Ben Shapiro’s newest book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV is, as he describes it, a “constructive exposé” of the liberal agenda entrenched in the television industry almost since its inception. The result of his own research composed of hundreds of interviews with top television writers and executives, Shapiro offers a fresh challenge to conservatives dissatisfied with what they see streaming from the tube: Instead of attempting a boycott of television—which is ineffective because of the simple fact that Americans love television—conservatives ought to break into the industry as writers and producers and change it from within.
The task, however, will be a slow and uphill battle.
There’s no question about the fact that liberalism has dominated television for decades. Shapiro’s book catalogs how keeping conservatives marginalized or completely silent has been purposeful on the part of executives and writers, and how maintenance of liberal programming has become almost systemic to the industry. He also provides powerful responses to Hollywood liberals’ claims that they are simply following the market’s demand for left-leaning programming and that they are portraying a realist picture of contemporary American society.
Shapiro opens with an anecdote from his own experience. Despite evident liberal bias, he wasn’t convinced of the claim that conservatives were blacklisted by the powers in the industry—until it happened to him. After several immensely successful meetings with agents, he received word that someone had discovered his website and his political views. Regardless of the quality of his work, he was told, his conservative politics “will make it impossible for you to get a job in this town.”
One force that has kept the liberal agenda at the forefront of programming is writers’ contention that television ought not merely to be reflective, but transformative of society. Sometimes, as Shapiro shows in his two extensive chapters on the history of American comedy and drama, the object has been morally laudable, such as combating racism. Overall, however, “leading the public taste” translates to attacking traditional values with “épater le bourgeois!” as their battle-cry, producing envelope-pushing shows from All in the Family and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to Friends and Sex and the City. Shapiro points out that television is both reflective and transformative: It’s reflective of the hip and glitzy big-city lives of Hollywood writers and producers and it’s transformative of everyone else. The problem, he notes, is that there is a huge disconnect between the life of “limousine liberals” in New York and L.A. and that of Americans in Birmingham, Ala., and Topeka, Kan.
Probably the most potent chapter, especially for conservatives who have long felt alienated by the barrage of offensive programming, is “Shut Up and Change the Channel,” in which Shapiro debunks the “market myth” that the industry is simply responding to the demands of American viewers. The fact is, however, that many people simply don’t change the channel. And when they do, there aren’t better options. “Flipping the channel is like voting in Cuba,” Shapiro writes. What’s more, even as late as 2010 the Nielson rating system’s method of obtaining data was archaic and ridden with such systemic problems as self-selection in surveys, preventing the collection of truly accurate data. In reality, the market TV networks cater to is advertising, which is sold on the idea that the younger 18 to 49 audience is more valuable than the over-50 (generally more conservative) audience. This is nonsense. The older generation has much greater disposable income and, according to studies, is no less likely to try a new product than the younger generation, Shapiro notes.
The remaining chapters of Primetime Propaganda expose, no less powerfully, how Hollywood has gotten in bed with the federal government and special interest groups. Liberals in government are all too willing to help liberals in Hollywood because Hollywood wields not just vast amounts of money but also a formidable PR machine that can make or break their chances for reelection.
Shapiro concludes with a challenge to liberals to exchange the ideological nepotism for richer, more diverse programming, and to television executives and advertisers to quit alienating half of the country, for more profitable business. Above all, the book is an exhortation to conservatives not to underestimate the power and appeal of television, nor to forfeit the war by boycotting the system altogether. Instead, conservatives ought to fight the battle, though it’s uphill and in the rain, to infiltrate the leftist industry and change it from within.
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