I don’t appreciate it when censorious busybodies try to get between me and my books, my movies, my books, my tv shows, my books, my video games, my books—did I mention books?
I’m a big fan of books—not the electronic kind, mind you, but the ones you can hold in your hand and display on a bookshelf. My favorite ones to buy tend to be the ones that I’ve been told I shouldn’t read. You could say that the strength of my desire to purchase a particular book is often directly proportional to the number of people who believe that book shouldn’t exist—and you could say the same about my desire to engage with virtually every other media product on the market.
For better or worse, that attitude has landed me on the conservative side of many battles relating to the production of controversial media. Conservatives have spent the better part of the last decade pushing back against progressive efforts to cull allegedly offensive material from the marketplace of ideas. They argue—correctly, in my opinion—that individual consumers should decide for themselves which movies and shows they want to watch, which books they want to read, and which video games they want to play without self-appointed, agenda-driven gatekeepers making those decisions on the public’s behalf.
But it’s a mistake to think that the instinct to oppose the creation of controversial media is a purely progressive one. Every now and again, a prominent conservative will come along to remind us that that instinct is indeed ubiquitous and extremely difficult to resist. This past week, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro did just that when he set his sights on the film The Happiest Season. Shapiro isn’t too pleased with the fact that the holiday-themed film features a lesbian couple, played by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, as its protagonists, and made his feelings quite clear on the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro Show last Monday:
“Typically, when you're talking about a religious holiday - which is what Christmas is. I mean it is a secular holiday for many Americans but it also happens to be a religious holiday - typically you celebrate that by, you know, celebrating things that don't directly cut against a lot of religious sensibilities. But that's the direction that Hulu has gone. And they've gone that direction so far that they've decided, the entertainment industry, that they have to go to places like Hallmark and then browbeat them into making pieces on lesbian and gay couples even though the main constituency for Hallmark is largely religious families with small children. You know, that's their prerogative. All of these are free companies, they can do what they want. But it means that conservatives can and should build alternatives.”
Shapiro’s suggestion that the mere existence of this film is an affront to religious audiences echoes the logic occasionally employed by far-left activists to justify spurious accusations of cultural appropriation. It’s not uncommon for said activists to try to conflate cultural appropriation with cultural participation, and conservatives are quick to challenge that conflation whenever it’s attempted. Yet Shapiro seems to be mimicking that same tactic when he insinuates that the Christmas season is the exclusive domain of God-fearing, opposite-sex-loving, traditional conservatives, and that the holiday should therefore be considered off-limits to Hollywood writers who want to tell Christmas stories from a progressive perspective since such stories “cut against a lot of religious sensibilities.”
To his credit, Shapiro never explicitly calls for Happiest Season to be censored, and I believe that’s because he sincerely doesn’t want it to be censored now that it’s out in the public sphere. He also goes out of his way multiple times to acknowledge Hollywood’s right to create whatever content it wants. “Now, listen, they can do whatever they want,” he says about Hulu, the online streaming service hosting The Happiest Season. “Free country, the company can do what it wants.”
But on a fundamental level, his position on the film’s existence mirrors the position that some transgender and progressive activists have taken on various controversial conservative publications, such as journalist Abigail Shrier’s recently released book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. Just as Shrier’s left-wing critics obviously believe that her book should have never been published in the first place, Shapiro seems to believe that Happiest Season should never have been made at all. We can infer that from the fact that his entire critique is focused on the film’s existence. He can’t criticize it on its artistic or technical merits because, as he himself confesses, he hasn’t even seen the film. He just seems to believe that Hollywood shouldn’t be making Christmas films featuring gay couples—and that belief should give conservatives pause. It’s an indisputably short leap from “this shouldn’t exist” to “this should be banned.”
Is that the Orwellian road Shapiro and his like-minded conservative fanbase want to go down? Remember, we’re not talking about Birth of a Nation here. Happiest Season is a harmless Christmas rom-com produced by an industry that has already made thousands of similar films that cater to heterosexual audiences. Is it really such a terrible thing that Hollywood wants to put out a few Christmas stories geared towards an LGBT audience? I certainly don’t think so. On the contrary, I’m actually quite happy that gay couples will have a heart-warming film like Happiest Season to help make this especially difficult winter just a little bit more bearable than it otherwise would be.
Like it or not, the winter holiday season has evolved into an internationally recognized, all-inclusive celebration. Gay people have participated in it since its inception, and they’ll be participating in it for many more generations to come. This means that the demand for more Christmas stories featuring same-sex romances will continue to rise, and that Hollywood will step up to try and meet that demand. Religious conservatives like Shapiro don’t have to be happy about that. They don’t have to celebrate the inclusion of LGBT people in holiday-themed media or commit their own money to supporting its creation. But if they’re going to demand that space be set aside for controversial conservative material like Shrier’s Irreversible Damage, they should be prepared to extend that same courtesy to LGBT media productions like Happiest Season. If there’s enough room for one, then surely there’s enough room for both.