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A Second Front in the Culture War

There has been much discussion lately in conservative circles about the American culture and what should be done about it. The consensus of opinion seems to be that the American culture is a complete mess, and the country urgently requires a conservative counter-culture.
Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, author, and liberal apostate Roger L. Simon, in a column titled “Reclaiming the Culture,” urges conservatives to “quit bitching and start doing” by making movies, novels, music, and other cultural products of their own. Law professor Glenn Reynolds, the almighty “Instapundit” of the right side of internet, takes to the pages of the New York Post to call for conservative alternatives to women’s magazines such as Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and the Ladies Home Journal. The smart fellows at the influential Powerline web site second the notion, and pine for some sympathetic billionaire to buy The New York Times. Numerous other conservatives have expressed similar longings, mostly in conservative publications with exclusively conservative readerships that are cumulatively dwarfed by a typical audience for television’s lowest-rated offerings.
We wish them well, of course. Even the most obviously ruinous assumptions of liberalism permeate the popular culture, while even the most commonsensical concepts of conservatism are routinely ridiculed, and so long as this situation prevails political victories will hard to achieve. All that mindless conformity makes for monotonous and dissatisfying cultural fare, too, and we have no doubt that artists with a conservative sensibility could provide far better work if they were only given the opportunity.
Still, remaking a culture seems a daunting task. The liberals’ nearly total control of America’s cultural institutions, from the tawdriest cable channel to the toniest museum, was gained over several decades of steady encroachment and will take as long to be undone. Having so laboriously attained power the left will be reluctant to yield it, and the leftists well remember from their insurgent days what happens when the establishment allows dissent. Infiltrating the existing institutions is therefore almost impossible, and new organizations that arise to challenge them will be subjected to the most vituperative attacks.
Some especially thick-skinned artists will withstand the attacks, battered and bruised though they may be, but it’s difficult to see how they will compete with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in the current cultural marketplace. Contemporary liberal culture promises liberation from the sexual and social mores of the vanquished past in exchange for submission to governmental control of every other sphere of life in a utopian future, so any appeal to traditions rooted in personal responsibility and the harsh realism of the Judeo-Christian worldview will likely prove a tough sell. Sex, violence, and other titillating topics are all valid subjects for artists, and should be dealt with frankly, but the conservatives’ habitual concern with consequences will wind up taking the all the fun out of it for today’s audiences.
Conservatism requires complex explanations, too, and that seems to have no box office appeal at all these days. Much of the blame for this sorry situation lies with the educational establishment, dominated from the kindergarten classes to the doctoral programs by liberals, which seems to have lowered the country’s standards by literal and figurative degrees. Anyone familiar with the hit movies and best-selling books of the ‘30s has likely noticed that the movie-goers and book-buyers of that era had far more sophisticated tastes than today’s vastly more schooled audiences, and even the most credentialed critics currently holding forth so often seem to completely misunderstand what they’re talking about.
Perhaps that’s why the few conservative popular culture offerings that have gained any popularity in recent years seem to have done so with only a few sharp observers even noticing their conservatism. Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butthead” was a withering satire of rock ‘n’ roll culture and his “King of the Hill” a sly celebration of rural working class traditions, but both were so cutting-edge hip they were taken for standard liberal television. The hit movie “300” extolled the virtues of western civilization’s martial spirit, explicitly enough to annoy all the critics, but its popularity had far more to do with its sleek look, copious violence, and homo-erotic costuming. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, writers such as Robertson Davies, Muriel Spark, Tom Wolfe, Martin Amis, and Evelyn Waugh have written devastating critiques of modern liberalism with such elegance and flair that they, too, are widely assumed to be liberal. We even have a friend who insists that George Orwell’s “1984” is a dark warning about what would happen if those Tea Party types were to gain power, what with their crazy notions about limited government and individual liberty and such.
Reclaiming the culture is going to be a hard chore, but the conservatives might succeed in slipping a few more works past the unnoticing censors.

— Bud Norman

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