Monday, June 6, 2011

Primetime Propaganda—Fair and Balanced?

I don’t write a lot about politics. It has become a divisive force in America. There was a time when people from different political parties and philosophies could sit down and socialize after a long day of debate. But those days are long gone. Today it seems as if whether you are on the right or on the left, Democrat or Republican, or conservative or liberal, it’s all about demonizing the other side. My side is right. Your side is wrong. In fact, it goes further than that. We’re the good guys, and you’re the bad guys, and our job is to destroy you because your side is a threat to the security and the future of our nation.

Politics has become personal to say the least. We used to all be Americans. I’m not sure that’s true today. Whatever happened to common sense? Now comes along in this politically charged climate a new book from Ben Shapiro titled Primetime Propaganda—The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. To be fair, I have not read the book. But I have listened to the video clips that were posted by the Hollywood reporter. Shapiro contends that Hollywood is primarily dominated by liberals and are openly biased against conservatives. The product description for his book states that TV isn’t just entertainment, it’s an attempt to convince Americans that the social, economic, and foreign policy shaped by leftism is morally righteous. That’s quite at statement. Often when the term leftism is used, it’s usually code for Communism. I’m not sure that’s what Shapiro is stating, but it would be much clearer if he had used the term liberal.

I think it’s no surprise that Hollywood leans toward liberal politics. Michael Medved, political commentator and film critic, has said for years that when Hollywood wants to send a message, it’s usually from a liberal viewpoint. So frankly, there’s no new territory to explore, but there are issues that trouble me about the impact of this new book, especially from a Christian point of view.

First of all, Ben Shapiro’s book is going to get a lot of attention. Because it’s controversial, he’s already booked an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. The video clips are certainly going to create a buzz all over the Internet. The problem? Is this a fair and balanced view of Hollywood? I’ve met a lot of people who work in the industry that do not fit into the profile that Shapiro suggests. The vast majority of the people who work in this industry work below the line. This is a term the industry uses that distinguishes producers, writers, directors and actors who are considered above the line from every one else who is below the line. Carpenters, make-up artists, production assistants and editors, for example, I believe reflect the views of most mainstream Americans.

It seems like we are always looking for simplistic answers. It would be convenient to portray Hollywood and the entertainment industry as liberal. But the truth is this is a far more complicated picture. There are a number of Christians who work in Hollywood as producers, directors and writers who also don’t reflect the type of thinking that Shapiro’s video clips suggests.

The second point that bothers me is did Shapiro have an agenda? Was his mind already made up? It also seems that he misrepresented himself as he stated, “I wore my Harvard baseball cap. My name is Ben Shapiro, and I attended Harvard so there’s a 98.7% chance I’m a liberal, except I happen not to be.” I listened to the video clips, and he clearly laughs when the people he interviews makes some type of derogatory statement about conservatives. It’s as if he’s egging them on. It hardly seems objective.

I’ve been a producer and writer for over 25 years. I’ve interviewed over 1,000 people. You can get the story you want. By talking to the right people and framing the questions in a certain manner, you can get content that fits your narrative. The public never sees what’s discarded that doesn’t fit your viewpoint. Basically, all forms of media can be a distortion of reality and a form of manipulation. And it’s not that hard to find individuals who will say something outrageous and totally stupid.

Shapiro had to go through proper channels to obtain an interview. Typically a publicist, manager, or agent will want to know what the purpose of the interview is and how it will be used. I have no idea what Shapiro told them. But I’m sure he didn’t state the fact that this was going to be a “Gotcha!” book.

Perhaps my greatest fear is the backlash that many will have toward those who work in the media and entertainment industry. This is especially true for Evangelical Christians most of whom could be politically described as conservatives.

I believe we need to work with Hollywood. I have proposed in my book, The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture, the need to raise up, equip, train and support media missionaries and visual storytellers to mainstream media. Shapiro’s book would seem to serve as an excuse to label Hollywood as the devil’s playground. One of the reasons that Hollywood is liberal is because Christians for years have discouraged our youth from pursuing careers in the entertainment industry. The last thing I want to see is for this trend to continue. We need to be part of Hollywood so we can have an impact on our culture in the future. And that’s not going to happen unless we raise up visual storytellers with a missional approach to their work.

We need to bring some sanity back to the way we discuss politics in this country. When you really think about it, politics is nothing more than a discussion about the role of government. How much influence should they have in our daily lives? You would think we could sit down and find some common ground. So, getting back to the main point, does Hollywood send a liberal message? Probably yes for the most part. But. from a Christian viewpoint, I’m not sure that’s the main issue. I’m interested in sending a Biblical message. And I don’t care if that’s perceived as liberal or conservative. The words of Christ transcends all politics. Hollywood is a mission field that needs to be reached and redeemed. I hope we don’t find another reason to turn our backs and walk away. That would be a tragedy of mass proportion.

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