East Meets West

Cinema studies and English professor Peter Decherney traces the relationship between the film industry and the cultural elite to show how movies became American.
April 25, 2006
Tabloids keep us up to date on the frolics of glamorous stars and the backstabbings of ruthless powerbrokers in Tinseltown. In his latest book, Hollywood and the Culture Elite: How Movies Became American, Peter Decherney examines the flipside of pop culture and reveals surprising connections between Hollywood bigwigs and the stewards of high culture at such places as Harvard, Columbia, and the Museum of Modern Art. Decherney, an assistant professor of cinema studies and English, writes that "Film didn't become art until Hollywood moguls decided it was good business for film to become art and the leaders of American cultural institutions found it useful – politically useful – to embrace and promote Hollywood film. "His book looks at the mutual embrace of highbrow institutions on the East Coast and a money - making pop - culture enterprise on the West Coast during the golden era of Hollywood's studio system. Both centers of influence wanted to reach a mass audience that spanned the coasts. East reached out to West to "maintain their hold on American art, education, and the idea of American identity itself." The studios met East-Coast establishments halfway to solidify their hold on popular culture and to benefit financially. That collaboration with museums, universities and government, writes Decherney, "redefined Hollywood as an ideal American industry, the perfect marriage of art and commerce."