Today’s newsletter is a guest broadcast from the culture department of The New York Times. Markus Tracywho regularly reports on the intersection of culture and politics, writes about Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster – and the conservatives who sing about it.

The inevitable sequel to the Tom Cruise blockbuster, Top Gun: Maverick has been hailed as a cinematic throwback.

Many critics have interpreted its tale of an increasingly outdated pilot being recalled to teach today’s young people a thing or two for one final mission as a not-so-subtle allegory for the film itself. The film uses relatively few computer-generated effects, stars Cruise, now 60, and has still managed to gross more than $1 billion worldwide.

But amid praise from moviegoers, who enjoyed the realistic dogfights filmed with real airplanes in which the real actors rode, another community embraced the film because it represented its values ​​and defended its views: conservatives.

A taste:

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “Any movie that isn’t overwhelmingly bright can actually appeal to normal people.” (DeSantis hadn’t seen the film at the time; he later saw it with his wife for her birthday, he said.)

  • Fox News host Jesse Watters: “We have longed to see a film that is uncompromisingly American, and we finally got it.”

  • Tom Lahrenfrom conservative sports broadcaster OutKick and Fox: “The undeniable success of Top Gun is proof that Americans are fed up with WOKE and just want to see good movies without a great social justice message!”

What’s going on here?

There is a long history of conservatives seizing and claiming a cultural artifact of what is generally perceived as leftist entertainment.

“It goes back years,” said Doug Heye, a Republican adviser, “and also when we had a Hollywood actor or a reality TV star for president. They feel besieged by culture. That feeling has only gotten bigger, and it’s only gotten stronger because there’s more substance to it today.”

In a recent essay on films like Top Gun: Maverick, AO Scott, co-chief film critic for The Times, argued that a notable aspect of the conservative movement is its hostility toward the entertainment industry.

“The modern right,” Scott wrote, “defines itself against the cultural elites who supposedly congregate on the shores and conspire to impose their values ​​on an unsuspecting public. In this report, Hollywood is acting in functional alignment with academia and the news media.”

And conservative activists’ animosity towards Hollywood and other cultural taste-makers has perhaps never been more striking.

DeSantis, whose ability to channel the movement might surpass any other politician (including Donald Trump’s arguably), made waves this spring by rescinding special taxes and self-government privileges Disney had enjoyed for its massive theme park in its state . The governor and the company had fallen out over a newly passed state law that bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in some grade levels.

When Top Gun: Maverick entered this culture clash with its easy-going, feel-good patriotism—it’s, among other things, a film about how great US Navy pilots can be, especially when fighting America’s enemies—the conservatives’ sense of unity was one arrived of course.

“If something comes out,” Heye said, “and it’s another version of Rocky IV — the 1985 film in which Sylvester Stallone’s working-class boxer steps into the ring with a Soviet fighter named Ivan Drago — “it will to something that, for the activist part of the grassroots that’s looking for something that doesn’t critique its values, they’ll grab it.”

That’s not to say that Maverick, Hangman, and the other pilots in the new Top Gun movie are going up against today’s equivalent of the Soviet Union, whatever that country might be. As in the first “Top Gun”, which appeared in 1986, the opponent is not explicitly named.

Nor do conservative politicians and media personalities claim that the film makes a convincing case for measures such as tax cuts or gun rights. Your argument has less to do with what the film is than what it isn’t; less to do with its specific plot or characters than with its mood.

“It’s political to be apolitical,” said Christian Toto, a conservative film critic and owner of the Hollywood in Toto website.

He contrasted Top Gun: Maverick with some films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the gendered reboot Ghostbusters. Their efforts at inclusion — diverse casting, same-sex relationships — might come across as awkward, he said, particularly to conservative viewers whose antennae are already wary of filmmakers who they say are trying to sneak in some spinach with the cinematic candy.

The conservative allergy to such choices in filmmaking flares up, Toto said, “when the audience gets the sense that it’s being awkwardly inserted or a message is being sent rather than organically woven into the story.”

That the pilots training for the daredevil heist in Top Gun: Maverick appear to come from diverse backgrounds doesn’t seem like a liberal message, but realistic details, Toto said.

“The cast is moderately diverse; There are women pilots,” he said. “But they don’t comment on it; You don’t base the script on it. It is believed that these are just very talented people willing to risk their lives for the mission.”

Box office information does not contradict the Conservatives’ case. About 55 percent of opening weekend sales, an unusually high proportion, came from ticket buyers over the age of 35, according to Paramount.

And, uncharacteristically for big box-office hits of the era, “Top Gun: Maverick” has made more money in the United States and Canada than the rest of the world, according to Box Office Mojo.

Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative pundit and co-founder of The Daily Wire website, had predicted in his glowing review that the film would do better domestically than abroad. “The film itself is quite red, white and blue,” he said. “This is only assumed as background. That’s how movies used to be.”

Stanley Rosen, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California who studies the Chinese film industry, said in an interview that “Top Gun: Maverick” represents an emerging idea that “Hollywood doesn’t need China the way it used to.”

The film’s success may indicate that the times when Hollywood studios changed storylines to make their releases more palatable to Chinese censors and viewers – a trend documented in a recent book, “Red Carpet” by Erich Schwartzel, documented – could slowly come to an end.

And, Rosen added, whatever the film’s actual political message is, arguing that it has one at all might have its own merit.

“The controversy over Vigilance or whether this is Reagan-era nostalgia,” he said, “is very good for the box office.”

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, is having lunch with Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington on Friday, two of his aides have confirmed.

For Newsom, the trip, officially made to accept an award and discuss policy issues with lawmakers and officials in the Biden administration, was a clean-up of sorts.

On Thursday, Newsom said clearly that he supports President Biden as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2024, amid a flurry of reports from my Times colleagues and others indicating that Liberal voters are not particularly enthusiastic about another term for the 79-year-old Commanders are in chief.

News reports, including in this humble newsletter, have noted that Newsom’s rise as a leader in the Democratic Party could put him in competition with Harris, a longtime ally and possible future domestic adversary, in a hypothetical non-Biden presidential primary.

These stories caught the attention of the vice president’s office while also amusing the governor’s staff back home in California. Both camps insist there is no rivalry between the two leaders.

Newsom volunteered to reporters Thursday that Harris had been “wonderful” as vice president, saying they were just “checking in like we do all the time.” However, he alluded to unspecified “restrictions” Harris faced in office, saying it was “a difficult time for all of us in public life.”

When asked what’s on the lunch menu, a Newsom employee quipped in a text: “Arsenic and arm wrestling. The usual.”

Thank you for reading.


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