Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Turning the Other Cheek

There's a new trend popping up on television shows these days; the Conservative as victim. Aaron Sorkin's "West Wing of Late Night Sketch Comedy" Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, features a character named Harriet Hayes, who is (in theory) creative, artistic, good spirited, funny, and *gasp* a fundamentalist Christian. She faces persecution from all sides, whether it's from Christian groups who accuse her of not being Christian enough, to people on the street who unfairly accuse her of being a soulless bigot, to her own colleagues, who have to bite their tongue to keep from mocking her (in their eyes) neanderthal religious views.

In a recent episode of Law and Order, Charlotte Ross plays a thinly veiled Ann Coulter who is the victim of a homicide attempt. At the same time that we are meant to revile her hate filled speech, we are consistently reminded that extremism from the other side of the political spectrum is just as dangerous.

What's this all about? Has the hopelessly left leaning Hollywood machine which controls all dramatic media finally come around? Is this an olive branch in response to the recent power shift in Congress? Or are writers just running out of victims to save in their dramas?

I'm not sure. For one, I think it is dangerous to assume that everyone in the television industry are liberals to begin with. I think it does make sense that there are a lot of liberals in Hollywood and the television world, simply because the left wing has always been more protective of the right to creative expression than the right. However any talk of "liberal media" of any kind tends to degenerate into ad hominem arguments and anti-semitism.

That having been said, there is some extent to which these representatives of the right are shills. While Harriet Hayes is portrayed as thoughtful, kind, funny (she does funny voices anyway) and intelligent, in the end, verbal jousts with her Jewish, rationalist boss Matt Albie always seem to leave her at a loss for words. Charlotte Ross' character may be a victim, but she is also unapologetically bigoted, belligerent, and much more interested in being inflammatory in order to sell books than in bringing people together through rational argument.

The problem is, so is the real Ann Coulter. The problem is, people whose credo is to put faith over reason are not ever going to win a rational argument convincingly. I applaud the efforts of these television producers to present a wide range of viewpoints, but I suspect that most people who identify as Christians or Conservatives will not identify with these characters, and in fact will see liberal puppet masters pulling the strings.

I personally do not object to the portrayals I have mentioned. As someone on the left side of the political spectrum, they ring true to me. However, if the television powers that be really wish to bring the entire political spectrum under one big umbrella of television watching consumers, I think there are other ways. I think they can present Christians who identify as Christians because they are nice even to people who are jerks (which would put them at odds with the current "Christian" administration). I think they can present Conservatives who believe that an overly active Federal Government stunts the ability of individuals to grow and succeed in the business of their choice and thereby undermines capitalism (also putting them at odds with the current administration).

Maybe those portrayals are not dramatic or interesting enough. On the other hand, maybe it's a crawl before they can walk situation. Portrayals of minorities on television went from non-existent, to stereotypical, to (at least in some cases) realistic. Perhaps portrayals of Conservatives will go the same way. In the meantime, I guess we can all sit back and enjoy the show.

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