VH1's Sins of Omission
by L. Brent Bozell III
There were no political conventions on television the week
of August 19, but that doesn't mean advocacy programming was absent from the
prime time schedule. VH1, MTV's adult-oriented sister network, offered a
five-part documentary, "VH1 Presents the '70s." And how predictable
it was. The series' two ideologically themed installments amounted to a salute
to the radical left while depicting conservatives as disreputable, mostly
unseen players during the decade.
Monday's segment, "Power to the People,"
celebrated the left's perceived major early-'70s successes: the end of U.S.
involvement in Vietnam and the resignation of Richard Nixon. It emphasized the
then-young baby boomers' part in bringing about those events -- an interesting
proposition given that these youngsters had nothing whatsoever to do with
Nixon's resignation. He self-destructed, but not before destroying the
hippies' political champion, George McGovern. But the historical record was
not going to interfere with the segment, which wallowed in, as the Grateful
Dead's Bob Weir put it, "a magical time [when] life [was] full of art and
"Power to the People" reflected the decade as seen
through the eyes of Weir and others on the countercultural left, with no
attempt at balance. For their sakes, it was a good thing, too. Weir wondered
why we fought in Vietnam; an interview with Oliver North would have provided
the answer. John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame) bragged about avoiding the
military draft; John McCain describing the hell he went through as a POW in
order to best serve his country would have ended Oates' romance with
cowardice. Robbie Robertson of the Band claimed that after Woodstock, rock
music "was kind of the voice of the people"; an answer from...oh,
"VH1 Presents the '70s" featured interviews with
dozens of leftist musicians, writers, and academics. The likes of Nixon and
Ronald Reagan popped up a few times in file footage, but in neither of the
political segments of the series were any conservatives interviewed, nor
right-of-center positions advanced. But not even as tendentious an hour as
"Power to the People" could make the late '70s sound like halcyon
days for liberals. At that time, with a conservative tide rising, one that
would crest in 1980, the show's choice for the salient left-wing triumph of
the Carter years was...the anti-nuclear power movement. In the grand scheme of
things, big deal.
Thursday night's installment about black America,
"Right On!," was even more propagandistic. The Black Panther Party
was touted by the likes of Chic's Nile Rodgers: "I had always been
in...this movement and that movement, but...when I got into the Black
Panthers, it was the first time I was in an organization [where] I felt we
could do something." And just what was that "something"?
Certainly not violent militancy -- not once was that aspect of the Panthers
This same blurring persisted throughout the hour, in which
blacks, whether liberal or farther left -- according to VH1, black
conservatives didn't exist -- were presented as monolithically pursuing the
same causes for the same reasons. Angela Davis appeared in an old clip
discussing how "masses of people are able to express their will,"
without a hint that Davis was a Communist devoted to a movement that shot
people for expressing their will. As the show moved into the mid-'70s,
legitimate opposition to racial quotas and forced busing was lumped with
hatred and bigotry: graffiti reading "Kill Niggers" segued into
videotape of Gerald Ford stating his disagreement with judicially imposed
school integration, which was followed by film of a KKK march. You get the
Naturally, this racist ugliness is then linked to Reagan.
Writer Nelson George stated, "You can see the roots of the resegregation
of America really happening during that period from '76...to '80. The backlash
against the civil-rights movement began taking hold. The momentum for what
became Reaganism was really being built during this period." Of course,
VH1 didn't include the counterargument that the backlash wasn't against the
original civil-rights movement, but against a corrupt extension of it that
sought to limit freedom rather than extend it.
Ultimately, "VH1 Presents the '70s" was a
large-scale act of denial. This militant and destructive and very loud
left-wing minority in the '70s never managed to capture the imagination of the
general public. Now as then, the left can't accept that fact.
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