Propaganda for Dummies?

rcplogoMarch 13, 2014–For those of us who grew up in the ’80s—or, alternatively, if you just happened to watch a fair amount of TV during that glorious era—the term “Very Special Episode” may elicit some fond and funny memories.

The “Very Special Episode,” as Wikipedia describes it, refers “to an episode of a sitcom or television drama that deals with a serious or controversial social issue.” A normally silly show, for instance, would suddenly gain some gravitas as a cautionary tale: Alex P. Keaton frantically popping amphetamines in “Family Ties”; Kimberly and Arnold getting kidnapped by a dastardly stranger on “Diff’rent Strokes”; Cherie hiding in a dangerous old refrigerator in “Punky Brewster.” One of the most infamous Very Special Episodes comes from the early-’90s show “Saved by the Bell,” when classic type-A overachiever Jessie Spano becomes addicted to … wait for it … caffeine pills. (A more innocent time, then.)

 Very Special Episodes were often canned, hokey, preachy, and over the top (one highlight from “Family Matters” showed nerdy Steve Erkel getting deliriously drunk at a party, flopping off a dance floor, mysteriously rocketing out of a window, and landing on a window ledge 10 feet away, left dangling above death’s open door.) In the new millennium, where irony, worldliness, and sarcasm reign, one would think we’re in more sophisticated—or at least more disillusioned—times, deserving of more subtle, artistic, propaganda. Think Sundance. Think Banksy, the mysterious street artist. Think Bon Iver, the woodsy, misty poetry slam/musical act, or whoever the new Bon Iver is.

Nope. Witness “Between Two Ferns,” a faux Internet talk show featured on the humor website Funny or Die. Hosted by “Hangover” star Zach Galifianakis, each episode features awkward, insulting, and often amusing exchanges with celebrities like Bruce Willis (“How many children do you have? Which is your favorite—Ashton?”), Justin Bieber (“It’s really exciting to talk to you, especially right in the middle of your public meltdown”) and Natalie Portman (mostly awkward silence). The show is usually pretty funny. This week, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others, the featured guest was our own commander-in-chief, Barack Obama.

Read the rest at RealClearPolitics here. 


Gay Wedding Cakes and the Media Borg

February 28, 2014–A few weeks ago, I visited a Crate & Barrel store with my family. My goal was simple: to return a lamp. The goal of my three kids was twofold: first, to touch everything breakable in sight; and second, to run pell-mell up and down the escalators like a newly liberated troop of […]

The Rise of the Fun Police

January 30, 2014–A decade ago, “Saturday Night Live” began running a series of skits featuring “Debbie Downer,” a character who could single-handedly destroy fun of any kind with the world’s most depressing remarks. In her inaugural appearance on the show, Debbie, played by the amazing Rachel Dratch, manages to annihilate the good moods of her entire family […]

Wendy Davis, Gun Clinger?

January 27, 2014–Poor Wendy Davis. Just two weeks ago, the would-be Texas governor, best known as a glossy-haired cheerleader for late-term abortion, was basking in the glow of a reported $12.2 million campaign haul. On the “Today” show, a gushing Maria Shriver praised Davis as a model woman who is “doing it all.” A few […]

Sign up for Heather Wilhelm's column e-mail list

* = required field

Heather Wilhelm is an Austin, Texas-based writer with experience in marketing, public relations, corporate communications, online news, web development, magazine editing, and print journalism. Her written commentary has appeared in the Wall Street Journal,, the Washington Examiner, and the National Review Online. She currently serves as a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute.
To inquire about freelance work, other projects, or to join my distribution list, contact me at