Transcript: 'A Culture of Dystopia and Nihilism'
USC's Jonathan Taplin on how Silicon Valley's top four billionaires took over Hollywood's 'escapism' business
Sean McNulty (00:04):
Welcome to The Ankler Podcast. This is Sean McNulty from The Wakeup Newsletter here at The Ankler on the evening of Thursday, October 12th. I'm joined as always by Elaine Low, Peter Kiefer, joining us once again, and of course, Richard Rushfield. We're all here in Los Angeles for once. Richard, apparently, I heard you're one of the people that Nelson Peltz is trying to get on the board of the Walt Disney Company. Did I get that right? You're a very impressive pull, Richard.
Richard Rushfield (00:29):
Yeah. I'm a big fan of Disneyland, and I have a lot of feelings about the snack selections-
Sean McNulty (00:37):
Richard Rushfield (00:38):
... at the park and everything. It could use some more variety. So I think they wanted that represented on the board. Unfortunately, they tend to do their meetings first thing in the morning.
Sean McNulty (00:47):
Richard Rushfield (00:49):
I told them, "If you could start at 11:00, I would meet you halfway," but a very regimented company apparently. So I'm going to bow out of that.
Sean McNulty (00:58):
Well, Nelson Peltz has a lot of pull there now, Richard. He keeps buying out that stock, so you never know. Maybe he can add that to his list of requests for Bob Iger to work into his day somehow, so TBD.
Richard Rushfield (01:06):
Well, I'm available if they're willing to think about that.
Sean McNulty (01:10):
Fantastic. Elaine, did you recover from your disappointment at Taylor Swift not putting you on her invite list for the big premiere this week? Disappointing, I'm sure.
Elaine Low (01:20):
Deeply offended, but I have my tickets to go see her anyway because-
Sean McNulty (01:28):
Oh, look at you.
Elaine Low (01:28):
... I'm magnanimous like that.
Sean McNulty (01:28):
You're the bigger person, Elaine. Very nice. Good showing, good showing. We have a feature interview this week that Peter has with the Emeritus Director at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC, Jonathan Taplin, which we're going to get to shortly. But first, Richard, the town this week certainly very heavily affected by the atrocities taking place in Israel right now, which you certainly touched on it in your column this week. I got to think that was a big point of the conversations you were probably having around town this week, right?
Richard Rushfield (01:56):
Yeah. I really felt, talking to people this week, that you really had to turn people to look at entertainment news because everybody was so glued to the Middle East and the horrors of what happened there. I wrote a column earlier this week talking about the horrors that happened. I just had this sense that we're in this moment [inaudible 00:02:17] between what's happening in Ukraine, between the battles in politics in America where this nihilism has emerged as this sort of dominant movement across the spectrum. I'm not equating MAGA with Hamas or what's happening in Ukraine. They're very different things and very different circumstances, but share in common this sense of nothing matters, there is no objective truth, and this love of cruelty and nastiness. Obviously, what happened in Israel and Ukraine goes beyond just nastiness.
But my column pointed out that in these very dark times that are occurring and may get much worse before it gets better, there's a real need for someone to stand up for humanity and for humanism. This is the traditional role of Hollywood, which has traditionally been sort of the cornerstone of world media, and we have to do things like make people laugh and show human stories that don't necessarily have any political content but just make a case for a common humanity and look into other people's lives. Instead, we have let our media be overrun by this fire hose where just nothing builds any strong attachments or emotions, and it is just fueling the nihilism of the world. I just said the world needs a strong Hollywood to make human stories again and give people a sense of common humanity out there. So stand up for ourselves and get to work, Hollywood, and don't cede the voice of media to a bunch of videos of people smashing their heads against the wall or whatever.