An Evening in the Belly of the Beast

Students of the Soviet Union will recall that its citizens were often required to attend consciousness-raising meetings at which the obvious purity and nobility of Marxism and Dialectical Materialism were proclaimed by members of the Party Nomenklatura. The audience sat, listened, and applauded — if they knew what was good for them.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 15 years ago, the Nomenklatura (roughly translated: the “list of people who matter”) is alive and well in Hollywood, California. I sat with them last night, in The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theater. We were there to honor the nominees for Best Documentary Film of 2004. This was a preamble to Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony where the creators of a documentary film will be awarded a golden statue. (I predict that the winner will be “Born in a Brothel” primarily because of it’s cool title. Most of the people who vote won’t bother to actually watch it, but will figure that it must be the best because of all the “buzz” surrounding it).

The festivities were hosted by Mario Van Peebles, the son of film pioneer Melvin Van Peebles, who was present at the reception that followed. Papa Van Peebles essentially invented the “Black” movie genre in the ‘70’s and his son recently paid artful homage to this achievement in the film “BAADASSSSS!” — which I had actually kind of wanted to see before this evening. Now I’m not so sure.

Mario started off fine, working from a script, but then felt a need to become Deep and Relevant. Five minutes into his introduction the dreadful incantation “Halliburton” was intoned, in response to which there was a smattering of applause, and strained silence from the majority of the audience. He later went on to explain to us the true meaning of Martin Luther King’s definition of “non-violence” — “If they hit you in the head with a bat, you don’t hit back.” Okay. Fine. Probably a correct reading. But then he took it just a tad over the top, when he explained that the 911 murderers might just have had a dandy reason for offing 3,000 folks, and we maybe shouldn’t have been so quick to hit back.

Okay. His opinion. He’s allowed. It’s a free country. There was the polite smattering of applause. But I had a sense that the overwhelming majority of the audience were thinking “BULLSHITTTT!” They were, however, silent. Polite. Cowed.

Because, you see, we were surrounded by Those Who Share The Fashionable Worldview — liberals, progressives, whatever you want to call them — the Enlightened. The Sincere. The Politically Correct. The Nomenklatura.

The Party Bosses.

Long ago, I made a conscious decision not to pursue a career in the film industry, because, frankly, I hate jerks, and want to minimize my dealings with them. Hollywood is run by jerks, and they take their fashion cues from the Nomenklatura, who were well represented in the Academy theater last night.

I found two things disturbing: the climate of fear and the presumption of power. The theater was filled with ambitious people, eager for a shot at the big time. The reception was characterized by vigorous networking. (Some poor souls even thought that I might be important because I had gray hair, a beard, and a pretty wife). They all know that, no matter how much they may boast about their independence from the control of evil corporations, they are all at the mercy of the Nomenklatura. Deviationists will be punished. Who does not toe the Party line, shall not be financed. Everyone in the theater knew what the correct attitudes were, and knew their careers would be over if the Nomenklatura even suspected deviationism.

It’s all sad and mildly sickening. What can you say about people who proclaim proudly that they are brave and independent, but who are in reality craven conformists? But these are the folks who are determining, by default, our society’s agenda.

Frightening.

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