A year ago, with an incoming president billed as no less than a transformative figure, many predicted that his very presidency signaled a shift with ramifications that extended well into the culture.
It’s happened — but you’d never guess that shift would be Glenn Beck.
Truth be told, much remains to be seen about how Obama has impacted the culture, if at all.
Prognostication of pop and politics is frought with peril, and so for 2010 I’ve come up with not predictions but a list of stories to watch. Sure, it’s a way of weaseling out of a more daring chore, but what makes these stories interesting is that there is that they come with so many unpredictable outcomes.
And for the record: My list last year did cite the first state dinner as one event to watch, but for reasons as to who would perform, not who would crash it.
So here goes it, in a very general order of time:
Prop 8. Hollywood is taking a major role in the next chapter of the same-sex marriage debate, with a group of activists backing an effort to overturn Proposition 8 in the federal courts, and star legal eagles Ted Olson and David Boies leading their effort. The trial in the case of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger starts on Jan. 11 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and its full impact may hinge on whether Judge Vaughn Walker allows the proceedings to be televised. A coalition of media firms, including the broadcast networks, is pressing for the coverage, with its attorney comparing the case to the Scopes trial of the 1920s. Indeed, while same-sex nuptials are at stake, the issues likely to arise in the proceedings include gay parenting and adoption, the history of discrimination and even whether homosexuality is a choice. Whatever decision is rendered, it almost certainly will be appealed.
Roman Polanski. Given the political backlash, from the left and the right, against Polanski and his industry backers after his arrest in September, it’s certain that the director’s pending extradition to face 30-year-old child sex charges will inspire a new round of wrenching commentary. A decision is expected from a Swiss court this month, and should he face a return to the United States, he will surely press his case that the judge and prosecutors back in 1977 and 1978 acted unethically, warranting at the very least an investigation. The state Court of Appeal denied his effort to dismiss the case, but they did express sympathy to his claims of judicial misconduct back then.
Net Neutrality. For years, the dream of many web advocates have been actual rules in place to prevent Internet service providers from making the Web a tyranny of cable-like tiers. The FCC is taking such regulation on, in what is becoming a showdown between the might of cable and telecom companies and the reach of Google and Internet actvists. The so-called “net neutrality” proposals will probably get some kind of passage, but the question is whether they will so strong they’ll face a court challenge, or be watered down to the point they are all but meaningless.
Comcast and NBC U. Lawmakers rushed to schedule hearings on the proposed combination of the nation’s largets cable operator with a major studio and network, but the real scrutiny will come from federal regulators. The Obama administration has signalled a harder line on media consolidation, and this will be their first big shot at it. Consumer groups oppose it, and competitors have yet to chime it. The question isn’t so much whether the merger will gain approval, but under what conditions Comcast will have to accept to see its long-held dream go through.
MPAA Chief. Hollywood will get a new lobbyist, with Dan Glickman departing the Motion Picture Assn. of America some time this year. There’s no shortage of names to fill the post — from current studio lobbyists, to Harold Ford, to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — but the real story may be whether the job changes substantially to respond to a fast-changing marketplace.
War Games. Who would have guessed that 2009 would see a war movie that worked? “Hurt Locker” is so far the only bright spot in a long list of efforts to mine Iraq and Afghanistan for storylines, but Hollywood will have a few other prospects in the coming months. March will see Paul Greengrass’ “Green Zone,” starring Matt Damon, a movie about pre-surge Iraq that is based on “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.” Also on the bill this year is Doug Liman’s Valerie Plame story “Fair Game,” with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.
The Governor’s Race. A year ago, we’d have guessed that Democratic gubernatorial candidates in California would be at each other’s throats, angling to draw Hollywood dollars and star supporters. But with Attorney General Jerry Brown the last man standing, the primary may just be a whimper compared to what’s going on on the Republican side. The vast resources of Meg Whitman, blanketing the airwaves with radio ads, have her the favorite over Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell, but there’s a volatile electorate out there, and she and the well-funded Poizner could end up spending more time attacking each other. But there’s also some doubt as to how Brown’s persona will play statewide — “Governor Moonbeam” may inspire nostalgic notions of California in the 1970s that mean little to younger voters. He’s yet to officially declare he’s running, and there’s still some speculation that Diane Feinstein is considering getting into the race.
The Midterms. With the Democrats facing vulnerabilities galore, this will be no year for Hollywood’s Democrats to go into donor fatigue. Candidates will be going to the well, again and again, and there may even be new records set for sheer number of political fund-raisers during a Congressional recess. While there are ample examples already where Democrats will be on defense, this could be the year that there’s one closer to home, in the reelection race of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). But the emphasis is on could, as former Hewlett Packard chief Carly Fiorina still has to find her way and her more conservative Republican primary opponent, Chuck DeVore, has to overcome a lack of name recognition.
Pundits as Politicians. The possiblity of immigration reform is just the type of ripe issue that could send protesters into the streets — and perhaps opportunity for Lou Dobbs. With the former CNN host dangling a political jump as a possible career turn, this will be the year to form an actual “movement.”
2012. It seems way too early to be talking about another presidential race, but remember that by the time of the midterms in 2006, the field of Democratic candidates was becoming clear. Even though the Republicans have a tenuous relationship with Hollywood, they will still be tapping it for money, if not for exploratory committees then for their leadership PACs. Already, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been raising money for his PAC, at an event that featured Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer, and the list of prospects extends from John Thune (R-S.D.) to Mitt Romney to Mike Huckabee, and of course Sarah Palin. Meanwhile, Obama is expected to make at least one fund-raising swing through Hollywood, and the fund-raising numbers of the DNC will be a telling figure on his ability to hold a base of financial support.