Tom Hanks recently said that he would not be able to play the role of a gay man. He told The New York Times Magazine:
We’re beyond that now, and I don't think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy.
He also acknowledged that films like Forest Gump would not be able to get made now as times have moved on.
I agree with Tom Hank’s assessment, not because I think a straight man shouldn’t play a gay man or that films like Forest Gump shouldn’t get made. But because actors and film makers have been so influenced by the modern culture, they’d find it unconscionable to make such a film and the pushback against the film would be so much it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.
This got me thinking about unity or the lack of unity in western society. A film like Forest Gump is a piece of entertainment art that the overwhelming majority can get behind. It’s a wholesome film with a universally liked actor playing a main character most people can get behind and when Forest achieves the things, he does in his life most felt happy for him. No one considered if the movie was offensive because at the time nobody thought it was, or at the very least if anyone thought it offensive, they were part of a very tiny minority that didn’t think their offense was worth sharing with the public.
Fast forward to 2022, we now have in place technology, mainly social media and mobile phones that keep us up to date on every social, cultural and political issue. We also have 24-hour access to the opinions of actors or popular celebrities on all these issues. Thirty years ago, you might see an advert for a movie, go to the cinema, buy popcorn and escape from real life. Now Twitter, hundreds of news outlets, and mainstream news are pushing news notifications directly to your phone to tell you that Chris Evans hopes half the population die like dinosaurs so that Disney can make more movies about gay couples. With the news comes the reactions with one group praising his words, the other criticising him. Then you realise it’s no longer a children's film to escape from real life and enjoy, but a hot point political and cultural issue and your actions or opinions towards the film will in some way show which side you fall on.
Before the internet, there were much fewer news sources or independent voices, and everyone got their news from the same place, usually at the same time. We now have more news outlets, personalities, and social media accounts bringing news on a non-stop basis. They no longer feel an obligation to only report, but to tell us how we should feel about having the popular actress Scarlett Johansson play a trans character or how Disney snuck gay romance into their movie. Whereas previously, we wouldn’t have cared, or even noticed such things. Ignorance really is and always has been the secret to happiness.
Some at first might genuinely not care about such issues, but as it goes on, it chips away at us. The news and those who share it have a great way of not only telling us how we should feel about a topic but also letting us know how the other group (usually political) we’ve been made to hate feels about it. We are repeatedly told that to not take a position or take the same views as them makes us the problem. As a result of tribalism and a willingness to not be othered from ‘civilised society,’ we find ourselves caring more than we originally did.
All this means we can no longer have a wholesome unifying film like Forest Gump. We can no longer have a family film from Disney like Lion King because one side wants gay characters clearly on show, and the other doesn’t. But Disney must pick a side, the side they’ve chosen is probably dependent on the individuals within their organisation, the political viewpoints of people in the entertainment industry, and the side that will yield minimal financial loss.
I know politics has always existed in movies. But my point is we didn’t have the technology that allowed the mass to know it was politics, or to generate anger in them about societal issues. If Forest Gump was made today, there would be social media outcry about the deception of mental illness, which would then transfer to mainstream news, and eventually, politicians would jump on the bandwagon to bolster their political careers.
I’m using entertainment as an example, but what I have described above can be applied to so many other facets of current life. The days of unity have longed gone, they never existed in all truthfulness. Before technology whilst we had some inclination that there were people with different beliefs, modern technology has given everyone the ability to air those very different opinions, it’s given the ordinary citizen the power to power to stir up mobs and shine a light on the divisions that have always been there. Social media platforms have given everyone a battleground to fight over our differences. Social media was supposed to bring about unity, allow all of us to connect in the belief that we are all similar, we just want love peace and happiness. We never considered that what is love for one person is hate for another and what is peace to another is chaos to another.
So why do I sound like a Nihilist and why do I say there is hope to be found in this? The sooner we come to accept we are different, that we live different lives, with different values then the quicker we can all carry on with our lives in peace, living apart but in tolerance of each other.
Disney can carry on making movies for the largely urban, city folks who want more diversity in terms of sexuality and identity in their children's films. And the group who don’t want that can create or look for platforms that provide what they want their kids to see. The cities that want to have drag shows in their school are free to do that in the regions that want that and those that don’t want that can live in regions that do not allow that. ‘Free speech’ advocates can continue to create their own social media and liberals can congregate on social platforms that only allow their views. We can separate into our bubbles in the understanding that we know we are in a bubble, there are those outside who are completely different and that’s okay.
The push back against what I've just said might be, can we accept hate or evil, we need to fight it. For instance, should America just have left slavery legal in parts of the country that wanted it to carry on? Whilst I have argued that we are more different than people are willing to acknowledge, I don’t believe we are that different. Within countries especially, I believe the issues of topics like slavery, rape or murder are agreed upon especially within a sovereign nation. Take the U.K for example, whilst more northerners vote conservative and believe immigration should be less and in Southern London areas who tend to now vote more Labour and believe in more immigration. They both believe rape is bad, slavery should remain illegal and murderers should be in Prison.
With that being said, here is the uncomfortable truth, we already accept evil, and hate exists on an international level. We’ve even allowed it because in general, we've taken the view that it’s not our business. For example, there was a large number who supported the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan knowing full well the probable outcome of a Taliban takeover, some think we should leave Russia and Ukraine to fight it out amongst themselves despite the likelihood of Ukrainian death toll without outside help. North Korea is literally the poster boy for an authoritarian regime, but we also don’t advocate for western countries to invade in order to liberate its citizens from dictatorship. China has numerous issues in terms of democracy, human rights and tyranny, the treatment of the Uyghurs being one, but many of our corporations, governments and celebrities happily visit and aim to please their government in the name of fame and money. The world’s biggest single-sport event, the FIFA world cup is being held in Qatar, a country with human rights issues and an ongoing slave trade. In fact, slaves were used to build the stadiums many of the footballers and fans will enjoy during the games. Additionally, despite FIFA and players around the world showing strong support for BLM and Pride month, Qatar record on racism and gay rights is extremely poor by western standards. Yet FIFA and football associations around the world are willing to play in the country and help enrich the government by doing so. Saudi Araba is a country that kills homosexuals, is pretty poor with women’s rights and treatment of women, we not only accept their way of life, but we are also willing to do business with them, empowering their leaders to carry on acts that breach basic human rights.
Many in the U.K, America and Europe don’t think or care about these issues, westerners gladly holiday in Dubai because it's hot and a nice looking place for a break. We’ve come to accept that it’s their world and if they don’t infringe into our space, they can do whatever they want. We’ve always had the impression that those regions and its people are different from us, with their own very different cultures, history and religion. We didn’t need technology to make this assertion, we just needed to use our eyes, we saw the difference in their food, the way they dressed, danced, their music, language, their religions, attitudes and even appearance.
But within western society we all mistakenly assumed we were all the same. Because we are similar in some things like dress style, religion and food. But we failed to acknowledge that despite our similarities, the differences are still strong and numerous. For example, within western society the Europeans are still shocked by American attitude towards guns. In parts of western countries are still surprised by differing attitudes to issues like the European Union, abortion and immigration.
Technology has forced us to grapple with just how different we are on important and personal issues. Right now, we are at the stage of denial, so we are trying to force unity through conflict, hoping those we don’t like will die out like dinosaurs. I suspect that as time progresses, we might end up in a place where government becomes smaller, and more power is given to local and regional leaders to govern smaller areas.
People tend to move to areas and be around people like them, it's why so many towns, countries, and smaller regions have voted for the same political party for generations. Even if some hot-button issues like abortions or sexual identity become settled (I don’t think this will ever be the case), new differences likely spurred and inflamed by political parties will form. Yes, so I do sound somewhat nihilistic, but from that comes the belief that the moment we accept our differences, then we can start the process of creating a more peaceful, tolerant society in the west.