FIREFLY is the #2 Conservative TV Show?

Hoo, boy: The conservative blog Exurban League has produced a list of “the top 25 conservative television shows of the last 25 years,” which follows in the tradition of other lists of “conservative movies” (I found the link via John J. Miller, author of a widely-mocked list of “conservative rock songs”).

Like most lists of this kind, it suffers from several problems. One is the implication that it’s hard to enjoy something if you’re not in sympathy with its message. Another is that it assumes that a conservative character equals a conservative message: sure, Family Ties had Alex, but he always had to learn some liberal lesson at the end of the episode. But the biggest problem is that it takes certain values that are basically apolitical and defines them as “conservative.” I mean, Magnum is a conservative show because it portrays “a well-adjusted, happy Vietnam veteran?” CSI Miami is conservative because the hero is a practicing Catholic? And the argument that Buffy is conservative because it “acknowledges that evil exists in the world and we have a duty to fight it” is actually one I’ve heard in several places, and it makes no sense unless you completely buy into the stereotype of liberals as pure moral relativists. Otherwise, belief that evil exists is not a political value at all (it doesn’t become political until you decide what is and is not evil).

A lot of these lists tend to start from very strange assumptions about what will piss off liberals; another recent example is Sex and the City 2, where several conservative commentators floated the idea that liberals would hate it because it was against the oppression of women in Muslim countries. The idea being, presumably, that liberals love Sharia law. If you set up a liberal strawman, almost anything seems conservative by contrast. You could just as easily create a conservative strawman to prove that every show ever made is actually liberal, e.g.: 24 has portrayed corrupt businessmen, conservatives love businessmen, therefore, 24 is a liberal show.

Actually, I’ve heard that argument too. And it makes sense, even though 24 is one of the few shows on the list that genuinely does try to incorporate conservative political messages into its storytelling. Not that that’s bad, but the point is that even 24 can be interpreted in a different way, because a) The demands of storytelling tend to make it impossible to push a coherent, consistent message — which is why Law and Order has always had a mix of lefty and righty takes on current issues, sometimes even within the same episode — and b) Abstract themes, morals, and values are not the same as policy prescriptions, meaning that until a show takes a specific stand on a policy issue, its messages can come off as politically ambiguous. That’s why politicians frequently cite the same values to justify totally different policies.

I think ultimately it makes more sense to accept that most television shows are the product of a strange mix of views, often instinctive rather than thought-out, and that many values and messages can be interpreted as both “conservative” and “liberal.”

Update: In comments, Kevin (the writer of the linked post) has a reply.




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FIREFLY is the #2 Conservative TV Show?

  1. Crazy list with really tenuous logic. Based on this logic, I’d call THE WIRE conservative in portraying government agencies & Democratic politicians as corrupt and not adequate solutions to social problems. Or ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is conservative because Lindsay’s attempts to be a liberal activist are insincere and incompetent.

  2. On the surface, Firefly definitely seems conservative. Big, centralized authority ragging on outlying colonies (the movie brought this out more explicitly)? That's like a conservative talking point played out.

    Dig a little deeper into the series and note that there was plenty of problems from those living outside the government, even with the corruption those accepting the government were quite prosperous in comparison, the abuses of that government to the outlying colonies (and select members of its own populace) were exceptionally egregious, and that the outlying colonies had been conquered by war and were under a state of quasi-occupation, but simple narratives are so much easier, aren't they?

    Anyway, now you've kick-started that nerdy little voice in the back of my head that says "Firefly was awesome, watch it again!" that I thought I had finally silenced… thanks Jaime.

    • And Craig, if you want to see Serenity again, 4 cities in Canada are showing it on the June 25th weekend to raise money for what many would no doubt call a liberal charity- Equality Now. It's part of a global effort called Can't Stop the Serenity.

      • I don't see anything on their website that makes this conservative object, but I can't find any references to their position on abortion.

        • Nevermind, found it.

  3. "And the argument that Buffy is conservative because it “acknowledges that evil exists in the world and we have a duty to fight it” is actually one I've heard in several places, and it makes no sense unless you completely buy into the stereotype of liberals as pure moral relativists."

    When Barack Obama was asked "Does evil exist?" in a nationally televised debate, he replied: "Yes, evil exists. But it's not our job to fight evil, that's God's job." Stereotype my ass; Obama admitted on friggin' national TV he believes it's not the job of humans to fight evil. I guess we're supposed to kick back and watch the evildoers do their thing and not interfere, or so Obama believes.

    And yeah, "liberals", by which you mean socialists, are moral relativists, on their best days. It's very mainstream in Canada for socialists to say "I can't judge so-and-so or such and such"; judgmental is considered a pejorative in large swaths of our society. Surely a professional critic sees the problem with that?

    I especially enjoy the knee-jerk response of socialists to, well, anything: "Yabbut, what about this kinda sorta similar scenario?", for example invoking the Crusades, something that happened nearly a thousand years ago on another continent, as a rebuttal for, well, anything.

    Exurban league is a neo-con blog, from what I can tell, and neo-cons loathe conservatism more than socialists do; thus, fail.

    "and that many values and messages can be interpreted as both “conservative” and “liberal.”"

    Anything can be everything is nothing, in other words. Blech.

    • I don't know what's more impressive, your seeming lack of critical thought or the huge jumps in logic.

    • Sorry, you totally fail at understanding liberals. Please try again.
      No one person speaks for the liberal movement, or all liberals. If one did, that person would not be Obama, as he is not and has never been all that liberal. He’s moderate to a fault — literally, leaping to compromises that don’t make sense from anyone’s point of view — with some liberal positions and many conservative tendencies. As for the quote, I suspect you’re taking it out of context or misinterpreting it, but I don’t really care, because he doesn’t speak for me.

      I’m an atheist liberal, raised by atheist liberals. I have no problem calling some things evil, and saying we should fight them. Things such as the Holocaust; Israel’s endless occupation of the territories; 9/11; the invasion of Iraq; the Taliban’s oppression of women and everyone else in Afghanistan; torture; killing of civilians (by the US, Israel, or Hamas); Jim Crow; Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; laws against homosexuals whether those laws are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Communist; the War on Some Drugs; selling drugs (including tobacco) to children; depriving people of knowledge of birth control; banning abortions; forcing abortions; lying about science; Japan’s atrocities in WWII; our internment of Japanese-American citizens; rape, including prison rape; etc.

      Not much relativism there; lots of things where I’ll say “no, you should not do that, and it’s legitimate to use force to stop you.” Not the same list as you might make, but definitely a list.

      But I will note one thing: it’s specific actions and behaviors that I confidently label as evil, not people or countries. Nazis and Taliban and the North Korean government come close to pure evil, but in general people and countries are mixes of decency and guilt. So yeah, if you ask me “is X person or country evil?” I’m going to waffle and make comparisons, because almost no one is pure good or evil. Especially countries or groups of people. And that might look like relativism, but only if you insist on being able to label people, rather than what people do.

      “Exurban league is a neo-con blog, from what I can tell, and neo-cons loathe conservatism more than socialists do”

      Funny how this neo-con blog has a top entry on conservative — not neo-conservative — TV shows, and a solicitation on the right hand side “Want to reach engaged, tech-savvy conservatives? ” So, you fail.

      • I am a Protestant liberal, raised by semi-observing Protestant conservatives. And it's like you read my mind and typed it out!

      • Not much relativism there, eh? How about the fact you include laws against homosexuals whether they be "Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Communist", as if there is some comparison between current Judeo-Christian laws against homosexuals (no gay marriage? no gay blood?) and some current Islamic laws against homosexuality (hangings? stonings?).

        Your whole post reeks of the moral relativism that has become typical of liberals. For every example of "evil", you have an example from the other side of "evil" ("the war on drugs – selling drugs", "9/11 – invasion of Iraq", etc.). Relativism isn't about having qualms calling things evil, it's about having the misguided belief that everything is equal, and the cowardice to not take a stand against something without equally demonizing the other side.

    • The actual quote from Obama would appear to be "…One of the things that I strongly believe is that we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God's task. But we can be soldiers in that process, and we can confront it when we see it….", found here:
      http://www.readersdigest.com.au/life/exclusive-in

  4. You've got to feel kind of sorry for the people who write these kind of things. They're so immersed in political and cultural debates they really can't seem to see anything as apart from them. In this case, it's even weirder, as conservatism isn't even present in a philosophical way in most of those shows, rather it's basically being defined as the absence of some specific liberal element. Really, really strange.

    • so very true. and sad.

  5. Actually, if you noticed, #18 on the list is West Wing, which I think almost everyone would agree is the archetypical liberal entertainment show, but it made the list well-written, well-constructed conservative characters on it who were easily the equal of the liberals on the show.

    The point of the list was simple: What shows are out there that conservatives could watch and enjoy without wanting to throw something at the TV? What shows DON'T have the obviously liberal hero who beats down the conservative strawman in the last 10 minutes and basks in the glow of others as his way, the only true way, prevails.

    And yes, I am looking at you, Boston Legal.

    By all rights, that show should have made the list because of Denny Crane, but I never could get over how Denny's beliefs were at best tolerated on the show and never taken seriously. Great show, just way too many strawmen. I don't mind debate (far from it), what I mind is being talked down to. To quote a line from another Aaron Sorkin show, "The way I see it, your side (the left-wing) hates us (the right-wing) because you think we're stupid, and our side hates you because you think we're stupid."

    ExKev

    P.S. As a recovering Canadian (born and raised in Calgary), being mentioned on macleans.ca is quite an honour. Thank you!

    • Good explanation; I seem to have misjudged you.

      And, even as a person who generally considers himself liberal, I'd just like to agree with you about Boston Legal. I somewhat enjoyed it the first season or so, but either it got worse, or I got warier, because after that I couldn't stand it. It's one thing to have a message, another to treat the whole show as a vehicle for educating the ignorant masses. Snide, simplistic, and (unjustifiably) superior, it was perhaps the most annoying show I have ever watched.

    • So you list South Park for making fun of equal rights for gays, but list Buffy despite increasingly prominent and favorable homosexuality?
      I always thought KotH was meant to be a parody, but I never did see much.

    • And if I wince when Boston Legal's sentimentalized closing statements are passed off as actual legal argument it doesn't mean I'm conservative, just that I think Boston Legal isn't funny when it gets on a simplistic and moral high horse.

  6. For the record, most of us went to hardcore punk when the boomer/hippies failed to deliver on media censorship and loosening drug laws. 12 year old nickname "hippy", hair down to my ass, to 20 yr old "Mikey" mohawk and little time or respect for poseurs or scum like the keaton character mentioned. (world-view at time, fear not).

    Rebellion frequently came in the form of beating and/or robbing said hippies/drones/businesses. I don't think the list author quite understands the term rebellion, especially the teenage variety. Just fyi.

    "14. Family Ties
    The show that gave us Exurban Jon Alex P. Keaton. When your parents are hippies, the only way you can rebel against them is to be a conservative."

  7. Many of the shows listed I do not see as conservative. Most are just shows. The article headline list Firefly, while I don’t see it as conservative, I feel it blantantly is a libertarian fantasy. ( In which the Tea Parties are moving the conservatives more libertarian ie the Pauls.)

    The gun weilding entrepreneur with a grudge against the authoritarian government.

    The series and the movie was basicly saying “don’t tread on me.”

    The only thing I can think of in Firefly that would be anti-libertarian would be the hinted at Blue Sun Corperation is the puppetmaster. Too bad the show never got that far. (I don’t know about the comic.)

    • IMO Firefly is less blatant anything when you pay more attention to the details. We’re never told what the Independents were fighting over, or whether they were independent before the war — conquest or failed rebellion? The aired pilot episode (“Train Job”) involves stealing… free medicines being provided to a plague zone by Alliance; our heroes shamefacedly return the drugs when they figure this out. Later, when Book is injured, they take him to an Alliance cruiser and ask for help. Not very libertarian. They initially don’t get it — no universal health care for the Rim, I guess — it’s easy to infer they had some reason to hope the request might be honored. Standard of living in the high-government Core is way higher than the low-government Rim — which has a fair bit of debt-slavery and maybe outright slavery, religious fanatics, and other oppressive conditions.

      Unfair to invoke material not shown, but Joss has said he viewed Alliance as a decent place to live, with imperfections that the show would have focused on for plot. He was inspired by some post-Civil War book and wanted to show life as the losing side; it’s easy for some people to assume Firefly is thus really Southern propaganda — written by a NY liberal? — but Mal could have been on the losing and wrong side, too. Or partially wrong.

  8. "where several conservative commentators floated the idea that liberals would hate it because it was against the oppression of women in Muslim countries. The idea being, presumably, that liberals love Sharia law."

    Didn't enough film reviewers decry SATC2 as anti-Muslim and xenophobic to prove the conservative commentators point? I'd agree with you about some of the other tenuous links to either conservatism or liberalism, but in this instance, the commentators were dead-on.

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