcalounger-sitting, screen-watching blobs. (As a TV critic I have to ask, “Yeah, so what’s wrong with that?”)

These movies join a spate of TV dramas like ABC’s “Boston Legal” and “Eli Stone,” where somebody forever seems to be suing an unfeeling conglomerate for burying research to facilitate sales of their dangerous products. Call it a coincidence or a mere byproduct of political correctness (rich white guys remain a safe-to-pick-on group, given how long they’ve picked on the rest of us), but either way it feels like it will be awhile before the next flurry of shows constructed around lovable scamps like Donald Trump.

Admittedly, entertainment honchos haven’t done much to polish their collective image, especially when they do things like compare themselves to mob bosses.

“This is the life we’ve chosen for ourselves,” CBS Entertainment prez Nina Tassler said by way of downplaying the job’s frustrations to TV critics last week. She was seeking to echo ABC counterpart Steve McPherson, but the wording was an almost-verbatim quote of Hyman Roth’s “I didn’t ask who gave the order” speech in “The Godfather, Part II.”

Nor do execs help their cause by spewing jargon-laden terminology that treats creative content like widget-making. NBC Entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman took that prize at press tour — discussing integrated marketing schemes that allow advertisers to become involved with programming in a “profound way,” which is not an adjective that readily comes to mind watching the network’s “Knight Rider” revival.

At the least, the on-screen indignities heaped upon big business provide additional fodder for easily-riled entities like the Business & Media Institute, an affiliate of Brent Bozell III’s conservative Media Research Center. (Seems like people with “III’s” attached to them usually support big business.)

In a report titled “Bad Company” — a selective survey of TV and 2005’s Oscar-nominated films — the Business & Media Institute concluded that TV dramas are “overwhelmingly negative toward business.” The study also huffed about movies such as “The Constant Gardener” and “Syriana,” so you can imagine how more recent titles like “Michael Clayton” will strike them.

The group does offer suggestions on how to improve the situation, among them “Find positive stories about big business” and “Don’t view money as evil.”

After nine months of labor discord in Hollywood, it’s difficult to imagine many artists feeling warm and fuzzy toward business and media overlords any time soon. Still, for those eager to develop positive stories, Sumner Redstone owns exotic fish, so it’s not a huge leap to assuming that he likes puppies. As for the other part, it’s my understanding that in Hollywood, only other people’s money is viewed as evil.

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