The Communism of Broadway and Hollywood
The many to whom capitalism gave a comfortable income and leisure are yearning for entertainment.
Crowds throng to the theatres. There is money in show business. Popular actors and playwrights enjoy a six-figure income. They live in palatial houses with butlers and swimming pools. They certainly are not “prisoners of starvation.” Yet Hollywood and Broadway, the world-famous centers of the entertainment industry, are hotbeds of communism. Authors and performers are to be found among the most bigoted supporters of Sovietism.
Various attempts have been made to explain this phenomenon. There is in most of these interpretations a grain of truth. However, they all fail to take account of the main motive that drives champions of the stage and the screen into the ranks of revolutionaries.
Under capitalism, material success depends on the appreciation of a man’s achievements on the part of the sovereign consumers. In this regard there is no difference between the services rendered by a manufacturer and those rendered by a producer, an actor or a playwright. Yet the awareness of this dependence makes those in the show business much more uneasy than those supplying the customers with tangible amenities.
The manufacturers of tangible goods know that their products are purchased because of certain physical properties. They may reasonably expect that the public will continue to ask for these commodities as long as nothing better or cheaper is offered to them, for it is unlikely that the needs which these goods satisfy will change in the near future. The state of the market for these goods can, to some extent, be anticipated by intelligent entrepreneurs. They can, with a degree of confidence, look into the future.
It is another thing with entertainment.
People long for amusement because they are bored. And nothing makes them so weary as amusements with which they are already familiar. The essence of the entertainment industry is variety. The patrons applaud most what is new and therefore unexpected and surprising. They are capricious and unaccountable. They disdain what they cherished yesterday. A tycoon of the stage or the screen must always fear the waywardness of the public. He awakes rich and famous one morning and may be forgotten the next day. He knows very well that he depends entirely on the whims and fancies of a crowd hankering after merriment. He is always agitated by anxiety. Like the master-builder in Ibsen’s play, he fears the unknown newcomers, the vigorous youths who will supplant him in the favor of the public.
It is obvious that there is no relief from what makes these stage people uneasy. Thus they catch at a straw. Communism, some of them think, will bring their deliverance. Is it not a system that makes all people happy? Do not very eminent men declare that all the evils of mankind are caused by capitalism and will be wiped out by communism? Are not they themselves hardworking people, comrades of all other working men?
It may be fairly assumed that none of the Hollywood and Broadway communists has ever studied the writings of any socialist author and still less any serious analysis of the market economy. But it is this very fact that, to these glamour girls, dancers and singers, to these authors and producers of comedies, moving pictures and songs, gives the strange illusion that their particular grievances will disappear as soon as the “expropriators” will be expropriated.
There are people who blame capitalism for the stupidity and crudeness of many products of the entertainment industry. There is no need to argue this point. But it is noteworthy to remember that no other American milieu was more enthusiastic in the endorsement of communism than that of people cooperating in the production of these silly plays and films. When a future historian searches for those little significant facts which Taine appreciated highly as source material, he should not neglect to mention the role which the world’s most famous strip-tease artist played in the American radical movement.