OPINION: The Entertainment Industry’s Duplicitous Support of Progressive Ideals

Credit: The Washington Post

Credit: The Washington Post

The Emmys may be over, but the awards show proved that the entertainment industry’s leading stars’ staunch support of the progressive Resistance movement shows no signs of slowing.

I mean, I assume that that was the intention. Steven Colbert made some Trump jokes. So did Donald Glover and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Sean Spicer made a surprise cameo to share some self-deprecating laughs and kiss James Corden.

None of this should surprise those that closely follow political and entertainment news, but it you’re opposed to President Donald Trump and his policies, it should be cause for significant concern. The lines between entertainment and news are more blurred than ever, and the former plays a leading role in influencing public opinion. I’m fairly certain that more of my friends spend more time watching the popular news satire and late night shows than they do reading actual news publications. If you’re also a millennial, the same probably holds true for your friends.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with politicized entertainment, but the duplicitous nature of the industry is certainly doing more harm than good. And let’s not pretend that the Emmys wasn’t a political event, because pretty much all media outlets agree that it was. The event’s tapping of Steven Colbert as host was an obvious political move, and the massive success of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” was clearly not a coincidence.

If the entertainment industry genuinely aimed to champion progressive values and showcase solidarity with the marginalized people it claims to support in endless advertisements and late night monologues, why was Spicer invited? Spicer, whose tenure as White House Press Secretary drew more than a few allusions to “1984’s” doublethink wickedness, spent the night guffawing with the media figures that have spent much of the year criticizing him. Giving the man an opportunity to humanize himself and stay in the public eye was anathema to every possible sort of legitimate Trump Resistance efforts.

If those aforementioned values were truly supported Sunday night, Trevor Noah wouldn’t have won an Emmy. Noah’s viral interview featuring Tomi Lahren received widespread praise and his show has enjoyed major spikes in popularity this year. But does debating—some might argue giving a platform to—an influential racist make up for the time when Noah denigrated young Bernie Sanders voters hesitant about voting for Hillary Clinton as children or referred to Antifa as “Vegan ISIS?” He should’ve been lambasted. It’s that kind of smug pretentiousness and ideological hypocrisy—where the racist is seriously debated but potential forces for progressive progress are shrugged off—that played a key factor in Trump securing the presidency in the first place.

Promoting thoughtful and diverse dialogue is necessary and good, but the entertainment industry’s efforts are neither of those things. While industry leaders playing nice with their supposed ideological opponents is not a new development—see Jon Stewart’s interviews with Bill O’Reilly and the former’s appearances on Fox News—it’s a politically insolvent move if any of them actually support serious Resistance efforts. Both ongoing polls and last year’s election results have made it clear that the public has little interest in centrism or compromise, but the entertainment industry has yet to catch on.

Bill Maher has been sharply criticized this year, and for good reason. His softball, simpering interviews with Tomi Lahren and especially Milo Yiannopoulos were reprehensible, as was his bizarre and wildly inappropriate use of a racial slur during an interview with Senator Ben Sasse. Maher may not have won an Emmy, but he was still nominated for one. Some of the arguments in favor of Noah are understandable, and Colbert rightfully slammed Maher’s usage of the racial slur Sunday night, but the fact that Maher was even nominated in the first place is genuinely inexcusable.

Maher might not have received an Emmy, but “Saturday Night Live,” which has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due to its heavy political themes and Alec Baldwin’s terrible Trump impersonation, won big Sunday night. I think The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel summed it up best. Trump was also a guest on Colbert’s show, and though the “Late Night” host later expressed regret for that, hindsight is 20/20. It turns out that such publicity is pretty helpful.

Though this last one is unrelated to the Emmys, remember when Conan O’Brien filmed an episode with Joe Arpaio, a man who has drawn serious comparisons to Adolf Hitler and the North Korea regime? The segment is mysteriously difficult to find online, but we can assume that given recent events, it hasn’t aged especially well.

This all might read like especially harsh criticism of an industry event that, on the surface, is little more than rich actors and actresses patting each other on the back. That said, it’s absolutely crucial to avoid discounting the political importance of both the entertainment industry and events such as the Emmys.

First and most obviously, Trump rose to prominence through his mastery of the entertainment medium, and a significant portion of his campaign’s success stemmed from the fact that many individuals simply laughed him off for not being a traditional politician. Trump aside, the personalities and shows that were present at the Emmys have a profound impact on the nation’s political discourse. These things are incredibly influential, which should make anyone that hopes to push any semblance of a legitimate progressive agenda, incredibly concerned. The Emmys might have preached the Resistance, but the result was the same moral scolding and egotistical complacency in the face of very real political adversaries that has disillusioned so many leftist voters.

This is a systemic issue and the publicly left-leaning entertainment industry is hardly the only one at fault here. The New York Times hiring Bret Stephens, a noted climate change denier, and CNN’s revolving door of shrieking lunatic pundits, such as Corey Lewandowski’s brief tenure at the network, are the laziest possible ways a news organization could go about fostering diverse conversations and constructive cross talks. What goal is actually being accomplished here? Did any conservatives that consider The New York Times to be #FakeNews change their minds when Stephens was hired? His extreme pro-war opinions and factually incorrect views on climate change should immediately discount any notions that it was a move for journalistic integrity. So why?

The answer is likely the same for both the entertainment and news industries: Money. That’s a cynical take, but it’s backed up by facts. Tony Maddox, a CNN executive, openly noted that Trump was “good for business,” and it doesn’t take much research to see that other networks and shows that bombard viewers with 24/7 Trump coverage are also enjoying record levels of success. Colbert’s “The Late Show” suffered a slow start, but has exploded in popularity in the last year due to the host’s increasingly political takes. Though still one of the kings of late night programming, Jimmy Fallon is no longer the undisputed viewership champion, no doubt due to his show’s comparably apolitical themes.

It pays to appeal to one side of the political spectrum, but offering substantive support to the cause is a more difficult, and potentially divisive endeavor. That could equal less money, and therefore isn’t a recommended business strategy.

It’s probably going too far to assume that none of these people could completely care less about the politics they espouse. Most of these individuals have done good work to promote progressive causes and there are definite positive outliersI’ll make a strong argument for the genuine news and political value of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”but at some point, you need to draw the line. High viewership numbers and the funds that follow are the dominating force behind these weak partisan declarations and duplicitous Resistance support, and the Emmys were but the latest proof that the entertainment industry is anything but a proponent for serious political change, despite what one of Maher’s ghastlier, cringe-inducing 2016 monologues suggested. The notion that politicians should have tabled trans rights in order to appeal to more moderate voters is the kind of disgusting and horrifying centrism that is actively hurting the progressive movement. Though that is one of the more blatantly ugly examples of how major industry personalities are betraying the values of the people they claim to support, it’s far from the only one.

Going forward, it’d be more constructive for leftist activists to seek out other industries and organizations that are willing to serve as a genuine vehicle for progressive interests. Abiding by and wallowing in the mainstream entertainment industry’s elitist, self-serving arrogance is a prime example of why so many voters consider the Democratic Party to be out of touch, and if sincere efforts aren’t made to change that perception, that sentiment will almost certainly speak for itself again next in the next election cycle.

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