by Stephen Whitney
At the end of a long day, many of us unwind by kicking back to an entertaining television show or movie. However, because much of this media today is overt propaganda, choosing a show or movie to watch has become quite the challenge. Anything that isn’t obnoxiously propagandistic has become a welcome alternative. But this type of media can put our guard down and make it easier to accidentally uncritically accept the narrative being pushed, simply because it’s presented in a more palatable package.
One example of this that many right of center viewers are watching is Paramount’s Yellowstone. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote in The New York Times that the series is “the most red-state show on television.” At first glance, one can see why. The show features Kevin Costner, who plays the stoic John Dutton, a patriarch focused on defending the family ranch against Indians, business rivals, and government agencies. It’s a show about salt-of-the-earth country folk just trying to get by. So surely it’s conservative, right?
Twitter user Future Moldovan Citizen recently brought attention to the not-so-subtle woke themes in Yellowstone. “I’d seen this clip before on TikTok but I didn’t realize it was from ‘Yellowstone,’” he tweeted. “This is what most normie conservatives consider their favorite show?”
In the clip, John Dutton’s Native American daughter-in-law, Monica, humiliates one of her college students—a politically incorrect white male. After making a crude remark, the student is informed that he is powerless and that Monica has the ability to remove him from the class if she sees fit.
The exchange is highly symbolic. A defining tenet of wokeness is that white men, having been such horrible oppressors throughout history, are to step aside to allow previously marginalized groups—namely, sexual and racial minorities—to steer the ship.
Monica then proceeds to denounce the “European mentality stemming from the oppressive political and religious structures of the Renaissance” and links these allegedly bigoted structures to the conquest of the Native Americans.
That’s where the Twitter clip ends. But having seen a few seasons of the show—I checked out early into season three—I know that the student later expresses his guilt to Monica, from whom he learns to be a better (read: more woke) person.
And this is just one clip. At one point, the audience is told that John Dutton had instructed Kayce, his son, to have Kayce and Monica’s unborn child aborted. The relationship between Kayce and John is at times entirely negative. John’s daughter, Beth, is maniacal, alcoholic, and sexually deviant—but in her daddy’s eyes she can do no wrong. A racist shop owner calls the police on Monica because she’s a minority. The list goes on.
After Future Moldovan Citizen’s clip went viral—it has to date amassed 1.5 million views—conservative Twitter users proceeded to post memes of the show. Using an image of John Dutton sitting thoughtfully in his truck, users began sarcastically adding liberal platitudes as captions. The combination of conservative aesthetics with liberal values, taken to comical extremes, successfully revealed the silliness of Yellowstone.
"No human being is illegal, son. Give 'em a job and give 'em the vote I say. Ronald Reagan woulda wanted it that way" pic.twitter.com/1fLO5ZPUig
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) February 14, 2023
Yellowstone—despite its conservative trappings—is not a conservative show, insofar as conservative shows are those that promote conservative values. The picture Yellowstone paints of the dysfunction of modern life—from the breakdown of the family to substance abuse to personal depravity—might be accurate, given the state of American decline.
But this is perhaps better viewed as a critique of red America. We all know that’s one of Hollywood’s favorite things to do. The Duttons are portrayed as materially successful yet morally bankrupt. That framing is a common one the left applies to white conservatives; in fact, it’s one of the only woke-approved ways to portray white conservatives on TV.
Yellowstone’s creator, Taylor Sheridan, has explicitly stated that the show is not conservative. “They refer to it as ‘the conservative show’ or ‘the Republican show’ or ‘the red-state Game of Thrones,’” said Sheridan before the show’s season five premiere. “And I just sit back laughing. I’m like, ‘Really?’”
Then what is the show about? According to Sheridan, “The show’s talking about the displacement of Native Americans and the way Native American women were treated and about corporate greed and the gentrification of the West, and land-grabbing.”
Anyone who watches Yellowstone with an intentional critical eye would arrive at that conclusion as well. I certainly did, which is why, along with the show’s tediously melodramatic mood, I only made it through two seasons.
But the problem is that many people do not watch television with a focused critical eye. For many of us, television and movies are a respite from the stresses of daily life, not an opportunity to methodically examine popular culture. In the case of Yellowstone, even intelligent conservatives could watch the show, identify with the characters, and wind up unconsciously absorbing woke ideas. “Well, if John Dutton lets his adult daughter live like a tramp, maybe I’m being too overbearing on mine!”
"Little Michael isn't Michael anymore. He's Michelle, and he's a she, and that's just the way it going to be. Get with the times, buster!" pic.twitter.com/2QLFGRnTz4
— Dr. West Bestern 🛡️ (@western_bester) February 13, 2023
Consuming this escapist media without much critical awareness, or overly consuming it, thus makes it easy to adopt the ideas that Hollywood is promoting. Rather than thoughtfully forming our own opinions, we end up accidently outsourcing our thinking to our entertainment.
That’s the nature of successful propaganda. It affects the viewer subconsciously. We aren’t supposed to be aware it’s happening. Edward Bernays wrote in his seminal work Propaganda, “Men are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions.” We need only look to the conservative embrace of Yellowstone—a fundamentally and subversively anti-conservative show—to see the truth in this statement.
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Stephen Whitney is a contributor to Intellectual Takeout.
Photo “Yellowstone” by Yellowstone.