American Culture

Imagine there's no boycotts: that sounds like Communism to me

Following up on yesterday’s post about how unfair it is when progressives fight fire with fire

One of the architects of the modern conservative boycott movement back in the day was the now-deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the “Moral Majority.” His strategy was simple. Identify those television and radio stations whose programming “promoted” a “liberal agenda” or “secular humanist” values, then leverage the purchasing power of the congregation to bully offenders into changing their programming. Sadly, this brand of thuggery (remember, this is generally the same crowd screeching right now about how “liberals” are “censoring” the “free speech rights” of the richest, most successful, most widely heard man in political talk radio) proved effective enough that it has now become a go-to weapon in the arsenals of interest groups across the partisan spectrum. I personally hate that we have so politicized the economy that you can’t walk into a convenience store without first doing some background Googling on the owner’s party affiliation, voter history and donation record. But I didn’t make the rules, did I?

It seems appropriate that we take a moment to reflect on what one of the greatest moments in American broadcasting history had to say about this phenomenon. On April 12, 1981, WKRP in Cincinnati aired its famous “Clean Up Radio Everywhere” episode, in which a deliberately Falwellian crusader (played by Richard Paul) attempts to intimidate WKRP into removing certain songs from its playlist. What ensues is a pointed, surprisingly thoughtful treatment of the boycott issue (that is, the crusaders get what I’d consider to be a more than fair hearing). Mr. Carlson’s ill-fated attempts to persuade the Rev. Halyers that his tactics were unAmerican presaged the ugly decade of self-righteous censorship to come, one that some years later found Berke Breathed, creator of Bloom County, harpooning the PMRC debacle thusly:

Mrs. Tippy Gorp: Well, Mr. Dallas… we’ve heard your smut masquerading as songs… and we’ve heard how teen prostitution pregnancy, drug use, cults, runaways, suicide and poor hygiene are sweeping this nation. We thought you might like to share with the committee any particular causes you might see for those latter problems…

Steve Dallas: I dunno. Maybe the proliferation of narrow, suffocating zealotry masquerading as parenting in this country.

Here’s part 2 of the WKRP episode. If you watch nothing else today, watch this, and pay close attention to the sequence beginning at the 2:20 mark. I think you’ll find it illuminating.

2 replies »

  1. That was good. If only most dialog today was this respectful and this subtle. My understanding was that boycotts rarely work anyway, only a small percentage of the intended audience actually do it and most revert back or give up after a short time anyway. See the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney.

  2. Interesting – particularly as the song “Imagine” was very popular and new then and John Lennon had just been murdered months earlier (Dec 1980 I think)

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