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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'The King's Speech': The triumph of Hollywood conservative values

As one essayist wrote not long ago, it's become an article of faith in Conservative America that Hollywood is a “collection of hopeless la-la-land liberals — or worse, an elitist gaggle of heartland-bashing snobs.” Conservatives have routinely ridiculed Oscar movies for attacking the military (“Avatar”), promoting homosexuality (“Milk” and “Brokeback Mountain”) and depicting corporate executives as evil villains (“The Constant Gardener” and “Syriana”).

So it must've been quite a shock to watch all the la-la-liberals at the Oscars Sunday night honoring their elders and celebrating tradition on a show where the first clip of the night was from “Gone With the Wind” and the two guys who may have had the most screen time were Kirk Douglas and Bob Hope. Outside of a couple of lesbian jokes and one tiny barb directed at Wall Street from documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson, the awards were drearily free of controversy, outrage or anything remotely resembling lefty sanctimony.

On the other hand, the Academy Awards were true to the spirit of this past year's movies. As this year's show demonstrated, Hollywood isn't so easily stereotyped. It may be a town full of liberals, but when it comes to its most prestigious awards show, the most exalted statuettes went to films that espouse conservative values. “The King's Speech,” which won four Oscars, including the climactic one for best picture, is a profoundly conservative film, paying tribute to King George VI, an aristocratic English monarch who, humbled by a humiliating stutter, develops a deep friendship with a commoner, his speech therapist.

The film portrays the king as a man of noblesse oblige — he sacrifices for the common good by willingly assuming the heavy mantle of leadership, even if it will expose his most embarrassing flaw. He is, in other words, resolutely Old School. Could a movie be any more richly conservative in its values than that? And yet “The King's Speech,” from David Seidler, its writer, to Colin Firth, its leading man, to Harvey Weinstein, the studio chief who masterminded its Oscar campaign, was brought into the world by a host of ardent liberals.

The same can be said for “The Social Network,” which won three Oscars last night and was the season's other prime best picture contender. Even though it is set in the rarefied air of Harvard, “Social Network” is far from a liberal critique of capitalistic excess. It's a thoroughly pro-business film that celebrates the rise of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who for all his new media hip veneer is just as much of a cunning, ambitious, thoroughly cold-blooded entrepreneur as — gasp — Rupert Murdoch.

Yet the film was written by Aaron Sorkin, a flaming liberal who spends much of his time online hurling poison darts at Sarah Palin. And the film was financed and distributed by Sony Pictures, whose co-chairmen, Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, are both outspoken advocates for various Hollywood progressive causes.

This is hardly a fluke. Just last year, the academy gave its best picture honor to “The Hurt Locker,” which many conservatives praised as a pro-military film, and not just because director Kathryn Bigelow, when accepting her Oscar for best director, dedicated the film to “the women and men of the military who risk their lives every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.” That was hardly obligatory podium pabulum — the film's bomb-disposal experts were portrayed as being selfless, heroic and full of masculine cool.

Since the arrival of the “Easy Rider” generation in the late 1960s. Hollywood has been a bastion of liberalism. But the argument conservatives make — that the industry is just a club of pampered rich kids and Ivy League elitists who spurn movies without the requisite liberal credentials — doesn't hold water, especially not at Oscar time.

If you study Oscar history, you see liberal Hollywood has often rewarded films promoting conservative values. That pattern dates at least as far back as 1971, during the height of the Vietnam War, when “Patton,” a stirring salute to World War II's most indomitable military man, not only won best picture, but beat out “MASH,” a defiantly antiwar comedy. The same thing happened in 1979, when “The Deer Hunter,” an evocative portrait of blue-collar steelworkers sent off to fend for themselves in Vietnam won best picture over the openly antiwar “Coming Home,” which costarred antiwar activists Jon Voight and Jane Fonda.

So why does liberal Hollywood often pay its highest tribute to films with such conservative themes? First of all, because people are making movies, not trying to send a message. Artists, as well as the studio executives who finance their movies, are not ideologues. They are storytellers whose work is propelled by emotion, relationships and the dramatic sweep of a script, not its political content.

In “The King's Speech,” the academy, like most of America, saw two men, a lofty king and a lowly commoner, who brought out the best in each other. Even though the film is set in 1930s England, it is, as one critic called it, “a fable of egalitarianism.”

In other words, it's exactly the kind of fable Hollywood has always loved, dating as far back as Frank Capra and John Ford. Perhaps that's why conservatives and liberals all found something to love in the film.


Red carpet photos

Oscar scorecard

Complete coverage: The Oscars

--Patrick Goldstein

Photo: "The King's Speech" wins best picture at the Oscars. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (43)

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The King's Speech may have been conservative filmmaking, but it seems a stretch to call it a conservative film -- it is, after all, the story of a commoner that enlightens a noble. Likewise, I think it's also a stretch to call The Social Network pro-business, as it doesn't paint a very flattering portrait of that world. Ultimately, neither film seemed particularly political, at least not in the proselytizing sense that it often meant today. However, both are definitely very good movies.

So, you're basing this whole theory of conservatism in "The King's Speech" on the idea that the main character was "Old School"? You actually think there's anything "new" about the modern-day liberal's emotionality, resistance to all morality and authority, and juvenile self-centeredness? I beg to differ, my good man. These qualities have been on display since the garden of Eden.
Your wording also suggests that true conservative values (freedom, dignity, and self-sufficiency, as opposed to government control) are outdated.
In other words, it appears you're still stuck in the adolescent mindset that anything resembling a common moral code is oppressive, and only unchecked hedonism can be the proof of "freedom". The only freedom liberals care about is the freedom to destroy themselves, and the freedom to watch moral people fall from grace, so they can yell "Hypocrite!" at anyone who dares to set a higher standard for themselves.
Your article is garbage, and so is your worldview.

"Marc the Pooh" should read more carefully. It wasn't as though the piece was criticizing "The King's Speech" for its conservative values; he was merely noting that despite being literally full of liberals, Hollywood still produces movies which push "conservative" values.

Conservative? Liberal? Are you out of your mind? What does the USA's unique insanity at this moment have to do with the timeless value of pictures--as you so adroitly drop into your last paragraph.

KINGS have always been the stuff of great theater--e.g. Shakespeare--and yet you go all Palin/Beck on us, ranting about madmen-conservatives (who claim to own values) as if quality Hollywood cared a fig about them in their product. Maybe the "fuddy-duddy elite" thought a Shakespearian egalitarian film more worthy than Gordon Geko Redux. SN was well crafted but that was all. ALL! It was a movie about greed and the perpetuation of a tedious culture that extols consumerism and is committed to dumb growth. Yes, FB (and,esp. Twitter) are changing the world but that has nothing to do with Sorkin's portrayal of these techno-brats.

BTW, liberals aren't adverse to those 'values' you ascribe to conservatives: Home, hearth, heroism, humanity -- all touch us and bring a tear to our eyes too. Your article is a twisted disgrace to TKS and I wish it could be vaporized and never read or seen again.

It's also the case that storytellers write what they know. And people in hollywood no matter how liberal, are a part of a pretty elite subculture. It makes sense that they would both create, identify with, and praise movies that are primarily about wealthy elites. Also those movies they will tend to do a better job at making realistic since it is closer to their current real life experiences.

The headline must have been written by an editor to inflame readers. It says directly the OPPOSITE of what the writers said - "Speech" is a profoundly human movie, timeless, neither politically liberal nor conservative.

You forgot to mention the near absence of people of color in the ceremony, except for all the public school kids who came on to sing at the end. That sort of paternalism is definitely a conservative attitude.

King's Speech is a pleasant, safely in the past located film. It's well done and acted. Nice camera work.

As the story goes, it really has little to say. My interest in the over-privileged, self obsessed, self- entitled minority who occasionally has to overcome one of the obstacles that overwhelms the rest of the world population, is, frankly, small.

Winter's Bone terror of survival in drug overrun society is daily problem for many. It's vastly more important to deal with.

Social and familial responsibility core of the The Kids Are All Right, is a major problem in the world.

That neither is honored is an insult to all of us.

Natalie Portman' s Oscar is smack in the face of all women. Not because her acting, that's fine, but certainly no better than Jennifer Lawrence or Julianne Moore, and easier to convey than their parts, but because of that misogynist, absurd male fantasy she portrays.

We are fast marching backwards on all fronts.

I thought The King's Speech was a great movie because of the story, acting, direction and costumes. Why does the columnist have to reduce the strength and power of the film by bringing politics into it?

I think the only real political thing about the Academy Awards is it seems like in order to win the Oscar, a particular actor has to campaign and hit the film awards circuit for months to ensure they nab the prize.

Like most partisan polemicists, Goldstein can't resist taking a few whacks at a straw man. Goldstein's simplistic and simple-minded phrasing of the conservative critique of Hollywood - "that the industry is just a club of pampered rich kids and Ivy League elitists who spurn movies without the requisite liberal credentials" - is not a critique I've read from any conservative commentator.

It's comical that Goldstein considers a film endorsing an unlikely and quite unrealistic example of egalitarianism to be an instance of Hollywood's "conservative values." A shrill and emotionally overwrought insistence on egalitarianism as the paramount philosophical and political ideal is quite possibly the liberal value that most infuriates thinking conservatives.

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