Hollywood’s marketing campaign against women has worked
The dinosaurs are happily making movies and TV shows, seemingly unbothered by the shadow hurtling toward them.
The shadow is a meteor and the meteor is Bad Artists.
Bad Artists — the white men who have so successfully narrativized and marketed patriarchy and white supremacy and the women who act like them to get their jobs — have turned Hollywood into a massive scaled algorithmic propaganda machine that affects us so deeply we’re almost unable to see it.
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Hollywood has run a massive advertising campaign at scale targeting almost every human in the developed and some of the developing world for the past one hundred years.
Hollywood has a feed through which it’s been disseminating fake news to every screen on earth — multiplex theaters and mobile phones, through massive tentpole movies and the tiniest web series and the advertising campaigns and the merchandizing and the PR tours and the talking points that accompany these money-making ventures — trying to reach as many eyeballs as possible and as repetitively as possible (franchises and long-running series) because this is where the real money is.
Fake news? But that’s not fair — they are making fiction.
They (we) are spreading fake news, just like the social networks, because we are making propaganda that presents a fake reality. We create a picture of reality as created by white men (almost exclusively) and in which patriarchal white experiences are the preferred experiences, the dominant experiences, the situation worth preserving, the good ole’ days, “traditional” values. And because this fake news is the way we zone out after work and entertain our children, this becomes our culture.
The people who get to create Hollywood’s fake news get to create our culture.
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Empirical studies show that marketing doesn’t happen instantly and it doesn’t happen when you’re being told it’s happening. Any given marketing push might push your perception of a brand 1–2%, but that push can have profound effects at scale over populations. It can change the outcome of an election.
Hollywood’s hundred-year marketing campaign for misogyny, racism and the maintenance of white supremacy and patriarchy distributed to eyeballs worldwide could have moved perceptions at least 1–2% or far more in favor of white supremacy, patriarchy, and ultimately fascism.
Add the compounding effect of algorithms — the fact that an increasingly profit-driven corporate environment coupled with more sophisticated data science allows platform owners to show audiences more of what they think they already want to see (preferences) based on what they have been conditioned to like by those same platform owners. Hollywood’s algorithms are clumsy and old-fashioned, run by bloated expensive marketing departments who have rusty old prediction tools to go by (including their gut). Newer tech companies use real algorithms, which make their ability to serve you more of what you already like faster, more dangerous and more powerful. The effect of the old-fashioned marketing department’s gut instinct just compounds faster. Facebook learned that fake news out-performed real news for enagement and so was willing to continue knowingly serve fake news to users, primarily on the far right, compounding and distorting perceptions just to make money. They knew they were ginning up the fascism machine. For money.
You have a generation of tech bros who grew up on the first kind of algorithmic social feed showing them more of what they already knew and liked (Hollywood marketing patriarchy directly to them and their tastes) going on to create an even more dangerous and powerful version of what Hollywood taught them was ok — with everyone denying responsibility for their actions when their propaganda machine enabled the rise of fascism in America.
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In the aftermath of November 8, 2016, people pointed to a lot of causes of the Trump victory, but I didn’t see very many people talking about gender.
One of the greatest lies we’ve witnessed lately is the collective delusion that Obama’s election and popular terms as President meant that white supremacy in America wasn’t as virulent as ever — and maybe even growing.
“But 53% of white women voted for Trump!” people were saying, meaning, gender wasn’t a factor here.
There were certainly many factors, including voter suppression, DNC failure to appeal to struggling Americans, Russia interference, the media’s false equivalence between a qualified candidate and a dangerous one, Facebook and other monetizers of fake news, the FBI’s interference with Comey’s agenda-driven investigation into a fake email scandal, and mainstream media outlets’ willingness to allow themselves to become a “host body” for far-right disseminators (like Trump strategist Steve Bannon) of investigative attacks against Clinton that fanned the illusion of scandal using the trustworthiness of places like the New York Times as cover.
But if you take a higher level view, at least some of these causes were really about gender.
We are talking about a culture that despises women. A culture that wants women to stay in our places as the quiescent, submissive, underpaid or unpaid permanent underclass that serves men and allows men to continue staying in power. This culture gave Steve Bannon his huge ratings on his long-running Hillary Clinton “narratives” (a Hollywood word if I’ve ever heard one) in his early days at Breitbart News, eventually leading him to establish an entire institute funded with millions to scour the dark web for his “investigations” and plant the results in the New York Times and other legitimate news organizations.
Steve Bannon — the self-professed neo-nazi that Trump has made his chief strategist — is a bad artist.
This woman-hating culture enabled the media’s false equivalence between an accused sexual predator and someone accused of deleting emails — or at least helped perpetuate it. The media are bad artists.
Most people don’t know that they hate women. It’s just a low-level feeling that surrounds them. Men are good until proven otherwise, and women are only good if they stay in place. If they successfully perform roles that look and feel traditionally female. And if they don’t, time to jump on social media to share those feelings. Where we’ll be greeted with algorithms that aggregate other reactions that compound the gut feeling I already have from my misogynist culture. Yeah, it really does feel bad that she’s stepping out of line. She must be crooked and a liar, like the New York Times said.
Both men and women have these gut reactions. They are not limited to women they see in the news or above themselves. They feel that way toward people at work, people they’re considering for jobs. When women experience it, it’s called internalized misogyny.
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Patriarchy is invested in women taking the women’s jobs. Because so long as men get to keep the men’s jobs and women stay in their assigned roles — the women’s jobs — everything looks and feels like it’s more or less the same. We get pats on the head and the women’s jobs and limited power that they dole out to us. But they won’t give us real power. What they won’t do is give us real platforms. They won’t let us do the important work, or be paid enough to be able to take risks required to do that work on our own. They won’t let us make or direct or write the prestige pictures or shows that people actually pay attention to.
It’s one thing to hire a woman in some woman job and it’s another thing to give a woman power. Give a woman a platform where she can shape a narrative directly and actually reach large numbers of people.
Women find it very difficult to get financing, in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, everywhere, for this reason.
I’ve been more and more outspoken about sexism in Hollywood over the past year or two. My agent told me that male writers had said to him “do you really represent Julie Bush?” and to me the unspoken piece was — are you sure? A threat. Consciously or unconsciously, the body politic working to remove a threat to the status quo.
I don’t know who these male writers were, but we can safely call them bad artists.
Artists aren’t threatened when other artists question authority structures. Artists don’t work to shore up the power structures that serve them personally when other artists speak about being oppressed by those power structures.
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We may look back on this as the Troll Election. People online joked that the comments section is now establishing an authoritarian regime.
But what makes a troll? A troll is someone who feels so disempowered by those he perceives is usurping power or status he feels should rightfully be his that he relieves his anxiety by passive-aggressively attacking the perceived usurper online.
Women are the overwhelming targets of troll abuse. You could frame this entire election through the lens of an ambitious woman seeking a job and a psychopathic troll inflaming the gut-level fears of his followers, manipulating the media, engaging sock-puppets to do his dirty work, and launching “investigations” to stop her.
I have experienced all these kinds of troll attacks.
When I published my first Medium piece — Women in Hollywood: A Shitshow — a screenwriter I had considered a twitter friend for years declined to share it because he said he didn’t feel it was well-written. He said he’d share the next one, once I made my point more clearly, because he’s the biggest supporter of women there is. Within a year he was trolling me so hard I had to block him on twitter.
Everyone knows that Hitler was a bad artist as a young man — and the joke goes that maybe we could have prevented the Holocaust by buying some of his paintings. I have a joke that online trolls are bad artists — frustrated little Hitlers so stopped up by the emotional and spiritual demands of actually making something they turn instead to online authoritarian regimes where they police strangers’ behavior and punish them for not falling into line. Or they run for President and win.
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People are saying great art will come out of this catastrophe.
Cuz you know what lead to this? Bad art.
If Hollywood hadn’t been so busy hiring bros just because they were white and male, we wouldn’t be in this position now.
We wouldn’t have been systematically conditioned by virtually every entertainment we experience to think that women are less than, white is better.
Bad art lead to this.
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When we talk about what stars to attach to projects, we talk about how meaningful they are. How much they’re worth. How meaningful a star is usually has not that much to do with their actual acting ability and more to do with how well they’ve managed to game the system — how well they’ve chosen their projects, how well their reps have put them up for good work and steered them away from bad work, how much audiences like them. And how much the buyers like them, meaning the people who write the checks. It’s subjective filter on top of subjective filter, and women always come out “less meaningful” (women of color even “less meaningful”) even though box office studies show projects starring women bring in more money.
Screenwriters and directors go through a similar filtering process, and the results are every bit as subjective. A filter that’s the actual work itself (perhaps the least impactful filter). The ability to game the system filter. The hangability filter (how much do producers and executives wanna hang with this writer or director? This is a real criterion that hiring decisions are made on.) The previous projects filter (which depends on large part on what jobs the person had access to, via her reps putting her up or execs being willing to consider her for certain kinds of projects). The filters go on and on, and then people wring their hands about why and how 90% of studio movies are written by men and 96% of studio movies are directed by men.
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Billy Ray, head of the negotiating committee for our union the WGA, made a joke on the Scriptnotes podcast to the effect of — I fantasize that in twenty years there will be a Nuremberg Trial for everyone in Hollywood responsible for destroying cinema. Something like that. I think his point was more about the corporatization of America’s homegrown art form, and the abandoning of art. But he’s a mensch and I think he would agree that part of the problem has been the powerful’s failure and unwillingness to diversify. Their products are actively falling behind the demographics of their audience, as they say to themselves — but there aren’t any women or people of color qualified to take the job (after they have systematically marketed against those people being interested for the past thirty years, as I was dissuaded as a child, or they rely on the reps to “educate” them on who to hire.
They treat Hollywood like an ATM that’s never gonna run out. We’ll keep handing out deals to the same bad artists cuz the scripts don’t matter, the content (barf) doesn’t matter … we know how to put the numbers together to squeeze profit out of garbage. We have the same contempt for our audience that we’ve taught them to have for us. This is gonna last forever! We’re not striking axe blows into the golden goose, one terrible movie at a time … right? Guys?
We make art but that memo hasn’t reached many of us.
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I was bulimic as a teenager. I would vomit blood routinely.
Now I see that constant vomiting was the only rational, sensitive response to what I was experiencing.
If you weren’t regularly vomiting blood (or pick your pleasure) you were probably a bad artist. You grew up to be a bad artist.
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I was exquisitely tuned to feel what was happening around me. I didn’t have the language then — I hadn’t yet been radicalized — but my body was tuned to my own oppression. And because I had neither the language to describe my experience nor the platform to be believed, I was vomiting multiple times a day.
Girls are socialized to relate to our emotions, boys are socialized to tune them out. (And this is its own tragedy — by all means boys deserve to be socialized to enjoy full access to their emotions and those of the people around them. This is an important goal of feminism.) Art, if it’s anything, is creating something that allows someone else to experience an emotion. Girls have been shut out from making art, from the earliest stages (by culture, marketing, by not being invited in at every stage of the process, by internalized misogyny, by non-stop messaging put out by the Hollywood propaganda machine and others telling them “great artists are white and male.”
Hiring and promoting only white men to be artists makes for bad art, inflates and feeds bad artists. I understand this is a radical statement.
Years ago I wrote a blog post called “You have become radicalized.” Becoming radicalized is the necessary precondition to becoming an artist. If you have not become radicalized, you have not yet become an artist.
You are making bad art. You are a corporate artist. You are serving the powerful. Consciously or unconsciously, you are serving what you perceive to be your good and selling out art, cinema, the rest of us, the whole damn thing.
You deserve to be standing up there at that Nuremberg Trial.
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Know that every time you see a man win an Oscar, direct a huge movie, he should have an asterisk by his name. I got here by affirmative action. I am running in a rigged race where half my potential competitors are hamstrung into helping me fucking win.
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The night of the election, I heard about a breakup on the street in NYC, where a girl said to her boyfriend who didn’t vote — sobbing — “You broke it.”
You broke it, Hollywood.