It always humors me when Hollywood pats themselves on the back when they attempt to deconstruct conservative messages. They basically have three-step move. Step 1: Place a conservative character in a position where they would have to make an unenviable decision. Step 2: Project a liberal understanding of how conservatives think on said character. Step 3: Force said character to make the decision that contradicts his/her ideological beliefs, thus confirming that the liberal reasoning behind conservatism is correct. This often plays out very subtly on political shows such as The West Wing, but it always amuses me when shows that generally stay away from politics decide, seemingly at random, that they should make a statement.
For this, I turn to a recent episode of the NBC drama/thriller series “The Blacklist.” For those not familiar with show, the FBI’s most wanted criminal turns himself in, and begins assisting to bring down the rest of the world’s most dangerous people and groups. Of course, in order to overly dramatize things, these criminals are often able to carry out their plans using science that doesn’t actually exist as of today, but they make it seem as though this criminal has figured out something nobody else has and is using their invention for evil. One such criminal, Hannah Hayes, developed the ability to implant a fetus into a man. Hannah’s backstory was that she was raped, and because she lived in a state where abortion was illegal for any reason, she was forced to carry the pregnancy to full term. In an act of revenge, she began kidnapping the men she felt prevented her from getting an abortion, and surgically planting embryos and wombs in them, which forced them to either carry the pregnancy to term and have a C-section, or get an abortion. The individual Hannah chose to go after was the governor who enacted the abortion law in her state. Step 1: Unenviable decision complete.
For the next step, it’s important to understand that there is a long-standing belief on the pro-choice side that pro-lifers (especially men) only care about making abortion illegal so they can control women’s bodies. Therefore, the writers of the show had to project this belief on the governor, but they couldn’t just have him come out and say that, so the obvious way around it was to have the governor toy with the idea of having an abortion, the same thing he made illegal for women. After all, now that it was a man who was pregnant, and not a woman, it was okay for the male governor to kill the baby. Step 2: Projection of liberal understanding complete.
Of course, in the end, he goes through with the abortion. In fact, the governor decides to travel to another state to have the abortion done since it’s illegal in his state. And just like that, The Blacklist explains why conservative politicians are hypocritical. They actually use the inverse of the argument religious people project on those who disagree with them – there’s no atheist in a foxhole. In both cases, it’s easy to claim that, but I have yet to hear of a non-fictionalized story where an atheist is about to die, and prays. Regardless, the writers of The Blacklist have successfully shown us that a male conservative politician has determined that it is okay to get an abortion as long as it is a man who benefits from it. Step 3: Contradictory decision complete.
So now, as long as we are in the realm of fiction, let me explain to you how a story like this would play out if it happened in real life. Firstly, the governor would never had hidden the pregnancy. The show went to great lengths to explain that the governor was extremely embarrassed about what happened, and that if news of the pregnancy got out, it would ruin his political career. This is obviously false. If, somehow, a pro-life male was able to carry a pregnancy, he would shout it out loud. News like this would only boost a politician’s popularity. In the show, the governor was never shown to be scared of the medical implications or the fact that the baby wasn’t actually his, only that news of the pregnancy and subsequent abortion would ruin his career. To contrast this character, the show also introduced a preacher who was likewise kidnapped and suffered the same fate. He chose to carry the baby to full term and get a C-section, but he also decided to keep it quiet. This, too, would never happen. Carrying a baby to full term would only serve to further the careers of both men. How strong would a politician look if he was able to carry that baby to term? Nobody would ever question his convictions on anything again. Neither seemed too concerned about the pain and physical damage that can be done, only about the embarrassment it would cause.
As I mentioned before, there is a common argument that conservatives only want to control women’s bodies, and that’s why they are against abortions. Feminist warrior and hero Gloria Steinem is quoted as saying “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be sacrament.” This is obviously a non-sequitur, but I’ll play that game if you’d like. You say that if men had babies, abortion would be legal? But look at it the other way. If men could get pregnant, there wouldn’t be a single woman alive who would be pro-choice. Women would see abortions as immoral, and an advantage of the patriarchy, and no woman would stand for it. See? I can project onto liberals too.
Now, I’m aware how silly it is to base this article on a fictional TV show that uses science that doesn’t exist (and likely never will) to make a point about abortion, but please let me explain why this is important. This show is trying to make a point. Those who watch it come away with a particular viewpoint of conservatives and the pro-life movement. If pro-lifers leave it as is, despite the fact that it’s obviously fiction, those on the fence can possibly be urged to take a side based solely on how individuals on either side are portrayed in fiction. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how many people based their political opinions on Jon Stewart’s commentary back when he was doing the fake news (and not fake news like how Trump describes all news he doesn’t like; actual fake news). The answer is “a lot.” So, if someone in the middle of this debate sees this portrayal, the obvious message is that conservatives are hypocrites, and they don’t deserve to have the opportunity to explain why they are right.
Portrayals of conservatives in the media are often called out as inaccurate, but portrayals of conservatives in fiction are often allowed to stand. Political commentator Andrew Breitbart was fond of saying that politics is downstream of culture, and here is a clear example. Politicians use the culture to sell their agendas to the people, and it is the people’s job to call out the inaccuracies in the politicians. So that’s what those of us with a platform of any kind are tasked with doing – calling out inaccurate portrayals for the sake of political convenience.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.