Conservatives And The Culture Wars

March 6, 2014

There’s a lot of talk among conservatives these days about the culture. The late, great Andrew Breitbart knew that political victories would always be fleeting, but cultural changes have a tendency to stick around. Worse, as the culture goes so goes the politics. The subject of culture, specifically pop culture, in American politics and society is being debated in conservative circles but the discussions, while often interesting, tend to be somewhat circular. For starters, nobody can really agree with what needs to be done. There are a lot of slogans about “taking back the culture” but those slogans are misplaced. The culture was never really conservative. We can not “take it back” though we can certainly make impressions upon it.

There was no Golden Age of Conservative Culture. There have been huge stars who wore their conservatism on their sleeves, most notably John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. The brilliant director John Ford was an unabashed conservative. Today first-rate actors like the mighty Robert Duvall, Nick Searcy, Jon Voight, and Vince Vaughn are out of the political closet. Hollywood used to produce many films that celebrated America and patriotism, particularly during World War Two. In the early 1940s, Hollywood was “doing its part”, as they say, by making war films that showed America in the best possible light. Compare that to the Hollywood films that were released during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where the Americans are routinely portrayed as evil, insane, or incompetent. The Hurt Locker won the Best Picture award a few years ago for its portrayal of an American bomb squad leader in Iraq who acted out of a perverse love of the risk of death. Less successful, the movie White House Down featured the military-industrial complex (those people who make the tanks) as terrorists. Today, the Liam Neeson action film Non-Stop has, as its main villain, a 9/11 family member and former soldier who become terrorists because they don’t think America has been proactive enough in stopping more terrorist attacks.

It’s certainly true that pop culture is distinctly Left wing when it ventures into political realms. But Progressivism has always been at the core of the creative arts. Was Hollywood conservative in the 1940s?

The clip is from 1948’s State Of The Union, directed by Frank Capra and starring Spencer Tracy as an industrialist (a Republican, no less!) who runs for President. The clip is too brief, and I wasn’t able to find the entire thing, but it gives a taste. The entire speech reads like it came straight out of the Communist Manifesto or Obama’s last State of the Union speech; it’s a litany of liberal pipe dreams. Free healthcare, affordable housing, you name it. No tax cuts, please, we need the government to provide. And this from the director Frank Capra, long known as a conservative Republican despite the Leftist tilt of classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

It seems to me that conservatives need to understand that we will probably never be the dominant force in the culture. But there are still ways to win cultural battles, and there are ways not to win cultural battles.

The way to achieve victories in the culture war is to engage the enemy. Listen to the music, watch the television shows, go to the movies. When you find examples of Leftist rhetoric, don’t scream for boycotts that never work. Engage the enemy. Talk about the culture, offer arguments against the culture, be a happy warrior. This is the lesson of Andrew Breitbart, and is being carried on by his acolytes like Chris and Dana Loesch, John Nolte, and Ben Shapiro. Don’t shrink away from the Left; fight them happily. When Jon Stewart mocks conservatives, mock Jon Stewart. Point out who he is and what his agenda is, because most people don’t know that he even has an agenda. Get his beliefs out in the open. Give serious examples of the arguments he downplays with sarcasm and scorn. Many people in this country do not follow politics closely. They get their politics from the likes of Stewart, Stephen Colbert, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel. They are hearing one side of the argument, and contempt for the other side. You can point out why Letterman’s joke wasn’t funny, or why Colbert’s interview was skewed, but only if you know what they’re saying.

Conservatives should not only talk about the culture, they should create it. Conservative themes resonate deeply when they’re done well. Too often, they’re done poorly. I’m sure the members of the band Madison Rising are great guys, but their songs are Nickelback-worthy anthems full of sloganeering. “In The Days That Reagan Ruled”? “Right To Bear”? “Where Was The Media Then”? I’m conservative and even I don’t want to hear these songs. You never see a liberal band writing a song called “Barack Obama Is A Great President” or “Hillary Is My Honey”. Nobody wants to be hit with a brick, whether it comes from a liberal or conservative. For some reason conservative artists feel that they need to make conservative art. They don’t. They need to make good art. Their conservatism will bleed through into the music or movies, but nobody will care if the music or movie stinks. Create your art with no agenda other than creating great art. If you let your heart and soul come through your art, your conservatism will come through as well. If your art is good it will find an audience. It may be a small audience, but if it touches one person who spreads the word, you are reaching out and engaging in the culture. You don’t have to be bigger than the Beatles to make an impact. Think global but act local is a slogan that actually applies here.

But too many conservatives are doing the exact opposite. Read through the comments at Breitbart’s Big Hollywood site and you’ll see it. Conservatives are actively boasting that they will never go to another movie until Hollywood starts making pro-faith, pro-family movies. The contempt for Hollywood’s Leftists is not only palpable, it crosses the line into outright ugliness. The comments on a recent post about HBO’s “it” girl, Lena Dunham, descended into the most adolescent name-calling you can imagine. Dunham, a talented writer and avowed Lefty, was called “a pig”, “a sow”, “ugly”, “fat”, and “retarded” among many other epithets. She was mercilessly mocked for her appearance, her weight, her tattoos, and her willingness to shed her clothes on the show Girls, which she created, writes, and stars in. Nobody in the comments actually engaged with Dunham, her ideas, the culture she promotes, her writing ability, her acting, or anything else that was actually important. Several comments boasted about refusing to watch any show with her in it. A few years back, in response to a post about an anti-Bush statement made by Paul McCartney, commenters responded with a slew of “I will never listen to the Beatles again” diatribes. How does that win the culture wars? It makes you sound like cultural idiots.

I understand the mentality. Why support, with my hard-earned dollars, actors, musicians, and writers who hate everything I stand for? But there’s a difference between refusing to see Non-Stop because it’s blatant Leftist agitprop and refusing to see Schindler’s List because it stars the actor from Non-Stop. I agree completely with most conservatives that Sean Penn is an absolutely odious human being. He’s also a truly gifted actor. Will I go see a movie about Hugo Chavez that stars Penn? No. Would I go see a non-political film with Penn in the lead? Sure, if it’s good.

Big Hollywood guru John Nolte often discusses the “Left wing sucker punches” in films. It’s that moment when a character suddenly makes a Sarah Palin joke or spouts some anti-Tea Party rhetoric in a film that is otherwise apolitical. Conservatives can only make inroads to the heart of the culture when we confront these moments, as Nolte does. It doesn’t mean we have to spend our money or go to movies that are blatant exercises in Left wing buffoonery (like, say, Brian DePalma’s Rendition). But we will never be able to punch back against the Left if we withdraw. See the movies, listen to the music, watch the television show; then argue the merits with your families and friends. Point out the Progressive fallacies and sucker punches so that they are out in the open, and happily argue why those moments are wrong. Drag the Leftist agenda into the light and destroy it. You may not hurt the box office of the movie, but you will make people think about what they’ve seen. Progressive messages work because they are presented with no counter argument, and for far too many people it sinks in because the rest of the movie is so enjoyable, or because the song has a great melody. By pointing out these messages, by discussing them, and by arguing with facts and logic why they are wrong, you’ll be returning fire in the culture war and making your voice heard.

Conservatives need to seed the culture, not cede it.

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Pep Talks And The Need To Fight

February 15, 2012

Well…many thanks to National Review‘s Jim Geraghty for posting a link to my depressing rant “The Death Of A Thousand Cuts” in both National Review‘s Campaign Spot blog and in the pole position for his Morning Jolt newsletter. That was a nice, umm, jolt to my morning routine.

In a very welcome pep talk, Geraghty rightly points out that it’s easy to miss the positive things in the avalanche of bad news. He lists, for example, a slew of conservative writers and bloggers that would have been unthinkable when William F. Buckley was starting his magazine. He lists Adele as a pop singer who sings mature songs in an old-fashioned style that borrows from Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. He even mentions a movie about Navy SEALS that stars actual Navy SEALS…and just how cool is that? When the man’s right, he’s right. I alluded to all of this in the last paragraph of my piece when I conceded that there is still much good to be found out there. Nevertheless, the depression comes from the fact that we have to look for the good, while the negative bombards us on a daily basis. I doubt Jim Geraghty would disagree that “the worst are full of passionate intensity” (as Yeats said).

He addresses this in a Campaign Spot post about this issue, mentioning that it’s something Jonah Goldberg has also discussed: in the realm of politics, conservatives and libertarians are more likely to shut off the lights and go home to their families when the day is done, where for progressives and liberals politics is a holy calling. I think this is largely true. Yet it is also sad.

I’m not suggesting that conservatives should treat government and politics as a mission from God (as The Blues Brothers said). Conservatives understand that politics is important, but is only part of the fabric of life. But we conservatives also need to understand that progressive politics and liberal (or is it libertine?) culture are ripping apart the fabric of our lives. The tax code has made a one-income family almost impossible, leaving latch-key kids in its wake; no-fault divorce laws have made leaving your spouse after an argument an easy reality; our children are listening to Adele, but also to Chris Brown, M.I.A., and a million other noisome vulgarians; one click of the mouse can expose you and your children to a world of things that are definitely not ready for prime time. In his pep talk, Geraghty is right to point out the advances conservatives have made, but his exceptions prove the rule: it’s the Left’s culture, and it would behoove conservatives to remember that while politics should never be the main focus of a healthy society, we face an implacable foe that works while we picnic, that seeks to subvert the will of the people while we attend Little League games.

The conservative philosophy rightly stresses the idea that government should not be all that important to our daily lives. But progressivism, which holds the opposite philosophy, never sleeps, and is always watching for weakness. Kind of like the eye of Sauron.

We should take cheer in the advances we’ve made. The internet has given conservatives, like myself, a platform on which to speak. Fox News has landed a serious blow to the monopoly of liberal news on television. A well-made, well-written, intelligent show like Downton Abbey is the talk around the water coolers, while almost no one talks about Survivor anymore. Most recently, the Washington Free Beacon is taking on the Left at their own game. But while we should acknowledge and take cheer in our progress, we should also be cognizant of the fact that progressivism may be wounded, but nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal (as Captain Kirk said).

So as Brother Geraghty wisely counsels, take cheer, my fellow conservatives. Against overwhelming odds we are putting points on the board. But as the game is far from over, be ready to fight, fight, fight (as Knute Rockne said).


The Death Of A Thousand Cuts

February 13, 2012

I was watching the Super Bowl when an ad for an online flower delivery service came on. The ad featured a very attractive woman, vases of flowers, and the tagline directed to men for Valentine’s Day: “If you give, you’ll receive. Happy Valentine’s Night.” When the ad was over, I thought to myself, “I’m tired.”

And it was true. I wasn’t really physically tired, nor mentally. I just suddenly felt drained, and as the commercials rolled on I began a mental checklist of all the things of which I am simply tired.

I don’t know how some people can remain so chipper and perky these days. There are a few…I work with some, I’m friends with others. As for me, I’m depressed. Every day it gets a little harder to lift my head from my pillow and go about my business.

My mental checklist began with the obvious stuff, but gradually started going backwards in time.

The President of the United States had an affair with an intern young enough to be his daughter. Nothing new there. Unlike Kennedy’s affairs (and if Mimi Alford is telling the truth, Kennedy was monstrous), Bill Clinton’s sleaziness was splashed all over the media. Suddenly discussions about oral sex and “oral-anal contact” were on the nightly news and in 90-point type on the newsstand. Serious commentators talked of blue dresses and semen, while the President and his charming bride rose in righteous indignation and accused their political opponents of fabricating the entire thing. And when the allegations were proven, and Bill Clinton made a sheepish and half-hearted apology the cry went up from the media and from the Democratic party that none of it mattered because the lies (under oath) were about sex, and everybody lies about sex. Everybody in high school, at least. And I began to tire.

In 2000 the Presidential election culminated in a 30+ day circus act of people holding ballots up to the light to see if the chads were dimpled, hanging, pregnant, or loose. Lawsuits were filed as Al Gore, a man who once said that he would do anything he needed to do to win the Presidency, attempted to steal the election. People talked of third parties determining the intent of voters. The Gore campaign attempted to suppress military votes based on a technicality (and because the military tends to vote for Republicans). The Bush campaign filed countersuits, and the media launched their own recounts. Finally the Supreme Court weighed in and the matter of Bush v. Gore was settled in favor of Bush. Every recount, and there were many, confirmed the fact that Bush won Florida and, therefore, the election. For over a month, though, America was faced with the idea that the election would be decided by bureaucrats in Florida and whichever candidate had the best lawyer. It was a Constitutional Crisis, now largely forgotten. Since then, virtually every election night has been a job opportunity for lawyers who wait for close results so that they can accuse the other party of stealing the election. I was exhausted.

September 11, 2001. ‘Nuff said.

The stock market crash that followed September 11, which came on the heels of the dot com bubble bursting, wiped out years of interest on my investments, cutting the money I’d been saving in half. Corporate scandals rocked everybody: Enron, Global Crossing, and many others. The odious link between Big Government and Big Business was on display, as people lost their entire savings.

War, war, war. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. The news filled with the stories of dead American soldiers. An intifada in Israel as Hamas terrorists launched their suicide bombers. People were blowing themselves up in order to kill others. It’s been so common for so long, but take a moment to seriously think about that. These are people so filled with hatred that they will strap explosives on their own bodies in order to kill innocent civilians. They are so filled with hatred they view the murder of Israelis as an honorable obligation for their children. Iran began its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The program designed in the 1990s to allow Iraqi citizens to get food in exchange for oil turned out to be a financial windfall for Saddam Hussein, aided by corrupt friends in the United Nations. We thought we were giving money for food, and turned out we were buying the guns used to kill American soldiers and innocent Iraqis. Are you tired yet?

In 2008 the Hindenburg-sized bubble of the housing market exploded. House values plummeted. Stocks were wiped out. Unemployment skyrocketed. America teetered on what we were told could have been a second Great Depression. The outgoing President attempted to solve the problem by “abandoning (his) free-market principles” and embracing nascent socialism. The market dropped some more. Americans were so frightened, and so disheartened by what they saw (rightly) as a collapse of our economic infrastructure that they elected a man based on vacuous platitudes of “hope” and “change”, a man with no experience in the free market, and precious little experience in government, whose resume for President of the United States included the non-job “community organizer”, whose worldview allows for the horror of socialism as just another valid way of doing things, and for whom a crisis is an opportunity that should not go to waste. He followed the Progressive New Deal playbook to get the economy out of recession, and it sank deeper. The unemployment rate stands now at 8.3%, though when you factor in those people who have dropped out of the job market, the actual rate is closer to 11%. When you add in those people working part-time but looking for full-time, and those working menial jobs just for a paycheck (the underemployed), the rate is nearly 20%. I doubt there’s a person in America who doesn’t know someone who has lost a job. We are now in Year Five of the Great Recession.

Meanwhile the culture savages traditional values at every turn. When a Super Bowl ad implies that a gift of flowers is the ticket to a blow job (the operative word in the ad was “receive” which, when discussing sex, is what is called a “dog whistle” for men), it speaks of a worldview where women are prostitutes, doling out sex for a dinner in a nice restaurant or a bouquet of flowers. Men are relegated to the status of zombies, not interested in love and sharing, just doing what needs to be done in order to satisfy their sexual needs. Another ad shows a young boy urinating in a pool, and smiling knowingly as his sister jumps in. A credit card commercial (Citi) features a woman who would rather climb to the top of a rock than marry the man she loves. A car commercial portrays a woman who agrees to marry, but only after she finishes a list of tasks she had set for herself, like learning to play the drums. Priorities, you know? Marriage and love? Just items on a To Do list, no more or less important than anything else.

The culture coarsens and gets cheaper every year. On a recent trip to Barnes and Noble I saw the following books: Go The F**k To Sleep, Assholes Finish First, E-mails From An A**hole, A$$hole, Sh*t My Dad Says, Why Sh*t Happens: The Science Of A Really Bad Day, Fuck, Farts: A Spotter’s Guide, and, last but not least, Images You Should Not Masturbate To (the cover is a photo of a naked, elderly man swinging an ax). A popular children’s book is called Everybody Poops. I’m not sure what the purpose of the book is since even children understand the reality of digestion, but the message is that human beings are no different from any other animal. It reduces humans to their basic biology and strips them of higher principles. The message to children: We are just animals, no different than that mouse or that elephant. Well, I beg to differ.

My questions: When did this become acceptable? When was it deemed okay to put these titles on display where children can see them? I’m no prude, and can appreciate a good dirty joke with the best of them, but none of this is funny. It is vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity.

I’m tired of movies that trade imagination for CGI effects, or that sucker punch the audience with political ideology. I feel like Hollywood is speaking down to us: give them explosions, maybe a spaceship, and the mindless riff-raff that pay our bills will ooh and ahh while we tell them that their bourgeois suburban lifestyles are passe. During the Super Bowl there was an ad for the movie Battleship…some kind of sci-fi CGI wonderland based on the Hasbro game of the same name. There are so many classic novels that could be turned into great movies, but Hollywood instead draws inspiration from board games, video games, and comic books. I’m tired of seeing women in movies acting like men in movies, beating up people twice their size, shedding any trace of femininity as if somehow men are the norm and that women need to be more like them. I’m tired of seeing men on television who are unable to tie their own shoes, acting like overgrown children, while their beautiful TV wives hector and nag them, emasculating them with sarcasm.

I get exhausted listening to the music of today where words like “bitch” and “nigger” get casually thrown around, where a woman I’ve never heard of (not Madonna), can sing “I don’t give a shit” and flip the bird to 100 million people during a Super Bowl halftime performance that looked like a cross between Gay Pride Night at Studio 54 and Army Of Darkness. So very, very tired.

I’m weary of flicking through television channels and seeing things like “Teen Mom” which glamorizes teenage pregnancy as just a difficult lifestyle choice, “My Super Sweet 16” which showcases the most spoiled brats on the planet, or the nightmare that is “Toddlers And Tiaras” featuring little girls tarted up to look like cheap prostitutes while their mothers look on approvingly. It’s horrifying, bordering on child abuse. These mothers should be deeply ashamed…but that would require living in a world where shame exists. That’s not where we’re at in 2012 America. I cringe at reality television, even the “good” stuff like “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race”, with their deceptive editing designed to portray people as heroes or villains, where lying and backstabbing is just another part of the game.

I’m sick to death of the American news media that, as Europe is poised on the verge of bankruptcy, as Iran gets closer to their dream of wiping Israel off the map with nuclear weapons, as our yearly budget deficit crosses the one trillion dollar mark and our total debt approaches 16 trillion, as Medicare and Social Security approach insolvency, and as the US Attorney General blatantly lies to Congress and attempts to cover up a scandal that has left hundreds of people dead, asks the prospective Presidential candidates questions such as “Deep dish or thin crust?” and if they’re in favor of banning contraception. These are questions designed to belittle the candidates, or to make them seem like religious kooks. Their questions of the sitting President generally amount to: “What’s it like to be so super terrific?” The guardians at the gate are sound asleep.

I get exhausted seeing the scabs of a nation “occupying” public areas, urinating and defecating in the street (or on cop cars), demanding handouts for others be stopped, while insisting that government accede to their inchoate demands. I see them rioting in various cities, smashing windows, throwing bricks at the police, all the while demanding that society cater to their desires. They’re vermin, living in what Iowahawk calls “lice-infested, Nazi-endorsed rape camps” yet they are treated seriously by the media and the Democrats. Even Republicans like to say that the Occupy forces have some good points in their critique of society. Maybe so—a stopped clock is right twice a day, after all—but they are still vermin.

Most recently the President of the United States has demanded that Catholic organizations ignore their own religious beliefs in order to provide contraception and abortifacients to women via health insurance. In the face of an enormous backlash, the President took to the airwaves to announce a change: the Catholic organizations still had to provide this, but now it would be provided free of charge so they wouldn’t have to pay for it. If you needed any further evidence that Barack Obama believes the American people are idiots who need guidance from an intellectual elite, this decision should be plenty. He honestly expects this frontal assault on the Constitutional provision of freedom of religion to be accepted because he shifted the cost burden from one group (Catholic organizations) to another (insurance companies who will, of course, shift the cost back by increasing premiums). It’s a political Three Card Monte game, but in 2012 the President of the United States has nothing but contempt for any American who doesn’t happily walk into the waiting jaws of Leviathan. The disdain Obama feels for those who disagree with him is palpable. A lot can be said about Jimmy Carter, the President whom Obama most resembles, but I don’t remember ever thinking that Carter hated a majority of Americans.

Politically, culturally, socially…you name it, I feel like we’re under attack. The weapons being used are mockery, scorn, and condescension. It’s almost everywhere you turn: television, movies, music, newspapers, magazines (a recent issue of Newsweek ran a cover story called “Why Are Obama’s Critics So Dumb?” which was written by a man who insists that Sarah Palin’s son Trig was actually born to Bristol Palin), politics, the internet.

Of course it’s not all bad. There are good movies, good TV shows, good songs. There are even some decent politicians. But the cumulative effect of fifteen or twenty years of scandal, war, depravity, terrorism, recession, and corruption…well, it’s enough to make a man want to stay in bed with the covers over his head.


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