Born blocks from the NBC soundstage in 1984 to parents in the entertainment industry, Ben Shapiro is a natural choice to write a book about Hollywood. For his new book “Primetime Propaganda,” Shapiro has studied decades of television content and interviewed a bevy of powerful Hollywood producers to document the degree to which they have created a political and cultural revolution of permissive leftism.
The project gets off to a harsh start. In his introduction, Shapiro attacks “traditional” TV critics on the cultural right for being “worse than useless,” suggesting some unnamed conservatives are insisting TV should not be watched. “When conservatives treat television as the Golden Calf, they leave no choice but to lay low the unbelievers — and most of us continue to continue occasionally glancing at the offending cow.”
Let’s stipulate that perhaps Shapiro is trying to sell the usefulness of his own book by insisting it will succeed where other conservative critiques have failed. Because once you get past the straw-man introduction, there’s a lot of eye-opening detail that begs to be discussed.
Hollywood’s made endless movies about cruel, life-destroying blacklisters of communist sympathizers, which is rich irony given their ongoing efforts to blacklist conservatives from their own industry. Shapiro calls this chapter “The Clique.”
Actor Dwight Schultz (“The A-Team”) was overheard by producer Bruce Paltrow praising President Reagan in the 1980s at a theatre festival, and Paltrow called him a “Reagan [A-word].” Months later, when Schultz came to audition for the role of Dr. Fiscus on the NBC show “St. Elsewhere,” Paltrow asked why he had shown up: “There’s not going to be a Reagan [A-word] on this show!”
Schultz, an accomplished voice-over actor in cartoons, found this viewpoint even in the animation genre. He received a casting call for the cartoon movie “Astro Boy” that described the character of “President Stone” as a “cross between a refined, somewhat more controlled version of General Buck Turgison (George C. Scott) from Dr. Strangelove and Dick Cheney.”
“You get this in the mail,” Schultz insisted about his cartoon work. “This is very typical, very mild…’He’s an [A-word], like George Bush.’” Schultz doesn’t describe his experience as a blacklist, but as a mindset. “It’s a social network…But the social aspect of the business is, to a large degree, everything these is.”
Leonard Goldberg, executive producer of “Blue Bloods” for CBS — says liberalism in the TV industry is “100 percent dominant, and anyone who denies it is kidding, or not telling the truth.” Shapiro asked if conservative politics are a barrier to entry. “Absolutely,” Goldberg replied, adding that the late actor Ron Silver felt his opportunities became very limited when he vocally shifted to the right after 9/11.
It starts to sound like discrimination. There’s the story of Fred Thompson and “Law and Order” Rene Balcer, who insisted “I said I’m not coming back as long as that guy is on the show. I didn’t think much of his acting or the character.” If you’re conservative, you somehow can’t act. The book cites Entertainment Weekly editor Mark Harris saying he “expected to hate” ABC’s comedy “The Middle” due largely to the political views of right-leaning actress Patricia Heaton (but then was pleased the show was “left-populist”).
Shapiro says the Hollywood Left cannot understand why anyone would attack their programming. “After all, they argue, Americans don’t attack the Associated Press’s reporting. Why should they attack Hollywood when it merely reports what’s happening in the world?”
That’s how Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group justified taking “ABC Family” into racier territory: “The best way to resonate with your audience is to be authentic. And you’re only authentic if you are holding up a mirror to your audience and saying `I see you.'”
Many TV producers complained to Shapiro that Hollywood’s product was merely “reflective” of society, and not “transformative.” But liberal produer David Shore, the creator of “House,” called that a “knee-jerk reaction” and a “cop-out,” because “we’re also thrilled by the fact that we’re touching people’s lives.”
Hollywood is completely inauthentic. It doesn’t reflect society. It distorts society. Why? They don’t reflect reality. It’s their own 90210 reality. They know nothing about the real world.
This is where Shapiro’s book really hits home. Television acts as a magnifier of the life experiences of Hollywood “visionaries.” They write what they know and how they live, with all of the libertine, “progressive” idealism and the anti-religious, anti-traditional cynicism combined.
His bottom line, after all of his interviews and all of his content analysis, is simple. “Television reflects those who create it and transforms everybody else.” That’s a very frightening ten words about the future of our culture.