The first time I had any reason to know about Ben Shapiro was when he appeared on the Piers Morgan show to talk guns. For those who may not remember, CNN had imported a British popinjay to host an evening chat show. Americans tend to associate the British accent with sophistication and erudition, so CNN thought having a British guy read from the Progressive catechism would lend credibility to their lineup. Morgan quickly revealed himself to be an insufferable windbag with a British accent and his ratings tanked.
The only time I had a reason to watch the show was after Shapiro’s appearance and clips were floating around social media. The Boomer Cons were out in the streets, waving their pocket Constitutions and throwing their tricorn hats in the air. To my untrained eyes, the whole thing looked like a setup. Everything on TV is staged, after all. This exchange just looked like two very bad actors reading lines prepared for them by others. Whether or not it was on the level, it started Shapiro off on his path to become his generation’s Bill Safire.
In the age of mass media, it is hard to imagine a time when political commentary was limited to three TV networks and the newspapers. That meant there were very few spots for the professional pundit. Getting one of those gigs was like hitting the lottery, except it required years of apple polishing in the news business and politics. William Safire figured out how to create a position in the commentariat that only he could fill. That’s the spot for the housebroken conservative, who would jovially defend Republicans among liberals.
When I was a kid, Safire was the only non-liberal voice on television chat shows. I no longer recall the network or show, but after 40 minutes of Progressive dogma, they would have Safire on, along with three liberals, to give the other side. This was what passed for balance in those days. It made Safire rich and famous, because he was the only guy on television who would dare speak for the other 80% of the country. Even by the standards of the day, he was a total cuck, but he was the only non-Prog on television.
Safire paved the way for George Will, who performed the same act on the David Brinkley show for years. Every newspaper in the country eventually had a housebroken conservative as a columnist. The explosion of conservative talk radio in the 90’s made the role less valuable, but it remains a feature of the chattering classes. The Fox News Channel is essentially a whole network based on the same premise. They criticize the Left in an approved manner, never going too far or committing any mortal sins.
The trouble these days is the legacy media has an audience that is very old. The audience for Fox News is close to 70. The young and hip Rachel Maddow is popular with menopausal cat ladies. The Sunday chat shows have a similar demographic. Gen X was probably the last generation to engage with newspapers and TV chat shows. Even there, most people under 50 are getting their news from on-line sources. Increasingly, those on-line sources operate in opposition to the legacy media, politically and culturally.
That’s where a guy like Ben Shapiro is seen as the millennial Bill Safire. None other than the New York Times has declared him “the voice of the conservative millennial movement” and “the cool kid’s philosopher.” Shapiro is described as a rock star on the college campus, meaning his audience is not on blood thinners. The piece quotes National Review’s David French, who gives Shapiro his blessing. This suggests the kept men of the legacy Right are on board with making Shapiro the new media version of Bill Safire.
The trouble is we no longer live in the age of three tightly controlled TV networks and newspapers delivered by trucks. In a world where the choices are standard issue liberals and obsequious cuckservatives, the cucks looked pretty good. That’s not the world in which we live now. It’s not so much that there are alternatives to the mass media. It’s that there is so much mass media. Even if they can cultivate a guy like Ben Shapiro into a millennial house Negro, he’s just another voice on a giant stage full of megaphones.
The bigger issue though is the rise of alternative media. I can hear what Ben Shapiro has to say on talk radio, cable news or read it on any number of official websites. I’m not going to get quirky ethno-libertarianism from anywhere but Stephen Molyneux. The TRS guys are a unique media presence that speaks to the issues of our day. For truly intelligent commentary, I can go to Steve Sailer or Audacious Epigone. The point is, there are lots of people smarter, more inquisitive and more daring than Ben Shapiro in the media now.
What’s probably going to kill the Progressive house Negro role is what’s happening on social media. Facebook and Twitter have a problem. They need to keep the heretics off their platform, but they need to keep their audience. Their solution is verification. They think by eliminating pen names and anonymous commentary, they will get rid of the serious threats to the orthodoxy. They are probably correct, but they are creating a whole new problem for themselves and their model of controlled opposition.
It is really hard to pitch a Ben Shapiro as the edgy critic of the orthodoxy when he has that seal of approval next to his name on social media. That’s what the blue check mark now means. It says you have been declared safe by the people in charge. That means all the house Negroes of Conservative Inc are branded with the mark of their owner. The only thing left to do is pass a Fugitive Pundit Act. If a faux right-wing pundit gets red-pilled and runs off to the alt-right, we’ll be required to return him to his media masters.