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Politics is Down-Sewer From the Culture

On a slow news weekend The Washington Post tends to feature stories about contemporary popular culture, and they always make us feel old and out of touch. The paper’s weekly update about Saturday Night Live’s opening sketch mentioned someone named Tekashi 6ix9ine, along with actress Lori Loughlin, whose name we learned only after she was arrested in that big deal college admissions scandal, and lawyer Michael Avanatti, who of course is best known for representing pornographic video performer Stormy Daniels, whom we’d never heard of until she broke her nondisclosure agreement with President Donald Trump.
Judging by the Post’s extensive coverage, we’re apparently the only people in America who don’t watch “Game of Thrones,” and despite our lifelong literary bent it had not previously occurred to us wonder where’s the great millennial novel. The contemporary popular culture questions on “Jeopardy!” almost always stump us, and we can’t converse much with the under-40 set about anything but politics, sports, and the weather.
Our mostly disgruntled younger friends assure us that we’re not missing out on much, and based on our occasional and brief encounters with the contemporary popular culture we tend to believe them. We looked into this Tekashi 6ix9ine fellow — apparently that last name is pronounced “six-nine,” but spelled according to modern educational standards — and we’re told by Wikipedia that “His musical career has been marked by an aggressive style of rapping, while his controversial public persona is characterized by his distinctive rainbow-colored hair, excessive tattoos, public feuds with fellow celebrities, and legal issues.” Given all the great Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and Duke Ellington and Ramones records and other great American music in our extensive collection, we saw no reason to look any further.
Although we took a sociological interest in the big college admissions scandal we didn’t bother to investigate Loughlin’s work, as she’s apparently mostly starred in sit-coms and cable channel movies we’e never heard of. For reasons solely related to our political punditry we checked out a couple of Stormy Daniels’ performances, and you can go right ahead and call us old-fashioned, but all we can say is that she’s no Hyapatia Lee. People seem to like “Game of Thrones,” which we’re told features a lot of nudity and violence, but we’re not about to pay cable bills to see that when there’s so much of it for free on the internet. As for the awaited great millennial novel, we’d advise to the youngsters to read such timeless classics as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” and “The Things That are Caesar’s.”
Although the current popular culture doesn’t provide any refuge from the current politics, we suppose we should be paying more attention. Cultural conservatives have long said that “politics is downstream from culture,” and way back in in the ’72 Pat Buchanan was rightly observing that President Richard Nixon had won the election but lost the culture to the dirty hippies, and the downward trend seems to continue. We fear to see where it might go next, but probably out to take a look through our slightly opened fingers. Something eerily parallel does seem to be going on.
The current President of the United States was previously a star of one of those wretched reality shows, and much like that 6ix9ine fellow he has an aggressive stye of rapping and a flamboyantly weird hairstyle and a weird way of spelling words, and although he doesn’t have any tattoos we’re aware of his controversial public persona is clearly characterized by feuds with fellow celebrities and legal issues. We’d also note that Trump is the main reason Stormy Daniels is now a household, with countless husbands and horny high school students nervously erasing their search engine history. Except for the soft-core porno photos of the First Lady that are just a few clicks away on the internet the Trump presidency the Trump presidency has been blessedly free of nudity, but the president does seem to relish violence, and a lot of the more high-brow critics are claiming that “Game of Thrones” is a metaphor for our times. Nobody seems to read books anymore, and that notably includes the President of the United States, so even if the great millennial novel does appear it probably won’t make much difference.
That’s just the sorry state of the political right, too, and we shudder to think about what the political left that has been cheering on the decline of American culture since at least the ’60s might wind up nominating. We’ll keep listening to Bing Crosby’s crooning and watching Frank Capra’s sappy cinematic tributes to small-town Americana, and hope for a comeback of the more dignified American style of politics it fostered.

— Bud Norman

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Two Down, Forty-Eight to Go

Another football season is in the books, basketball won’t begin its all-important post-seasons for a few more frigid weeks, and baseball’s spring training seems an eternity away, so at the moment the only scores a sports fan has to pore over are from the New Hampshire presidential primaries. Although it’s still early in the long political race, the results are already intriguingly different from all those pre-season predictions.
Over at the Democratic league, the senior circuit in more ways than one, the presupposed long-shot, self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was a blow-out winner over former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the once-presumptive First Woman President of the United States. Following her minuscule margin of victory in the season-opening Iowa caucus, which by now everyone knows was officiated as fishily as the 1972 Olympic basketball finals, Clinton’s long-assumed coronation suddenly seems very much in doubt. All the bettors in the party and the press who went big on her candidacy seem panicked, all the big news and entertainment media are begrudgingly obliged to acknowledge the existence of a self-described socialist called Sen. Bernie Sanders, all the kids are acting like they’re at the Ed Sullivan Show when The Beatles were playing, and all those federal agents are still snooping around her e-mail accounts and fishy family foundation donations, so the race is at least more interesting than was promised.
Next on the schedule is South Carolina, and any objective sportswriter might resort to an old cliche and say Clinton is in desperate need of a win there to salvage her season. In her last failed season Clinton lost badly in South Carolina, following a much-needed win in New Hampshire, but this time around she’s assumed to have a home field advantage. The more polite press are embarrassed to explain exactly why, but it’s implied that it’s something to do with the fact so many of state’s white people are Republicans that the Democratic party is largely comprised of black people. Last time around Clinton was running against Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive and sure enough First Black President, but this time she’s running as Obama’s personally-chosen Secretary of State and the wife of the first First Black President, and she’s running against a guy from the whitest state in the union that anyone who’s ever seen a “Seinfeld” episode will immediately recognize as not only New York but Jewish, and even we hesitate to imply how that will play with an average South Carolina Democrat, so if Clinton doesn’t win there it will probably mean that the establishment team is forced to make one of those messy early-season quarterback changes.
There was a blow-out win in the Republican contest, too, but to the discerning eye of a veteran political sports fan it was not so significant. Real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump more than doubled the numbers of his nearest competitor, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is merely ¬†one of the Congressmen who delivered the last more-or-less-balanced budgets and a twice-elected chief executive of a bellwether swing state, which should tell you something about how very different this season of Republican politics has already been. This is enough for the headline writers, and will allow Trump the end-zone dance that was so cruelly denied the showboating quarterback Cam Newton in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, but it doesn’t have the same effect on the standings. The Democrat race is already down to two teams, but the Republicans still have a crowded field of contenders, and although we wouldn’t compare it to the Masters we will analogize that there are a lot of holes left to be played. A full 66 percent of the voting¬†went to someone other than Trump, who continues to suffer downright Clintonian levels of disapproval in the same public opinion polls that show him leading the race nationally, New Hampshire is a crazy state that goes for Pat Buchanan one year and Mitt Romney in another, and the guys who were hanging around in the round are all capable of shooting high scores.
Still, it’s a win for Trump, the end zone dance will have to be indulged, the headlines will be all that anybody reads, and those who of us who are lustily booing his professional wrestling shtick will have to get used to it for a while. The early result will likely shake out a few of the bottom-tier candidates, and their cumulatively important number of supporters will likely be distributed among the remaining candidates who are someone other than Trump, but it leaves in place all the jockeying for inside lanes that have caused all those campaign pile-ups Trump has somehow always raced past, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will still be sniping at one another and everybody will be sniping at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Iowa and had a good-enough showing in New Hampshire, for some reason known only to 16 percent of New Hampshire’s Republican voters Kasich will also be sticking around and acting above the fray. All in all, a good night for Trump.
Next on the schedule is South Carolina, though, which is a different course with different ground rules and extended three-point lines or whatever sports analogy you might prefer. Like New Hampshire it is an open primary, which allows the independents and Democrats that Trump seems to be drawing to participate in the Republican election, but the white folks and the few few black folks who predominate in the party’s voting tend to be Christian and capitalist and traditionally conservative, earning it a reputation as a “firewall” against insurgent candidacies, so it could prove unfriendly for Trump. Our best guess is that he’ll get his usual sizable chunk of the electorate, but our hope is that someone will be able to garner a competitive share of the more sizable-not-for-Trump vote. Cruz would seem a possibility, but retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson might still be around to take away some much-needed evangelical votes, and with Kasich still around to steal votes from Rubio and Bush, who are for some reason known only to themselves still squabbling with one another rather than leading a full-on assault against Trump, there’s little likelihood of whatever’s left of “the establishment” playing any role in this race.
It’s still early in the season, as already noted, but so far it looks to be a memorable one.

— Bud Norman