This is an entirely new subject I added while restarting this series and so much needs to be said. Since this is about television, I can thankfully limit my complaints somewhat. What I have to say may make this the most controversial post in the series to date.
Now, before we begin, I’m not necessarily saying that stars shouldn’t be involved in politics or disputes. On one hand, I don’t have much of a problem with opinionated stars when I agree with them — or they’re generally right. I also don’t have a problem with someone who is very thoughtful in their response, even if I disagree with their opinion. What I do have a problem with is when that person is clearly wrong, misinformed, acts like a bully, and inserts themselves in other people’s fights.
There should be rules where news outlets, shows, and entire networks are concerned. While shows in particular can have an overriding message, it takes away from it when the writers take sides politically and in regards to personal beefs. This is doubly true for news outlets and networks, which work best when they are more or less neutral.
Actors and Comedians Taking Sides
Politics will always come to the fore in Hollywood. Of course, movie stars will often be the most vocal, especially when it concerns national elections and politics. There are also vocal television stars, including and beyond the personalities you will find on cable news networks. You might see some of those stars talking about local and state politics.
Again, I think these stars do have a right to be involved with politics. It’s actually good if they expect dissenting opinions and refrain from silencing them. The format they use to express their opinions is also important, too. The problems arrive when they let their political views inform many decisions they make and how they treat others. It’s even worse when it’s paired with religion.
For an example of a person at the acceptable end (from where I stand), take Bill Maher. He does illicit hate because of his liberal viewpoints and jokes, but he has conservative guests on Real Time with Bill Maher and his show is on HBO. This is the same network that carried Dennis Miller Live for 8 years, and Miller made an ideological shift form liberal to conservative. Also, Maher has called out political extremists. He has done so for those on the right and is currently calling out the extremists on the left.
A TV actor I have to mention is Scott Clifton. He’s not well-known, as he has had work on soap operas, but he has let it be known that he is an atheist. From where I stand, he doesn’t force his opinions on people but he started a YouTube Channel where he expresses his views. He rarely updates it, but I still think the way he expressed his viewpoints is acceptable.
For an example of an actor at the unacceptable end (where I stand), take Kirk Cameron. He is a born-again Christian and he became one while he was still starring on Growing Pains.
After a while, it became clear how Cameron was influencing the writing. Mike Seaver changed and there were only certain things he would do. Previously, this character was a liar, slacker, and a bit of a con artist. But Cameron raised objections to Mike being written like that any longer. He also got Julie McCullough fired, which I mentioned earlier, in Episode 7 of this series. Additionally, it looked like he began shutting out his long-term co-stars. From interviews, actors like Alan Thicke (“Jason Seaver”) attest that they weren’t even invited to Cameron’s wedding.
But it doesn’t stop there. In 2007, Kirk Cameron was part of a town hall with Ray Comfort. Parts of it were shown on ABC’s Nightline. Near the end of the segment, Cameron was shown bringing up some Photoshopped images of animal mash-ups. Cameron helped that since there was no such thing as the Crocoduck, that evolution didn’t exist and therefore God did. He would double down on this on Bill O’Reilly’s show.
There is also the issue of talk about other stars. Once in a while, there will be news of stars in one industry having beef with each other. People will generally take sides, whether they are friends of the people involved or spectators.
Honestly speaking, these things are none of our business, but we will still talk about these things. There’s no excuse for stars who insert themselves into the discussion, because they are then using a platform to do this.
For example, take Kathy Griffin. Sometime in 2005, Rosie O’Donnell first joined ABC’s The View. At the same time, Star Jones — one of the original panelists — was being let go and Meredith Vieira had already left for NBC’s Today Show. Anyway, Griffin was a guest on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and she talked about Jones. As a friend of O’Donnell’s she insulted Jones and took exception Jones made about The View post-firing. Griffin called Jones “a bitch” and joked about O’Donnell beating up Jones on the set of The View and pulling out Jones’ extensions. Suffice it to say, I don’t really like Griffin anymore.
In late 2015, Viola Davis won her first Emma, as the Lead Actress in Shonda Rhimes’s How to Get away with Murder. In her acceptance speech, Davis spoke about the difficulties black women face in Hollywood, named due to the dearth of suitable roles. On Twitter, Nancy Lee Grahn — an actress I have long respected and who has played “Alexis Davis” on General Hospital since 1996 — made ill-advised comments about that speech. She was wrong, but later apologized.
And finally, one huge example of a star saying too much is Katherine Heigl. Formerly “Izzie Stevens” on Grey’s Anatomy, Heigl had to insert herself when there was news that her former co-star Isaiah Washington referred to T.R. Knight with an anti-gay slur. She insulted the writing for her character on the show — and various movie projects. She once turned down consideration for an award because she didn’t like the work she had one year on the show and criticized the types of movies Seth Rogen made despite starring in one of them. While I might agree with her criticisms of the latter, it was tactless of her to make those thoughts public. She burned her bridges. Now she is struggling to find acting work.
Shows Taking Sides
Cop drama shows tend to be heavy-handed with their messages and even moreso than other dramas. It makes sense, since they are mining the emotion from law enforcement. The job is dangerous and detectives and district attorneys have to deal with motives. That opens up the writing to a plethora of possibilities.
Every once in a while, these programs will take details from popular news and make episodes from them. These “ripped from the headlines” episodes tend to be a bit more political than the others and the writing generally suffers.
Law & Order: SVU is known for these episodes and one of their most controversial installments was based on harassment in online gaming1 — or a revolt based on something else entirely, but some still want everyone to believe that it’s about harassment in online gaming. Believe it or not, it’s been a little over a year since that episode aired. Anyway, the episode definitely chose a side and it was clear who they modeled some of the “victims” after. Not only that, but the writers took all types of tactics hackers and Internet harassers have been known for (like “Swatting”) and incorrectly assigned them to the side they were against. The episode was lampooned and panned. And look at this:
In short, that episode was a disaster.
Networks Taking Sides
When networks take sides, it is usually in the form of a news outlet. Either a respected program has an unfortunate guest or one of the usual suspects is at it again.
If you have been following this series, you should know why I loathe cable news networks. Those like FOX News or MSNBC are politically aligned and those like CNN court controversy while trying to appear neutral yet having hosts like Nancy Grace on Headline News. The first two are guilty of endorsing specific candidates for president; that means they will be against candidates from the same party. They really take their BS to another level when they openly through their support behind people who generate an amount of headlines.
As I mentioned before, FOX News propped up Cliven Bundy with disastrous results. Before that, they were creating their own Teabagging event, which was naturally lampooned due to the unfortunate word usage. They also took sides in regards to George Zimmerman, after he faced trial for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
MSNBC and NBC News took sides in regards to race, among other things. In particular, audio was altered in the Zimmerman case to make it look like Zimmermann expressly referred to Trayvon Martin as a black youth. There was another case involving Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law and Larry O’Donnell tried to push the parents of the Jordan Davis to talk about race; they were firm in keeping the conversation about the Stand Your Ground Law.
Additionally, MSNBC has taken sides in regards to modern feminism. In 2014, they gave a platform for Brianna Wu to make allegations of abuses by gamers online. By this point, the issue had been politicized and used as an argument for modern-day feminists. In contrast, feminists like Christina Hoff-Summers were given less of an opportunity to speak. While we’re on this topic…
When Anita Sarkeesian appeared on at least two programs to talk about online bullying in the gaming community, those programs took a hit. Sarkeesian is a polarizing figure who is widely hated by those in the gaming community and many others because she has been known to lie2. It was doubly hard for people to take a program like Nightline seriously when they tackled the issue of online harassment because not only did they include a known con artist, but news programs also generally fudge the details when talking about things like video games and anime. Part of the segment was shown on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and this pissed off many his fans. He has since recovered. I’m not sure I can say the same for Stephen Colbert, who had her on The Colbert Report shortly before it came to its end and his subsequent move to CBS.
We’re all human and thus will form opinions about various topics and each other. But I take exception to people abusing their platforms to insult and disparage, to take control of a narrative, or to shove their opinions downs the throats of others. And those who associate with them may be damaged as a result.
News outlets and networks in particular have a responsibility to inform, not entertain and withhold information from an issue with more than one side.
This discussion continues. Next up, I will be talking about author avatars, some of whom may just be taking sides politically.
1This is not to say there is no online harassment among gamers. There certainly is and it can be seen on videos when users are cursing each other out and where some have SWAT teams sent to their homes [while they are streaming], A.K.A Swatting. Women are harassed, but it’s definitely part of a larger problem with the Internet. Every dirty word in the book is hurled by trolls and anyone from either gender is in danger of being harassed online, outside of gaming.
2The thing about Sarkeesian is that she professes to care about one part of online harassment while profiting off her supporters, those in the gaming establishment, and anyone who is misinformed. In 2012, she started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a 12-part series on Tropes vs. Women in video games. It’s 2016 and that series has largely been abandoned. She is now asking for more money to start another series of videos. Do a little research on her and carefully examine some of her arguments.