In the late 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood studios — under pressure from the right — promised they would not “knowingly employ a communist.” This blacklist eventually became notorious, especially in Hollywood, which came to lionize its victims in several films. And yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the blacklist policy from the emerging current treatment of right-wingers.
Earlier this week, Gina Carano, an actor in The Mandalorian, was fired from her job after a controversy over an allegedly anti-Semitic social-media post. In short order, UTSA, her talent agency, dropped her as a client.
Many media accounts have taken the anti-Semitism charge at face value (USA Today: “… an anti-Semitic Instagram Story that she shared from another user.”) The post in question, which triggered a social-media firestorm that quickly led to her firing and loss of representation, was not anti-Semitic by any reasonable definition. The post simply argued (uncontroversially) that the Holocaust grew out of a hate campaign against Jews, which it then likened (controversially) to hatred of fellow Americans for their political views:
“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors … even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views”
I don’t find this post especially insightful. But overheated comparisons to Nazi Germany are quite common, and, more to the point, not anti-Semitic. There is no hint anywhere in this post of sympathy for Nazis or blame for their victims.
Many of the reports of Carano’s termination string together the trumped-up offense of her post about Nazism with a series of controversial posts. The worst of them is a post insinuating elections are rife with voter fraud and should impose photo ID — a claim that, while provably false, is also a standard-issue Republican belief. The second-most controversial post in her history is a very small joke, in which she added “boop/bop/beep” to her Twitter profile, before apologizing for the insensitivity of seeming to mock the practice of including pronouns in social-media biographies.
The remainder of her case history seems to consist of commonly held beliefs. Variety solemnly reports, “Other posts, including a quote saying ‘Expecting everyone you encounter to agree with every belief or view you hold is fucking wild’ and one saying ‘Jeff Epstein didn’t kill himself,’ remained.” The suspicion that Epstein was murdered is hardly unusual. And Carano’s belief that we should not expect everybody we encounter to share all our beliefs is not only widespread but utterly sensible. Indeed this seems to be the central point of disagreement between Carano and her former employer and client.
What’s most striking about the news coverage of Carano’s defenestration is the utter absence of any scrutiny of her employer or her (now-former) agency. The tone of the reporting simply conveys her posts as though they were a series of petty crimes, the punishment of which is inevitable and self-evidently justified. The principle that an actor ought to be fired for expressing unsound political views has simply faded into the background.
If you think blacklisting is only bad if its targets have sensible views, I have some bad news for you about communism. While some victims of the McCarthy-era blacklist were liberals or progressives who refused to turn in the names of their colleagues, others were bona fide communists. Dalton Trumbo — a Hollywood writer who was blacklisted, then wrote under front names, and whose story was told in a recent hagiographic movie starring Bryan Cranston — followed the Communist Party line in the Stalin era. When many fellow communists dropped out of the movement after Stalin formed an alliance with Hitler, Trumbo followed the new party line.
Trumbo gained some martyrdom when he was hauled to Washington to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. “This is the beginning of the American concentration camp,” he warned. (Fortunately for Trumbo, his antagonists, unlike Carano’s, were not witless enough to confuse hyperbolic Nazi comparisons with anti-Semitism.)
Of course the point with Trumbo and other blacklist victims was never the soundness of their thinking. Technically, the studios had the legal right to refuse to associate themselves with people who had abhorrent beliefs. But a fairer and more liberal society is able to create some space between an individual’s political views and the position of their employer. A Dalton Trumbo ought to have been able to hold onto his screenwriting job even though he supported a murderous dictator like Stalin. And actors ought to be able to work even if they support an authoritarian bigot like Donald Trump.