Since Steve Bannon emerged, people have marveled at him as the mysterious Satan- and Sith-loving mound of decomposing organic material that somehow has the ear of the president. The teeter-totter of power has tipped back and forth in this White House between his racist, xenophobic hard-right ideology and the supposedly more moderate politics of the president’s apple-cheeked nephew Jared Kushner, but Bannon’s sinister, shadowy presence remains. The details of his past have been marveled over repeatedly throughout Trump’s rise to power—his desire to create a rap musical, his space opera version of Titus Andronicus, his brief stint making money in World Of Warcraft gold farming, and the fact that much of his wealth comes from residual checks based on an early gamble on Seinfeld syndication, making people everywhere feel guilty every time they sit through a several-hour block of season-three episodes.
Part of the fascination comes from how this purportedly liberal-leaning creative type has turned into the virulently racist mastermind of a transparently exploitative nationalist administration. A new article in The New Yorker exploring Bannon’s Hollywood years does a great job connecting the ideological dots, detailing how an opportunistic alpha male found his footing in propaganda, and, taking inspiration from Ronald Reagan, turned Hollywood failure into political power.
It’s a fascinating read, and well worth spending some time with. But it is also absolutely action-packed with savage burns that are worth enjoying on their own. Much of the reporting contradicts the more mythic version of Bannon’s backstory built up in other profiles. For example, he made little impression on the movers and shakers of Hollywood:
“I never heard of him, prior to Trumpism,” the media mogul Barry Diller told me. “And no one I know knew him in his so-called Hollywood period.”
Another said, “All the years I knew him, he just wanted to make a buck.”
Another colleague recalled that Bannon seemed out of place in Hollywood: “The business runs on talent relationships. He had this real will-to-power vibe that was so off-putting. He came on so strong, and in a way that I couldn’t imagine he would be successful with creative people.”
The actual creative people behind Seinfeld corroborate that:
Some of those who were responsible for “Seinfeld” became agitated by Bannon’s story. Larry David, the show’s head writer and executive producer, told me, “I don’t think I ever heard of him until he surfaced with the Trump campaign and I had no idea that he was profiting from the work of industrious Jews!” Rob Reiner, one of the founders of Castle Rock, has said of Bannon’s profits from the show, “It makes me sick.”
A Washington Post article from last month detailed Bannon’s financial windfall helping orchestrate the sale of PolyGram, but the New Yorker article casts that in doubt, with quotes from then-employees of PolyGram who say it’s all bullshit. A series of typically brutal asides comes from one of his collaborators during that supposed deal:
“What I saw was a smart guy, who was funny and likable and enjoyable, who had a quick laugh, who was ineffectual.” Fennebresque described the years that Bannon and Vorse worked for SG Cowen, from 1998 to 2000, as “a high-octane time,” adding, “Anybody could make chicken salad out of chicken shit in that period.” Bannon “was one of those guys who always had big stuff about to happen,” he said. “But, after a quarter or two or seven, you become highly skeptical. Ultimately, we parted ways.”
Even as he got into documentary filmmaking, he rubbed people the wrong way, viewing Hollywood as an agent of absolute evil even as he desperately tried to climb its ladder.
Ulmer reported that Bannon had said, “On Ash Wednesday, ‘The Passion Of The Christ’ is released theatrically, and on Sunday, ‘Lord Of The Rings’—a great Christian allegory—wins 11 Academy Awards. So here you have Sodom and Gomorrah bowing to the great Christian God.” Ulmer recalled, “I was watching him draw all these configurations and connecting lines about the Beast and Satan, and half of my brain was saying, ‘This guy’s a comic stitch,’ and the other, ‘He’s really off the deep end.’ ”
The whole article also details his early work on progressive climate change science—which he now actively campaigns against—and his truly heinous treatment of his ex-wife, their daughters together, and even Sarah Palin. It also contains the phrase “ectoplasmic sex.” Read it all here.