Sunday, July 04, 2004

Marlon Brando, Progressive

All the big obituaries of Marlon Brando conspicuously failed to mention that he was one of the most consistent progressive voices in American popular culture over the last five decades. Indeed, the mocking attitude of the press towards him seems to have been provoked by his unacceptable political views. Here he is in the infamous Larry King interview from 1996:

Brando: "Hollywood is run by Jews; it is owned by Jews, and they should have a greater sensitivity about the issue of - of people who are suffering. Because they've exploited - we have seen the - we have seen the Nigger and Greaseball, we've seen the Chink, we've seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap, we have seen the wily Filipino, we've seen everything but we never saw the Kike. Because they knew perfectly well, that that is where you draw the wagons around."

King: "When you say - when you say something like that you are playing right in, though, to anti-Semitic people who say the Jews are -"

Brando: "No, no, because I will be the first one who will appraise the Jews honestly and say 'Thank God for the Jews.'"

While he could have expressed himself better (and later had to apologize), it is absolutely true that Hollywood has played a major role in demonizing certain groups, most recently the Arabs, and that this demonization has created an attitude in American culture which has made possible a completely unprovoked attack such as we have recently seen in Iraq, not to mention the extreme inhumanity that Americans have shown themselves capable of in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Is this demonization part of a conspiracy? It has certainly has had political consequences which have benefited certain groups at the expense of others. The idea that Hollywood is some kind of bastion of liberalism is clearly untrue. Brando became so disgusted with it that he essentially stopped acting, and just appeared from time to time to exploit his own reputation when he needed the money. Throughout his life he never waivered from his commitment to progressive ideas, even when they may very well have hurt his reputation and his career.