Hollywood’s 2014 box-office smash, “The Lego Movie,” opens with the villainous “Lord Business” plotting mass destruction. The movie, inspired by a consumer product, cleverly introduces that product to a wider audience. Ironically, it then presents itself as a warning on consumerism and business. “Only in Hollywood” mused CNBC columnist Jake Novak.
“Hollywood” is a business. It produces commercial products and movies. Nevertheless, movie scripts portray business executives as enemies of the good. They exploit workers, decimate forests, desecrate Native American cemeteries, cheat clients, sabotage rivals, bribe senators, market unsafe toys on children’s networks. And worse, they do so without moral anguish or pangs of conscience. “If the securities business were an individual… it could sue for defamation,” joked one trader. In Hollywood films, business people are bad people.
Why? Critic Michael Fumento suggested “that somebody has to play the bad guy, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to find bad guys who don’t have lobbying organizations.” Producer Barney Rosenwieg speculated that “Blacks, women, Italians, Hispanics, [add LGBTQ and Muslim activists] everyone, really … writes letters complaining about how they’re portrayed on television. That’s why I love businessmen — they don’t write me letters.”
Investor’s Business Daily quotes a screenwriter: “It’s a closed shop policed very strictly through the Department of Labor. Scripts that are pro-business are seen as anti-labor.” Many producers maintain faith that socialism will triumph over capitalism. “It’s impossible for a screenwriter who doesn’t profess…these things to become very successful. You can’t use my name,” he added. “I’ve got a family to feed.”
Catholics see business through a different lens. Business is a divine calling to serve one’s neighbor. Ideally, the Catholic businessman is a quietly heroic, even godly figure engaged in a deeply humane enterprise. Properly understood, it can be a highway to heaven even with the
inevitable speed bumps.
St. John Paul II’s “civilization of love” depends more on business people than politicians, environmental activists, entertainers or leftwing antifa revolutionaries. Why? Because only
business creates wealth. Without businesses creating wealth, politicians would have nothing to redistribute! Environmental activists would lack donors. Entertainers would have no box-office receipts and left-wing antifa revolutionaries would have to move out of their parents’ basement.
According to the Catechism for Business and The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine (CCSD), business efficiently and creatively responds to consumer demands by producing useful goods and services. This creates wealth not just for the owners but for all of society (CCSD, 338).
Profit is a necessary indicator of a healthy business. By pursuing profit, business achieves broader social and moral goals like employment, cooperation, problem solving and a corporate culture in which workers enhance their skills. Business also cultivates personal virtues like accountability, punctuality, leadership, organization, patience, trustworthiness, honesty, good stewardship of time, money and materials (CCSD, 340).
Why, then, are movies so anti-business? Because the businessman recognizes limits. He prizes prudence, practicality, efficiency and thrift. These bourgeois virtues cramp Hollywood’s grand style. To succeed, Hollywood must appear larger than life, haloed with magnificence, transcending our conventional, petty concerns. But it’s all a mirage. Hollywood’s “fantasy factories” are subject to the same mundane business realities as the shoe manufacturer. Studios are businesses. The Hollywood ethos denies this. It enchants as it whispers: “We are real wizards. Pay no attention to that little mercenary business man behind the curtain.” Screenwriters and filmmakers traffic in fantasy, dreams, limitless possibilities. They resent those who remind us that we are mere mortals with material and moral boundaries, finite and fallen creatures.
“Lord Business” is ugly because his twisted desires respect no moral boundaries. In reality, however, businesses flourish best within moral limits. Let’s bear witness to that truth. St. Paul exhorts Catholics to be “living epistles” read by all men. People will read us. The only question is “What’s our message?” Has the Catholic faith, has Christ motivated, inspired, healed, guided, sustained, disciplined, consoled you in this moral drama of growing your business while not losing your soul? If so, share the good news. Our nation’s most powerful storytellers don’t seem to know that you can do well even when you are, first of all, committed to doing good.
AL KRESTA is president and CEO of Ave Maria Radio, author, and host of “Kresta in the Afternoon” heard on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network.