‘Propaganda is good as long as it’s my propaganda’
6 March 2018
Storytelling is one of the last bastions of escapism for today’s people. With the political climate growing warmer by the day, it’s good that we can still retreat to the world of fiction for entertainment and reverie. At any time, you can jump into a movie, TV show, or book to take your mind off things and de-stress.
What all these mediums have in common is creativity, born from the mind of a writer or a team of writers. These are people with biases and leanings just like anyone else, and sometimes those opinions seep into their work.
This is what drives some liberals and conservatives mad, and whether they know it or not, they both want to control the entertainment you consume.
I can admit that as entertainment, stories are not harmless. The morals featured in a narrative can influence readers and viewers in a way that can go undetected. We read our children fairytales because we hope they’ll take something away from them, be it not to trust strangers or to respect other’s belongings. If a story teaches bad morality, then we come to incorporate that into our own thinking the same as if a good lesson was taught.
Social liberals and conservatives both want to control what lessons are taught or inferred from our entertainment, ultimately to the detriment of creative freedom. If a piece of media isn’t progressive enough, it’ll get blasted by the left-wing; if it doesn’t reflect enough traditional values, it’ll be lambasted by the right-wing.
Despite their differences, in this case, these two sides are of the same proverbial coin. They both have an agenda and want to promote it. They’ll criticise media that doesn’t fall into their worldview.
I don’t mind Ben Shapiro. He isn’t the unstoppable debating force some of his fans make him about to be, but I still think he has a lot of good points for a wide variety of topics. When it comes to his fixation on traditional values, however, he’s often way off the mark. This is true for a video he did, titled, ‘Hollywood Wants Your Money…and Your Mind.’
In it, he details how the stories told on television are often hiding a left-wing message. To illustrate this point, he first uses the sitcom Friends and one of its ongoing storylines to show how Hollywood promotes the birth of out-of-wedlock children and other ‘promiscuous’ behaviour.
Shapiro’s hypothesis is that Hollywood is purposefully loading our brains with ‘social justice’ messages through the entry point of well-written television. It’s his belief that ‘writers, producers, directors, actors, create characters we keep wanting to spend time with, then have those characters act in ways most of us judge wrong.’
In the case of Friends, Shapiro argues that by having the characters, Ross and Rachel, be unmarried parents, the show’s writers are secretly normalising the idea of children being born out of wedlock. The problem is, though, Shapiro’s hypothesis only works in real life if everyone is an idiot. It’s predicated on the assumption that people can not think for themselves and separate media from reality.
This is a position that the left tends to take, but one that is equally adoptable for those on the right. Shapiro saying that Friends promotes out-of-wedlock babies is as ridiculous as Jack Thompson saying Grand Theft Auto increases carjackings or Anita Sarkeesian saying that video games cause sexism. The latter group—feminists—is especially ironic, as Shapiro himself is famed for mocking feminists and ‘SJWs.’
What I absolutely hate about this line of thinking is how it ignores what goes on creatively behind the scenes, passing logic on its way to fabricating a conclusion.
Not every film has to meet a quota of LGBT characters and Asian characters. Not every piece of media has to pass the Bechdel test. Some stories only need male characters, the same as how some stories only need female characters.
The ability to steal cars in Grand Theft Auto is not a real-life lesson to players; it’s a gameplay mechanic based on what began as a racing game.
Ross and Rachel having a baby without getting married is not propaganda; it’s a plot point. It’s an unexpected twist that heightens their romantic drama and adds a season worth of story to the show. And so what if it’s not a good message to promote? The show isn’t promoting it. Depicting a situation is not the same as encouraging it, yet all Shapiro seems to care about is depiction.
He mentions topics like abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism as being normalised through its mere depiction on TV. Well, what’s the solution to that? Should writers be banned from writing about relevant issues in case they normalise them?
Shapiro’s main argument is that Hollywood has a strong influence on our culture and promotes left-wing ideas based on that. His answer? Fight fire with fire, of course.
In his book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV, Shapiro calls for ‘more conservatives’ to ‘hone their creative skills’ and ‘dedicate their lives to entertaining others.’
If you take into context what Shapiro already believes about entertainment being used as political propaganda, then this should be quite terrifying.
It’s time we respected people’s ability to think for themselves. Yes, Hollywood’s a biased place. Sometimes writers draw on their politics and experiences to tell a story. There is a possibility that executives and producers force messages into your entertainment. But a left-wing film is unlikely to make someone leftist the same way a violent film is unlikely to make someone violent.
We can discern entertainment from reality. Let’s not limit the stories a writer can tell because their influence may be too ‘powerful.’
If you want to deliver a progressive message through your art, then you should be allowed to. If you want to deliver a conservative message through your art, then you should be allowed to. And if the audience disagrees, maybe it’s time for them to turn off the TV.