Complaints that TV sitcoms undercut the traditional American family have been commonplace for the last decade. But it took Fox News host Glenn Beck to turn the idea into a far-reaching conspiracy theory.
One article from 2003, for example, remarked that "comic portrayals of men have become increasingly negative. The trend is so noticeable that it has been criticized by men's rights groups and some television critics."
Now, seven years later, Beck has caught up with that trend and woven it into his theories about an ongoing assault on American culture.
"It's indoctrination!" Beck ranted on Thursday. "They are going after our churches -- but they're going into our families, as well. ... They're targeting our traditions."
He pulled up a quote from the seminal June 1969 position paper of the radical Weathermen which asserted, "The role of the 'wife-mother' is reactionary in most modern societies. And the disintegration of that role under imperialism should make women more sympathetic to revolution."
The paper, titled "You Don't Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows," was authored by Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, and others and laid out the founding principles of the group later known as the Weather Underground. The quote cited by Beck was part of a section which claimed that the women's liberation movement and the decline of traditional gender roles would lead more women to traditional left-wing radicalism.
Ironically, the Weather Underground itself has frequently been assailed for its unrepentant sexism. By 1976, there had been a split in the group, with Dohrn's faction charging that "the WUO has a reputation in the Left for deep male supremacy" and accusing Ayers and the Central Committee of "'setting out to destroy the women's movement,' 'selling out the Black struggle,' and betraying the principle of anti-imperialism."
That was not at all how Beck saw it, however, "The most important aspect of any family is the 'wife-mother' and she's just a reactionary capitalist plot to destroy women's rights?" he exclaimed incredulously. "What?"
"Is this line of thought -- is this apparent in our world today?" he went on, somewhat incoherently. "Before the Weather Underground came, father and the role of father in the house -- the family unit is being attacked. ... The role of a mom, stay at home ... is being demeaned and ridiculed."
For additional proof of the effectiveness of this insidious Weather Underground plot, Beck drew on recent TV sitcoms. As Media Matters puts it, "Things were plugging along quite dully on Day 3, the final installment of Beck's solipsistic version of why he hated the '60s when he was 5 years old, when the D'Oh! ex machina moment arrived in the form of Homer Simpson, that notorious Weather Underground plant to upend the nuclear family and drive the kids away."
"With the exception of The Cosby Show, I can't think of many TV shows where the dad is the smart one," Beck suggested, contrasting the current situation with 1950's sitcoms like Father Knows Best in which "the role of the father was strong."
"But now look at our culture!" he exclaimed, pointing to an image from The Simpsons. "This is the funniest show ever written on television. I love this show. But dad's a schlub."
"This isn't a mistake," Beck insisted, slipping into his most conspiratorial tones. He offered a slightly edited version of another Weatherman quote: "The crisis in imperialism has brought about a breakdown in bourgeois social forms, culture and ideology. The family falls apart, kids leave home, women begin to break out of traditional 'female' and 'mother' roles. There develops a 'generation gap' and a 'youth problem.'"
"Do you see?" Beck asked triumphantly, making the breathtaking leap to blaming the decline of the traditional family in the 1950's and 60's on a radical position paper from 1969. "The breakdown in our culture isn't a cause of the rise of this crazy ideology -- it is the result of this, it depends on it, it's a path to power for the radicals. They must have it. They consume it. They feed off it."
"If we don't restore our families," Beck concluded, "we are vulnerable, and so are our children, to power-hungry radicals. They have made it very clear that power was their ultimate goal."
This video is from Fox News' Glenn Beck, broadcast July 29, 2010.