Conservatives love to grouse that Hollywood hates them. For its part, Hollywood tends to yawn, roll its eyes, or nod distractedly. Unlike red-state America, which cannot avoid what it regards as the liberal values that permeate pop culture, the entertainment industry can, for the most part, ignore conservative culture.
This year’s Republican presidential primaries, however, threw conservative values front and center as multiple candidates raced to the right. Early on there was much talk of God, prayer, and divine callings. Later the spotlight fell on issues like abortion, contraception, and the faith-destroying influence of college.
Confronted with such a foreign spectacle, Hollywood creative types did what they do: used the material to flesh out their work.
Chatting about her role in the new movie Rock of Ages, Catherine Zeta-Jones recently told the trade media that she drew inspiration from one of the Republican contenders in this year’s presidential race. “I kind of had a Michele Bachmann moment,” explained the Academy-and Tony-Award–winning actress. Of course, Zeta-Jones’s revelation might have been more flattering if the character in question, Patricia Whitmore, weren’t the film’s chief villain, a tightly wound Bible thumper crusading against “sex, hateful music, and sex.”
At least Bachmann wasn’t the model for a 500-year-old blood-sucking creature of the night. That distinction goes to another recent White House hopeful, Rick Santorum. Discussing the origins of the newly premiered season five of True Blood, HBO’s Southern Gothic soap opera about the undead, creator Alan Ball has said “the jumping-off point was watching the Republican primaries, watching Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and asking what would it be like to have a theocracy in America—which is way more terrifying than any fictional monster could ever be.”
Ball voiced fascination with Bachmann’s sense that she has a direct line to God. But the former Pennsylvania senator was the one who really scared him because of “how many people agree with him.” Fast forward a few months, and True Blood viewers are being introduced to a Santorum-inspired big bad: Roman, head of the powerful, secretive, and decidedly undemocratic vampire government known as The Authority.
But even Santorum has received better treatment from HBO than poor George W. Bush, whose presidential visage appeared in the fantasy series Game of Thrones as a severed head on a spike.
In a word: ouch.
To be fair, there are positive red-state models to be found on screen. Take the fantasy-action-horror flick now in theaters across the country, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The storyline is precisely what the title suggests. Uncovering a fanged plot to take over the nation, our butt-kicking 16th president sets about terminating the walking dead with extreme prejudice.
No matter how many bloodsuckers Honest Abe gets to behead with his trusty axe, it bears noting that Hollywood had to reach back 150 years to find a Republican pol that it liked.