TheDC Book Review: Primetime Propaganda
The ratio of liberals to conservatives in Hollywood is notoriously high. Closeted Reagan-lovers may exist within the industry, but outspoken conservatives are a rare breed in the entertainment business. Or so the story goes.
It’s not surprising, then, that someone has written a book about what that means for prime-time television. Shows like Friends, Glee, and Mad Men are more than just shows. They are, says Ben Shapiro in his new book Primetime Propaganda, part of a larger monopoly Hollywood has on society.
In his latest treatise, Shapiro spends almost 400 pages railing against a progressive, liberal Hollywood. It would, in fact, be just another typical conservative lament if it weren’t for the fact that it is dotted with actual documentation.
Fred Silverman – former head of NBC, ABC and CBS – for example, told Shapiro “Right now, there’s only one perspective. And it’s a very progressive perspective.”
Likewise, Leanard Goldberg, former ABC executive and current board member of CBS, is quoted as saying “There’s no question about that. I don’t know about the content being pushed, but in terms of the thought about various matters social and political, [liberalism is] 100 percent dominant. And anyone who denies it is kidding or not telling the truth.”
Another particularly telling example is when Shapiro got his hands on a character description for a casting call. The villain was described as “A cross between a refined, somewhat more controlled version of General Buck Turgison (George C. Scott) from Dr. Strangelove, and Dick Cheney…”
In an interview with The Daily Caller, Shapiro diagnosed the liberal persuasion in Hollywood, calling it another Ivory Tower.
“It’s the kind of place where liberal opinion is accepted as fact, so if you’re anti-gay marriage, it’s not because you have a different opinion than those who are pro-gay marriage. It’s because you are actually wrong or stupid or not compassionate.”
“So people will not hire you,” he added.
But Shapiro admits the problem is two-sided. Conservatives, he said, have failed by “tak[ing] themselves out of the ballgame.”
Conservatives largely embrace the idea that they don’t belong in Hollywood. So rather than try to infiltrate the business or affect it from within, they try to boycott certain shows and go after Hollywood celebrities.
“The problem with that is that it doesn’t work,” said Shapiro. No matter how many conservatives boycott a certain show, others will continue to watch. And primetime T.V. is not driven by money, meaning that even if a show takes a financial hit, the creators tend to continue creating.
For such an open, outspoken conservative, Shapiro is surprisingly honest and direct about people on the political right approaching Hollywood the wrong way. Boycotts don’t work and are counterproductive. A conservative network, say a Fox News for primetime, would fail. Entertainment matters more to most viewers than a show that is centered around traditional family values.
When talking to TheDC, he even gives the people who produce the primetime propaganda a break. “The vast majority of them have for most of their lives in Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Chicago or New York,” Shapiro said. “Even the ones who come in at an early age from other places live most of their lives…in major urban areas which tend to be much more liberal.”
Thus what they put on television, said Shapiro, “reflect[s] the society that surrounds them.”
Shapiro’s candidness that is throughout the book, however, strikes an odd tone when he begins analyzing Hollywood show by show. A sizable portion is dedicated to exposing how history’s most popular shows had strong liberal messages and undertones.
Some are predictable: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Three’s Company and Roseanne. Others seem strangely misplaced. For instance, Shapiro includes the almost universally-loved The Cosby Show in his list of liberal shows.
Though The Cosby Show is a healthy look at a two-parent, traditional, family-oriented home, Shapiro tries to make the case that it is really liberal at heart.
“But The Cosby Show,” wrote Shapiro, “wasn’t simply a conservative take on family life. The Huxtable conservatism was deliberately infused into a black family in order to combat stereotypes about the black community more broadly.”
At another point, Shapiro wrote of the show, “it provided a certain happy thinking at odds with reality.”
The same distinction is even less clear when Shapiro writes about the liberal ideology of another beloved show – the Dick Van Dyke Show. “It took the liberal (and morally praiseworthy) position on race relations; it reflected the nascent feminism of the time. It gleamed of that Kennedy-era optimism,” wrote Shapiro.
“Rob wore the perfect JFK hairdo. Laura wore the perfect Jackie O hairdo,” Shapiro added. The show also pushed the limits when it came to Laura’s (played by Mary Tyler Moore) attire. She wore pants.
Liberalism? Or progressing with the times?
In his interview with TheDC, Shapiro said it’s important to look at the context in which the show was created. And the Dick Van Dyke show was progressive for its time. Morevover, there wasn’t an obvious conservative/liberal divide back then.
“There are many definitions of “progressive,” said Shapiro. “Obviously the way people tend to think of it now is progress.” And if it is good progress, “then yeah,” he said, “liberal meant good things were happening.”
One wonders then, why Shapiro felt the need to include examples like The Cosby Show and the Dick Van Dyke show at all.
“The Cosby Show intended to be a conservative show,” explained Shapiro. “A two-parent household with parents telling their kids to get off their asses and find work. That kind of work ethic is a conservative ethic; it was not meant to be that. It was meant to be a reaching out to the black community in a sense to make up for black shows of the past.”
Disregarding Shapiro’s twist on old television classics, Primetime Propaganda is an insightful look into an industry that eludes, yet fascinates the American public. It’s a gold mine of interviews and admissions from current and former executives and actors in the industry, and the vast majority of it is well-reported and well-documented. No longer can anyone argue Hollywood doesn’t favor a liberal ideology.
Primetime Propaganda solidly proves otherwise.