The deeply held political beliefs of the American people can’t be bought. But movie producers are betting that they can be sold.
The Stoneslide Corrective has acquired proposals prepared by major studios and independent producers to insert ideological content in movies slated to be released in the summer of 2016, just before the next US presidential election. The proposals were sent to the Super PACs of major candidates and both political parties asking for payments ranging from $50,000 to $15,000,000 in return for ideologically friendly zingers, characters, and even whole subplots. Analysts say this is merely a logical development of the increasing use of product placement in feature films in recent years. Call it ideology placement.
Stoneslide has seen proposals made by director-producer Steven Spielberg, as well as neo-slapstick filmmaker Judd Apatow. Both of these directors have capped ideological inserts at 4% of the total film and limited the range of ideologies they’re willing to incorporate. According to our sources, however, Michael Bay, director of the Transformers series, has offered up to 96% of his planned 2016 release and is open to any suitor who can pay.
Here is one excerpt from a major studio pitch document obtained by The Stoneslide Corrective for the forthcoming Virtue’s Stalker:
-THE PLACEMENT “Always finish off your enemies. Now that Obamacare is the law of the land, if they’re not stone dead, they’re sure to be nursed back to health and then they’ll come looking for revenge.”
-THE STORY Ned Striver, a grizzled veteran of the war in Afghanistan, gives this advice to his 8-year-old son Kyle. The boy grows up and forgets his father’s words. With charm and intelligence, Kyle finds success working as a partner in a secretive global investment firm… until he stumbles on the wrong secret and his partners turn against him. Then he needs his father’s toughness and cynical realism if he’s going to survive, and the two team up to fight their enemies.
The producers are asking $250,000 for this quip. They argue that it plays a pivotal role in Kyle’s development and comes from the mouth of the admirable Ned, and so will sink into the audience’s subconscious, creating a deep and pervading positive association with President Obama’s signature health care law. They suggest the line could add a full point to top-line Democratic approval numbers.
Some other pitches uncovered by The Stoneslide Corrective:
-THE STORY In Death Squeeze, Hank Ellway, a burned-out special ops animal control officer, ends up the only man who can save a small Florida town besieged by genetically altered Burmese pythons. In a pivotal scene, Hank saves eight-year-old Johnny, who was cornered atop his school jungle gym by three enormous snakes. After Hank slices off the heads of all three snakes with one mighty swing of a reconditioned chainsaw, the boy gushes:
-THE PLACEMENT “You’re a real hero!” Hank responds: “A real hero would kill the Democrat-backed regulations that are strangling our economy, kid.” Guaranteed applause line. Cost: $350,000.
-THE STORY Mega-man’s nemesis is the wily and nefarious Dr. Destructo. After creating a space-time portal in a meteorological experiment gone awry, Destructo threatens to unleash the armies of ancient Mars on planet Earth. Unfortunately for the side of evil, Destructo has a lieutenant, the bumbling Entero. Entero repeatedly voices Randian declarations of autonomy and superiority only to find himself unable to complete the simplest assignments without relying on the talents of members of the proletariat.
-THE PLACEMENT In one telling scene, Entero is trying to plant an explosive device in a toilet but ends up locking himself in the stall and has to call desperately for help from a janitor as the timer on the bomb ticks. That’ll prove that glibertarians really need the common man. Cost: $1,000,000.
-THE STORY Julie thinks her luck with men has finally changed when she meets Charles at the engagement party of her deeply religious cousin. After being paired up in a Noah’s Ark party game, the two fall head over heels in love. Trouble arises when Julie, a lawyer for the ACLU, finds out that small-business owner Charles doesn’t provide contraceptive coverage for his employees. Julie swears she’ll never see Charles again. But then she’s assigned to go undercover in Charles’ company to investigate his health plan. On the inside, she sees how Charles is adored by his employees, who admire his deep principles and upright character and appreciate being saved from their own promiscuous impulses. Julie comes back to Charles, declaring:
-THE PLACEMENT “Even business owners need to keep their own consciences.” A Good Man, a Good Boss is sure to win over liberal-leaning single women. Cost: $1,500,000.
According to a source inside one of the studios, they have field-tested ideology placement, and the results are off the charts. In one test as many as 15% of viewers changed their preferred candidate. Assuming a given summer blockbuster reaches 25% of the voting population, this could be enough to change the outcome of a tight election. Says our source, “When you’re in a condition to believe in flying men in spandex for two hours, you’ll believe in supply-side economics, too. It’s the perfect way to reach voters.”
However, the same tests found that placements that were too specifically tied to one candidate could backfire. “People want to be told what to do, but they don’t want to think that they’re being told what to do,” explains our source, who participated in the research underlying ideological placement. “So a thinly veiled ad is perfect. They can pretend to be thinking for themselves while actually giving up all autonomous thought. That’s really what pop culture is all about.”
Experts predict that pollsters and poll aggregators, like Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com and Real Clear Politics, will have to incorporate the box office returns of Democratic and Republican films into their models.
Critics are likely to see ideology placement as one more example of the corrupting force of money. If even our summer blockbusters can be pulled into the political-money vortex, what is safe? We spoke with Chad Winet, a political science professor at Wye Sprite University who has studied 21st century partisanship. “I would see it the other way around,” he said. “This is an extension of the civic debate, which our founders saw as absolutely critical, into popular culture. How could it not be enriching for audiences to be exposed to these issues? Those who question this practice are really questioning the intelligence of the American people and their ability to participate in political discussion. And that pisses me off. We have the greatest movies in the world, and we have the greatest health care system in the world, and we have the greatest democracy (or vaguely representative system) that has ever existed. Frankly, I’d say anyone who doesn’t like this doesn’t get it, and should go live in some other country.”
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