By Dr. K. Sarah-Jane Murray and Kathryn L. Arnold, Contributing Writers
In his book PRIMETIME PROPAGANDA, Ben Shapiro focuses on the behind the scenes of the television industry to examine the history of television since its inception and its marked liberal bent. For Shapiro, many episodes of primetime TV shows are nothing short of “pieces of small-scale, insidiously brilliant leftist
propaganda.” There’s so much nepotism in Hollywood, he adds, that it would make you dizzy.
Early in the book, Shapiro presents an interesting political history of television and does a great job of summarizing the rise to power of the television executives. The television industry grew out of radio, and in the 1950s and 60s – when 90% of homes had one television set – more sets were sold because of advertising than actual programming. The liberal breakthrough, Shapiro argues, came during the Vietnam War. In subsequent decades, Cable TV gradually took over, with liberal superpowers like HBO and MTV bringing about the near death of the networks.
In general, Shapiro notes, TV comedy trashes conservatism. One need not put on too much of a thinking cap to come up with some of his well-chosen examples: the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Three’s Company,” and “Roseanne.” Other examples, however – especially “The Cosby Show” and “Dick Van Dyke” – seem a little out of place and for some readers may detract from the overall strength of Shapiro’s argument. In the latter, Rob and Laura sport JFK and Jackie O hairdos may be more a sign of the times and the far-reaching fashion influence of the Kennedy family than rock solid evidence of a pronounced liberal agenda. The same applies to Laura’s wardrobe choice. Pants remain a popular choice amongst conservative women today for a very simple reason. Sometimes, they’re just more practical. (And, as viewers of PBS’s DOWNTOWN ABBEY will note, pants were already highly in vogue, although somewhat controversial, among the young women of the early 1900s.) Nonetheless, the other examples Shapiro chooses are both compelling and convicting.
In the end, Shapiro has a good point, and the data collected during extensive interviews to back it up.
Fred Silverman (former head of NBC, ABS, and CBS) told Shapiro that in Hollywood, “There’s only one perspective. And, it’s a very progressive perspective.”
Leonard Goldberg, former ABC executive and current board member of CBS, adds, “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. . . anyone who denies it is kidding or not telling the truth.”
Most significant, we believe, is Shapiro’s call to action. The solution for conservatives who wish to effect change is not to avoid the television industry and boycott shows, but, rather, to get involved from the ground up and have their ideas heard.
At the end of the day, conservatives are in fact to blame for the liberal takeover of television. They gave it up not only without a fight, but with no contest whatsoever.
For Shapiro, the time has come to take back TV and to protect future generations from indoctrination by offering up alternative (i.e., conservative) points of view and beliefs for primetime viewing. In fact, can one truly blame a whole generation of writers who (as MOVIEGUIDE®’s Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry attests) have gathered more of their values from the liberal media than any other source?
PRIMETIME PROPAGANDA is a well-written and convincingly argued must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of media, society, culture, art, and politics.
Editor’s Note: Sarah-Jane Murray (Ph.D., Princeton 2003) is associate professor in the Honors College at Baylor University in Waco, TX. Kathryn Arnold is a writer residing in Austin, TX.