The left is the dominant force in media today. Leftists control all the levers of cultural power, from the TV writers’ room to the film sets in Hollywood. These leftists use their cultural power to dictate what you can and can’t see.
The latest casualty is an episode of the hit sitcom “The Office,” which aired on NBC from 2005 to 2013. Without explanation, Comedy Central removed an episode titled “Diversity Day” from rotation, likely in an attempt to avoid offending some viewers.
The episode mocks lead character Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) as he makes a fool of himself by using various racial stereotypes, employing satire to illustrate just how terrible Scott’s racism is.
Emily Jashinsky, culture editor at The Federalist, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about the new censorious left, as well as how conservatives can claim their place in the media landscape.
We also cover these stories:
- The House Foreign Affairs Committee holds its first hearing examining the rushed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fallout from it.
- House Democrats say they intend to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy to finance their $3.5 trillion spending proposal.
- An upstate New York hospital system will have to “pause” delivering babies because of a staff shortage caused by some employees’ refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Emily Jashinsky, culture editor at The Federalist, as well as director of the National Journalism Center. Emily, thank you so much for joining us.
Emily Jashinsky: Thanks for having me.
Blair: Excellent. So, let’s start with your work at The Federalist. You focus on cultural topics like film and TV, and one of the great headlines that I found that you wrote about recently was …
Jashinsky: Oh, boy.
Blair: … “Why Won’t Comedy Central Air The Office’s ‘Diversity Day,'” which is this article that highlights an episode of “The Office,” which is this very funny comedy, and it’s controversial, this particular episode. So, before we get into that specifically, what drew you to writing about pop culture topics in general?
Jashinsky: For me … The book that has shaped my worldview more than anything else is “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray. And the reason that book resonated and changed me is because it gave research and argumentation to a phenomenon that was murkily defined in my own mind as I was growing up outside Milwaukee, about how differently our lives are based on our ZIP code.
Basically, what I was seeing on television, and actually “The Office,” I remember having a moment where I realized how low the ratings of “The Office” were, compared to programs like “Two and A Half Men,” or “NCIS” at the time. And it was like, wow, this is a show that educated people in certain areas of the country are watching a lot more than people in other areas of the country.
And that was just like a light bulb moment, and reading that book really gave voice to something that I had noticed. And so, I’m really interested in … and because I’m an obsessive consumer of lowbrow pop culture … I should say obsessive, or just incorrigible, an incorrigible consumer of lowbrow pop culture, I think it’s really important for conservatives not necessarily to endorse what’s happening on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” but to understand it, and to understand what’s happening on “The Real Housewives” and why, for instance, those shows have some of the most educated viewers of any shows on television.
Why is that? And why are people watching it? What does it mean about our culture that this is something that’s popular with this group of people? And for me, that’s just much more … It’s not that it’s more important, but it’s that, as somebody who actually enjoys paying attention to those sort of artifacts of our popular culture, it seemed like, as a conservative, something that I could offer …
That I’m not ashamed, that those are not guilty pleasures for me. They’re just things that I really enjoy watching. And it is important. It is important, and it can be hard to do it without endorsing those cultural artifacts, but it’s possible, and it is very important to understand.
Well, as a fellow consumer of pop culture, I do think it is quite important that we, as conservatives, are making sure that we are part of that, that we are part of this process, and that we are engaged with culture, and we are engaged with what is going on in the culture. So, specifically about this “Diversity Day” episode, would you be able to explain to our listeners what was so controversial about it, and then what you wrote in your piece?
Yeah. So, what was controversial about it was actually what we used to call anti-racism, and now that phrase has been co-opted, of course, by Ibram X. Kendi, who is paid by our tech oligarchs to the tune of millions of dollars to spread this idea that anti-racism is something that you are either … It’s like this dichotomy. You are either a racist or an anti-racist. And so he would call the anti-racism of “The Office” … and I think this episode, season one, so it would have aired in the early aughts.
Blair: I think it was the second episode ever, I heard, yeah.
Jashinsky: It is literally the second episode. And he would call it just flat-out racist. But what it was, actually, at the time was a satire of racism. And the article that I wrote … and you always end up writing these things from time to time because some episode of “The Office,” or episode of “30 Rock,” or episode of whatever movie, whatever it is, becomes … We’re no longer allowed to touch it or enjoy it, or act as though it had any merits whatsoever.
And so you end up having to repeat this argument that is basically an argument in favor of satire as an art form. And that’s essentially what we have to do now. We now have to argue to the left, the artistic left, and the art-friendly left, why satire is valuable, and “Diversity Day” is controversial because there’s a scene at the end where they are asked to play a game that involves heavily using stereotypes to guess somebody’s race, or gender, or whatever they’re assigned by a placard on their forehead, or an index card on their forehead. And you have to mimic the race on that person’s index card.
And what it does is, shows ugliness of stereotypes, which is on full display. The only reason anybody is laughing at these jokes, it’s not because they’re racist. They’re laughing because the jokes are so racist, not the jokes themselves, but the lines that come from Michael Scott’s mouth. It is just so nakedly racist. And when you laugh … .
This is the basic argument in favor of satire. When you laugh, you reinforce your shared cultural boundaries of what’s right and what’s wrong, of what’s racist and what’s not racist. That’s the value of satire, and it’s the value of satire on “Diversity Day,” where we could all see how gross stereotype and prejudice is. Stereotyping and prejudice are.
And so to have the network dedicated allegedly to comedy pull that from its lineup … So, whenever Comedy Central … This has been happening for at least a couple of years. I reached out to them for an explanation. They did not get back to me. Whenever they play season one of “The Office,” they play the pilot, and then they play episode three. And they just skip right over “Diversity Day.” Controversial episode, yes. Also, one of the most popular episodes, one of the best episodes, one of the most useful episodes.
And this is the network that’s dedicated to comedy in the country, so it’s a pretty disappointing statement on where we are.
Blair: Definitely. And I think you’re hitting on that topic that’s so important, is you’re not agreeing with the character who’s making the statement.
Obviously, when Michael says something inherently racist, you’re not saying, “Yes, Michael Scott, you are 100% correct.” It’s like, “Wow, Michael, you’re kind of an idiot.”
One of the other things that I think is so fascinating about what you said is that the artistic left is this opponent that we have now. It’s so censorious the way that the left handles these topics nowadays.
Obviously, you think about “The Office” as this prime example of, oh, it’s a comedy. And we don’t like what the comedy is, so we just have to cancel it. We have to skip over it. Was it always like this, or are we in this new, woke era where if you don’t like something, you get rid of it?
Jashinsky: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s like this neo-Tipper Gore-ism, but with the parties flipped.
Well, I guess not the parties, but with the ideological, I guess, groups flipped, because it used to be that the left was the bastion. The ACLU used to be a very different organization, for example. I reject what you say, but defend your right to say it. That used to not just be a principle that was important to a lot of people, especially on the artistic left, but on the …
That was just like an American value, period. It wasn’t a controversial thing. It was actually something we championed and celebrated. And when the ACLU would do the horrible work of defending legitimate racists, and just the most disgusting people, we celebrated that as something that we do in this country that a lot of other countries don’t. We let you say that because we know that your ideas are going to fade in the sunlight. Right?
We know that debate is going to defeat your arguments. We know that having a culture of free expression will defeat it. And what’s interesting, and I forgot to mention this earlier, is that Steve Carell, the star of “The Office,” one of the biggest stars in Hollywood period, a couple of years ago, he came out and said in an interview with a magazine that it would be impossible to make “The Office” today because so much of the humor is predicated on bad behavior. And that’s totally fair game because it’s, again, how we decide and how we understand what constitutes good and bad behavior, and a lot of that is through comedy, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.
And so this is a liberal Hollywood artist saying the show would just be impossible now. No network would pick up the show. And that means we would be losing out on this decade-long piece of satire that everybody loves in this country, almost everybody loves by now.
It caught on a lot with streaming in a way that it didn’t even when it was on the air. We would just lose all of that, all of that laughter, all of that community, all of that just gone because no studio would pick it up because we can no longer … at least the people who are the arbiters of our popular culture, are no longer willing to take the risk that they get the backlash, personally or professionally, from people on social media, from the woke mob.
And it is absolutely telling on the trajectory of the left, that it went from laughing at, I guess, a Democrat like Tipper Gore, to now being even more censorious than Tipper Gore.
Blair: Right, right. It is shocking how we’ve gotten there. I’m so glad that you actually mentioned Steve Carell’s comments about ‘Would you be able to make “The Office” today?” because there was another show that was this quintessential show of the times, “Friends,” which has now been critiqued as this very insensitive show, even though at the time back in the ’90s, there were some relatively progressive elements to it where …
Jashinsky: Oh, big time.
Blair: Yeah. So, I mean, do you agree with that sentiment that we wouldn’t be able to make these shows nowadays, and what does that say about our culture now that two of the most popular shows couldn’t be made?
Jashinsky: It’s interesting. We’re going in a direction that will be very consequential in a very … Within a few years, we’ll see how this is shaking out, because I think it’s absolutely true. Steve Carell is correct, and a lot of people who’ve observed this with “Friends” are correct that the big networks would not pick up these pilots anymore.
And if they did, they wouldn’t allow the shows to be written as they were in a way that resonated with a lot of people because they’re too afraid to resonate with the people, right, because the people have these tastes that are bigoted and problematic. And so, these shows would not air the way that they do now.
But there’s something really interesting happening with The Daily Wire, for instance, where there’s suddenly this money that is showing up for heterodox art because there’s market demand for it. There’s this immense market demand for people who are not towing Hollywood’s line.
If you watch most comedies that have come out in the last 10 years, they’re miserable. They are utterly mediocre at best. There are so few really good comedies that have come out, and it’s because Hollywood is very risk-averse, and even more so when it comes to comedy because so much comedy has been reevaluated for the worse. And there’s just nothing good. There’s no culture of free expression that’s allowing the commercial art that Hollywood produces to be good and funny. And so, that means there’s major market demand for actually, really good comedy.
And so, I think some of it will sneak through the gates of the mainstream, but you’re also going to start to see more money show up for … When the Daily Wire snatched Gina Carano … So, Gina Carano, star of “The Mandalorian,” one of the biggest shows on television, is axed over a social media post, a meme. She ended up at The Daily Wire, at a conservative media company.
She’s now making a movie with them. She just started filming a movie that she wrote and directed. They just wrapped their first original movie, that’s coming out in January. They already bought a film that I think had run at Sundance, and they premiered that earlier this year. So, they’re moving into the space. And the more that happens, it’s not just going to be conservative companies picking it up. It’s going to be companies that are like, “Wait, if we can raise the capital, we can make money off of this, because there’s a huge market demand.”
So, that’s why I say in the next few years, I think we’re going to see a very consequential trend in either direction.
Blair: I think what you’re talking about is that movie, it was “Run, Fight, Hide,” I believe.
Jashinsky: “Run, Hide, Fight,” mm-hmm.
Blair: Yeah. I never saw it, but I heard it was quite a good movie. But it seems like one of the things that conservatives are now picking up on, is that we were on the defensive in terms of American culture, and the best way to get back on the offensive is to use the market.
You find these movies that we can produce. There’s a demand for it. So movies like [“Run, Hide, Fight”] or this movie with Gina Carano, we’re going to produce it, and we’re going to create it for that audience. Is that what you’re saying?
Jashinsky: Totally. And conservatives have known that for a long time, but haven’t really known what to do about it, because there wasn’t a will among good artists or people who are … not good artists, but people that have the means to create commercially viable art.
So stuff that looks like it’s on the same level of quality as what people go to the movie theaters to see, and what they see when they turn on NBC and prime time. That (A) used to be much more difficult to replicate with less capital, and (B), they’re just used to be less capital. You couldn’t really make good conservative art. But there’s a show that a lot of listeners are probably familiar with called “The Chosen.”
And I remember right when that show … Early in the pandemic, actually before the pandemic really started, I interviewed the creator of the show, and I was like, “Holy smokes.” This film has already crowdfunded more money than the “Veronica Mars” reboot, which was the biggest crowdfunding success in history. And nobody’s talking about it.
Nobody’s talking about it. And it turned out over the course of the pandemic to become just huge. If you watch the show, you can see that it does really have a quality level that’s similar to Hollywood productions.
So to viewers, it seems … And the way, it’s so interesting how they crowdfund. You pay it forward after you watch an episode. It has a little thing on an app. So, you download “The Chosen app,” you watch an episode, and then you pay it forward for the next people to watch an episode, basically. You don’t have to pay, but you can. And it’s really easy, it’s simple, and the product looks just like a Hollywood product.
So, this stuff is getting easier, and the demand is getting bigger. I think that spells … That’s very good news for consumers.
Blair: Absolutely. Now for some of our listeners or viewers who might not be 100% familiar with “The Chosen,” “The Chosen” is …
Jashinsky: “The Chosen” basically is a … I don’t know totally how to describe it. It’s the Gospels in TV form. So it takes the Gospels and breaks them down into episode-size bites and weaves them into the broader narrative. And there are some, I guess, fictionalized elements of it to make it more palatable as a story, I guess.
There’s some dimensionalizing of the characters, for instance, and what their lives might have looked like. It’s not like word-for-word, verbatim things out of the Gospel, but it’s basically true to the stories of the Gospel, and a lot of it is actually word-for-word. So, it takes the Gospels and televises them, basically, in a bite-size episode format.
And it is so popular. It just has taken off. It’s funny, because The Atlantic wrote a story about it a month ago, which … a couple months ago. And I was like, leave it to The Atlantic. After The Federalist wrote this 18 months ago, The Atlantic to suddenly catch on and be like, “We’re the intellectual … We’re really telling the left and the intellectual class what’s trending, what’s happening. So, you’ve been missing this for 18 months.”
But it has become just extremely popular. And again, shows like that, what The Daily Wire is doing, this is very good news for consumers.
Blair: Right, right. They have the choice, and the options to look at something. And it seems almost like there’s part of this idea that it’s just the topics that conservatives care about, as well. It’s not even that you’re not actively hostile, which a lot of shows on television seem to be now to conservatives. It’s “Hey, this is a topic you care about. This is a topic you’re passionate about.”
On that note, I’m curious if you believe that maybe as Gen Z or the upcoming generations start to grow older and they start to have different demands for cultural products and cultural artifacts, as you refer to them, do you think that’s going to be a motivator as well for these companies to start diversifying their portfolios in terms of what media they’re creating?
Jashinsky: Oh, totally. We already see that a little bit with a lot of media companies have different verticals. But the biggest thing we haven’t talked about yet is that the landscape of our entertainment … . Our entertainment landscape is splintering into niches. And the example I always use is, how is it possible that the worst man in late-night comedy, Stephen Colbert, has the highest-rated show of the network hosts?
We can talk about how Greg Gutfeld surpassed him in the ratings recently, and the reason for that is … That’s another one I wrote a couple of years ago when Gutfeld was really successful. I was brought up on “Red Eye.” I love that show, and it really shaped my beliefs and why I entered the conservative movement.
The reason that Gutfeld is really successful, the reason that Colbert is really successful, is that we … You don’t have to put up Johnny Carson’s numbers anymore to be successful in late night. You need to corner a niche, and Gutfeld does it really well. I think Colbert does it really poorly. But if you are somebody who wants a dose of resistance comedy every night, you’re tuning into Stephen Colbert. Right.
And if you’re an anti-woke person, you’re tuning into Gutfeld. And you don’t have to be Johnny Carson that appeals to everyone anymore. And this happens in the news media. It happens in the entertainment media. It’s happening just across the board.
And that’s a good thing. It’s also a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it really gives consumers choice, and it should scare people in the mainstream when they’re not providing the right kind of option, they’re only providing what the people in their C-suites over at Comcast or NBC Universal want, and they’re really restricting their product to those boundaries.
But at the same time, it also means that we have to appeal less and less to what makes us similar, and what makes us laugh as a country, what makes us cry as a country, what makes us proud as a country. You don’t have to appeal across those boundaries because mass media is splintering into niches. And that means you just have to appeal to what your niche likes about the country, or what your niche hates about the country.
And that, I think, is a real loss. I hope it’s one … I don’t know how it happens, but I hope that mass media actually is able to be robust in the future in some form because it does really have a unifying value.
Blair: Right. Right. What you’re talking about is this niche-iffication of comedy in a sense of who can you even listen to at all. I’ll give you an example. To me, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert …
Jashinsky: So bad.
Blair: But they’re all the same, too. It feels as if they’re not really that distinct anymore. Whereas you can get somebody like a Gutfeld … And I’ll tell you my personal favorite was … Oh gosh, what’s his name? Very tall, Conan O’Brien.
Conan was great. I very much enjoyed Conan, and it felt like there was something unique about him. But what we’re getting now, as you said, this niche-iffication. If you are a leftist, you listen to John Oliver. You listen to Stephen Colbert. You listen to all these people. Whereas if you’re on the right, you listen to Greg Gutfeld.
One of the things that I’ve also found particularly true when it comes to these types of cultural discussions about comedy, and about television, and film, is that politics is downstream of culture. So, that was Andrew Breitbart who used to say that. Do you agree with that sentiment that what we’re seeing now is this kind of … politics is now reflecting our cultural landscape? And if not, why not?
Jashinsky: Yeah, it’s a little of both. And so I’ve always been a big believer in that maxim from Breitbart, that politics is downstream of culture. I think also it’s … the slight revision I would make to it, and this is … Terry Schilling is someone who’s changed my thinking on this.
Politics is often downstream of culture. It happens in the other direction as well, and you can see that in terms of if you look at really bad decisions that our leaders have made that have shattered communities around the country, closed factories, shattered the communities and the fragile ecosystems that existed in various countries … communities around the country.
That has created … Those political decisions have created a culture of despair in a lot of places in the country. You can talk about the same thing with opioids. So, it goes both ways.
But I think the value and why Breitbart’s maxim caught on and has been so influential in the conservative movement is because it’s something that we have done so poorly at understanding for so long that … We dedicate so much time to the politics and so little time to the culture, partially because there just aren’t a lot of conservative artists. There aren’t a lot of … conservatives also … We’ve had wonderful publications that have done great commentary and writing on high art, on opera, on literature.
But that’s not what most people are consuming. And so that’s what Breitbart really understood, and I think that’s what … . He understood something that the conservative movement didn’t understand at the time, and is getting increasingly better at understanding. So, I think yes, that is very important. Although I also think it’s important to understand that some of our cultural maladies have actually come from political decisions, as well. And it does go in both directions.
Blair: Excellent. Well, Emily, we are running a little low on time, so I want to end on a positive note. So, we talked a little bit about some of the success stories. You mentioned “The Chosen.” You mentioned some of the work that The Daily Wire is creating.
Are there any other success stories that conservatives can point to as, like, “Hey, look, this is something that’s viable. This is something that we can actually make work,” and then secondly, do you have any advice for our listeners who want to directly push back against the left and the war on our culture?
Jashinsky: Yeah. The Substack revolution is a huge success story. Shows like “Breaking Points,” my friend Saagar Enjeti and Krystal Ball, they run that show because they caught just on fire when they hosted “Rising” on Hill TV. And it showed that there was this demand for antiestablishment, really independent news coverage.
We’ve seen that with leftists like Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, who have just massively successful Substacks, or people on Patreon who are independent newsmakers and do a really good job. The concern there is there aren’t gatekeepers, and maybe some people are going to spread false news. I haven’t really seen that happen yet so far, but the Substack revolution, the Patreon revolution, these are all really positive. The fact that podcasts like this exists, that is a really, really positive thing going forward.
The democratization of the media does have a lot of good stuff, like The Federalists, a great example, independent news website that has broken tons of news, basically was breaking the news about the Russia hoax, right, for years before that was ever … . The entire corporate media basically created the Mueller investigation, a special counsel investigation, that consumed their attention for years. We were one of the only people that were casting doubt on that and with good reporting.
And so, I would point to stories like that. This is really successful. And if you want to be supportive of this trend and to help us move in the right direction, it’s a matter of paying for Substacks, paying for Patreons, relying less and less on the gatekeepers, and the failed institutions, and the media, the entertainment media, and the news media. Relying less on them. That’s not to say don’t rely on them at all, but pay for the stuff. Pay for the independent creators that are doing a good job because that supports them. But it also shows that there is room in the market for capital to invest in independent sources, independent shows, independent everything, and that’s the right direction.
Blair: We’re always fans of the market. So, that was Emily Jashinsky, culture editor at The Federalist, as well as director at the National Journalism Center. Emily, thank you so much again for joining us.
Jashinsky: Thank you.
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