Thursday, May 20, 2010


Flyover State of Mind: Hollywood’s Red State Prejudice
by Carl Kozlowski

I grew up in the fairly small city of Little Rock, Arkansas, and from as early as I can remember, I wanted to escape to Los Angeles or New York City and enter the world of showbiz. I watched and read about movies with a passion, viewed David Letterman every night with a mix of jealousy and wonderment (this was ’80s, pre-jaded Letterman), and wrote short stories that I hoped could be turned into movies someday.

Now in my late 30s, I’ve been pursuing those dreams for a long time as an adult. I’ve had some successes but nothing that would make me famous (yet! There’s always a “yet,” right?! Riiiiight). Yet in March, I was able to take back-to-back trips to Hawaii and Alabama that gave me a whole new perspective on showbiz and politics.

I was first flown by Sony Pictures to Hawaii to join several other Christian film journalists on the set of a 2011 film called “Soul Surfer.” (Yes, despite those of you who would like to think I’m a Communist infiltrator to BH because I admitted liking George Clooney’s “Up in the Air,” I am in fact a Catholic Christian who also writes about film for a national Christian magazine.)

Sony’s goal for the trip was to have us take notice of this film, which stars Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt and “American Idol” champ Carrie Underwood along with rising young actress Anna Sophia Robb in the true story of devoutly Christian surfing champion Bethany Hamilton, who used her faith as the impetus to come back to championship quality after losing her arm in a vicious shark attack in 2003. The four days visiting Hamilton, her family and all the actors except Hunt were relaxing, to be sure, and it was refreshing to see major stars taking on such a profoundly faith-based story for a major studio.

Combine the massive Christian population thirsting for clean, quality entertainment with the excitement of surfing, the tragic-then-triumphant tale of Bethany, exotic locations, and quality actors working from a script by Oscar-winning Ron Bass of “Rainman” fame, and “Soul Surfer” could prove to be “The Blind Side” of 2011. The highlight reel shown to us from mid-production alone proved to be jaw-dropping; this film could really keep the momentum going in showing Hollywood that if you respect Christians, they will respond with by taking their wallets to the theaters.

It escaped my mind that this film was, sadly, still an anomaly amid the great tide of films that don’t respect or represent solid moral values.

Yet, even so I felt a bit awash in the ‘glamour” of Hollywood, of feeling that the cushy on-set atmosphere was “the way” to live, and I couldn’t help thinking that this was the life I wanted so badly to have: on an exotic movie set, with millions of dollars on the line around me. It was already so cool to just be there, meeting the actors, just like I was enthralled regularly back in LA as a film critic and entertainment-profile writer to rub elbows with the biggest stars in the world.

It was when I went to Alabama to see my sister, her husband and their five kids a day after my Hawaiian sojourn, however, that I was reminded that what happens in Hollywood really doesn’t matter in the outside, truly real, world. Ironically, I had missed this year’s Oscar ceremony because it was during my flight to Hawaii. I hadn’t missed one Oscar show since I was 9 or 10 years old and so I was really rattled about it.

When I got to Alabama, however, and told my sister how frustrated I was, she was surprised to hear the Oscars had been on in the first place. As she noted, when you’ve got five kids and your job has nothing to do with Hollywood, you kind of forget to notice those things.

I realized that I was living in a bubble, even though I was on the low end of the ladder out in La La Land. Almost every other entertainment-related friend of mine was caught up in chasing the dream or maintaining it, and had “forgotten” to do such ‘”ordinary” things as having families and buying houses.

As I drifted through six days in the southern Red State of Alabama, I went through withdrawal for a day or from showbiz news and thoughts of box office grosses. I came to realize that it didn’t matter that I’ve met famous actors, directors, writers and comedians. What DID matter were the supposedly average folks who truly make this country run, and who don’t give a damn about the names of actors, instead relating to many of them as “that guy in that sitcom, who does that thing.”

This was still during the amazing box office run of “Avatar,” and I realized that sure, that movie is the highest-grossing film of all time (though I hated it). It’s made well over $700 million in the US alone. But let’s assume that every one who’s seen it has seen it once and that the average price was $11.

Both assumptions are likely way below reality. Yet even so, those assumptions would mean 60 million people had seen it in the U.S. Yes, that’s a staggering 20 percent of our population, but let’s put it in perspective, people. 80 percent have not seen it, and could really give a crap if they ever do.

We think we’re so important in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago, that we regard much of the rest of the nation as “flyover country.” Well, maybe we’d understand how to truly connect and be meaningful to people if we regarded those areas as “fly-INTO country.”

These are people who don’t care if they make it to Hawaii for vacation or work. Instead, we went camping in a state park surrounded by thousands of other RV’s and campers, filled with people who loved just hanging out, barbecuing, fishing, and playing some basketball. They found pleasure and enjoyment just meeting each other, or developing long-held bonds. And on the one night we escaped to a movie theater, we found a second-run dollar house that was still selling out “Blind Side” on a Monday night, 16 weeks after its release.

For years, Democrats have tried to win the presidency with an 18-state Blue State-only strategy – until Barack Obama came along. But as we are only climbing out of the recession now, well more than a year into his presidency, it’s fair to ask what Sarah Palin does at the Tea Party rallies: How’s that hope-y, change-y stuff working out for ya?

Yes, I quote Palin at the risk of mockery from my Left Coast peers. But it is Palin whom the people in the other 32 states, and large pockets of even the 18 Blue ones, relate to. She’s even winning on the Left’s terms and on their turf: The New York Times best seller list. Hollywood wants you to think she still doesn’t matter, but that makes me wonder if THEY’RE even reading the same magazines that Katie Couric pestered her about? Those magazines that are so influential in their world but which only reach a half-million people, if they’re lucky?!

Like it or not, there IS a REAL America out there. They’re in the middle and south of the country, and it’s not fair to spin that idea as one of racial or gender-related animosity or superiority. The people there are of all races anyway, all more concerned with their real families than the false imagery of Hollywood. It’s the fact that as much as I love “American Idol,” it’s allegedly massive audience of 30 million viewers represent only 10 percent of Americans. Again, 90 percent could care less about who wins.

That’s not to say they don’t want to be entertained or uplifted by a movie sometimes. If Hollywood could just take off its collective blinders and try to see the world through the regular people’s eyes, instead of mocking them, they’d be surprised at just how many people will return the favor and pay to be entertained again.

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