Today, George Clooney spoke up to say that Donald Trump, He Who Hollers At Hollywood, is in fact biting his own kind. Clooney claimed that Trump is among the fabled "Hollywood Elite." Though Trump has spent much of his career in Hollywood, the President doesn't seem to favor the West Coast-based movie business. After the 2016 Golden Globes, Trump declared Meryl Streep one among "liberal movie people." (Streep used the awards ceremony to denounce the President and his policies.) This interplay highlighted what seemed to be two unofficial American parties: the "Hollywood elite" and the "hardworking American people." Streep and her cohorts were among the elite — commenters on this very site called her and, more recently, David Harbour, 'Hollyweirdos,' a term that appears to have stuck around. Clooney has other ideas.
"[Donald Trump] collects $120,000 a year in his Screen Actors Guild pension fund. He is a Hollywood elitist," Clooney told the French channel Canal+.
Ostensibly, Clooney would be a member of the Hollywood elite. The actor's reported salary is around $20 million, and he's been a figure in American pop culture since the 1980s. Now, if George Clooney goes tossing around the term that would appear to be his own, what does the term actually mean? Who are the 'Hollywood elite'?
Well, the term is subjective. A quick Google search on the term will lead you to websites like Breitbart, a known conservative publication, and The Blaze, a site that recently published a piece on a WNBA woman who was allegedly bullied for being straight. Another site called Conservative Post recently ran a piece titled, "BOOM! Denzel Washington Shuts Down Meryl Streep And Hollywood Elite!" The term appears to be an exclusively conservative weapon. Figures on the red side of things (like Donald Trump) seem to use it to denigrate the liberal celebrities who wield influence (like George Clooney and Meryl Streep.)
Based on this, it would seem that 'Hollywood elite' is just a derogatory term for wealthy liberals in the entertainment industry. The film industry presents as a largely liberal organization. At ceremonies like The Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, the big names in Hollywood routinely display their progressive (and therefore anti-Trump) views. Admittedly, it's easy to turn the tables on these well-intentioned folks. Even I, a self-declared liberal, have been known to roll my eyes at the complaints of the rich, famous, and influential. The salaries are high in Hollywood, and the living is easy — presumably. We've seen the sprawling mansions. The Kardashians have invited us into their five-star lives. Slap the term "elite" on this — yes, I'll say it — privileged class of people, and they instantly become a dismissable part of the American discourse. Who is Meryl Streep to weigh in on the presidency? She pretends for a living.
Alone, the term "elite" implies a sort of privileged stasis — a long-held status impossible to upheave. When we speak of "the elite," we're often referring to a class of people that have held power (and wealth) for a good while. That is not most Hollywood influencers. As Clay Cane pointed out shortly after the Golden Globes in an opinion editorial for CNN, many of film's beloved standbys don't come from money. (Viola Davis, who is nominated for an Oscar this year, grew up destitute in Rhode Island.) And before the $20 million per movie salary, there are years of living on pennies for most actors. In fact, the actor's rise speaks to the conservative American ideal: pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Fake it till you make it. Hustle. In another world, the alt-right might love the Screen Actor's Guild. It just so happens that SAG is made up of liberals.
So, is Donald Trump a member of the 'Hollywood elite'? Well, he's had an active presence in the community since 2003. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he's a member of the Screen Actor's Guild and collects over $110k in pension every year. Unlike Viola Davis, Trump does come from money — this is well-documented. He inherited his father's real estate company Elizabeth Trump and Son in 1971. He's held an influential status for much of his life, and, on a technical level, part of Hollywood (via SAG.) If the Hollywood elite is a member of the entertainment industry who has enjoyed the blinding cloud of privilege, perhaps he's one of them. Then again, Donald Trump called Meryl Streep one of the "liberal movie people." This isn't wrong. She does movies and she's liberal — it's just a little dismissive. It's Trump supporters and conservative websites that actively use the term, and, with all due respect to Breitbart and its staff, I'd wager most of those writers aren't in SAG.
Who are the Hollywood elite? No one. It's a politicized term that, once examined, means next to nothing. Welcome to 2017 — nothing is real, and the truth hardly matters.