By Leonard Adame
In the mid-1950s, when we finally bought a TV (no remote, three channels), I quickly explored the channels. I found the Mickey Mouse Club (I still love Annette), Lassie (Annette’s rival I’ll admit, as weird as that sounds), and The Lone Ranger and Rin Tin Tin. A little later, I discovered Leave It to Beaver and other like shows, all escapist and in some ways fascist.
The more I watched this “entertainment,” though little did I know, the more my consciousness was transformed. My self-image too suffered. I became instinctively and therefore acutely aware of how my physicality and skin color somehow didn’t match that of the characters I came to love. The same was true of my friends, who were all White as my mother demanded that we leave the West Fresno barrio to live near Roeding Park. There was nothing to educate me on how TV (as well as movies) and its characters, the shallow stories and the skewed image of what should believe and look like and value were detrimental to my psyche.
Things haven’t changed much. The programs are even more escapist these days, more right wing and more powerful, given the glitzy production values, impossibly beautiful locations and stars/characters that are physically perfect and always astute. Even when they get compromised, in the end they retain their virtues and heroism. And most of the stars are White, with a few people of color thrown like black pepper.
The programs that, to me, these days are most guilty of right-wing propaganda are the CSI shows—or any cop show actually. Their display of right-wing indignation (that criminals are incessantly assaulting the Homeland, that they hate freedom, that they want to destroy American institutions and Christianity) saturates viewers. Granted, there are some supposed anti-hero cop shows, like Backstrom, but in the end they too use their righteousness to root out the threats to this country in one form or another.
In fact, one show, Homeland, is damnably right wing, even though it pays lip service occasionally by showing some Muslims as decent people. It continually, perhaps more than others, pounds home the idea that nearly all American military are righteous soldiers and the conflicts/ wars are simply about protecting the American way of life.
Early precursors of this mentality could be found in the shows of my childhood: Rin Tin Tin and in movies put out by Walt Disney, such as Davey Crockett and other like westerns, in which the bad guys were red-skinned savages. Occasionally, The Lone Ranger let us see that Tonto is representative of alleged White tolerance, a tamed savage loyal to a White man (perhaps the first anti-hero because he wore a mask).
On one Sunday, I was watching Disney’s The Alamo (my grandfather had just purchased a color (and miraculous) TV. As Santana was attacking the Alamo, I kept rooting for Davey to save the day— out loud. Suddenly, I felt a sharp rap on the top of my head: My grandfather had clubbed me with his cane, saying, “No seas sonso. Que no ves que estan matando Mexicanos?” Perhaps that was the painful beginning of my multicultural education. I shed a few tears, but I didn’t know what he meant because I never saw myself as a Mexican. After all, I was born here in Fresno, which made me an American didn’t it, and I didn’t speak Spanish much.
Well, these days, the shows I’ve mentioned serve to underscore and teach people much the same: that only one group is superior, that only White pigment matters and that anyone who doesn’t agree is a potential or real threat to all that’s holy. Not to mention that that the American government is righteous, having only the welfare of Americans in mind.
Yes, the shows occasionally reveal that there are some traitors in the government, people who plot against Americans in collusion with bad guys from all over the world. Of course, this is true, but this fact does not nearly outweigh the heavy and oily propaganda coming from today’s TV writers and producers who script these paeans to a terribly skewed view of American and geo politics.
In the end, too many viewers, never having had the advantage of being taught critical thinking, much less unbiased history, absorb the values and views of the CSI-type shows—and any law enforcement programs as well. (Dragnet too fit into this propaganda-driven ideology.) So they run around seeing themselves as looking and being like their favorite characters, thankful they’re Christian and thankful to be White. It happened to me, and it took several years of college to rid myself of my distorted self-image and consciousness. My “brainwashing” was insidious; few understand fully how we are all psychologically altered by what we see on a continuous basis.
One last barb: Perhaps Blue Bloods is the worst offender. Tom Selleck’s character’s views on American life rival those of early Nazis. As Commissioner Reagan, head of the New York City police department, he redundantly reaffirms a superiority that has led to incessant arrogance and a view that says in no way can anyone who is not White say anything accurate about what it means to live in this American society.
Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys relearning about human beings from his grandkids. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.