Here’s a literally mind-bending story you might have missed. Amy Chozick at the Wall Street Journal reports that NBC Universal has been planting little behavioral messages in NBC television shows like Law and Order, The Office and even Millionaire Matchmaker. Characters on these programs have, to give a few examples, become obsessed with recycling, railed against eating red meat and modeled theoretically “green” behaviors like driving hybrid cars and switching to “energy saving” light bulbs. 30 Rock even welcomed wild-eyed environmental conman Al Gore as a guest star.
This creepy practice is apparently called—hang on to your lunch—“behavior placement,” and is meant to influence viewers (that’s you) to environmentalize your evil ways, eat better and exercise more. It’s also, of course, meant to attract advertisers who like to be associated with these sorts of “feel good” themes. As the Journal article points out, it’s all in keeping with NBC-U’s environmental slant. In 2007 NBC-U created “Green Week,” which was the “programming component of a larger ‘Green is Universal’ campaign” and brought in 20 mil in advertising. If you go on Universal Picture’s website now, you’ll find a banner for the aptly-titled animated film Despicable Me, with the banner command: “Go Green.”
Now you could say this is just a little nauseating but harmless green cheerleading with a bit of profit-making thrown in. Or you could claim it is part of NBC-U’s Orwellian corruption of both its news and entertainment factories in order to propagandize for environmentalism at the behest of its parent company, General Electric. GE is heavily invested in alternative energy sources and would take a hit if the government developed a more sensible energy policy—like, say, drilling for more oil here at home rather than buying oil from people who want to kill us. The less free the market is, the more power government has to restrict our lives, the more money GE is likely to make. So if that cute, funny Tina Fey can help you laugh and forget that whole freedom thing, bring her on.
In any case, hiding behind the “harmlessness” of recycling messages doesn’t in any way lessen the arrogance, intrusiveness, elite authoritarianism or just plain creepiness of NBC-U’s on air attempt at behavior modification. And it also doesn’t disguise the dispiriting lack of protest from the creative staff within the company. “We haven’t had any pushback,” chirps Angela Bromstad, president of NBC’s Primetime Entertainment. Really? Why not? Aren’t there any writers or producers or actors working there who just want to tell stories without telling people what to think or how to act? Aren’t there any creative folks being hired by NBC-U who’d rather put other kinds of “behavior placements,” in their programming: placements encouraging people to pray to Jesus, say, or to fight against the growth of big government or to flip the bird to environmental hysteria? Not one? Anywhere? In that whole big corporation? Doesn’t that tell us something about who gets work in Hollywood?
The same arrogance that thinks subtle mind control is all right if the cause is good—and profitable for the corporation—sees nothing wrong in hiring only those creative voices who agree and will go along. That’s how the right has been squeezed and squeezed out of the entertainment industry. Of course, this is no surprise. We already know leftists are elite authoritarian statists who feel justified in bullying and mind-controlling where they can’t yet legally restrain. But it is yet another reason for conservatives to be mindful of the power of the arts and reclaim them in all their off-beat, messy, occasionally obscene and always influential variety.