I did an interview by email with Roger Simon about his book, Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror. Enjoy!
A lot of people talk about how being a conservative can hurt someone’s career in Hollywood. Is it true? Is that really a major impediment to success?
The word “major” is in the operative one here. A Hollywood career is no walk in the park for anyone, no matter his or her political views, and in the current market it is even more difficult. That said conservative politics make things even tougher, especially for those without a large track record. The relatively conservative Clint Eastwood has no trouble getting his movies made (and enlisting the ultra-liberal Sean Penn for his cast). For mere mortals it’s not the same. The lower you go on the Hollywood pecking order, the more of a problem this is, for beginners worst of all. People who don’t want to “come out” have two choices: lie or shut up – “blacklist themselves,” as some writer just said. [Who me?-ed]
One of the more puzzling things to a lot of conservatives about Hollywood is that they seem to be willing to lose many millions of dollars for politics’ sake. For example, Hollywood made anti-war movie after anti-war movie about Iraq even though all of them bombed. How and why does that happen?
Never underestimate self-regard and pomposity, also the need to present yourself to the world as “liberal” when in your private and work lives you’re incredibly self-centered and ambitious. You have to get that “progressive” message out so that that world thinks of you as a good guy (what I describe in my book as the liberal “mini-Me”), so the public likes you and, even more, you like yourself.
But… given all that… it’s important to remember that all those disastrous anti-war movies were low budget. Ultimately, they didn’t have much to do with Hollywood’s bottom line.
What can be done to facilitate more conservative movies in Hollywood?
The most important thing is to look for alternative means of financing and distribution. Don’t rely on conventional Hollywood approaches. After all, they are decaying for everybody, not just conservatives. Use new technologies, Internet distribution, etc.. Also team up with those of similar views to get your work done. Make friends who can help you. Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood is a good start in that regard. There are others…. But, all that said, most important is to learn your craft. Just being conservative or libertarian or whatever isn’t enough. Film is an art form. You need a good screenplay and good actors, no matter what your ideology. And above all, don’t use your ideology as an excuse for doing bad work. Then you’re no better than the makers of the execrable anti-war movies in the question above.
Hollywood celebs have reputations as being incredibly spoiled. Is that true and if so, can you give a few examples?
Yes, it’s true. And I have some very good examples that I knew personally in Blacklisting Myself. (hint, hint)
The whole voting system for the Oscars is a joke. The common perception is that you’re better off doing a crummy film about a liberal cause that 10 people watch than a phenomenal film that doesn’t cater to liberals. Do you think that’s true and if so, why do you think that’s the case?
The whole voting SYSTEM for Oscars is NOT a joke. As an Oscar voter, I can tell you that it’s a reasonably fair system, compared to other elections in which I have participated. What you are complaining about are the VIEWS of the voters themselves, which we all know are vastly liberal, not the system. I agree that some pretty worthless films have risen to the top for those ideological reasons. Good Night, and Good Luck is an example. On the other hand, greatness sometimes slips through. An example of that is last year’s best foreign language film, which went to the resolutely anti-communist The Lives of Others — to my mind by far the best movie of the last several years. But all in all, no matter who wins the prizes, the movie industry has been in a state of artistic decline virtually since I started working in it in the early Seventies. [It's your fault.-ed. I plead guilty.]
In your book, you did talk about Pajamas Media, but it was written before the advertising network PJM ran didn’t work out. A lot of bloggers — publicly, and privately complained — that they weren’t told the ads were losing money, that they were blindsided with a form letter letting them know they were being dumped, and that they were also unhappy about what seemed to be a fairly nasty public crack you made at their expense,
“Actually that part of our business (the advertising network) has been losing money from the beginning, so the people getting their quarterly checks from PJM were getting a form of stipend from us in the hopes that advertisers would start to cotton to blogs and we could possibly make a profit. Didn’t happen. No wonder those people are kicking and screaming now that they are off the dole. I might too. [What's their beef? I thought most of them were free marketeer libertarians or something.-ed. Go figure.]“
Well, I have publicly apologized for the crack and I will apologize again here: I sincerely apologize to those I have offended. It was a cheap shot that reflects badly on me and not on any of the bloggers. I hope I’ve learned from it.
As for the issue of people being blindsided, that of course was not the intention and I am somewhat surprised that people were. Bloggers are almost all well-informed and we assumed that they knew and know about the general condition of the media, new and old. And none of it’s good. News Corp (conservative) has lost billions. The NYT (liberal) is going into the toilet. The Huffington Post (liberal “new media”) has gone through several rounds of raising capital and has evidently lost millions, etc., etc. Online advertising is tanking, even for Google. Pajamas Media was no different. Despite our best intentions, we couldn’t make a go of the ad network. We tried to give folks advance warning, perhaps we could have given more. We sent our network bloggers notification that we were disbanding the ad network only days after we had made the decision and two months in advance of the end of the contract. That’s a fairly substantial time for bloggers to make arrangements for other advertising. As we all know, you can sign up for Blogads in a few minutes (Hawkins’ Note: Actually, Blogads is an invitation only network now. However, if you’re an established blogger with decent traffic, contact me and I may be able to get you in). BTW, I have used the word “we” here deliberately. I don’t make these kinds of business decisions for PJM by myself, nor would I want to. We have a board of directors.
Can you talk a little bit about that, your Pajamas TV project, and how much of a future the portal part of your website has? Is that going to be around for the long haul?
We – again it is our board – have decided to put a lot of Pajamas Media’s eggs in the Pajamas TV basket. That’s because we believe in the growing importance of Internet TV and in the coming convergence of the Internet and cable television. Very soon you will be able to switch between Pajamas TV and MSNBC with the click of a remote. (We hope you’ll choose PJTV.) That’s an exciting business prospect for us. We are exploring several methods of monetization including advertising, subscription and various combinations. We look forward to working with many Pajamas bloggers and non-PJ bloggers on this project as it expands and we build out more technical capability and ad shows.
As for the portal, that will be here as long as Pajamas is. It is an integral part of what we do and will work in tandem with PJTV on many stories. In fact, it already has. Also, the portal has been very successful for us recently and has actually gained in traffic since the election, when you would assume it would go down. Special kudos for this go to Aaron Hanscom, our supervising editor. If anything, the portal will expand. It’s not going anywhere, no matter what some left-wing blogs said. I have no idea where they got their information, but it’s wrong.
You used to be a creature of the left and although you’re not really a hard core conservative, you’re treated that way these days. So, you’re someone who has seen both sides of things. What’s the difference between the left and the right outside of their admittedly large policy differences?
Great question. I think it’s almost worth a book in itself, but part of the answer is right in your phrase “you’re treated that way these days.” The left – possibly because of its predominant atheism or agnosticism – has become much more of a religion than the right and therefore is a much smaller tent in regards to ideas, much less accepting. On the right, someone like me (still an agnostic and a social liberal) can co-exist with, indeed be good friends with, someone like Hugh Hewitt, who is a devout Catholic. It’s not by accident the subtitle of my book is “Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror,” accent on the apostate. No one enjoys being one – or being treated as one.
Let me quote something you said that strikes me as true, “I agree that leftism began as a form of utopianism but I don’t think it is utopian any more. Does anybody really believe in the old rhetoric? I don’t think they do. I think it is all a charade nowadays.” So, since that’s the case, why are there not more people like you, Michael Medved, David Horowitz, etc., who’ve concluded liberalism doesn’t work?
Another good question – one of the great mysteries. Suffice it to say that change is very difficult. You have to give up a lot – friends, job opportunities, your own self-image. It’s hard to tell why some people overcome these things and others don’t. Some people told me that I was courageous, but I don’t feel that way. I was just myself. I couldn’t be any other way. Furthermore, I’m a writer. If you don’t write what you believe – let me promise you – it shows.
You were involved with the Black Panthers. Some people say they weren’t so bad. Others, like David Horowitz, say they were absolute monsters. What do you think?
Horowitz is pretty much correct, ninety percent anyway. On the tiny plus side, they did run a children’s breakfast program (with which I was involved) and a few other social services in South Central LA and Oakland. But in the end that was sort of like Hamas, running a few good programs to paper over their horrific agenda.
In the seventies and eighties, when you were a hard core leftist, you visited China, Cuba, and the USSR. Can you tell us a little about what stuck with you about those countries?
Well, there are several chapters in the book about this and I would refer readers to that because it’s hard to sum up in a paragraph. Also, the national characters come into play, mixing with the hideous communist ideology some once thought idealistic and egalitarian. In one sense I think I was quite lucky to have had as much experience of communist countries as I did, because today I am not easily seduced by the nostalgia some are having for them. There were giant jails and I got to see them from the inside. The sections of Blacklisting Myself in which I describe my visits may be the most useful parts of the book in the long term and are among the chapters I am most proud of. In the case of Red China, I was among the first Westerners allowed in when nearly everyone was still wearing Mao suits. One thing is for sure: my work won’t be confused with Lincoln Steffens or John Reed.