Censorship From the Smothers Brothers to Today

How the Establishment has changed.

I recently had the chance to watch the film, Smothered, from 2002,  dealing with the great television show, The Smothers Brothers, that ran from 1965 to 1969, on CBS Television.  

Tom on guitar, Dick on bass, their singing and comedy routines made them essential watching Sunday evenings at 9:00.

The show ran during a period of social change and cultural crisis brought on by the coming of age of the large post-war “baby boom”, with their change in mores, opposition to the War in Vietnam, and human rights activism for black Americans, and feminism. Mere fashions like hair length for men, going bra-less for some women, together with the use of marijuana (and some more dangerous drugs), connoted members of this movement. It saw itself as revolutionary, but perhaps the only part of the revolution that had any lasting effect was a sort of anti-Americanism and anti-establishmentism that simmered for years, up until the election of Barack Hussein Obama as a left-leaning, partially black, pro-Globalist and pro-Islam counter to more conservative political thought.  

The Smothers brothers sense of fun extended eventually into an increasing satire of American politics and culture, mainly around opposition to the Vietnam war, and satire of politicians and then of the very network censors who demanded to vet the program to avoid too much criticism from a mainstream audience and the advertisers who funded the show.

At first, the satire was mild and accompanied their trademark comedic bits, such as Tommy often alleging to his brother Dick that “Mom always liked you best”.

For example, one show had the brothers start singing their song “My Old Man” a humorous song that starts with “My old man’s a sailor, what do you think about that?”

But Tom, to Dick’s apparent consternation, changes the words to:

Tom: “My old man’s a negro, what do you think about that?”  

Dick: “Wait a minute, Tommy, I am afraid you are incorrect.”

Tom: “My old man’s a negro.”

Dick: “No he is not.”

Tom: “You are a fascist.”

Dick: “I am not a fascist.”

Tom: “Then you know some people who are.”

Dick: “I know you and I know me. I know you’re my brother, so that makes it impossible, absolutely genetically impossible for your old man to be a negro. You know why, because my old man is not a negro.”

Tom: “No wonder Mom always liked you best.”

The film shows that, as time goes by, and younger Americans turn against the Vietnam War, the brothers, and particularly Tommy, increase the satirical political humour. Then the programming executives at CBS began to worry that many viewers might find the content offensive.

The more that CBS tried to exert control, the more the brothers pushed back. For example,  they invited Joan Baez onto the program and in her introduction to a song, she dedicated it to her then-husband, an early anti-war activist, who was facing jail time for refusing to be drafted. The censors deleted much of that introduction. Then during the 1968 riots outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (when Mayor Daly called in the military), the brothers had singer and activist Harry Belafonte sing a song with film clips of the police violently arresting protesters, which was censored.

Mike Dann, then the Vice-President of Programming for CBS is interviewed and says: “Their success came from being fun and you can’t have a lot of fun if you take up a lot of causes and constantly are in the headlines.” By the spring of 1969, their contract is cancelled.

The younger people who were the most loyal audience for the Smothers Brothers Show, saw this in terms of an evil American establishment censoring the freedom-loving and anti-war Smothers brothers.   It was in fact a dispute that neither side could win, because neither side could back down from redlines that were too far apart.

Life went on, but the American political culture was certainly affected. As a result of Obama’s two terms in office, however, the American establishment and the anti-establishment types in fact flipped:  the Establishment became a permanent class of bureaucrats, teachers, and media tycoons allied with globalists and Islamists; and the anti-Establishment became the working class, the libertarian rural and small town population, gun-owners, and anti-abortion and evangelical Christians, all sharing a revulsion with the Washington “swamp” and voting against the corrupt and elitist Hillary Clinton.

The more the establishment media hated Trump and accepted uncritically every Democratic party lie trying to oust him through impeachment or otherwise, the more the conservatives increased their support for him, notwithstanding a personality that seemed conducive to waiving red flags in front of the Leftist-Islamist-Globalist bull – just the way the Smothers Brothers waived their red flags in front of the establishment of the late ‘60s.

Red flags should be left in the bull-fighting ring. The nation became sharply divided in the late ‘60s, but it is even more sharply divided in 2020. But there are few entertainers willing to promote the conservative point of view; Hollywood seems united in favour of the Leftist-Islamist-Globalist cause.   The big three networks have been joined and eclipsed by dozens of left-wing cable news networks and all seem to be obsessed by Donald Trump.

The premise of the Vietnamese War was that the Chinese Communist influence in southeast Asia had to be stopped in Vietnam and Cambodia. But many of the anti-war students of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s became proponents of trade with China and owners or managers of corporations that moved many jobs to China in the outsourcing movement. Until Donald Trump ran and won an election on reversing this transfer of economic and diplomatic power to Communist China, Obama and Clinton supporters in the new Establishment,  essentially proved that the old establishment was right to fear China. The new establishment that watched the Smothers Brothers in the late ‘60s, attended the academic bastions of cultural and moral relativism in the ‘70s. The Wuhan Virus now shows that the old Establishment was right (but chose war instead of a better tactic) and the new Establishment is wrong.

Those who, in the guise of feminism and racial affirmative action, paved the way for corrupted and lying women such as Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters, should atone for turning the new Establishment into something worse than what they protested against. Whereas, we once had the Smothers Brothers who willingly threw away their careers in the face of censorship, we now have people making their careers by administering censorship on behalf of media, entertainment, university and globalist elites. And any reservations about the idea of allowing in as immigrants Muslims who are Islamist, anti-woman, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic, anti-child and anti-gay, are met with accusations of Islamophobia, deserving of censorship.

In the film, Smothered, Harry Belafonte says of the price paid by the Smothers Brothers in their fight against censorship by CBS: “You pay a price when you take on the establishment ... we all do...The price is worth it because it constantly has a Paul Revere-like claim for American citizens – all is not well and you should know that all is not well.”  He also repeats something his mother once told him, “America is a garden and has a lot of good things in it;  and like a garden, it has to be tended.  If you don’t tend it, the weeds will grow and choke off ..the good things.”  

Belafonte continues:  “America has to be tended all the time. There is going to be somebody sometime trying to change all that, whether out of greed and avarice, or selfishness or hunger for power, they will try to change the rules, and we have to make sure the rules don’t change.”

For those of us who were teenagers watching the Smothers Brothers, how can we now cheer on the Leftist-Islamist-Globalist and pro-China alliance? Remembering America in the late ‘60s then, should remind us that the problems of censorship of the Smothers Brothers are no different in morality than the censorship today against conservative authors and media. If Schiff, Pelosi, AOC, Omar, or Clinton try to change the rules, even if they think that they are morally correct, the first loss to such mischief is our liberty. Fifty years ago, the Smothers Brothers fought what seems in retrospect a fairly mild censorship by the Right, but now we must be inspired to fight an extensive censorship by the Left and its associates.  

Most of my writing is shunned in my home country of Canada so this resonates with me. I founded a small publishing house for authors with conservative values - as existing publishers and reviewers shun such work.

We conclude with remarks by Tom Smothers: “If you don’t like what we say, you have the ultimate censorship and that is to turn us off... but the right to stop us giving our viewpoints to those who want to hear them is contrary to the principal of our country.”

Howard Rotberg is the author of four books on ideologies and values: The Second Catastrophe:  A Novel about a Book and its Author; Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada’s Lotus  Land;  Tolerism: The Ideology Revealed; and The Ideological Path to Submission... and what we can do about it. He writes periodically for Frontpage Magazine, New English Review, Israel National News. Israpundit, Jewish Voice of New York, and others. He is president of Mantua Books, www.mantuabooks.com and lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

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Photo by CBS Television


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