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Deflating the Whoopi cushion

Mark Steyn devotes his Sunday Sun-Times column to the pitiful condition of Hollywood’s product: “Hollywood’s PC perversion stifles storytelling.” The column’s lowlight is Steyn’s report on the DVD “Looney Tunes Golden Collection”:

I stopped to buy the third boxed set in the “Looney Tunes Golden Collection.” Loved the first two: Daffy, Bugs, Porky, beautifully restored, tons of special features. But, for some reason, this new set begins with a special announcement by Whoopi Goldberg explaining what it is we’re not meant to find funny: “Unfortunately at that time racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in ways that may have embarrassed and even hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups,” she tells us sternly. “These jokes were wrong then and they’re wrong today” — unlike, say, Whoopi Goldberg’s most memorable joke of recent years, the one at that 2004 all-star Democratic Party gala in New York where she compared President Bush to her, um, private parts. There’s a gag for the ages.

I don’t know what Whoopi’s making such a meal about. It’s true you don’t see many positive images of people of color on “Looney Tunes,” but then the images of people of non-color aren’t terribly positive either (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam). Instead, you see positive images of ducks of color, roadrunners of color and tweety birds of color. How weirdly reductive to be so obsessed about something so peripheral to these cartoons that you stick the same damn Whoopi Goldberg health warning on all four DVDs in the box. And don’t think about hitting the “Next” button and skipping to the cartoons: You can’t; you gotta sit through it.

A Hollywood that’s ashamed of one of its few universally acknowledged genuine artistic achievements is hardly likely to come up with any new artistic achievements. As the instant deflation of that Whoopi cushion reminds us, the movies are now so constrained by political correctness the very act of storytelling is itself endangered. That’s something slightly more ominous than the feeble limousine liberalism many conservatives blame for the alleged box-office slump.

Elia Kazan is one of the giants of Hollywood’s past, surely in the pantheon of great American directors along with John Ford and Howard Hawks. Thinking of Kazan’s best films — “Streetcar Named Desire,” “On the Waterfront,” “A Face in the Crowd,” “East of Eden,” “Splendor in the Grass” — you realize how few films now seem directed to an adult audience. I wonder if the stupefying effect of gearing films to such a low common denominator also contributes to the decline Steyn attributes to political correctness. Indeed, “the Whoopi cushion” may represent the infantalization of the Hollywood mentality as much as its sickening political conformity.

Today’s New York Times Book Review features John Simon’s marvelous review of Richard Schickel’s new biography of Kazan: “On the Kazan front.” Kazan could make a great, angry film about the phenomenon represented by the Whoopi cushion, as you can see for yourelf in his “A Face in the Crowd” (screenplay by Budd Schulberg).

UPDATE: Swanblog‘s Peter Swanson writes: “Don’t forget the schtick Whoopi wrote for her then-boyfriend Ted Danson in 1993. He appeared in blackface.”

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