Muppets, Fox News and the Looney Tune right

I don’t have cable, so I’m mostly spared the noisome noise stream that is Fox News. However, once in a while, Fox broadcasts something that is so beyond the pale that it gets covered by other media, and I get a glimpse into the dimension of pure right-wing paranoia. I’m always surprised at how comically over the top Fox “analysis” is, and marvel that this claptrap is a product of a multi-billion-dollar media empire that is regarded as a legitimate news provider to millions.

Such an occasion happened recently when the Fox Business program “Follow the Money” ran a piece that asked, in the typically subtle Fox fashion, “Are Liberals Trying to Brainwash your Kids Against Capitalism?” The left-wing brainwashing conspiracy this time isn’t fluoride in the water or The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” it’s …The Muppets.

Eric Bolling, host of Fox Business’ “Follow the Money,” asked the question (which of course can only be answered in the affirmative) of his guests about the new movie, “The Muppets.” Sure enough, two of his guests (fellow Fox commentator Andrea Tantaros and Dan Gainor from conservative media watchdog Media Research Center, agreed that yes, “Hollywood Liberals” are trying to brainwash kids into opposing capitalism by making movies that portray rich people in a bad light. In “The Muppets,” the evil capitalist is oil tycoon Tex Richman.

As I pointed out in my review of the film (“The Muppets Occupy Hollywood,” November 30), the film takes a swipe at greedy CEOs, but being rich in itself isn’t portrayed as bad. Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo are rich. The Tex Richman character is bad because he wants to tear down the Muppet Theater, not because he’s wealthy. He’s also clearly a parody of the stereotypical evil “suit” (for example, instead of laughing maniacally, he says “maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter”). The Muppets don’t try to “expropriate” the theater; they try to buy it fair and square. But the Fox conspiracy theorists’ anti-liberal delusion filters out facts like these, and their lack of a sense of humor blinds them to nuances most six-year-olds can detect.

Forget that “liberals,” strictly speaking, aren’t even necessarily against capitalism – conservatives never seem to remember that classical liberalism is the cornerstone of capitalist ideology, is the foundation of many conservative beliefs, and was the mode of thought of the Founding Fathers. Adam Smith himself was a “liberal.”

But no matter, the reactionary right has no desire to quibble about semantics or engage truthfully with history. “Hollywood Liberal” is just another symbolic phrase from conservative mythology. Released from the bonds of logic and reality, these free-floating images – the Hollywood Liberal, the Illegal Alien, the Homosexual Agenda – are used as bogeymen to scare the fearful and ill-informed “Silent Majority” into supporting their destructive political program. Clownish hyperbole aside, the ultra-right is quite serious about smashing liberalism’s guarantee of civil rights and social mobility while instituting the primacy of liberal property rights.

The narrative recited by the Fox chorus – Hollywood liberals are brainwashing kids to undermine capitalism – only makes sense in the dreamland of right-wing ideology. None of the commentators (even beleaguered but clueless token liberal Caroline Heldman) addressed the question of why corporate monolith Disney would want to destroy capitalism by releasing film like this in the first place.

Nor did they account for pro-capitalist Hollywood filmmakers like Tim Burton. Doesn’t “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” feature the jovial factory owner Willy Wonka? What about the bizarre pro-free-market storyline of Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (where Alice wakes up and becomes a venture capitalist)?

At one point, Bolling threw his hands up in exasperation and said, “We’re teaching our kids class warfare … where are we, Communist China?” Yet, isn’t it Fox Business itself engaging in “class warfare” when it runs stories like this – riling up the petty bourgeois GOP base against the wealthy and elite, but also “hard-working and successful,” Hollywood liberals?

Strangely, Tantaros and Gainor posited Tex Richman as a role model for children to emulate. Tantaros said, “We need to teach kids to be hard working, not coveting what other people have. Tex Richman is the American Dream!”

Gainor asked, why didn’t Hollywood tell the story of a Richman who sells oil to “light your hospital … and provide fuel for your ambulance”?

Even liberal Heldman held up Richman as a model for kids – representing the “truth of corporations!”

The sheer wackiness of these proceedings leads to the inescapable conclusion that Fox News has become a parody of itself. Absurd, hysterical, over the top – the Fox commentators, a parody of frantic conservative broadcasters, themselves resemble Tex Richman. Although they are playing cartoon characters, it’s important to remember that they represent a powerful political constituency that, since the election of 2010, has sought to smother every attempt at progress by the Obama administration. The less seriously we take them, the more dangerous they become.

Sure, Daffy Duck is funny, but you wouldn’t want him in charge of public administration. Where you might expect quality education, reliable health care, public sanitation, etc., you’d instead get oversized sticks of dynamite, spring-loaded boxing gloves in gift boxes, and an anvil on the head. In other words, the budget cuts, union-busting, and civil rights rollbacks of the Looney Toon right.

As a teenager in the 1980s, I used to enjoy watching Wally George, the conservative commentator on our local UHF station in Orange County, Calif. He wore a ridiculous platinum toupee, liked to yell, and often kicked his liberal guests off his cheap looking set. How quaint that show seems now, compared to Fox’s high tech, well-funded platform for reactionary ideology. It’s a sobering reflection of how the power of the ultra-right has grown over the past quarter century.

In the final analysis, who’s really the bigger threat to children – delightful fabric friends the Muppets, or Muppet look-alike Newt Gingrich, who as president would suspend child labor laws and make low-paid janitors of poor school kids?

Photo: Chris Cooper as Tex Richman in Disney’s “The Muppets”