Why conservatives who want more conservative shows won’t get their wish

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, April 19, 2010 13:50 EDT
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I’ve been thinking a lot about this post that Roy put up about reading Big Hollywood after skipping out after awhile:

Scanning the headlines at Big Hollywood after a long absence is kind of disorienting:

SUCKER PUNCH SQUAD: Villain in Will Ferrell’s ‘The Other Guys’ Is Friends With….Dick Cheney!

‘Glee’ Sucker Punches Republican Fans

HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: Hate the Pope, Love Polanski

Hrm…? The Leftist Entertainment Media’s Sure Excited About Will Ferrell’s New Movie

You forget that there are enough people out there with this utterly distorted sense of grievance — this notion that Hollywood is a branch of the government and, like all the other branches, is constitutionally obliged to fulfill the desires, not of its paying customers, but of an agitated “patriotic” minority filled with alleged boycotters of its product, or be crusaded against — to sustain a website.

He’s certainly not off to talk about the paying customers angle of this. A lot of people linked this research done by a GOP firm that focused on the political inclinations of fans of various sports, but one aspect that went largely unmentioned was fascinating to me:

Dems tend to watch more TV than GOPers, and they dominate most kinds of programming.

So Roy’s more right than he probably thought about how the teabaggers are completely unreasonable on this front, demanding that their non-ideas and values and tribal identification be reflected back to them on TV, despite the fact that most of the producers and most of the audience don’t want any part of that. But I’d argue that even if it weren’t true that Democratic voters dominated not just the staffs of TV shows and movies but also the butts in the seats, it would be hard for teabaggers to get exactly what they want out of Hollywood. And that’s because the official values of our culture are liberals ones, and bucking that in an open way in a movie or TV show would be experienced even by conservative members of the audience as fascist at best, sociopathic at worst.

Even conservatives feel this strong need to wrap their reactionary ideas in liberal garb in order to make them socially acceptable. So racist stances like advocating for literacy tests to get the right to vote, fighting affirmative action, or suggesting that the President wasn’t born in the U.S. are repositioned as brave stands against racism. Trying to take women’s rights away is cast as being done in order to protect women, or as some grand stand for fairness.

It’s hard therefore to imagine much in the way of Hollywood products that wouldn’t seem “biased”, aka liberal, to conservatives, since the official values of our society are liberal. Programs promoting intolerance openly would be horrific. Even conservatives would blanch at a character making a speech supporting the idea of colonist war for the hell of it. Greedy CEOs exploiting the working classes are so commonly regarded as villains, it would be hard to reposition them as heroes. Imagine trying to portray a group of young men beating the shit out of a gay person as heroes; it can’t be done. I’m trying to imagine a show like the one that Big Hollywood seems to want, where a major religious figure is portrayed as a hero for helping rapists elude justice, and I’m guessing that even they wouldn’t be happy with the results.

It’s not like there are no right wing plots in the standard Hollywood fare. Hollywood has managed to repackage a lot of reactionary stuff in liberal-sounding arguments to that it can sell it to the public without audiences turning away in disgust. Vigilantism or authoritarianism is an easy sell, as long as the hero’s motivations are fundamentally about justice, which means wrapping it up in a liberal package. I’ve complained at length on this blog about how Hollywood portrays torture as an effective means of interrogation, for instance. Wishing that torture worked? Doesn’t get more right wing than that. But of course, it’s always in the service of liberal values at the end of the day, isn’t it? I’m obsessed with “The Shield”, and while the character of Vic is supposed to be an anti-hero, I think he can be read as a misunderstood hero from a right wing point of view. But if you look at it from that angle, you start to see the issues. Vic still pays lip service to liberal values to make him more sympathetic. He cuts corners and breaks the rules not because he’s in love with order for its own sake, but because he genuinely feels that the citizens of his district deserve to live in peace. Though he’s casually racist, we’re routinely reminded that he’s not a “real” racist, because he respects citizens of all races, and treats everyone he comes across like a human being.

Even blatant anti-feminism is quickly becoming distasteful to all audiences. I’m trying to imagine how a conservative audience that adores Sarah Palin would react to a storyline affirming the idea that women are stupid or can’t do anything except make babies. The idea that women can be competent is even more acceptable on TV than it is even in real life, because audiences like to think well of themselves, and tend to get antsy if their sexist prejudices on that front are pandered to. I suppose conservatives can take heart in the fact that women on TV are still imagined to be baby-crazy, man-obsessed, and therefore flighty. But even so, I think that if TV dispensed with female professionals who are good at their job as characters, even conservative audiences would miss them.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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