USA Politics

Tim Allen, conservatives in Hollywood, and Nazi Germany

Putting it in perspective

The comedian is one of a number of conservatives in Hollywood to attest to a climate that oppresses and punishes their views. The comparison to the Third Reich is anything but apt, historians say – but the industry's relationship with politics is a complicated one.

Comedian Tim Allen is seen on the sidelines before the first half of an NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears in Detroit, Nov. 27, 2014.
Duane Burleson/ AP/ File
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Caption

Tim Allen feels it’s so tough to be a conservative in Hollywood, it’s like living in Nazi Germany.

“You know, you get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody believes,” the comedian joked on  “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Friday. “This is like ’30s Germany.”

The comedian’s grousing was met with immediate backlash, with the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect demanding an apology from the star of “Last Man Standing.”

“Tim, have you lost your mind?” Steven Goldstein, the executive director of organization, said in a statement. “No one in Hollywood today is subjecting you or anyone else to what the Nazis imposed on Jews.” 

It’s unclear if Mr. Allen’s comparison was simply spontaneous shtick, or deeply-felt frustration. But Allen is one of a number of conservatives in the entertainment industry who have previously spoken up about feeling politically "silenced." They feel uncomfortable expressing their views in Hollywood's liberal bastion, they say, fearing that they'll be shut out – a shift, they say, from studio lots' more open political climate in the 1990s.

But from a historical perspective, Allen's comparison is at least misguided, experts say: Social pressures in Hollywood simply aren't comparable to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, culminating in the Holocaust, or even the blacklisting of left-leaning actors and writers under McCarthyism. And at the bottom line, Hollywood may not be such a stalwartly liberal bloc, they add.

“Corporate Hollywood doesn’t know left from right. Corporate Hollywood only knows green. They’re interested in one thing only and that is making money,” says Steven Ross, a history professor at the University of Southern California, and author of the forthcoming book, “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America.” “Politics are secondary to what they believe the bottom line will be for a studio or TV network.”

“It’s talent, not politics that prevents you from working,” Dr. Ross tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview on Wednesday. “What [Allen is] complaining about simply doesn’t exist.”

The comedian made his comment after Mr. Kimmel asked him about attending President Trump’s inauguration in January. “I’m not attacking you,” Kimmel told him, after his guest initially said he “went to go see Democrats and Republicans.”

“You gotta be real careful ’round here,” Allen replied as Kimmel laughed. “You know, you get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody believes. This is like ’30s Germany. I don’t know what happened.”

This isn’t the first time Allen has publicly criticized the entertainment industry for suffocating conservative opinions.

“What I find odd in Hollywood is they didn’t like Trump because he was a bully,” Allen told then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly in November. “But if you had any kind of inkling that you were for Trump, you got bullied for doing that. It gets a little hypocritical.”

Ms. Kelly agreed.

“I know many of them who are part of the Hollywood conservative underground,” she said.

Nestled in a county that cast more than 70 percent of its votes for Hillary Clinton, Hollywood is considered a liberal hub. Some conservatives in the industry have opined that, while once more tolerant of minority political views, it is no longer an amiable environment. 

“In the ’90s, it was never really an issue that I had to hide. I was always forthright,” Gerald Molen, a producer whose credits include “Schindler’s List” and two “Jurassic Park” movies, told the Los Angeles Times. That's no longer the case, he said. “The acrimony – it’s there. It’s front and center.”

The climate is so bad, they say, that the largest conservative organization in the industry, Friends of Abe, keeps the names of its 2,500 members secret.

“There’s a McCarthyism coming from the left,” one prominent TV and movie actor who requested his name not be used for fear of professional repercussions told the L.A. Times. “In 30 years of show business, I’ve never seen it like this. If you are even lukewarm to Republicans, you are excommunicated from the church of tolerance.”

But historians who specialize in the entertainment industry and politics say comparisons to McCarthyism ignore how those on the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s were treated.

“These and other moments of repression of political ideas involved much more than social pressure like not being invited to cocktail parties,” Kathryn Brownell, a history professor at Purdue University and author of “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Politics,” tells the Monitor on Wednesday. She mentions conservatives in the industry collaborating with the federal government during the "Red Scare" to prevent the hiring of those with liberal views.

Dr. Brownell acknowledges the current tension between the Trump administration and members of the entertainment industry. Actress Meryl Streep, for instance, devoted an acceptance speech at the Golden Globes in January to criticizing President Trump. But Brownell adds that Mr. Trump has directly benefited from the industry and his time as a reality TV star – then, as a president and candidate, depicted Hollywood as an adversary.

“He contributed to that environment Tim Allen talked about,” said Brownell. “Trump has tried to intensify this ‘us versus them’ debate.”

But some of Trump's inner circle has come from Hollywood. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon were once film producers, part of the conservative corporate Hollywood that Dr. Ross at USC mentions.  

Allen’s comments also come as evidence is mounting that a growing number of Republican men feel discriminated against, a cohort the comedian represents as a vocal conservative on the “Last Man Standing” sitcom. According to the American National Election Study, 18 percent of Republican men in 2016 said they faced a “great deal” or “a lot” of discrimination, compared to 9 percent in 2012, according to data Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, cited in an article for the Harvard Business Review. In 2016, an additional 23 percent of Republican men said they faced “a moderate amount” of discrimination, for a total of 41 percent.

“You’re seeing men who have had privilege and were in charge of different elements of society no longer winning as much as they were,” Dr. Cassino tells the Monitor. “Now, because of the representation of women and the proportional representation of minorities, men are no longer running 100 percent of everything. They are running 60 percent of everything. It’s a relative loss of where we are.”

He adds that Allen’s comments are an outgrowth of conservative claims that contemporary liberals' insistence on tolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities has produced intolerance toward any illiberal political opinions, such as those shared on college campuses or in TV interviews.

But Allen’s comparison is also reminiscent of an argument from the alt-right movement about the threat of white identity, say both Cassino and Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at La Salle University.

This argument has become more mainstream, with Breitbart News and nationalist rhetoric taking on more prominence as a result of the 2016 election and new administration, he explains. Whether Allen’s comparison was heartfelt or spur-of-the-moment shtick (attempts to reach the comedian were unsuccessful), the normalization of the alt-right empowered Allen to make this statement, even if it was meant as self-deprecating humor, says Dr. Gallagher.

“These are the folks he's tapping,” Gallagher says of economically struggling areas, where his routine may resonate best. “But for him to suggest he is the victim of some kind of liberal Hollywood establishment is comical.”

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