The Conservative Unimagination

Move over James O'Keefe of dressing up like a pimp, editing out-of-context, and destroying ACORN  fame, there's a new right-wing whippersnapper making the rounds on the TV and Internet and he's got a bold, new, and breathtaking thesis: "The media is dominated by liberals."  Old news, you say, as you hose down the deer guts off your F150--everyone knows that Fox and Limbaugh are the only trusted sources for news.  But wait!  This new kid, Ben Shapiro, has just enough edge on the tools in his critical toolbox to realize that it isn't just the news that's biased--so too is the alleged "entertainment" programming on network primetime.  Ben even got some well-known Hollywood liberal types to admit as much--openly, unabashedly, and without bursting into flames!

Like Disney films and crop rotation, every seven years or so an intrepid conservative makes this discovery all over again for a new generation (or more cynically, a hack realizes it's been six years since the last "liberals are using TV to force me into having an abortion and/or feeling sympathy for the poor" book).  Contracts are signed.  Anecdotes are gathered.  Lube up and let the Fox daisy-chain begin anew!

From his web graphics, Ben looks like a nice enough young man.  And he's got the Constitution unfurling behind him, so you know he understands what America's all about--especially in terms of the founder's "original intent" as to the true principles that should be guiding the network up-fronts.  True, knowing as we do now that conservatism appears to be linked to a "fear" gene, it's always sad to see someone so young already aspiring to the value system of a fifty-something executive worried the city might build public housing near his country club, but the kid seems earnest enough, like he's really on to a big discovery of some kind.  So assuming he isn't just cynically exploiting the tragically pre-sold market for this Chicken Littleshit, let's review (sigh...once again) the basic arguments:

*Hollywood is dominated by liberals.   Yes.  Check.  Absolutely.  You see, Ben, most of the people in Hollywood--even the most calculatingly bloodless producer types--consider themselves to be involved in the Arts.  I know that may seem incredible when talking about CSI or The Big Bang Theory, but it's true.  And most of the people who are willing to take the time, effort, and trouble to forge a career in the Arts are liberals.  Ben, think back a couple years to your High School, and more specifically to the "Theater kids"...did you have much luck convincing them that John McCain had their best interests at heart?  As they traded bottles of magenta hair dye and smoked joints in the bathroom, were they less than attentive to your pleas for a flat-tax and the virtues of traditional marriage? 

The writing staffs of most sitcoms, meanwhile, are dominated by whip smart, clever, witty arts/humanities majors from top universities.  After college, they move to Los Angeles and live 3 to an apartment in the city's less scenic outskirts, hustling to sell a script or get signed onto a show.  That process can take months or even years, and even when it does happen, there is zero job security.  Who else would fit this profile other than a starry-eyed liberal, someone who is so blinded by the romance of art, culture, and self-expression that they would willingly forgo a decent income, stable personal relationships, and a Bosch kitchen for a shot at punching up the dialogue on a David Spade movie? 

The truly smart kids, like yourself Ben, all get MBAs and Law Degrees so that they can buy, sell, sue, and control foolish liberals at will.  Don't believe me?  Just watch a young liberal artiste trying to buy a car, negotiate a mortgage, or do his or her taxes.  It's not a pretty sight, Ben, because conservatives have forged an entire world designed to fleece the romantic, flaky, artistic and otherwise easily distracted of their time, money, and sanity.  You may be mad that TV doesn't show more people bitching about Obamacare--but compare that to the stress of having no health insurance and driving a ten-year old Hyundai around Burbank trying to get a meeting for a "can't lose" retro-eighties Bro-mance, based on a forgotten side-plot of Moby Dick that you wrote an essay about back at Brown.

*Hollywood discriminates against conservatives.  We've already established above that there just aren't really all that many conservatives clamouring to work in show biz -- the ones that are, moreover, no doubt suffer from various forms of shame and self-loathing (it's hard, after all, to be so completely surrounded by the compassion, wisdom, and basic good sense of liberalism without eventually converting--we warned you thirty years ago the U.S. was poised to collapse under the weight of mindless consumerism, widening class divisions, selfish materialism, and environmental disaster.  You do remember those conversations, don't you?  Not you, Ben, I realize you've learned most of your conservatism by seeing how Fox makes it look like a really cool family that has all the answers in a scary world).

Shapiro finds it outrageous that Dwight Schultz, who played the crazy guy on The A-Team, hasn't worked much since the show went off the air in 1987.  This lack of work is purportedly a function of Schultz's conservative political views.  I'll be the first to concede that we haven't seen much of Mr. Schultz since 1987.  Then again, there are many hundreds of actors with "liberal" political views who, like Schultz, had their one turn at TV fame and then never worked again--that's how television generally works.  For every raving communist like Tom Selleck who somehow finds a new TV job with each new TV decade, there are thousands who would kill for their one shot at A-Team residuals so they could retire to Ojai and open a pottery shop.  And quite frankly, looking back at Mr. Schultz's complex and nuanced portrayal of "Howlin' Mad" Murdock, should he really expect a long line of producers and directors knocking at his door to employ his singular talents?  Was he hoping for the lead in a PBS adaptation of The Fountainhead?  (and before you feel too bad for Mr. S., he eventually got a gig playing Reginald Barclay on Star Trek: Next Generation--the single most in-your-face liberal show ever to be conceived by the human brain, a show so appallingly Utopian in its leftist politics that it even embarrasses many liberals.  Meanwhile, do you think the folks over at the 700 Club are actively interviewing secular atheists in the service of diversity and expanded perspectives?  No, they are not.)

Perhaps conservatives feel discriminated against in Hollywood because show biz doesn't really follow their expectations for how one lands work.  Connections can help in Hollywood, for example, but not to the same extent that they matter in the land of conservatism.  Knowing someone might get you an internship at a studio for a few months, or in rare cases a starring role in Beverly Hills 90210 (where the very premise of the show somehow made such slimy nepotism okay)-- but it's certainly not going to get a C-student into Yale or a dimwitted nephew into middle-management at Bank of America.  Drop Jon Cryer's latte three times and you're a marked man or woman, demoted without ceremony back to the Warner Brothers copy room.  Screw over a hundred thousand people with bad housing loans from your dad's bank?  Take a vacation, son, and when you come back we'll put you in charge of corporate real estate. 

Another reason Hollywood tends to depend on cultural producers from the Left is that they have more talent.  I'm sorry to have to say this so bluntly, but it's true.  Given that "conservatism" is at heart an ideology that believes in moral absolutes and unquestioning subservience to authority (unless it's black and from Hawaii), it does not really lend itself to powerful dramaturgy or empathetic comedy.  Which is the better outline for Les Miserables:  Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving children and spends 19 years either on the run or in jail for his "crime," thereby demonstrating the horrifying ironies of man's "law," prejudice, and social corruption; or, Jean Valjean is a thief and suffers the appropriate penalties for his defiance?  Which strikes you as a better sitcom premise: four to six young singles negotiate the uncertain world of relationships and professional life in a big city full of new ideas and experimental possibilities; or, Jack unquestioningly marries his high school sweetheart right after graduation and they reproduce without incident? 

The "left" has just about every significant writer and philosopher of the past two centuries.  The right has Ayn Rand, who misread Nietzsche and then wrote some truly dreadful novels painfully elaborating on that fundamental misreading.

*Hollywood inserts "secret messages" supporting the Left: 

Here's the kind of thing that gets right-wingers like Shapiro all hot under their starchy collars:  Remember on Friends, way back in 1996, when they had that lesbian wedding?   The "minister," if we can call her that, was played by none other than Candace Gingrich, the openly gay sister of right-wing idiologue Newt Gingrich.  God damn, that chaps my homophobic hide!   How dare the producers of a network sitcom insert a liberal "in-joke" recognizable only to those who already support gay marriage (i.e. if you know who Candace Gingrich is, or even more to the point, could pick her out of a police line-up, I would say the odds are 99 to 1 you support gay marriage).  This is particularly outrageous considering that her poor brother Newt has almost no recourse to a public forum of any kind to tell us why his sister shouldn't have the right to marry whomever she chooses.

Imagine, liberals, if the producers of 24 had cast Ted Nugent as Jack Bauer's munitions consultant, you would have been madder than a wet-yet-still-pansy-assed hornet!

Speaking of Ted Nugent, who's going to give me back all the brain cells I destroyed as a teen listening to and memorizing such nuggets of conservative wisdom as:

Wang Dang Sweet Poontang!  
Beat me, beat me, come on and eat me!
Got you in a stranglehold now baby, then i crushed your face!

And this gets to the political right's saddest misunderstanding about both the media and the world.  They really do seem to think that every object and/or person is 100% pure in terms of its politics.  You're either with us--completely and totally--or you're agin' us.   Friends has a lesbian wedding with Candace Gingrich and is thus a "left-wing" show, 24 beats up people for timely information and is thus from the right-wing.  Never mind that all culture is infinitely more complex, ambivalent, confused, and contradictory than that (well, maybe more so from always questioning lefties than "God said it. I believe it. That settles it" conservatism).

Yes, Glee is a homofriendly propaganda machine designed to make future generations less uptight about issues of sexual orientation (a long-running and extremely successful project of Leftist entertainment, I might add.  Note to cantankerous old farts upset about all the gays on the TV and radio: your children and grand-children are waiting for you to die.  Nothing personal, but truly you are the glue gunking up the progressive gears of future liberty and justice).  But Glee also encourages me to believe that I can find true self-expression by obediently consuming and celebrating the marketplace's canon of corporately-crafted pop songs about the joys of love, fun, and "being yourself."  So its politics are a 50/50 proposition at best. 

But even the right is more confused than they know.  I mean, just look at that picture of the Nuge above:  He's wearing the chosen emblem of poor, disaffected, rural whites who imagine they somehow share something of the Frontier spirit with Native Americans, when in fact their own ancestors drove these tribes out of Dixie so that African-Americans could be brought in as a slave labor force--all of these injustices enforced under the threat of very real violence (i.e. guns).  What is the Nuge trying to tell us in this hostile hot mess?  Good ole boys and Injuns unite to kill the liberal elites?  Stay vigilant my cracker friends, I done heard Obama wants to repatriate the Cherokee back to Georgia?  The Indians are going to "rise again," better armed, and burn Alabama to the ground?  Red man or white, we can all agree that freshly-killed raccoon meat is delicious?  Who can tell what is going on in the complexities of the Nugent mind?

Let's conclude with an offer to Ben and all the other conservatives upset that liberals are "brainwashing" them through movies and TV.

Conservatives: pick any five of the top ten shows currently on TV and you can replace the entire writing and directing staff with bonafide right-wingers.  Glee, Modern Family, House...whatever gets your goat.  In exchange, liberals get to pick any five of the top ten companies on the Fortune 500 and replace the CEO and Board of Directors with bonafide left-wingers.

Let's check back in a year and see who had the opportunity to have the most impact on the political life of the nation and world.

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