Professor Steven J. Ross will be speaking on “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Changed American Politics”
Wednesday 6 April 2011
Theatre 404 School of Engineering
University of Auckland
What does the participation of Hollywood movie stars and celebrities mean for political life in the United States?
Ever since the American film industry relocated to Hollywood early in the twentieth century, it has had an outsized influence on American politics.
Steven J. Ross, Professor of History at the University of Southern California, tells the compelling story of how Hollywood emerged as a vital centre of American politics through the activism of larger-than-life figures in American cinema – Charlie Chaplin, Louis Mayer, Edward G. Robinson, Harry Belafonte, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Jane Fonda, Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
From Chaplin, whose movies almost always displayed his leftist convictions, to Schwarzenegger’s nearly seamless transition from action blockbusters to the California governor’s mansion, Professor Ross traces the intersection of Hollywood and political activism through the twentieth century and into the 21st and challenges the commonly held belief that Hollywood is a bastion of liberalism.
Instead, while the Hollywood Left was usually more vocal and visible, it was the Right that achieved the most, capturing a Senate seat (Murphy), a governorship (Schwarzenegger), and – ultimately – the Presidency (Reagan). Beyond consequences for US party politics, Professor Ross considers the larger political impact of Hollywood, because playing to celebrity may also undermine democracy by turning ‘citizens’ into ‘fans’.
Ross, S. J. (Forthcoming 2011). Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ross, S. J. (2002). Movies and American Society. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Ross, S. J. (1998). Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ross, S. J. (1985). Workers On the Edge: Work, Leisure, and Politics in Industrializing Cincinnati, 1788-1890, New York: Columbia University Press.