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Ben Shapiro and Primetime Propaganda

 

Ben Shapiro admits he's a bit of an oddity. He's Jewish, a Harvard graduate, and a devout conservative. However, no matter which side of the political fence you are planted, anyone who is concerned about the state of affairs of broadcast television would do well to ponder this author's latest book, Primetime Propaganda.

 

The theme of the book is best described by its subtitle: The true Hollywood story of how the left took over your TV. However before you see this as a political party bash, this book focuses on liberal morals every bit as much as it discusses liberal politics. In my opinion, it's unfortunate the issue of the entertainment industry's fascination with all things edgy typically leads to a political discussion. I personally feel there are people throughout the political spectrum who are displeased with the nature of what we like to call "mass media."

 

Ben's motivation for writing the book came from years of watching television shows that he openly admits to liking. "I was laughing at it, but it was occurring to me [television] was pushing a certain social agenda," Ben told me in an interview, adding that his Orthodox Jewish upbringing and influence of his parents added to his eventual realization that certain messages were appearing in virtually every show on TV -- and they all promoted liberal morals and values.

 

But it wasn't until Ben had a personal experience with the biases in the entertainment industry that he became convinced the situation was more than a coincidental trend.

 

While researching his book he came across Leonard Goldberg, a renowned television producer responsible for scores of famous television series dating back to the days of Starsky and Hutch and Charlie's Angels to the present day series Blue Bloods. The meeting became a pivotal point in Ben's personal research.

 

"[Goldberg] says to me, 'Why don't you write a pilot based on your experiences at Harvard Law School?'" recalls Ben, adding, "When a top producer asks you to write a pilot, you absolutely need to write a pilot."

 

Struck by his good fortune, Ben found himself an agent and things were going well. But three weeks later that same agent called him back and said he would no longer be able to represent him.

 

"The problem here is, after one of our lower level agents Googled you and found your website, we found out your political point of view and we're not sure anyone with your political point of view can work regularly in Hollywood," says Ben, recalling the conversation. Elaborating further, he explained that one of his scripts was well received by a producer who then refused to work with him after discovering his political leanings.

 

But does "conservative" entertainment necessarily have to be chock full of overt messages promoting a certain political ideal? Ben is quick to point out that is the worst thing that could happen, and the reason liberal points of view have been so well accepted is because of the way the messages are crafted to fit within the context of the enveloping program.

 

"I think it has to be done in the context of character and plot, and that's where conservatives fail," he explains. "I think what we're doing is what liberals were doing in the early 1970s. You watch All In The Family now and it really has aged very poorly. The characters are not funny, the dialogue is not funny... it is very issue oriented. Liberals didn't understand at that time that you can't ram the politics down American's throats," says Shapiro, adding that an era of just three networks helped make All In The Family the most controversial show on TV.

 

Ben also counters the popular notion put forth by some moral liberals who believe that "conservative" values must equate to programs and media that are suitable for all ages.

 

"As conservatives, when we think about what we want to watch, we want to watch a family friendly show that rips on the government. But when we take off our conservative hat, what we really want to watch is something that's entertaining," admits Ben, adding that he's not "willing to watch something that's boring." Yet he feels many programs and movies targeting those with conservative values are "utterly dull as dishwater." Adding to the problem, he feels this type of entertainment acts to, "...legitimize the discrimination against conservatives in Hollywood because [the liberals] say we suck at what we do."

 

When I questioned Ben if there may be a change in the wind with more programs and media reaching out to a morally conservative audience, he expressed a cautious hope that might be true and feels the Internet may open up more of those opportunities for conservative views as it will eliminate those who decide which projects will eventually be produced.

 

Undoubtedly Ben Shapiro's book assumes a tight connection between the ballot box and the television remote. However there are many moments where he works to dissect this simplistic approach, such as his remarks about Seinfeld. In addressing the creators of that immensely popular show, and in particular one episode where four characters attempt to see how long they can go without masturbating, Ben remarks, "They [the creators of Seinfeld] don't attack the elite social and political consensus in America, which became largely liberal during the 1960s and 1970s; instead, they feel important because they shock for shock's sake."

 

If you approach his book with the belief that there must be a better way to entertain our society, I'm certain you will find points and opinions that will make you take another look at the programs you love to hate, and hate to love.



Rod Gustafson

 


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.


Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org


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