There are very few dystopian novels or movies that fail to use this familiar trope: The all-powerful state that uses the power of television (or other imagery) to manipulate the public and mold opinion toward a desired end.
In America, of course, if you actually watch a movie, you’ve probably already been subjected to such propaganda and manipulation – from Hollywood. While most works of art or entertainment no doubt present a message of sorts, the vast majority of Hollywood decision makers are progressive, secular humanists in terms of their worldview.
In 2012, commentator and writer Jonathan Chait penned a fascinating article admitting that the cultural and political left – of which he declares himself to be a part – had intentionally used Hollywood as an instrument of social change.
From comedian Tina Fey’s “devastating portrayal” on NBC’s Saturday Night Live of former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to “the tree-hugging mysticism of Avatar,” Chait wrote in frank fashion of the leftist capture of and use of “the power of culture as a medium of propaganda.”
“Imagine that large chunks of your entertainment mocked your values and even transformed once-uncontroversial beliefs of yours into a kind of bigotry that might be greeted with revulsion,” Chait said to fellow liberals. “You’d probably be angry, too.”
In his 4,200-word commentary, Chait pointed to example after example of Hollywood’s overwhelmingly leftist slant – and its passionate effort to change American society.
He noted, for example, the ABC drama Thirtysomething, which premiered in 1987 and aired for four years. In its third season the program stirred a hornet’s nest when it showed two homosexual men in bed together – for the first time in television history. The result was the loss of one million dollars worth of advertising revenue.
However, there was apparently a larger principle involved for ABC network president Robert Iger, who cited his “social and creative responsibilities” to air the scene. Iger said: “I am grateful that ABC was willing to air the program at a loss.”
Obviously, if Hollywood was only in the business of producing entertainment to make money, ABC would never have aired the controversial scene. But in Iger’s mind, normalization of homosexuality trumped even the fiscal bottom line.
When they are honest – or caught off-guard – even Hollywood movers and shakers admit to the liberal bias of the industry.
In 2011, conservative commentator and syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro interviewed more than 100 well-placed Hollywood insiders. These industry elites assumed that Shapiro was liberal, and their candor in admitting the open secret of leftist bias resulted in the book Primetime Propaganda.
Typical of their comments was the statement by Leonard Goldberg, executive producer of the CBS police drama Blue Bloods and executive producer of popular past shows such as Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, and Starsky and Hutch. According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, Goldberg said that liberalism in the television industry is “100 percent dominant, and anyone who denies it is kidding, or not telling the truth.”
Power to convert
It is not unfair to argue that, for the last half century, Hollywood elites have become a new class of prophets speaking their version of truth into the living rooms of America. And it is frequently debilitating and corrosive to our cultural mores.
A study released late in 2012, for example, demonstrated the power of television to even erode the marital bond. Dr. Jeremy Osborn, assistant professor of communication at Albion College in Michigan, examined the effect on marriages when people watched fictional romances on TV shows, such as Two and a Half Men (CBS) and True Blood (HBO).
“In this study I found that people who believe the unrealistic portrayals on TV are actually less committed to their spouses and think their alternatives to their spouse are relatively attractive,” Osborn said.
“It turns out that people are warping their expectations with their real-life partners because of what they’re seeing on TV,” he added.
These new prophets have laid out their blueprint for a new America, tearing down moral traditions and, in their place, erecting an entirely new morality. Nowhere is this more evident than on issues related to human sexuality, marriage, and family.
In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Homosexuality, Edward Schiappa, Peter Gregg and Dean Hewes of the communication studies department at University of Minnesota, found that the pro-homosexual sitcom Will & Grace impacted viewers’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians and homosexual relationships. The NBC show was popular on network television from 1998 to 2006.
The Schiappa study surveyed 245 undergraduate students to ascertain their attitudes toward homosexuals and the frequency with which they watched the sitcom.
“The greater the viewing frequency of Will & Grace, the lower the level of sexual prejudice toward gay men,” the study said.
(The study made certain assumptions based on a test developed by Gregory M. Herek, professor of psychology at University of California at Davis. Herek’s scale of approval/disapproval toward lesbians and gay men assumes that disapproval of homosexuality based on religious or other moral precepts is de facto “sexual prejudice.”)
For example, 71% of those who regularly viewed the program believed that homosexual relationships were “normal” like those of heterosexuals, while only 45% of non-viewers agreed; and 60% of viewers agreed with the statement that Will & Grace “has encouraged me to think positively about homosexuals.”
This transformational power of television is undeniable. Chait noted that when then-vice president Joe Biden endorsed same sex marriage in May 2012, he “cited Will & Grace as the single-most important driving force in transforming public opinion on the subject.
“In so doing,” Chait continued, “[Biden] actually confirmed the long-standing fear of conservatives – that a coterie of Hollywood elites had undertaken an invidious and utterly successful propaganda campaign, and had transmuted the cultural majority into a minority.”
Drinking polluted water?
Obviously, Christians have no earthly vehicle to counterbalance Hollywood. It is a Titan, standing alone on the American landscape in the clarity of its moral messaging, depth of its pockets and breadth of its reach.
“This capacity to mold the moral premises of large segments of the public, and especially the youngest and most impressionable elements, may or may not be unfair,” Chait said. “What it is undoubtedly is a source of cultural (and hence political) power.”
Of course, for Christians the power of Hollywood goes beyond mere matters of fairness or balance. When an industry is so colossal and dominant, the spiritual source of ideas being conveyed by that industry becomes paramount.
The apostle John said that the difference between “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” is discerned by this simple test: Whoever agrees with the teachings of Scripture is from God; whoever denies it is of the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:1-6).
Both the Old and New Testaments warn God’s people of the power and danger of false prophets – the purveyors of error – because they lead believers away from the righteousness of the Lord and into wickedness.
If Hollywood writers and producers mock God, ridicule Christians, and proclaim the validity of a life lived in defiance of God’s laws, are they not false prophets?
This doesn’t mean we gleefully condemn them to an eternity in the fiery abyss and turn our backs. We should mourn their blindness and plead to God for their salvation.
But far too many believers embrace the lies of the enemy, rather than reprove them. What sort of Christian welcomes a false prophet into his living room, sits down in his recliner with a bowl of popcorn and a cold soda, and then listens, enthralled, to the false prophet’s poisonous lies for three hours before turning in for the night?
In the book of Jeremiah, a true prophet of God warns the people that, because they have forsaken the laws of God and embraced idols, the Lord “will feed them, this people, with wormwood [a bitter plant] and give them poisoned water to drink” (Jer. 9:13-15).
If Hollywood’s earthly influence is to be challenged, it will be done by the power of the gospel, preached by a holy people. For that to happen, however, Christians must themselves break free of Hollywood’s spell.