Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Consider the source

From the "water: astonishingly discovered to be wet" files--a new project by Ben Shapiro, which he describes below:

There's a reason the product produced by the television industry is overwhelmingly biased to the left: Hollywood generally won't let anybody to the right get a job. As I show in my new book, "Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV," Tinseltown is populated almost entirely by liberals who are motivated to use your television to propagandize on behalf of their favorite political causes. No matter what you watch -- "Sesame Street" or "Glee," "Sex and the City" or "Friends" -- television's creators are using your entertainment choices to proselytize you.

If conservatives get in the way -- and they always do -- the left simply cuts them out of the loop. [...]

What's more, Hollywood's top non-conservative names admitted to me that such discrimination takes place on a regular basis. The producer of "Chicago Hope" and "Picket Fences," Michael Nankin, justified discrimination by stating that "scripted television is very liberal ... that's the personality that you need to succeed in that business." Allan Burns, co-creator of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," talked down to conservatives, explaining that artists are "the intellectual community, that's why [they're liberal]." David Shore, creator of "House," admitted that Hollywood was overwhelmingly leftist, and that discrimination happened on a regular basis: "I think people look at [conservatives] somewhat aghast, and I'm sure it doesn't help them," he said. Top executives admitted it. Top producers admitted it. Top writers admitted it.

Some even celebrated it.

Vin Di Bona, producer of "MacGyver" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," told me that the widespread perception of anti-conservative bias in Hollywood was "probably accurate and I'm happy about it, actually. ... If the accusation is there, I'm OK with it." Nicholas Meyer, director of "The Day After," as well as "Star Trek II" and "Star Trek VI," said he hoped conservatives were discriminated against.

This shouldn't surprise anybody, of course. What makes Shapiro's project interesting is that he actually caught members of the glitterati on tape saying some pretty outrageous things:

Kauffman also acknowledges she “put together a staff of mostly liberal people,” which is another major point of Shapiro’s book: that conservatives aren’t welcome in Hollywood.

Maybe that’s because they’re “idiots” and have “medieval minds.” At least that’s what Soap and Golden Girls creator Susan Harris thinks of TV’s conservative critics.

However, the ranks of dumb right-wingers has dwindled, according to Harris, whose video has her saying: “At least, you know, we put Obama in office, and so people, I think, are getting – have gotten – a little bit smarter.” [Emphasis in original--E.M.]

So smart, in fact, that none of the Tinseltown nitwits he interviewed bothered to Google Ben Shapiro before shooting their mouths off to him about how much they hate, despise, loathe, have contempt for, and otherwise disregard the half of the nation that doesn't reflexively vote for Democrats or chant left-wing slogans--including Mr. Shapiro himself.

Of course, any observer of reasonable intelligence doesn't need to read Ben Shapiro's book to discover that Hollywood hates conservatives; we already know they hate Christians, serious religious believers of other faiths, traditional families, and the whole idea of virtue--which makes decent storytelling ridiculously difficult if not impossible. Most conservatives I know, myself included, are pleasantly surprised on the rare occasions when the movie or television industry manages, almost by accident, to produce something of even scant merit (which they do almost entirely by borrowing from ancient archetypes which they don't properly understand, and thus nearly always manage to mangle sooner or later). Most of the time what they produce is mindless, soulless, valueless entertainment, the spiritual and mental worth of which is not unlike the nutritional value of the foods sold at dingy movie theater concession stands or advertised during Must See TV--that is, sadly lacking in substance. Which is not surprising, when we consider the source.

24 comments:

The Ranter said...

Actually, it's a good book to read for the historical background of television. I got an advance copy to review, and for the historical aspect alone, I recommend reading the book.

Jen said...

Not at all surprised by this. I worked in the film industry as a script consultant in the 90's, and when a producer asked me whether I was voting for Clinton, I said, 'Not likely.' He asked if I was a Republican, and I said I was (note: that was then - these days I just go by 'conservative' without aligning to a party). His response was to tell me that I'd better keep that to myself, or I'd find it very difficult to move up in the ranks in H'wood.

I don't think I had a single industry friend who even knew any conservatives other than me. They live very much in a bubble in Hollywood.

beadgirl said...

Why is it ok to say horrible things about the liberals in charge of Hollywood, but not ok when they say horrible things about conservatives?

Red Cardigan said...

You know, beadgirl, I probably shouldn't have used the phrase "Tinseltown nitwits," so I apologize for that. Other than that, though, I don't think of "glitterati" as anything but descriptive (I didn't invent the term, after all) and my comments about the lack of quality entertainment do not insult anyone personally and are accurate observations as far as I'm concerned, so I stand by them.

But I'm not calling for the eradication of liberals, or their thoughts and ideas, from Hollywood. That sort of exclusivity and lack of diversity belongs only to the other side in this particular debate.

beadgirl said...

I guess I was responding more to the claims that if liberal storytellers came up with something of value, it had to be by accident -- the implication being that they are too evil/venal/stupid to do it on purpose. Likewise, the bit about how they are too stupid to properly understand the ancient archetypes they occasionally use. It's painting liberals with a very broad brush, and in my opinion no more accurate than saying conservatives are racist and compassionless.

I totally get being upset at the bias against conservatives in Hollywood (although I have come to believe there are more than you would think, they just aren't as prominent for a number of reasons). But I don't think that the "propaganda" is as nefarious or intended as the excerpt from Shapiro's writing suggests, at least in most cases. The fact that liberals incorporate their own values into their storytelling should be of no surprise to anyone -- after all, conservative storytellers do the same thing.

We can agree on more diversity of views and perspectives in Hollywood, at least.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

That's funny, at Andrew Breitbart's BIG HOLLYWOOD site, people are always posting rave reviews about one right-leaning movie after another. True, they talk about each one like its the great exception to the liberal bias of Hollywood, but gosh, there sure are a lot of exceptions, and they keep right on coming!

Besides, the really liberal movies always bomb. Lions for Lambs is a good example. Nobody wants to watch Robert Redford sitting in a chair in a college professor's office. They want to see him naked in bed in the midst of the Russian revolution!

Red Cardigan said...

Beadgirl, I think that I'm just as surprised if a conservative comes up with a good story (not that there are any conservative writers in Hollywood, but if there were, etc.). The truth is that our culture no longer believes its stories. People who think marriage is both bigoted and unnecessary and are cynical about it generally write stories in which the hero and heroine (one of each gender) fall for each other and set a wedding date in the most time-honored way imaginable--well, except for the fact that they both commit on-screen fornication with each other and probably a few other people, but that's just part of what passes for romance these days. People who think "family values" is a code phrase for Christianists and bigots write tearjerker scripts about fathers repairing their relationships with their sons, or mothers with their daughters, and so on, as if they actually think that the biologically-related nuclear family is still important. People who hate guns and think we ought to model European nations in banning them write scripts in which inner-city violence is glorified and shootings are as common as graphic sex scenes; people who condemned the Bush Administration (and rightly) on torture wrote scripts for "24," and were probably thrilled to get paid for them.

There's no meaning in any of it. I'd have more respect for liberals if they actually wrote their real views (though I think the subsequent movies would probably be pretty lousy). But they don't. They pander to the media consumer (that coveted 18-30 year old male demographic!) while slipping in their middle-finger viewpoints with all the panache of a junior-high school student writing a dirty word in blurry bad penmanship three-quarters of the way through a 1,000 word essay, just to see if the teacher will catch it.

I'm actually pretty cynical, myself, about our culture's ability to understand or relate to the ancient archetypes, or to do any decent storytelling without a profit motive. The decline in letters goes beyond the liberal/conservative dichotomy, though the predominance of self-identified liberals in the entertainment industry means that presently they bear the greater responsibility for that decline.

John E. said...

I'm actually pretty cynical, myself, about our culture's ability to understand or relate to the ancient archetypes, or to do any decent storytelling without a profit motive.

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.
- Samuel Johnson

Johnson died in 1784

c matt said...

All I can do is recall the scene from Casablanca:

"I'm shocked, shocked that [discrimination against conservatives] is going on here!"

Red Cardigan said...

John E.: but Samuel Johnson would have been pretty disgusted if he'd had to edit out his pithy (and rather racist) comments against the Irish in his Dictionary in order to sell it. I think he'd have refused. And I'm not sure that that isn't the more honest thing to do. :)

John E. said...

Now you made me look...

http://www.samueljohnson.com/ireland.html

The Ranter said...

I guess I was responding more to the claims that if liberal storytellers came up with something of value, it had to be by accident -- the implication being that they are too evil/venal/stupid to do it on purpose. Likewise, the bit about how they are too stupid to properly understand the ancient archetypes they occasionally use. It's painting liberals with a very broad brush, and in my opinion no more accurate than saying conservatives are racist and compassionless.

Mr. Shapiro repeatedly states in his book that liberals write well, they are funny, etc. What he argues for is balance in who gets skewered. About the only person who will even attempt to skewer the liberal cows publicly is Jon Stewart (that I know of, but admittedly, I don't watch much tv).

John E. said...

About the only person who will even attempt to skewer the liberal cows publicly is Jon Stewart (that I know of, but admittedly, I don't watch much tv).

South Park...

Deirdre Mundy said...

REd-- about "Story"--- What about PIxar? They seem to have a strong focus on story and bigger themes. (Just watched UP! again last night.) And their attention to story and larger truths is what MAKES them a money-maker. People are actually hungry for good stories, I think.

(Also, I'd argue that SciFi still has a lot of focus on story--and, curiously, even self-proclaimed atheists seem to stumble against God when they try to confront issues of time and space....)

The Ranter said...

Thanks John E. I knew I was forgetting someone, but it was late (or early, depending on viewpoint).

Red Cardigan said...

Deirdre, I think that people writing children's movies in general are an exception--partly because children are the most devastating critics, and will rightly characterize any movie without a decent story as garbage. And sci-fi is still examining some interesting ideas, thought the "mainstream" in Hollywood still tends to think of sci-fi as a sort of red-headed stepchild overall.

But my point--and I may need to write a new blog post about it--is that liberals are not boldly telling liberal stories. They wouldn't dare. Their vision of a world in which the ugliest and worst thing you can do is be a stable, faithful heterosexual married couple raising your own children to believe in the decaying values of what used to be Western Christendom would not produce any movies or TV which would actually sell. So they dance around their actual beliefs, telling stories in which they borrow themes which they not only no longer believe in, but actively hate a good deal of the time.

If that passes for liberal courage and creativity, I'd hate to see liberal cowardice and pandering. Scratch that--that *is* what we see, with a strong dose of arrogance, from liberal Hollywood.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Erin-- I think it's a mistake to write Pixar's work off as "children's movies." In interviews, the men involved tend to say things like "Kids will watch almost anything." (I think they're right on this... remember "My Little Pony" and "G I Joe?")

"So we try to make really good stories for adults and just leave out anything that's inappropriate for children."

They're really clever about it though--for instance, (SPOILERS) the beginning of "UP!" includes a really heavy subplot about how the couple desperately wants kids, finds out they're pregnant, and than loses the baby. (and she apparently has a hysterectomy to boot!) But it's done so gently that it doesn't really weigh on the kids.

The Pixar people are also avowed Christians in Hollywood--all the Eucharistic imagery at the end of Wally was deliberate.

I think you'll find pockets of good story in other places. But I also think you're oversimplifying what constitutes a "liberal story."
For instance, many of my liberal friends would vociferously claim "The Mission" or "The Spitfire Grill" as liberal stories. (I think they also have a caricature of 'conservative story' as 'something made by Kirk Cameron')

But it might make more sense to break it down as "Good Stories" and "Propaganda." Most people don't want to watch propaganda at all, even if it belongs to their 'side.' Most people are thirsty for good stories.

Red Cardigan said...

I'll grant you that there are pockets of good amid the bad, Dierdre. But the problem I have is that there's so much bad.

But I'm thinking especially of television, which is what Ben Shapiro's book seems to focus on.

I like your breakdown of "good stories" vs "propaganda;" we have Sinclair's "The Jungle" and the Randian stuff as examples of the latter. Unfortunately.

But here's my point again: good stories do require even liberal writers to put the knee-jerk liberalism away and write stories in which faith, marriage, permanence, goodness, and virtue mean something--even though most of them utterly reject these values. I don't think they have the courage to write stories that really reflect their inward beliefs.

Turmarion said...

Perhaps I should refer to Sturgeon's Law, to wit: "Ninety percent of everything is crap."

I guess what bothers me is the "liberals do such-and-such" language here. Just going by the original post and comments here, Erin implies that liberals (presumably all liberals):

seek "eradication" of opposing viewpoints

pander to customers (as if that doesn't happen in other areas and on the other side!)

are cowards afraid to speak their minds overtly

believe that the "ugliest and worst thing you can do is be a stable, faithful heterosexual married couple raising your own children to believe in the decaying values of what used to be Western Christendom"

Now really, is this fair? Is this all liberals? Religious liberals? Political liberals? All of any of these groups?

I might point out that the highest rates of familial and social dysfunction (alcoholism, drug abuse, high divorce rates, high rates of single parenthood, premarital sex, and unwed pregnancies, high rates of domestic abuse, etc.) are consistently found in the so-called red states. As an inhabitant of one such state, I'm here to tell you that I know of plenty politically and religiously conservative people whose lives are every bit as messy as that of any Hollywood bad boy (or girl) du jour.

Does that give me the right to rant about how "conservatives" (with no qualifications or exceptions) are a bunch of hypocrites? I don't think so, in fact.

A reading suggestion: Flannery O'Connor's essay "The Church and the Fiction Writer". In this essay, she argues that the fiction writer must write the truth as he or she sees it, even if it's ugly, even if the Church bans it. "If the writer uses his eyes in the real security of his Faith, he will be obliged to use them honestly and his sense of mystery and acceptance of them will be increased. To look at the worst will be for him no more than an act of trust in God.... All fiction, even when it satisfies the requirements of art, will not turn out to be suitable for everyone's consumption, and if in some instance, the Chruch sees fit to forbid the faithful to read a work without permission, the author, if he is a Catholic, will be thankful that the Chruch is willing ot perform this service for him. It means that he can limit himself to the demands of art." O'Connor was by no means a "liberal"; but her fiction is well-known for being dark and grotesque. While Erin rightly says that good fiction is not propaganda, she seems uncomfortable with the idea that even literature or movies produced by someone on "her side" might be dark, grim, disturbing, or even (for some people) dangerous. Not all fiction (and cinema), even the good stuff, is appropriate for everybody, particularly children; but we shouldn't indiscriminately decry everything outside our comfort zone, either.

Red Cardigan said...

Turmarion, sorry your comment took so long to show up. It got stuck in blogger's spam folder. I still don't know why--that spam folder is charmingly random.

I love Flannery O'Connor and agree that the world should be portrayed as it is. But considering that we're talking most of all about television, let's talk about the world as it is vs. the world as it appears on TV?

1. Casual sex: in the real world casual sex, which is rampant, leads to STDs, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, various psychological disorders, etc. On TV causal sex is about as harmful as snacking on an organic veggie tray.

2. Cohabitation: in the real world couples who live together before marriage don't fare that well even if they do tie the knot eventually. On TV (and in movies) cohabitation is always seen as a good, positive, "big step" kind of thing (e.g. "Oooh, he gave you his apartment key? Oh, girrrl...!" etc.).

3. Children: in the real world children are "on screen" all the time in the lives of their parents--yes, even if they're stashed at a day care center from the time they're six months old so Mom can get back to fighting crime or lawyering or leading the nation or whatever she's doing. On TV, children show up in adorable cameos and then fade obediently into the background with no needs, no desires, no obligations, and no identity of their own.

4. Divorce and its aftermath: on TV people who divorce (even, as on Friends, who divorce because the wife is gay and shacks up with her lover to raise the son of her heterosexual husband) are just jolly together, and respect each other, etc., while the kids are perfectly fine and happy being shuttled between daddy and his latest girlfriend and mommy and her boyfriend or partner or lover or whatever mommy has these days--there's just no downside to splitting up! In the real world: but do I even have to enumerate any of this?

5. Porn: on TV everybody, even staid older married couples, views and uses pornography without in the least learning to objectify people or otherwise become dysfunctional. In the real world porn damages people, destroys marriages, exploits the vulnerable, and poisons everyone who steeps in its ugliness.

I could go on, but you get the point. The liberals who write for TV (and, in many cases, the movies) don't care about presenting reality as it is; they care about presenting a view of the world in which the favorite liberal vices never cause any harm. I do believe that politically-motivated conservative writers would do the same thing (glorifying war, consumerism, unbridled capitalism, etc.)--but that doesn't make it right or good when the liberals do it their way.

Turmarion said...

I do believe that politically-motivated conservative writers would do the same thing (glorifying war, consumerism, unbridled capitalism, etc.)--but that doesn't make it right or good when the liberals do it their way.

Excellent--exactly my point. The problem isn't Hollywood liberals but Hollywood people. It's not right for either side. I would point out that there does seem to be an awful lot of glorifying of "consumerism and unbridled capitalism" even in liberal Hollywood--notice how TV characters always have nicer homes and clothing than real-world counterparts at similar salaries have?

My theory is that for whatever reason drama attracts a proportion of narcissistic hedonists much higher than that in the general population. This isn't new--as far back as Shakespeare, acting was considered a disreputable profession. Now, politics come and politics go, so actors may be politically conservative, liberal, royalist, whatever--but they're still disproportionately narcissistic hedonists. By definition, narcissistic hedonists want to do what they want to do, damn the consequences--hence all the things you list above.

If you look at actors, say, in WW II, they were by and large much more politically conservative, gung-ho, patriotic, etc., than today, but their private lives weren't much different. After the 60's, the liberalism of the time identified with sexual liberation, etc., so Hollywood veered left. Nowadays, there's a small but growing number of actors who identify as libertarian. Libertarians, goes the short definition are "fiscally conservative and socially liberal". It wouldn't surprise me if fifty years from now Hollywood were overwhelmingly libertarian, but still acting as they do now.

IMO, mass-media consumerist media--e.g. TV--by their very nature will always tend towards the cultural dregs, regardless of the politics of the industry. McLuhan was right--the medium is the message. If there's a buck to be made from porn or violence or whatever, someone's going to want to make it, period. Given this, I don't see how conservatives in the (social, traditional, not-necessarily-Republican sense) ever manage to get a significant foothold. It's not about the values, liberal or conservative, it's all about the Benjamins.

Thus I return to the notion that your sweeping use of "liberals" in the original post is unfair. I think it would be more accurate to decry "consumerist mass media" or "Hollywood lifestyle liberals", or some such. Look, Dorothy Day, after her conversion, was quite morally and theologically traditional and conservative--but she was politically an anarcho-socialist pacifist until the day she died. Humans are complex critters--let's recognize this!

Red Cardigan said...

Turmarion, if you read the part that I wrote (as opposed to the quoted parts): where do I use "liberals" without the qualifier that I'm talking about people in Hollywood?

I'm just not seeing a sweeping use of "liberals" in my original post--from me, that is, not from the quoted parts from other writers.

Can you clarify where I spoke of "liberals" without saying "people in Hollywood" specifically?

Turmarion said...

The truth is that our culture no longer believes its stories. People who think marriage is both bigoted and unnecessary...People who think "family values" is a code phrase for Christianists and bigots...People who hate guns and think we ought to model European nations in banning them write scripts in which inner-city violence is glorified and shootings are as common as graphic sex scenes; people who condemned the Bush Administration (and rightly) on torture wrote scripts for "24," and were probably thrilled to get paid for them... I'd have more respect for liberals if they actually wrote their real views....

This is from one of your comments on the post. I conflated this with the original post, in which you are right to say that you specified Hollowood people. The later comment is a little vaguer--"people who" and "liberals", no qualification; but you speak of their writing, so in the context it would be evident that you're speaking of "liberal Hollywood writers." I didn't read closely enough and/or misremembered. My apologies there. I also probably conflated what you said with some of the stuff you quoted, as you rightly point out--though you did seem to quote them with approval. In any case, my error there, too.

Perhaps it's my own baggage--I consider myself moderate, though my liberal friends think I'm a fascist and my conservative friends think I'm a Commie. One such conservative friend of considerable long-standing had a bad habit of making statements of the unqualified "liberals fill-in-the-blank" sort. He at various times said that I was the only respectful and decent "liberal" he'd ever met; that he thought liberals were in a vast conspiracy to brainwash the American public so they could shove their agenda down the unsuspecting people's throats; and even went so far as to say he thought Hollywood types were deliberately taking aim at him personally (not people like him--him). Anyway, a year or so, out of the clear blue, he emailed me to ask if I supported Obama's healthcare reform (I do, with reservations). After a brief back-and-forth on it, he told me he couldn't keep in contact with someone who supported such an awful thing, and broke off all contact. This depsite the fact that I had been there for him in difficult times of his life, had never been bothered by our political disagreements or considered them important in the context of our friendship, and had always treated him with respect even when I disagreed with him. About the same time, I had a similar incident with another friend, which resulted in a year out of contact--fortunately, the other friend contacted me recently and we reconciled.

I think cultural issues are important, and I don't think our culture is in great shape. Because of such personal exprience, though, I really think the rhetorical situation in the country is getting way out of hand. Yes, we have to point out fault and put blame (and praise) where it's due; but we must not feed the us-vs-them, the-opposition-is-evil tropes that are all over the place now. I'm not saying that you're doing that, although you did acknowledge beadgirl's point that "Tinseltown nitwits" was a bit over the top; but temperance in speech and rhetoric is a good watchword for all of us.

Turmarion said...

I actually left a response, but it must have got lost in the spam filter. In brief, I re-read everything and I must have conflated your original post with the quoted source, as well as some of the comments. My error. I would point out that you did quote the source approvingly, but nevertheless, you are correct in pointing out that I was mistaken.

I do have some baggage on this--an erstwhile conservative/libertarian friend of mine, one of long standing, used to say "liberals this, that, and the other", no qualification. Though I consider myself moderate (conservative friends think I'm a Commie, liberal friends think I'm a fascist), he said I was the only "fair and decent" liberal he'd met.

Anyway, a little over a year ago, out of the clear blue, he asked me what I thought of Obama's healthcare law. I told him I supported it, with reservations. After a brief back-and-forth, he broke off contact, saying he couldn't be in contact with a person who supported such a horrible, terrible thing. As you might imagine, I'm a little touchy about any kind of "liberals are" statements--or generalizations about anyone, for that matter.

I think the discourse in this country is turning too much into a zero-sum, us-vs-them mentality, where each side refused to believe that there may actually be decent people of good will on the other side (no matter how strongly they may disagree). While we may rightly decry what we see as wrong in our society and culture, we must always be very, very careful about demonizing individuals or making judgments about them based on beliefs they hold with which we may disagree.