Some sort of slickster-sounding company called Buyology that does "neuro-insight" recently surveyed 4,000 Americans asking them how they feel about various products. Part of what they learned is that HBO and Showtime are "the most politically polarizing brands in entertainment." Democrats are totally into them but Republicans really are not.
The dislike for Showtime is a little confusing. Its biggest show in a couple years, Homeland, is a paranoid terrorism drama from an old 24 guy, and 24, with its jingo celebration of American might was a big hit among conservatives. Maybe there's just too much sex and swearing on Showtime, a network that has built itself on a platform of graphic profanity and nudity. Or maybe Christian Republicans don't like The Borgias because it makes clergy look pretty venal and conniving? Whatever the reason for the right's dislike of the network, it's a little surprising. But HBO, of course, makes total sense.
America's premiere premium cable channel has been letting its liberal id show a little heavily these days, hasn't it? They've got the new Aaron Sorkin cable news drama The Newsroom debuting next Sunday, which ought to, if nothing else, come cluttered with lots of Sorkin-y center-liberal bloviating. Though the show might not have the total support of the intellectual bastions of coastal liberalism (a fact that conservatives are thrilled about), it'll still be on the air, planting its feet firmly on the left side of the conversation.
Aside from a directly polemical series like The Newsroom, HBO has plenty of shows which display their blueness in subtler, but no less clear, ways. Remember the kerfuffle last week about the fake head of George W. Bush appearing impaled on a spike on Game of Thrones ? That was supposedly done out of budgetary concerns, but the creators did snicker about it nonetheless in DVD commentary. Normally Game of Thrones would seem like a very Republican show — hawkish, all about men and honor and traditional gender roles, only the wealthy seem to have any health care — but gags like the GWB one position it against the right. Even though on the show everyone from the north part of the country is a godless zombie hellbent on destroying centuries of Westerosi culture and tradition, and everyone from the east, across the sea, comes across as a scary weirdo savage praying to strange gods, the show reads liberal. Because it's on HBO.
True Blood, though its political metaphors and allegories are always pretty confused, is at root a decidedly non-Republican show. Though it takes place in the conservative Deep South, show creator Alan Ball has infused the show with messages about gay marriage and diversity and other hot-button Democratic issues. He's also spent seasons making fun of holy rollers and redneck bigots and the like, and this season there's a character, a powerful religious zealot vampire played by Chris Meloni, who is based on Rick Santorum. The allegory isn't done that well — there have been plenty of zealots on True Blood before and Meloni's character doesn't read differently in any specific Santorum-y way, but certainly by talking about the connection in interviews, Ball is helping to cement the reputation of his show.
We also can't imagine too many Republicans going in for Girls, which featured a somewhat casual abortion plotline and trades in a whatever-wave version of liberal feminism. But one show we think they ought to like is Veep, which concerns a bumbling and, if not incompetent, certainly ineffective Democratic vice president. It's Democrats hilariously screwing up for a half-hour every week! But maybe Republicans assume the whole thing is some sort of coded knock on them, so they stay away.
There's nothing particularly wrong with a scripted television network having a unified point of view. There are enough rah-rah hours of NCIS and Hawaii Five-O and C.S.I. on CBS to practically qualify it as a Republican network. But it is a shame that Republicans are so turned-off by HBO, as they have some really good shows! Shows everyone can like! What's a Republican's problem with Boardwalk Empire or Curb Your Enthusiasm? And, uh, the uber patriotic Band Of Brothers and The Pacific were on HBO, as was David Simon's honest and appreciative and troop-supporting look at Iraq War soldiers, Generation Kill. Not that Republicans are only interested in war stuff, but that's part of the whole thing, right?
One wonders if the Republicans polled are simply still mad about Game Change, the fictionalized look at the 2008 presidential campaign that painted a particularly unflattering portrait of the crumbling Republican campaign. Whatever the reason, the polarization is unfortunate. There's certainly some partisan stuff on HBO, but it's not the only content on the network. Like, True Blood is mostly about vampires. And Game of Thrones is mostly about magic and swords. We should all be able to agree on the entertainment value of bloody fantasy violence, shouldn't we?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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