Has Hollywood lost touch with American values?

The contentious presidential campaign was filled with accusations of elitism and bias by the media -- from the news to entertainment. Many supporters of Donald J. Trump saw his victory as a repudiation of the so-called liberal elite.

So as 2017 begins, we ask: Is Hollywood representing all Americans? Are Hollywood values out of sync with American values?

It's the start of a conversation we'll have all year with Hollywood's creators, consumers and observers. Most of all, we want to hear from you. Is Hollywood out of touch with your America? Here's what our critics and writers have to say:

  Did Donald Trump see himself as James Stewart in the 1939 Academy Award-–nominated movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"?    (AMPAS)

Did Donald Trump see himself as James Stewart in the 1939 Academy Award-–nominated movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"?  (AMPAS)

FOR BETTER OR WORSE,  Donald Trump will become president sooner than you think and the question remains: How did it happen? 

Pundits of all stripes have weighed in with speculation about possible reasons: the president-elect's post-fact skills as a campaigner; FBI Director James Comey's heavy thumb on the scale; "Manchurian Candidate"-type Russian interference; no-show Democratic voters who didn't understand that elections are about transference of power and not expressions of "she's just not right for me" personal preference. 

I have a simpler explanation: Hollywood made us do it. Not the celebrities, not the executives, the movies themselves. 

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For it turns out that the election and the choices it offered voters fit snugly into models the movies have created, archetypes infused so deeply into our culture and our way of thinking that they shape how we view the world, influencing us even if we haven't seen the films. 

I don't think it's too much to say that the movies were key in creating the cultural forces that made voting for Donald Trump seem like a fine idea. 

Hollywood movies and the dream-factory visions they create are so potent that they've influenced elections overseas. In 1989, when Poland held its most significant voting since World War II, the striving Solidarity party used a picture of Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane in "High Noon" with a ballot in his hand and the Solidarity logo on his vest as its central campaign image.

The result was a strong showing for the party and the beginning of the end for Poland's dominant Communists. That movie-inspired poster, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said, "has become the emblem of the battle we fought together." 

So it's not much of a stretch to imagine the FBI's Comey choosing to see himself in the Gary Cooper mold as he contemplated his course of action, a believer in duty and honor insistent on doing the right thing though everyone else in the small town that is Washington, D.C., abandons him. 

Because whether we are aware of it or not, we often look to the movies to tell us who we are, to reinforce our actions and provide shortcuts that help us categorize and make sense of an increasingly complex world. 

As far as understanding the mood of the voters headed to election day, look no further than Peter Finch's fed-up newscaster Howard Beale in Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet's prescient 1976 "Network," encouraging everyone to open their windows and scream, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." 

So who were voters in this unhappy mood going to select? On the one hand there was Hillary Clinton, immediately recognizable in Hollywood terms as the nerdy girl, the butt of innumerable jokes, the smart person no one likes who can't get the respect she deserves. 

One example out of many here is Alexander Payne's "Election" and its prototypical overachiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), a capable student so disliked that a teacher (Matthew Broderick standing in for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange?) is willing to go to any lengths to derail her.

  Did Hillary Clinton encounter a Tracy Flick effect? In 1999’s “Election” Reese Witherspoon’s school government campaign affronts a male teacher.    (Bob Akester / Paramount Pictures; Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Did Hillary Clinton encounter a Tracy Flick effect? In 1999’s “Election” Reese Witherspoon’s school government campaign affronts a male teacher.  (Bob Akester / Paramount Pictures; Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

On the other hand, Donald Trump's campaigning skills allowed him to pose, against all reason, as Jimmy Stewart's crusading Jefferson Smith in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," the hero who stands up against the system, who dares to speak out when others are silent, battling special interests to his last breath. The image was so seductive, and made voting for Trump emotionally appealing in a way Clinton's candidacy never managed, that a lot of voters felt no need to look any deeper. 

One of the 2016 campaign's most perplexing questions, why revelations of Trump being caught on tape making the crudest possible sexist remarks about women, something that would have killed his candidacy in campaigns past, ultimately made so little difference. Again, the movies have to shoulder part of the blame.

  Did the "Sausage Party" gang help normalize the reaction to Donald Trump's crude remarks on the "Access Hollywood" tape?    (Columbia, Sony Pictures via AP)

Did the "Sausage Party" gang help normalize the reaction to Donald Trump's crude remarks on the "Access Hollywood" tape?  (Columbia, Sony Pictures via AP)

For from "Knocked Up" through "Sausage Party," we live in an age when Hollywood has been beyond eager to stoke the public's endless appetite for raunchy comedies. Entire careers have been built out of this, in front of and behind the camera, and though it can be argued that Trump's remarks took things to another level, the fact remains that those films, viewed as they have been by tens of millions of Americans, in effect normalized that kind of once-unthinkable language and gave people with a mind to excuse it leeway to do so. 

If there is one thing that unites many of Trump's voters it is a desire to "shake things up," an understandable wish given the mess in Washington, but one that counts on the unspoken presumption, which history flatly and terrifyingly contradicts, that there is in effect a safety net under this country, that there is a limit to how bad things can get under any presidency, no matter how feckless. Viewed in that light, what's the risk? 

Hollywood has promoted this illogical protective idea throughout its history, insisting that this country's citizens are the good guys, protected by John Wayne and the almighty and destined to always come out on top. The apocalypse, by definition, rains destruction only on other people. 

It is not just American films that see things this way, all national cinemas do. You can even see examples in Germany's World War II movies, in romances like 1942's Zarah Leander-starring "The Great Love," perhaps the most successful film of the Nazi era, which exuded brawny confidence that heroic Germans were destined to prevail against any and all enemies. It didn't quite turn out that way, did it? 

So how is all this going to play out in the next four years? What kind of ending will reality provide for a story Hollywood wrote? There's no knowing for sure but once again, Hollywood provides the best clue, in this case in the person of Bette Davis as tempestuous actress Margo Channing in "All About Eve." 

"Fasten your seatbelts," she famously said. "It's going to be a bumpy night." 

On Twitter:  @KennethTuran

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Chris Alexakis