Joan Didion's Contrast of Hollywood Scripts and Political Reality

Nathan Deuel, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

The following appears on pages 88 and 89 in the essay "Good Citizens."

Marlon Brando does not, in a well-plotted motion picture, picket San Quentin in vain: what we are talking about here is faith in a dramatic convention. Things "happen" in motion pictures. There is always a resolution, always a strong cause-effect dramatic line, and to perceive the world in those terms is to assume an ending for every social scenario. If Budd Schulberg goes into Watts and forms a Writer's Workshop, then "Twenty Young Writers" must emerge from it, because the scenario in question is the familiar one about how the ghetto teems with raw talent and vitality. If poor people march on Washington and camp out, there to receive bundles of clothes gathered on the Fox lot by Barbara Streisand, then some good must come of it (the script has a great many dramatic staples, not the least of them a sentimental notion of Washington as an open forum, cf. Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington), and doubts have no place in the story.

There are no bit players in Hollywood politics: everyone makes things "happen."

Didion, by this point in her career has achieved a great deal of success in the film industry. To what degree does Didion's crisis of representation seem personal or professional? Did the "murder of five" happen for Didion? Are we sure? Could Didion's essays have given those of the 1960s "faith" in a resolution of non-resolution? What sort of political solution would Didion have?

Does Didion's pessimism seem authentic? Does she succeed in capturing the sort of "imaginative empathy" Professor Landow says is necessary to establish "sincerity" in authorship? If so, how?


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Last modified 6 February 2002