The Materialist Ideology of the Dukes of Hazard and False Cause Fallacies

Michael Medved in yesterday’s USAToday (Source: UT 7/26/05) opines that the slackening movie market is a result of the misfit of Hollywood’s materialist liberal ideology in a conservative and “values” based society. It is difficult to treat this as an argument since Medved seems to possess the ideologues’ faith that justification is not needed and the loudest most confident assertion will persuade. Nonetheless it seems to involve a claim that the divergence in ideology is the best explanation because it is the cause of Hollywood’s woes.

After a brief description of these economic woes, Medved dismisses insiders’ claims about the causes of these woes

>Meanwhile, conventional wisdom ignores all ideological considerations in explaining the sudden box office collapse, concentrating instead on purely material excuses (high ticket prices, availability of DVDs) that have, frankly, applied for years. This knee-jerk tendency to offer direct, physical solutions to deep-seated problems constitutes an unmistakable element in the liberal outlook that remains Hollywood’s reigning faith.

>Revealingly, none of the studio honchos talked about reconnecting with the public by adjusting the values conveyed by feature films, and replacing the industry’s shrill liberal posturing with a more balanced ideological perspective.

It’s not clear what this is thought to reveal, but Medved seemingly suggests that the fact that the industry insiders do not consider a “spiritual” cause is evidence of their liberal bias. But this does not seem to be more significant than my doctor’s silence about Ebola virus during my last appointment. Before the honchos’ silence could be taken to reveal what Medved is already persuaded it means, we need some reason to believe that the cause is spiritual.

>Something clearly changed between 2004 and 2005 to cause an abrupt drop-off at the box office, and the most obvious alteration involved Hollywood’s role in the bitterly fought presidential election. The entertainment establishment embraced John Kerry with near unanimity — and bashed George W. Bush with unprecedented ferocity.

And here we find a beautiful example of the fallacy of the false cause or more precisely of post hoc propter hoc (“after this, because of this”). In order to argue a causal connection between two events you must show more than temporal succession and hypothesized relation. If Medved had any evidence whatsoever that Hollywood’s troubles were caused by their “values” (i.e., some independent evidence, market reseach, sociological data, even anecdotal evidence!), then it would be reasonable to go looking for an event that could have caused this. But of course, Medved has nothing other than his own feeling that this is the problem and so his causal argument becomes ridiculous. There is no more reason to believe that the 2004 election is the cause of Holloywood’s economic problems than there is to believe that the Boston Red Sox winning the world series was the cause.

>Despite efforts by entertainer activists, a majority of voters cast their ballots for Bush. If even a minority of those 62 million GOP voters — say, 20% — reacted to Hollywood’s electioneering by shunning the multiplex, it could easily account for the sharp decline in ticket sales after Bush’s re-election.

Once again, showing that something could cause something else is a far cry from showing that it did cause it.

Medved does advance the box-office success of the Passion of Christ as a reason to think that there is a national desire for religious values in movies. But one piece of data cannot prove a causal relation. If it was the cause then we would expect that this hunger for religious movies to have caused a long stagnation in movie attendance since Charlton Heston parted the red sea.

But, of course, proving the claim is not Medved’s real concern. The last three paragraphs of his column are a tirade against liberal “materialism” which offers supposedly failed solutions to “threats to the family from out-of-wedlock births,” crime, poverty, and terrorism. And if that’s not bad enough, Hollywood is turning to Oliver Stone to make its first 9/11 action movie. Medved doesn’t seem to need evidence or argument for his view–it exists in an ideological space impervious to the expectation of reasoning.

>Meanwhile, Tinseltown will continue to weep and mourn as long as its bosses depend on the likes of Stone to portray the worst terrorist attacks in our history. Americans aren’t stupid, and we’re not all apolitical; many (at least a third) are even self-consciously conservative in both politics and values.

I suspect that a more plausible claim is that Tinseltown will continue to weep and mourn for as long as it continues to expect us to attend re-makes of the Dukes of Hazard.