It’s difficult to find a television program that holds conservative ideals, let alone refrains from mocking them. Hollywood, it seems, is monolithically liberal. This is because conservatives underestimate the value of narrative and emotion, author Ben Shapiro contended in his talk “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV,” held last week at The Heritage Foundation.
“Narrative matters,” Shapiro said. “Unfortunately, conservatives have abandoned narrative as an emotional tool…you hear it on talk radio all the time. We have all the logical arguments; we have the facts on our side; they just rely on emotion all the time. Yeah, [because] it works.”
Liberals, Shapiro said, use the medium of entertainment television as a propaganda tool to promote their political ends.
“They’re very clever about it; they recognize that if they slide their messaging in, it’s much more effective than if they simply come out and hit you in the head with a two-by-four,” he said. To this end, they write sympathetic characters who behave badly yet advance their agenda.
It wasn’t always this way. Television used to be fairly non-partisan in the 1950s and early 1960s. While the creators were liberal, the executives were mostly conservative.
This changed around the time of John F. Kennedy’s death; liberalism as a whole went from optimistic to pessimistic, and conservative executives were replaced by younger, more liberal counterparts, though their audience was still conservative. They circumvented this problem thanks to what Shapiro termed a “scam” in advertising.
As Shapiro explained, television is dependent on advertising for revenue, especially capturing the key demographic of those who haven’t yet hit middle age.
“If you think about that for half a second, it makes absolutely no sense,” Shapiro stated. “Why should people 18 to 49 be the targets of advertisers?”
The answer lies in the late 1960s, when ABC, which was based in urban areas and had been losing badly to CBS, convinced its advertisers that the most liberal age group in the country was the most desirable demographic. Family friendly fare like Green Acres was cancelled in favor of urban, hipper shows. Hollywood liberals could suddenly claim the market demands liberal programming.
This keeps older, more rural conservatives out. Shaprio interviewed some of the biggest names in TV for his book, and many liberals admitted that Hollywood is insular; some gleefully talked about just how closed-minded it is. Vin DiBona, who produced MacGyver and creator of America’s Funniest Home Videos said he believed the accusation that Hollywood was leftist was accurate; moreover, he was “happy about it.” There are conservatives in Hollywood who are scared to admit their political affiliation for fear of losing their careers.
There are no consequences for liberals in Hollywood, a group Shapiro describes as “liberal academia writ small.” The industry is vertically integrated, with a handful of companies organizing most programming. Consumers have no real choice in the messages they receive, he said.
“There’s nothing to turn the channel to,” Shapiro said.
Despite that fact, people will still watch TV because they love narrative. To stop the propaganda, Shapiro said conservatives must learn from liberals and recapture the power of narrative. In conservative hands, it can be a powerful tool.
“Ronald Reagan knew the value of storytelling,” Shapiro said. “Our storytelling doesn’t need to be restricted to the political sphere…we need to put our money where our mouths are…we need to give advertisers an alternative place to put their bucks.”
Only by creating an alternative Hollywood, Shapiro said, can conservatives break liberals’ hold on entertainment.
Sterling Beard is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm