Hooray for Hollywood

"Those Hollywood slime buckets would sell their own daughters as sex slaves," froths right wing radio (a redundancy if ever there was one) rage merchant Michael Savage, "for a small slice of the DVD revenues." As blithely as he might ask a dinner companion to pass the salt, neo-con talkshow host Dennis Prager opines, "I have contempt for Hollywood."

Hollywood-bashing is the organizing principle uniting Rush, Sean, Bill, and even 'Dr.' Laura, not to mention scores of others. They view American public and popular expression as corrosive, destructive, decaying, exploitative, heartless, soulless, crassly and shamelessly commercial.

Does it trouble them to be in lockstep agreement with Osama bin Laden?

If they're right, the worst villain in the country has to be your humble op-ed blog columnist, as my former students script many Hollywood blockbusters plus oodles of independent films and plenty of television. Both of Steven Spielberg's pictures last year were written by U.C.L.A. screenwriting alumni; likewise all three of his Jurassic Park pictures. Add The Terminal and the TV series Amazing Stories among still others. Blame us also for training the authors of screenplays for Spiderman, Sideways, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and many, many more.

For better and for worse, American film is world film. For better because American films rightly merit their reputation for high-end film art and craft. For worse because their power overwhelms international markets and promotes the homengization of world culture.

Item: one in ten films produced outside the United States is shown outside the country of its origin while all American films are distributed outside the country of their origin. Indeed, many American films screen only abroad since they fail to win domestic theatrical releases. At home these picture go directly to cable and DVD. Internationally, however, they are released to theaters, as there is a craving all around the world for American fare.

I taught screenwriting master classes in Paris last spring. In mean, old, America-loathing France, oversized movie posters adorn the lobby of the European Conservetoire du Cinema. Among two dozen films only three are French. All the rest are American movies. This, again, in France.

Entertainment and information are our nation's greatest export. Contrary to what Hollywood bashers would have us believe, the values they expound are generally life affirming. The vast majority of American films extoll middleclass values and the American dream. What precisely are middleclass values? A certain materialism to be sure, and what's wrong with that? Is not a fundamental amount of material wealth -- food, clothing, and shelter for example -- necessary for a people truly to be free? Do not societies lacking the basics turn to the first tyrant who promises them a coq in every pot?

And what is the American dream? It is the notion that people who get educated and work hard can rise above their station. It is the notion that merit alone wins success in even the most competitive arenas. And what is more competitive than Hollywood? Here is a place where people get paid for what others are scolded: daydreaming. In film and television people literally traffic in their own imaginations.

Of course there is no shortage of people who claim this is a capitalist hoax, an illusion devised to gull the masses into thinking they have a chance when they do not. From my perch in Westwood, however, I have firsthand evidence that the American dream is no dream at all but an everyday reality. I see writers without showbiz contacts and connections succeed purely on the basis of their talent and discipline. I also see experienced, well connected writers who cannot win even a mere meeting to propose a project.

In Hollywood a writer's best credit is no credit. For exactly as movies idealize and romanticize the human condition, so also does the movie business. Upon a writer without experience executives can project the image they want to see. The writer who has done nothing at all has also done no damage. She has not been attached to development deals that did not develop. She has not won credit on movies that bombed at the box office. Hollywood is the one place where inexperience trumps experience. It is the only place on earth where you start at the top and work your way to the bottom.

More than any other American enterprise, Hollywood contributes favorably to the balance of trade and to reducing the budget deficit. It produces not a smidgen of smog; it does not befoul the aquifer. It employs the largest number of workers in the most populous state, and thousands more in states throughout the land.

Shouldn't pundits who purport to love America honor her film and TV industry rather than slander it?