Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles
By Steven Philp
It is a common fiction that Jews control Hollywood. Yet there are few more adamant about this misrepresentation—and no one less happy—than Orthodox Jew and conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. According to his new book Primetime Propaganda the producers, writers, and actors based in Los Angeles are, instead, a group of liberals using television to promote a “radical” agenda. Friends counters traditional family values, Happy Days took a stance against American engagement in Viet Nam, and M*A*S*H pushed the merits of pacifism. In an interview with The Independent, Shapiro promises that his book will illustrate how people in the industry have attempted to “shape America in their own leftist image.” The 416-page exposé utilizes interviews with approximately seventy media professionals; this includes what he characterizes as “gotcha” moments, in which those interviewed admit to using television to convey progressive themes. “I was shocked by the openness of the Hollywood crowd when it came to admitting anti-conservative discrimination inside the industry,” Shapiro explained to The Independent. “They weren’t ashamed of it. In fact, some were actually proud of it.”
Among the interviewees is Martha Kauffman—the Jewish co-creator of the critically acclaimed television series Friends—who explained her decision behind casting the sister of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich as the officiate of a same-sex wedding. “When we did the lesbian wedding, we knew there was going to be some flack,” said Kauffman, touching on the prevalence of homophobia in the mid-1990’s. “I have to say, when we cast Candice Gingrich as the minister of that wedding, there was a bit of a ‘fuck you’ in it to the right-wing, directly.” Newt Gingrich has been an outspoken opponent against equal rights for the LGBTQ community; in an interview with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly on November 14, 2008 he illustrated his fear of a “gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us.”
Shapiro is particularly critical of the influence television has had on American children; his vitriol reaches its apex when addressing Sesame Street. He accuses the series—which has received over 100 Emmy Awards—of brainwashing its viewers. The show premiered in 1969, and featured characters like Oscar the Grouch to teach tolerance when one is faced with “conflicts arising from racial and ethnic diversity.” Shapiro touts his belief that the show has motivated minority groups toward civil disobedience, through its messages of equality and sharing. “Sesame Street tried to tackle divorce, tackled ‘peaceful conflict resolution’ in the aftermath of 9/11 and had [openly gay actor] Neil Patrick Harris on the show playing the subtly-named fairy shoeperson.” What is intolerable to Shapiro is the series’ message of tolerance, and that it would encourage young Americans to stand up against the injustices of discrimination.
Shapiro admits that the people he interviewed may have been candid with him because they were unfamiliar with his conservative politics. “There was a certain amount of stereotyping on their part in granting the interview,” he explained to The Independent. “Many probably assumed that with a name like Shapiro and a Harvard Law credential, there was no need to Google me: I would have to be a leftist. In Hollywood, talking to a Jew with a Harvard Law baseball cap is like talking to someone wearing an Obama pin.” Shapiro has been critical of the progressive character of the Jewish American community. In an article posted to Townhall, he explained his opinion that Jews who vote for Obama are “Jews in Name Only,” placed in dialectic opposition to the Jewish community. Considering attempts by the Obama administration to push compromise on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and citing its affiliation with “anti-Semitic” government officials, Shapiro expresses his befuddlement that any Jew would vote for or support our current President. He concludes that these Jews must “not care about Israel. Or if they do, they care about it less than abortion, gay marriage and global warming.” For Shapiro only an uncompromising nationalism defines the Jewish people, while placing primacy on human dignity belies “true” Jewish values. Both his unwavering stance on Israel and his McCarthyism are anachronistic; the conclusion that pacifism, tolerance, and diversity are un-American speaks to an era that we have gladly left behind. Shapiro accuses liberal Jews of creating unnecessary divisions within our community, yet by characterizing them as “not authentically Jewish” vis-à-vis their political imperatives, he commits the same crime. Furthermore, by questioning the veracity of their self-identification with Judaism, Shapiro violates the halakhic mores that mandate our respect toward fellow Jews.
It is an imperative laid out in Deuteronomy that we treat strangers with respect, and the impassioned plea of the prophet Isaiah that we grant the widow and orphan kindness. Counter to Shapiro’s ethno-centric conception of Judaism, protecting vulnerable classes is also a Jewish value; that the television industry bears witness to the myriad facets of humankind—and that series like Sesame Street teach our children to accept these differences—even if characterized as a “liberal agenda,” is one that every Jew should be proud to stand behind.