Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV
by Ben Shapiro
Reviewed by Gerry Donaghy
Were you aware that television has been trying to turn you into a latté-sipping, pro-gay, recycling Trotskyist? Did you know that Friends was not about a bunch of photogenic 20-somethings frolicking in New York, but rather an entertaining piece of agitprop designed to promote promiscuity? Did you know that Norman Lear was (gasp) a Jew?
Ben Shapiro has taken it upon himself to alert unsuspecting viewers in his new book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. Shapiro, a young darling of the conservative set, writes that the programs we see on television each night aren't purely escapist entertainment but rather "small-scale, insidiously brilliant leftist propaganda."
I have to admit that when I saw this book, I was ready to be peppered by examples of how poor, privileged (Harvard Law alumnus) Ben was being helplessly assaulted by images of people being tolerant of homosexuals and critical of traditional values, and I wasn't disappointed. You would have thought that Shapiro was strapped into a chair with his eyelids pried open A Clockwork Orange-style and forced to watch endless reruns of All in the Family and The Mod Squad.
According to Shapiro, television's fatal flaw is that "it's awesome." He found himself after a hard day writing about how evil television was "watching the very shows that [he] was criticizing." It is this inherent awesomeness that makes television programming such an effective Trojan horse for Liberals to deliver their pedagogy of tolerance night after night.
Ultimately, what bothers Shapiro isn't so much that television is awesome or that it can deliver political messages disguised as entertainment; rather, it is that television is dominated by liberals, and, as gatekeepers to the industry, they bar conservatives from having a chance to peddle their ideology. Or, as Shapiro puts it: "liberals employ a mirror form of McCarthyism on a large scale."
Shapiro discovered this first hand when he tried writing a television script on spec only to be told that an agent had Googled his name, found out he was a conservative, and told him that his "political views will make it impossible for [him] to get a job in this town." What doesn't occur to him is that perhaps the problem is not just that he's a conservative, but that he's a conservative who uses the media to trash talk the industry he's trying to break into.
To his credit, Shapiro interviewed quite a few producers and writers in Hollywood, and the portions of the interviews that he quotes go a long way to support his thesis that Hollywood is run by a bunch of Obama- and Clinton-loving lefties, but not so much that Hollywood is somehow maintaining a blacklist of conservatives that will never work in this town again. If this were the case, such bastions of traditional American values like Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond and 24 would never have been green-lighted.
Also missing from Shapiro's invective is that he never really clarifies the problems with liberal opinions. For example, Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone and Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek, are taken to task for creating shows that used science fiction and fantasy scenarios as metaphors for the Civil Rights struggles that were going on at the time. Would he rather that Roddenberry followed the episode of Star Trek featuring television's first interracial kiss with an episode supporting the illegality of interracial marriage?
Another infuriating aspect of this book is Shapiro's glibness in comparing being conservative to being black or gay, writing such statements as: "[E]ven successful conservatives who come out of the closet in Hollywood often experience worse discrimination than gays who come out of the closet in society more broadly." I'm sorry, somebody who loses friends, contacts, or jobs is still faring better than gays who are targeted and beaten, sometimes with fatal outcomes. In attempting to compare his ideological marginalization to the struggles endured by African Americans and gays, Shapiro trivializes his argument.
Where I think Shapiro gets it right is his examination of how the Clinton and Obama administrations have been very lenient towards the media companies and their attempts at further consolidation. While not covering the issue to the degree of Ben Bagdikian or Noam Chomsky, Shapiro almost sounds like a liberal when he writes things like: "Consumers are the ones who lose when cable companies hold monopolies." While he stops short of advocating a break-up of such conglomerates, I appreciate that Shapiro isn't taking the typical ultra-right approach that the market will take care of itself.
In fact, when Shapiro isn't either indulging in ideological hyperbole or taking the time to mention each and every time he comes across a Jew (odd, as Shapiro himself is Jewish), he comes across as a pretty reasonable guy, which makes his analysis so much more painful. The left and right fall over themselves arguing that the media is biased too heavily one way or the other. The bottom line is that almost all media is corporate media, devoid of any agenda besides profit. The minute it becomes more profitable for Fox to air Glenn Beck monologues in the place of The Simpsons, it will.
America's favorite export is outrage, and there is no shortage of it on either side. I just have a hard time generating sympathy when straight white males complain that they're being marginalized.