Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dan Aykroyd, the Free Market, and Saturday Night Live

Hollywood deserves its bad rap for endless left wing sermonizing, but not everyone should be wedged into the same box.  Some major stars have put together a body of work that reaffirms the values of individual work in the private sector.

I don't know Dan Aykroyd's politics and really do not care to research them.  They do not really matter.  Time and time again Aykroyd has played important roles in work that affirms a free market, perhaps a fully libertarian, message. It's possible too that the unique role that Saturday Night Live plays in the careers of performers like Dan Aykoyd may have helped to inspire a slew of movies that rely on traditional free market values.

At the very beginning of his career, Aykroyd teamed up with John Belushi to create one of film's most memorable partnerships.  Their love of music inspired the creation of the "Blues Brothers."  This started out as a nightclub act, moved onto television's Saturday Night Live, then became one of the most expensive films ever made at that point.

The Blues Brothers portrays Jake and Elwood Blues efforts to save their childhood home, a Roman Catholic orphanage.  It faces an insurmountable tax debt from Cook County and the Blues brothers resolve to pay it off and save the orphanage.  To do it, they put together a business plan.  Reform their old band.  Earn enough money to help the nuns.  Entrepreneurship saves the day, regardless of the extra legal hijinx necessary to save the day.  Underlying the story is the stock placed in the underlying goodness of Jake and Elwood, taught to them by the nuns.

Aykroyd's best work might be his collaboration with another Saturday Night Live star, Eddie Murphy.  Their 1983 film Trading Places casts Aykroyd as Louis Winthorp III, a trader working for a classic example of established crony capitalism, the firm of Duke and Duke.  Randolph and Mortimer Duke, the brothers who own the firm, form a wager.  They bet over whether or not a homeless man could be trained to do as good of a job as the culturally cultivated, Ivy League educated Winthorp.

The Dukes engineer the complete ouster of Winthorp from his society.  He loses everything and has to rely on a prostitute, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, for help just to survive. Eddie Murphy's character, Billy Ray Valentine, uses his street smarts to figure out the ins and out of commodities trading.  Winthorp becomes desperate and broken, criminal and suicidal.

The plot turns when Valentine figures out the plot.  Winthorp and Valentine come up with a scheme to enrich themselves and the butler and prostitute who help them while at the same time landing the Dukes in complete privation.

The best part of Trading Places? At the end, no one makes a false sounding sermon about learning that there are things more important than money.  The four conspirators take their riches to the Caribbean and live the good life.  The very last line of the movie comes as Valentine and Winthorp yell between yacht and sandy white beach. "Looking good Billy Ray!"  "Feeling good, Louis!"  Murphy shortly thereafter stars in his own movie extolling starting at the bottom and working your way up combined with a healthy dose of respect for small business in Coming to America.

In Ghostbusters, Aykroyd is part of a team of academics turned businessmen who tackle New York City's supernatural epidemic.  Their main human foe?  The Environmental Protection Agency, who meddles with their operation and almost causes the Apocalypse.

Aykroyd later teamed with Chris Farley and David Spade, again the Saturday Night Live connection, to give the 1990s film Tommy Boy some star power.  Farley played a character who in modern slang would be called a "bro."  No responsibilities except rugby and doing the minimum to get through school.  Tommy Boy does not rely on the same tired father son tension that infuses almost every other such relationship in film or television.  The love that Tommy and his father share is deep and unconditional and underscores every aspect of the film.  It is also the element that makes Tommy Boy superior to all of Farley's other work.

Tommy's father Big Tom Callahan, played by Brian Dennehy, dies suddenly, leaving Tommy in control of the family auto parts company.  Aykroyd plays Zalinsky, a hard bitten and remorseless auto parts magnate wants to buy the company just for the respected name and close all operations.  This would put the workers out of a job and hurt the town.  To save the business, Tommy teams up with Richard, played by David Spade.  On the road, Tommy learns about responsibility, hard work, and salesmanship.  At the end of the day, he makes the sales and convinces Zalinsky to back off of his plans.

Zalinsky's character is not a typical anti-capitalism portrayal of big business.  He is aggressive and hard nosed.  At the end, Tommy makes a hard won deal with Zalinsky that will profit both companies.  Zalinsky is not made to look like a capitalist devil.  The free market is the catalyst of a resolution that benefits everyone who deserves benefit.

Two other films show Aykroyd's libertarian streak, at least in filmography.  In Coneheads, Aykroyd plays an actual space alien who builds a business and raises a respectable middle class family, despite the constant threat of detection by Immigration and Naturalization Services agents.  Nothing But Trouble is a funny, but bizarre story about New York travelers falling into the trap of a corrupt, and possibly mutant, local New Jersey judge.  Again, government emerges as a villain (although coal companies get blamed for causing the whole mess.)

The Saturday Night Live alumni include quite a few conservatives and libertarians and that should surprise no one.  Some have moved onto political activism, others stay outside of politics.  But the show's unique use of talent might be conducive to giving its performers more individualist mind sets.  It takes performers who are nearly all struggling when signed on, an opportunity to work extremely hard and advance their careers.  Some connection may exist between that and, at the very least, a fairly large number of films that celebrate hard work, entrepreneurship, learning on the job, and other similar values.

One can't prove it, but it is an interesting point.

No comments:

Post a Comment