If your blood curdles at the mere mention of lawyers, stockbrokers, or investigative reporters, you might have only one source to blame — and an unexpected one at that: movies. American cinema has not been especially kind to certain occupations (the aforementioned among them), making a habit of painting these industries and the people in their employ in a malicious or incompetent light. You can call some of these easy targets, some of them culprits of malignancy that more than deserve such castigation, and some misunderstood victims of a twisted public image. No matter where you stand on these occupations’ innocence, you’ve surely noticed Hollywood treating them to a bit of a bashing over the course of cinematic history.
So, which professions have gotten the brunt of these assaults? And has the film industry ever given way to more sympathetic portraits of the callings in question? You’d be hard pressed to find a movie featuring a Wall Street mogul who you’re not supposed to walk away hating, but perhaps the occasional journalist finds him or herself basking in a positive light. Here are some lines of work that the big screen might have doused with a sour taste one too many times.
We in the writing community take especial issue with this one. Onscreen, reporters operate independent of morality or empathy. They chase stories with an insatiable hunger, expensing compassion for the individuals whose lives they’re tearing up in the process. We’ve seen this trope take hold in everything from Shattered Glass to Gone Girl to the upcoming picture Room. But the 2015 season might shine a rare positive light on the industry of journalism, with Truth and Spotlight suggesting just how important newsmen and newswomen are to this world. We’ll no doubt still see instances like these in future films, but it’s a relief to know that somebody is carrying the torch of All the President’s Men.
While every other basic cable television series centers on a legal councilor trying to have it all, the big screen is far less benevolent in its depiction of its average litigator. Sure, Hollywood history has seen its share of heroes pass through the cinematic courtroom — Atticus Finch and Fred Gailey among them — but these are the exception. When you hear that a movie is tampering in the realm of law, you’re more inclined to see a seedy, sinister, out-for-a-buck character like Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, everyone from Erin Brokovich (except Erin Brokovich), and any number of attorneys played by Richard Gere.
I don’t know how much blame the movies have to take for tarnishing the stockbroker reputation, but I certainly can’t think of any positive depictions thereof from screen history. Gordon Gekko, the Duke Brothers, and The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort… for an industry that is itself inhabited by gaggles of money hungry fat cats, Hollywood is hardly averse to tearing down the Wall Street archetype.
Even more curious is Hollywood’s willingness to throw its own folk under the bus, even if only in the name of a good laugh. Fictional filmmakers aren’t always colored with the artistic integrity and down-to-earth character that you might hope the general public accepts to be the norm in regard to your line of work. Dating as far back as Singin’ in the Rain have we seen directors relinquish all self-respect during shoots, opting instead for snobbery and childish antics. Over the years, The Stunt Man, Mulholland Drive, and even this year’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, in a sense, have opted to relegate the directorial population to the status of uptight or delusional hacks.
Well, naturally. Politicians are not only an easy target for the arts, but a necessary one, as satire is a time-tested courier for public awareness and change. To name all the corrupt or inept politicians and elected officials in Hollywood history would be an act of futility; even a roundup of genre giants like Dr. Strangelove, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Blazing Saddles, In the Loop, Bulworth, Head of State, Dave, and, of course, The Candidate feels dreadfully incomplete. In the heat of presidential debates, we can see why this particular trope is so popular...
If you have one of the above occupations, well, I certainly hope you view your job more positively than Hollywood does.
Images: Open Road Films; Lionsgate; Miramax; Paramount Pictures; Universal Pictures; Warner Bros