Monday, January 9, 2012

With All Due Respect Ben Shapiro. You're Talking Out of Your ....

I received an E-reader for Christmas and recently uploaded Ben Shapiro's new book: Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.  I had blogged on it before, when reviews spoke of the revelation that Big Bird was a commie.

However, learning that Shapiro was a Harvard grad, I thought that he might present a scholarly critique of the industry, so I bit the bullet and bought the book.

I'm only through the prologue, introduction and first few chapters, but it's pretty clear that little effort went into creating this masterpiece.  So far, it's mostly ad hoc statements and cherry picked interviews, in an attempt to "prove" that conservatives are being discriminated against.

Says Shapiro of television producers:
"Virtually all vote Democrat, fervently support gay marriage, see abortion as a sancrosant human right, approve of higher taxes, despise religion, think guns are to blame for crime, maintain that business people are corrupt and union organizers are saints, feel that conservatives are racist, sexist and homophobic. Almost all voted for Barack Obama. Almost all hated George Bush."
Whoa!  The abortion and gay rights may be true, but when did a television character ever support higher taxes?  And on what grounds does he base a hatred for religion?  Avoiding religious topics means support for ALL religions.  And as to hating George Bush, when he left office he was polling at 19%, so unless 81% of Americans are liberal, I would say that Bush's wounds were self inflicted.

Shapiro does elaborate however.

Televisions best and brightest wanted to set America sliding down a slippery slope away from its Judeo-Christian heritage and toward a more cultivated, refined, Europeanized sensibility.
What's wrong with that? Didn't the notion of a Judeo-Christian heritage originate from Europe?

Revisionist History

The first problem with the book, however, is Shapiro's "history" of the television industry.  He obviously did little, if any, fact checking.  Claiming that they have been engaged in left-wing propaganda for the past six decades, is simply not true.
During the 1960s artists and creators went out of their way to shock the middle class in order to forward their liberal agenda: feminism, gay rights, racial preferences, bigger government. When the smoke cleared, however, the artists had largely gotten what they wanted - with their help, the civil rights movement had achieved its major goals.
Actually, the civil rights movement was responsible for a change in television programming, not the other way around.
Speaking in July 1964, Frank Stanton, president of CBS, called upon broadcasters to launch a "mighty and continuing editorial crusade" in support of civil rights. In an address to the National Broadcast Editorial Conference of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Stanton called for commitment and advocacy. President Lyndon B. Johnson having recently signed the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1964, Stanton spoke now of the "pivotal point in our history" and of the need for television to utilize its "editorial strength boldly, imaginatively and with insight and wisdom." (1)
According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications:
What was consistently projected, without public fanfare but in teeming myriads of programs, scenes, news priorities, sportscasts, old movies, ads, was the naturalness and normalcy of social whiteness. Television visually accumulated the heritage of representation in mainstream U.S. ... According to television representation, the United States was a white nation, with some marginal "ethnic" accretions that were at their best when they could simply be ignored, like well-trained and deferential maids and doormen.
Some blacks appeared on variety shows, like Ed Sullivan, but when NBC launched the Nat "King" Cole Show in November of 1956, they couldn't find a major sponsor, having to rely on 30 smaller and braver companies. It lasted only one season.

Bill Cosby was the first to become a major television star in 1965, when he co-starred with Robert Culp in I Spy.  I've always had a great deal of respect for Culp, because he fought tooth and nail to get Cosby equal billing.  If that makes him a liberal so be it. 

Shapiro also blames shows like Mash for the anti-Vietnam war movement, citing poll results from 1965-1968. Mash didn't go on the air until 1970 and reflected already held views on war.

Shapiro is only a pup, but I grew up watching television in the 1960s, where all women were portrayed as being subservient to men, Native Americans as blood thirsty savages and gun totin' cowboys as heroes.

The first gay to appear on TV was in Soap, a satire on soap operas.  The character was Jodie Dallas, played by Billy Crystal, but it was a very stereotypical representation.

He also suggests that All in the Family was discriminatory to conservatives, because they portrayed Archie Bunker, a stalwart conservative, as a buffoon, while glorifying the "leftie" Michael Stivic.  Obviously he watched few if any episodes of the show.

Audiences of all political stripes endeared themselves to Archie, because underneath the bigotry was a kind soul.  His prejudice was born of ignorance, but we watched him grow with society, and become more tolerant.  A pivotal episode was the one where Archie was singled out by a group of men who claimed to respect his views.  He attended a meeting but was visibly shocked when they donned their white sheets, and planned to burn a cross on Mike's lawn.

In a previous episode he had been frantic about receiving blood from his black doctor, but now told the KKK that he was a "brother".  A classic.

And Mike Stivik was hardly glorified.  He often came off as an arrogant know-it-all.  In fact, in one episode, Lionel Jefferson tells Stivik that he would prefer Archie's open bigotry to Mike's political correctness.  His care in choice of words was off putting and a worse form of discrimination.

All in the Family pushed the envelope, but it made us think.  The important thing was that most people knew that what Archie was saying was wrong.  We were OK.

I've no doubt that most who work in television are socially liberal, but the industry itself couldn't be more conservative.  The prevalent force is the free market, and the shows being made are those that bring in the most money.

If there's any so-called "brainwashing" it's in the advertising that is even reflected in the programs themselves.  Most teenagers are now familiar with brands.  Which ones to wear and which ones to avoid.  And children want the toys based on their favourite cartoon shows.

I should mention that Shapiro does have a personal axe to grind.  Apparently he wrote two scripts, one for a potential program based on the Harvard law school, and another for an existing serial.  They were rejected, he claims, because of his "conservative" views. 

The problem is that he defines conservatism too narrowly and liberalism ... well ... too liberally.

Even Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives, hardly a "conservative" program, is a Republican.  He just doesn't fit the tiny mold because Mr. Cherry is gay.

The Real Story is a Persecution Complex

Robert O. Paxton, writing of these kinds of political movements, speaks of their need for victimhood.  "The belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action against the group's enemies." (2)

That's all we ever hear from those in the conservative movement.  The media is out to get them.  The universities are out to get them.  They are being persecuted because of their religion.  From Richard Nixon's "enemies list" to Stephen Harper's bunker mentality, they trust no one.

Brent Bozell III, son of the man who ghost-wrote Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative, and nephew of William F. Buckley Jr., has actually devoted his life to patrolling the media for left bias. 

He founded ForAmerica, an astroturf group initially created to fight Obamacare, but now just another extension of the Tea Party. 

His Media Research Center's stated mission is to "prove — through sound scientific research — that liberal bias in the media does exist and undermines traditional American values" and to "neutralize [that bias's] impact on the American political scene.

Most of their funding comes from Exxon and other right-wing foundations.  Harper uses taxpayers money to keep track of what we're saying.

All of this just seems like such a waste.  If they are looking for people who support a woman's reproductive rights, the rights of the gay community to live their lives, and have no problem with "ethnics", they don't have to invest so much energy.  We're out there in plain sight.  BOO!

I'm holding my final opinion on the book until I'm finished, but when its foundation is based on fraudulent history, it makes the entire thesis suspect.


1. The Golden Age Of Blacks In Television:  The Late 1960s, By J. Fred MacDonald

2. The Five Stages of Fascism, By Robert O. Paxton, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 1-23. The University of Chicago Press


  1. Great piece, Emily

    Your reference to Archie Bunker makes me think of my dad. He was conservative (self proclaimed) yet more progressive than he would have liked to admit. I remember, as a child, dad going off on a bit of a tangent about that "bloody bigot" Archie Bunker.

  2. I can't wait till you get to Shapiro's chapter on Reality Television, if he covers that phenom. The few programs I've seen seem to be very pro-Christian, pro-military and pro-traditional values (with rampant sexism and bigotry to boot).

  3. Dude, Great write up. That clip is plenty powerful and I wonder how controversial at the time. Interesting the "dance and sing better" comment is still racist as hell, clearly a joke.

    It seems that Shapiro has taken the Clooney view that Hollywood championed all the equality movements of the last 50 years. You still see blatant racism in movies today (see Transformsers 1 and 2), and we still get plenty of movies where men die valiantly for the flag etc etc (is it so wrong to not want to send kids to war for no fucking reason other than finish your dad's failed job?

    Man, it's so awful that we live in a world where gays have rights (disgusting) and women's roles in society are not only defined by "love, honour and obey"... Maybe shapiro has a hard time of it because he is white, rich and educated, and has time to write poorly researched books about political bias in television - yeah, shit life.