I’ll have more on his new book later in the week, but conservative author Ben Shapiro is out with a new tome, “Primetime Propaganda,” a pretty comprehensive look at the history of broadcast entertainment and its tilt to the left.
Shapiro shows how “Happy Days” has a Vietnam subtext, “MacGyver” was anti-gun and even how “The Waltons” had a liberal streak in its promoting of messages of tolerance of everyone.
The one aspect of the book getting headlines is Shapiro’s claim that “Sesame Street” was, from the very start, infused with a leftward tilt. Unlike other books that have tackled Hollywood’s biases, Shapiro interviewed such series creators as Earl Hammer, Marta Kaufmann, Larry Gelbart, David Shore and Mark Burnett. In the case of “Sesame Street,” he writes that Mike Dann, former vice president of the Children’s Television Workshop, told him, “It was underwritten and created primarily for black children. Spanish-speaking children. It was not made for the sophisticated or the middle class. And they had a department at Children’s Workshop run by Evelyn Davis, a black lady, who dealt with all sorts of civic actvities for black people. And that took a foothold. As a matter of fact, there’s no written material in a black household. But there is television.”
Is an effort to be diverse evidence that a show is liberal? Shapiro thinks so, and writes that “the politics of ‘Sesame Street’ would become more overt over time.” One 1969 episode, he writes, “had Grover parleying with a hippie and learning subtle lessons about civil disobedience.” Other examples he cites are the appearance of out actor Neil Patrick Harris as “the Fairy Shoeperson” and aborted attempts to deal with issues like divorce and, just after 9/11, peaceful conflict resolution.
Shapiro also cites its gritty urban setting as “legitimizing urban liberal lifestyles — after all, the goal of children’s television had swung toward the enforcement of self-esteem, and how could urban children gain self-esteem if children’s television didn’t totally embrace the urban liberal lifestyle?”
He identifies Bob Keeshan, a.k.a. “Captain Kangaroo,” as helping to start a shift in children’s television from the pure entertainment of Howdy Doody to shows that relied on experts to boost childrens’ self-esteem, something rooted in the work of Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Shapiro doesn’t single out all of network television as liberal, as he lists the “best conservative shows in television history,” including “Lost,” “South Park,” “The Cosby Show” and “24.” But you can’t really match a writers’ political stripes with what ends up on screen. Also on the list is “Everybody Loves Raymond,” whose executive producer, Phil Rosenthal, is a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates.
The book comes from HarperCollins conservative imprint Broadside Books. Shapiro writes in his prologue, “You’ll find out that the box in your living room has been invading your mind, subtly shaping your opinions, pushing you to certain sociopolitical conclusions for years.”
London’s Independent has more here.