Conservatives, pop culture, and the language of the right

So an old post at my now-basically-defunct solo politics blog about conservatives and pop culture has accidentally sparked off a pretty interesting symposium at Acculturated – a conservative blog about pop culture and society. There’s a lot of interesting entries from people like James Poulos, Lee Siegel, and Ed Driscoll (to name a few) under the stewardship of blog editor Emily Esfahani Smith (who I am much obliged to for finding my little blog post in the first place.)

In any case, I round the whole thing off with another piece in the symposium that goes into somewhat greater depth, responding to some of the other members of the symposium. Here’s a taste:

If conservatives insist on the same litmus test for pop culture as they apply to members of the conservative movement, the politicization of art is all but certain. No art can survive this sort of thematic inquisition.

It’s not that conservatives can’t do pop culture, it’s that they’re trying much too hard to enforce the same rules about art as they do about politics. The left has this problem from time to time, but they’ve managed to learn from past mistakes, infusing their pop culture with a broadly left-leaning cultural narrative. Indeed, these days liberals are often better at artfully inserting conservative messages into pop culture than conservatives themselves. In films like Juno, the prolife argument is given as sympathetic a treatment as you’re likely to see, but the film’s writer, Diablo Cody, is hardly known for her conservatism.

If you have any thoughts on the issue I’d love to hear them.

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146 thoughts on “Conservatives, pop culture, and the language of the right

  1. Good if there is anythign to add it relates to this snip “The best conservative pop culture often only hints at its own conservatism. Whether that’s a film like The 40-Year-Old Virgin–a potty-mouthed movie about the importance of love and marriage and the emptiness of casual sex–or Gran Torino–a film that extols the twin virtues of tolerance and community in preserving America against violent decline–conservative themes…”

    Whether it was your intention or maybe just the way i’m reading it you are suggesting love, marriage, and/ or tolerance and community as somehow conservative values. I think the main problem when people try to make ideological art is they use self-righteous definitions of their own values. So choice or family or love end up being conservative values. Ideologues are just to prone to see all good values as solely and truly theirs. They see their opponents as lacking all those things.

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    • you are suggesting love, marriage, and/ or tolerance and community as somehow conservative values

      There are certain approaches that are much more “old fashioned at heart” than “progressive”. Now, of course, we all know that “Liberal” could just as easily mean “Classically Liberal” and “old fashioned at heart” could just as easily mean “racist, homophobic, sexist, and a proud member of a union”.

      There are some approaches that resonate as “conservative”.

      I’d look at Knocked Up for a second and look at the anti-choice vs. pro-woman’s right to choose her own sexual destiny debate. The movie didn’t merely see pregnancy as a good thing (I mean, *EVERYBODY* is pro-life, right? It’s really a debate over whether women should be allowed to make decisions, right?) but it also portrayed abortion (a word it never explicitly used) as a either a severely selfish and immature choice or as a fairly monstrous choice (“now she has a *REAL* baby”).

      There are conservative flashes and there are progressive flashes and there’s more going on than merely flashing on something pretty much agreed upon as good and saying “well that’s a conservative/progressive value too!”

      That said, the Theocons have done a great deal to say that the only authentic conservativism is theirs. It took me a while to stop believing them.

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    • Here is the thing that I find broadly frustrating:

      When conservatives (or I) argue that there is a lack of representation of conservative ideas in entertainment, things that are at best marginally conservative are often thrown out there. But when conservatives (not really I) try to claim them, they’re accused of claiming values that they don’t own.

      Of course, this might be unfair insofar as the people telling them that they should be satisfied with Juno and the ones telling them to stop claiming Juno are different people just as the conservatives trying to say that Hollywood doesn’t represent conservative values and the ones claiming Juno are different.

      But I think this is one of the things that makes it so logistically difficult to talk about. Either people are shifting the threshold of what qualifies to suit their rhetorical interests (with or without actually realizing that’s what’s happening), or there’s not much consensus on what qualifies and what doesn’t, even among people on the same side (of either side).

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  2. I was thinking about this earlier when reading Batman: Year 100 and the “Berlin Batman” which kind of ham-fistedly inserted libertarian boilerplate rhetoric into the narrative in a bit of a jarring way. Year 100 about a too powerful federal government really would’ve gotten it’s message across without making sure to bring up laissez-faire and Locke and Berlin Batman actually had Batman saving Von Mises political writings from being destroyed but then added a schlocky “the Berlin Batman will always stand against increasingly regulatory governments” exposition at the end that was kind of jarring.

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    • http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/01/josef-skvorecky-on-the-nazis-control-freak-hatred-of-jazz/250837/

      Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands…so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs) … strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.)

      (no cowbell? no wonder they lost)

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  3. Conservatives have erected their own stone sarsens along the cultural road. They pretty much own classical music, classical art and the like. Speaking as a musician and an abiding fan of symphony music, getting new music played at Symphony Hall, even by smallish orchestras, is very difficult. As Edgard Varèse once said (and Frank Zappa quoted him) “The present-day composer refuses to die!”

    More people will hear a church choir sing than will ever go to a pop concert.

    The Conservatives are getting serious about kulchur these days. Big Hollywood’s out there, ferociously attacking the Left. Fox’s Red Eye is doing land office business. Weekly Standard features a big cultural component. Hollywood has never lacked for Conservatives. Though every intelligent reader these days mourns the death of Ray Bradbury, most of us knew he was a staunch conservative: the subject just never came up.

    The artist sets out his nets and trawls through the seas of the world. When he hauls them in and his catch spills out onto the deck, it’s a reflection of where he’s sailed and how deep he trawled. There’s nothing intrinsically conservative or liberal about art, however liberal or conservative the artist might be.

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  4. I’m mostly of the mind that the only place you see a real push for ‘conservative values’ (and i use that term loosely) is in country music. We have already went down that road here.

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  5. My two abiding questions about “pop culture” (a phrase I admittedly don’t quite grasp, because I, like Allan Bloom, would prefer the civilization that, like Marilynne Robinson, I miss and want back) were made only more intense by reading the responses at Acculturated:

    1) Why does no one consider “Top-40” Country in these matters? It has a more abiding presence than, I’d say, The Lady Goo-Goo.

    2) Why is non-genre fiction — apparently by definition — separated from “pop” culture — or even “popular” culture and placed into some vacuum-sealed section for “elite” or “high” culture?

    Two further points on question (2): MAD MEN, THE SOPRANOS, and THE WIRE all have/had rather small television audiences and appeal(ed) primarily, to a New Yorker/New Republic/Atlantic/NY Times type of demographic — and this demographic also cares for fiction and poetry. (Or at least pretends to.) Also, far too much of contemporary “literary” fiction is mediocrity pretending to highbrow status for me to be content with it being grouped in with a “high” rather than “pop” culture.

    I’m just thoroughly confused as to why even the conservatives in this debate are limiting the playing field — and omitting the segment that most muddies the case against a “conservative” “pop culture.”

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      • “As to number 2, this is to protect the elitism itself.”

        i disagree. this sentiment is the genre fiction/sci fi fan’s 9/11 was an inside job. (i say this as a dashiell hammett adoree)

        what do the three tv shows you listed have in common? they are worlds built (largely) outside of the experiences of the audience that the people watching get to live in for a little bit every week. they’re sharply edited. they’re episodic. they are, at least broken into smaller chunks, not a huge investment of time. they’re entertaining, even if they’re by and large not incredibly cheerful.

        most importantly, they’re popular. people have heard of them. you can likely have conversations with strangers, co-workers, etc about at least one of those shows.

        good luck pulling that off with the latest winner of the national book critics circle awards.** (i had to look it up on wikipedia myself.) or even the nobel prize in literature. they’re simply not that popular. i certainly don’t read most of it, if any.

        or as i put it, no one cosplays magical realism. there’s certainly plenty of material to pull from, but it ain’t gonna happen.

        i think it’s perceived as elitism because the grouping this comes from has grown up as the last or 2nd to last generation of “nerds” in the classical 80s film sense. games, sci fi, fantasy, etc are all not only acceptable but widely discussed and embraced. the internet has erased some of the sense of shame/marginalization and helped two collectable card battle kids from different parts of the world share what they love about their hobby/call each other homosexual slurs.

        but for the earlier generations, the idea that the arbiters of culture are out there, denouncing the trappings of first loves, the dice rolls and ray guns, placing explosives in 7 world trade center, is a powerful draw.

        i do far more literary conference document prep than i would care to/is allowed by the constitution – popular culture, genre fiction, etc are all well-represented in major conference. it almost feels like pandering sometimes, but many of these scholars are in their 20s or early 30s, so harry potter or the hunger games are far less incongruous than it would seem from a distance.

        *and by that i mean the seemingly thousands of people i’ve had this conversation with – i know a lot of libertarians! and there really does seem to be a huge overlap with investment in sci fi/fantasy, rpg playing, etc – i don’t know if this is a function of thinking about the world as it isn’t leading to alternate explorations of the political world as it could be, or sheer marginalization, or what. i got the minarchist playset without any of the swords and boots in it. and prog rock, thank goodness.

        ** this may change if hbo makes that jennifer egan book.

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  6. Good piece, EDK. I’ve been following the symposium but left it for you to write about.

    I’ve done some art over the years as a songwriter, and my best stuff isn’t “conservative” by any real measure. By going political, I’d turn off half of any potential audience. In fact, in my younger days, I wrote a few socio-political screeds that leaned left. Rock/folk and self-righteous protest bleat are a perfect emotional match: form meets function. [Aquinas does not shout.]

    On the non-playa level, “conservative” art means that of the “conservatory” function, protecting good art [Michelangelo’s Pieta] from bad art or non-art [Serrano’s Piss Christ] and the meme that all art is in the eye of the beholder and therefore somewhow equal.

    Serrano is not Michelangelo’s equal.

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  7. I must have missed the part in Juno where making abortions illegal is given a sympathetic treatment, otherwise you seem to be attributing “wanting women to make choices about their pregnancy” to a uniquely conservative viewpoint. It’s as silly as those people who claimed that Avatar was a liberal movie because a xenocidal corporation was the bad-guy … when hating on xenocidal corporations obviously transcends political boundaries. Of course, it was also a bit weird to see conservative pundits start lining up to defend the bad guys, but that’s a separate issue.

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    • The girl protesting outside the abortion clinic was hardly presented as a villain. Her argument persuaded Juno to choose an adoption. As I said, this is a very sympathetic portrayal of the pro life side. But you seem to be attributing arguments to me that I never made.

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      • That’s fair, thinking about it I guess “not a villain” is about as sympathetic a treatment you’ll see of the prolife right in mainstream film. But it still hardly seems like a conservative message to me. Knocked Up seems like a more apt example, where abortion is dismissed out of hand as an awful thing to even consider.

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        • Which is interesting as Rupert Everett was downright livid when talking about Juno and Knocked Up as hallmarks of Hollywood’s duplicity. They produced movies where the heroine declares abortion as unthinkable and then tell leading ladies that if they dare get pregenent they’d best “take care of it” if they ever want to work again.

          Now, I can’t link the quote (I heard it years ago), and it was, well, years ago…

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        • Its certainly a more sympathetic portrayal of anti-abortion protesters than, say, the one in “Weeds”, which seems more common. While its certainly true that some anti-abortion protesters are loonies, its not fair to dismiss them all as such.

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  8. This is similar to my point about comedy — you can be Funny or you can be Preachy but it’s really hard to be both at the same time. Substitute “entertaining” for “funny” and I think that gets to the core of the issue.

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  9. I just remembered that I’m watching Fringe.

    Episodes such as “White Tulip” are exceptionally pro-theist (join our Bookclub on Mindless Diversions! We’re watching Fringe!) and the show itself is kind of weirdly conservative in the way that Fox shows tend toward weird conservativism.

    I’ve never seen a full episode of House, for that matter, but I’ve overheard enough to suspect that a regular feature of the show is something like this: Person does bad thing but keeps it hidden. This gives them a disease. Disease is proportionate to bad thing done. Premarital sex leads to ectopic pregnancy, adultery leads to AIDS. Healing involves telling the truth and repenting.

    How off base am I on that?

    If I’m somewhere in the ballpark, would it be remiss of me to say that that’s a conservative theme of the show?

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    • I haven’t seen every episode, but I’ve seen enough to say that it is a common theme, though definitely not the thrust of every show and maybe falling short of a “dominant” them. But it does indeed happen.

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    • The theme of House is supposedly ‘Everyone lies’. They lie about pretty much everything.

      But the lying is only a problem in about 1/4th the cases, honestly, although there often will be completely irrelevant lying discovered, and is usually unrelated to the cause of the case. Often, it’s the lie of someone beside the patient. And is usually not some sort of ‘moral’ lie, and is often more of an oversight than a ‘lie’.

      The actual premise, at least of House the person, is ‘everyone is a selfish bastard’, of which their lying is just a subset. It has been pointed out that House is _wrong_ on this, even about _himself_, especially his claim that he’s only in it to solve medical mysteries and does not actually care about the outcome. (In fact, among his employees will always be someone whose job is to point this out, although they keep changing it up, and ended the series with employees who had different things to be idealist about.)

      I’m not quite sure how any of that’s a conservative premise. If House was right, if he lived in some sort of crapsack Ayn Rand world where everyone was out to get ahead, that would be a ‘conservatism’ premise for sufficiently silly versions of conservative, but he’s really not. He’s just a misanthrope.

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  10. I have always imagined the relation of conservatives to art to resemble the presence of the critic.

    Contributing nothing, pissing on everything, and insisting that anything they don’t like is either the “lame stream media” or otherwise something that needs to be censored.

    Come to think of it, that seems to be the real problem. Liberals will still disagree with you while defending to the death your right to say something; Conservatives want to shoot you for saying it.

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    • MA-

      While I’m not going to make the argument here, because I think your point is facile and I don’t think it is really germane to the conversation, your last comment there has now opened up the floodgates for piling on Muslims, a very small subset of which actually HAVE shot/killed people for making art they didn’t like. But you can’t bash conservatives without cracking a few eggs, eh?

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      • a very small subset of which actually HAVE shot/killed people for making art they didn’t like

        And this is related to religion how? Inasmuch as they were highly conservative Muslims, perhaps.

        Apparently on your radar highly conservative christian preachers in the US calling for people to physically attack gays – and at least one calling for internment camps – don’t rate similar outrage?

        The Catholic League is trying to get John Stewart fired over the “vagina manger” joke. The same group of people who dismissed AIDS as “a self-inflicted wound” and attacked and harassed priest sexual abuse survivors networks as “a menace to the Catholic Church.”

        I think my criticism of the worldview in that regard is valid.

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        • MA:

          Conservative Christians calling for folks to attack gays (if that is indeed happening) is deplorable… but has NOTHING to do with art.

          The Catholic League going after John Stewart is within their rights as consumers and getting him fired is very different than calling for him to be shot. There perspective on AIDs, as deplorable as it may be, has nothing to do with this conversation or their right to criticize Stewart (which I also disagree with, mind you).

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  11. For me, I think it comes down (as it usually does for me) to how we define things. How are we defining pop culture? How are we defining “conservative”?

    Using the most basic definitions of each, I think there are plenty of examples of “conservative” pop culture, many of which were quite good, at least by pop culture standards. Yes, you have your shows like “Seinfeld” and “Sexy in the City” that show single folks tramping around New York City. But you also have tons of shows that show happy, normal, stable families. If you are going to call a show like “Friends” liberal, than you have to call a show like “Everybody Loves Raymond” conservative, at least in part. Then you have more obviously conservative shows like “Seventh Heaven”. In the greater New York area there used to be a channel called PAX (it might have been on elsewhere) that showed a lot of Christian programming and other shows that I think one could fairly slide to the conservative side of the ledger… shows like “Walker, Texas Ranger”.

    The problem seems to be is that people might be looking for the type of art ED offered in his original piece. And while I’m sure you can find that if you look for it, it is not going to be mainstream, just as much of the same type of liberal stuff isn’t mainstream. “Piss Christ” wasn’t mainstream art and largely came to be known because of its deliberately provocative nature and the backlash to it. But it’s not like folks were rushing out to buy copies or watching the “Real Housewives of Piss Christ”.

    Which brings me to a final point… the Real Housewives series and other reality shows. I would venture to guess that conservatives would call that liberal trash art. And trash art it is. But in many cases, the folks featured on it are conservative and are often living the type of general lifestyle that is celebrated by many on the right (for all of its love affair with blue collar America, folks living in gated communities and living an ostentatious high life with money made in the markets is something more embraced by conservatives than liberals, on the whole). This is not to say that those shows or reality TV in general is conservative. Just that applying labels to this type of stuff isn’t always as easy as it seems. In part, again, because we often mean very different things when we use terms like “conservative” and “pop culture art”.

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    • It requires some real sleight of hand to use “conservative” to mean “blue collar/working class aesthetic” in one breath and “conservative christian” in the next focusing on where the venn diagram of those sets do *NOT* overlap while, at the same time, trying to make a point about everybody covered by any part of the venn diagram.

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    • Analyzing this is an exercise in counting the hits and forgetting the misses.

      “Conservative” ideals are all around. The Simpsons portrays a relatively strong nuclear family – or at least I did when I watched it. Homer and Marge are together for life, even if they struggle sometimes. They are trying to do their best to raise good kids, even if Bart’s a little hellraiser and Lisa desperately needs socialization. Because of their flaws, Bart and Lisa seem more realistic than Alex P. Keaton. The moral lessons in Simpsons often get missed for the comedic aspect and the occasional jabs at organized religion (“The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism”) or Fox networks in general.

      And Family Ties was a giant propaganda show about how the “young conservative” was far better and more intelligent than his “hippie parents.”

      The problem with Conservatives is that they want everything to be exactly within their worldview. At the same time as PAX network – a network devoted to crappy christian shows like “Touched by an Angel” – was dying in the ratings, conservatives were getting the panties their wives didn’t know they were wearing in a wad over Ally McBeal or Murphy Brown. Today if you want “conservative values”, go watch a cop show; if you don’t, go watch Will & Grace reruns or switch over to daytime talk shows like Ellen.

      The biggest problem for conservatives right now is that the gay movement is more and more “out”, and not in the flashy sense. More and more people are realizing that gays have family values and are real people. They’re not the “leather man” from the Village People, they’re the people living down the street who have a small house, a barking dog in the yard, drive an SUV… they’re normal. With that realization comes a much, much harder time dismissing them as deviants or “other.”

      The same thing goes for art. There’s art all around you. If you want examples of “christian art”, all you have to do is walk into a church, or open up any of thousands of travel books, or visit any museum. The re’s even terrible art like “One Nation Under God”, that promotes the idea that the Constitution is some new addition to the bible handed down to the founding fathers by a shining figure with Kenny G’s hairdo. The problem isn’t that it doesn’t exist, it’s that conservatives want it to be the only art that exists; they don’t want to have to share space and compete for eyes and minds with the other side.

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      • And Family Ties was a giant propaganda show about how the “young conservative” was far better and more intelligent than his “hippie parents.”

        I watched very little TV as a kid, but I’d been assured (by a far-left college professor, admittedly) that Alex Keaton was supposed to be a joke, and that the joke backfired — people thought of him as admirable, maybe a little flawed but basically in the right place, whereas the writers intended him as a buffoon.

        I don’t know enough about the show to evaluate the claim.

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            • “Family Matters” was a spinoff of the buddy-comedy “Perfect Strangers”, and no, it wasn’t “blerd culture” as the focus – though you’d think that if you only saw a few shows or promotions for it.

              It was intended to be a family-comedy similar to the Cosby show, and Urkel wasn’t even introduced until halfway through the first season. Much more than Family Ties, the show degenerated into a revolving line of physical comedy gags and constant catch-phrase humor. In that respect, it might easily be compared to the decline of the Simpsons.

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      • MA-

        Please provide evidence that conservatives don’t want any art but conservative art to exist. I have no doubt that there are SOME conservatives who feel that way and probably more conservatives who’d like certain types of art to go away and assuredly a whole host of people, conservative and otherwise, who agree that some forms of art are pretty terrible. But the notion that the entirety of conservatism is waging a war on any art more liberal than “Seventh Heaven” is a joke.

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          • I especially liked the Civil War logo: that’s Nathan Bedford Forrest on horseback there, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Quite a painting, that.

            Inspiring, even. Deo vindice, God will vindicate. Suuuuure he will. That was the motto of the Confederacy.

            That’s not really Conservative Art. That’s Reactionary Art. Big difference.

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            • Hmmn, tough call. The hat is definitely JEB Stuart, and the picture with the bigger beard, excessive plumage and pose suggests Stuart… but can’t quite rule out NBF and I can’t positively google one way or another. But at first glance (even with your comment in mind) I’d guess Stuart. Here’s a link to Hat and Stuart on same page.

              Not that it matters overmuch… the blog is pretty spooky (and the author is quite possibly a fan of Forrest anyway). But hey, let’s get the art right.

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              • You’re probably right. Good call. I now have my own doubts. NBForrest has also depicted in just such a cavalryman’s hat, though no photographs of either man show such a hat.

                I take a dim view of all these paintings of the Revolutionary War and the Glorious Cause. I call these paintings LHAPs, Limited edition Historical Art Prints. Jonah Begone goes into this subject at length, including a little montage of Forrestry. My intensely-religious sister has a large and hideously mawkish reproduction of George Washington praying at Valley Forge on the living room wall. Tell yez where Washington likely did a whole lot more praying, at Morristown, where his troops fared worse than at Valley Forge.

                Some of this soi-disant Conservative Art just creeps me out. Reminds me of all that Socialist Realism from the Communists. The Medium is the Massage.

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        • You need look no further than the type of people who’d protest a showing of Michelangelo’s David “where kids can see it.” And in conservative-dominated states, good luck finding a public museum that hasn’t been ravaged by state budget cuts in general. They’re even going after public libraries now, and there are regular campaigns to have certain books banned (where I live, we almost had the county ban some of the early Harry Potter books on the grounds they “promote witchcraft to children”).

          The latest target right now is the “Shades of Grey” trilogy, which is no worse than any of the other trashy novels out on the market save for including some pretty steamy BDSM scenes in addition to the standard steamy-sex scenes. It doesn’t even have an erotic Fabio-laden cover. Even though the libraries won’t check it out to anyone under 18, there are church groups around the country up in arms again about it. They’re demanding it be discontinued from the library systems entirely on the grounds that a child might pick it up from their mother’s reading stack or something and ask an embarassing question or two of their mother later.

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  12. The thing is, when we talk about pop culture, we often talk about mass media, which is sustained by and constitutes a branch of consumer capitalism. I mean, there are plenty of exceptions- little music cultures that give birth to bands and albums far outside of the industry, independent graphic novels, free websites, etc. But pop culture movies and television shows are very much embedded in the culture of consumer capitalism and sustained by it, and consumer capitalism can’t really survive in some culturally traditionalist or “conservative” form; the “culture” it sells has to be constantly new and different- it has to be this year’s model. You can’t turn a profit by saying, “We have nothing new for you. The old ways are the best.” Not to mention the fact that most traditionalist cultures are defined by the obligations they impose on the individual, while consumer capitalism thrives by appealing to the wishes of the consumer. It has no Thou Shalt Nots. Nor should it.

    So, there’s a tension there. You see this tension between traditional cultures and the consumer capitalist culture whenever you talk to older people who came from those traditionalist cultures and have immigrated to America, or the other “western” cultures, and now can’t relate to their kids who are steeped in the values of the mall. You also see it among cultural conservative polemicists, who understand that their world and its values are being eroded, but never seem to understand why. They recognize pop culture as anti-conservative, but imagine it’s the influence of some radical left cabal. MTV is clearly anti-conservative, but it must be because its producers went to Brown! Maybe it’s the influence of Saul Alinsky! We just need conservatives in charge. No- there’s no such thing as culturally-traditionalist capitalism. Sorry. Trying to square the circle by loudly championing consumer capitalism while bemoaning its cultural effects is ridiculous.

    Look, I don’t mean this as a polemic against consumer capitalism and I think most conservatives can live perfectly happy lives by compartmentalizing- as many of the respondents seem to have! Also, let’s note something important here- racism and most bigotries also arise as local cultural traditions, and they have been just as thoroughly eroded by the mass media and consumer capitalism as all other local traditions. If it makes no sense to advertise a car for “whites only”, before long a whites-only Presidency will make no sense either. All for the best. I’m not enough of a traditionalist to yearn for all the old cultural landmarks to return, nor enough of a liberal to want change forevermore, baby and bathwater.

    But, no, I don’t think there can be conservative pop culture any more than there can be communist pop culture. Here’s the happy news for conservatives though- there can be plenty of conservative art. Some of the most powerful and enduring art ever made was produced by heartbroken conservatives, if not outright reactionaries- Homer, Plato, and Dostoevsky come to mind immediately. Maybe conservatives or traditionalists should focus on imaginatively recreating the world that has been lost as richly as possible and forget about achieving mass acceptance or becoming rock stars. Most of those articles read like people bemoaning the fact that their ideas aren’t “cool”, which is sort of the point of conservatism in the first place.

    [When I write these longwinded comments, I am tickled to recognize how much I miss posting here more frequently.]

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      • This is tricky. On the one hand, I am bothered by the notion that conservatives have a monopoly on values like “family” or “community”, major themes of Rockwell’s art. On the other hand, many liberal leaders have done their damnest to all-but-denounce those things, seemingly ceding those things to conservatives. So, while I love Rockwell and consider myself “conservative” on very few, if any issues, I do identify with the espoused values that, fairly or not, have largely been co-opted by conservatives. I don’t know if conservatives would accept it as such, since I think many see that as the “norm” (or the norm as they want it to be) and consider anything short of the piece ED originally linked to to be non-conservative.

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        • “On the one hand, I am bothered by the notion that conservatives have a monopoly on values like “family” or “community”, major themes of Rockwell’s art. On the other hand, many liberal leaders have done their damnest to all-but-denounce those things, seemingly ceding those things to conservatives.”

          That’s a good observation and I think an accurate one. On the flip side conservatives have ceded plenty of issues to the Left at our own peril (environmental issues being the best example I can think of).

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          • My stepfather, who is staunchly conservative but denies it, makes that argument a lot of time. He says that many outdoorsmen and hunters are heavily conservative and have a much more vested interest in environmental issues than your average city dwelling hippy. He’s an environmental scientist by trade, but got into the field when he was a legit commie-dem.

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            • Your stepfather is 100% correct. Outdoorsman, especially hunters, are the most vocal and active friends of the environment we have. We also spend far more money than any other group to preserve the outdoors. Unfortunately the lack of Republican support for certain EPA standards has given the Right a poor reputation.

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              • Part of the stupidity is that the right wing is absolutist.

                EPA = “stupid government regulation that destroys businesses.” Despite the fact that hunters ought to support strong environmental laws and reasonable restrictions on hunting so as not to wipe out endangered species.

                The gun law issues are likewise foolish. Hunters – for environmental reasons – have to get permits and register to hunt, or fish. One would think it’s a very, very short step to requiring some form of rudimentary licensing and training to own guns; after all, we do the same for cars.

                Ah, but the right wing’s argument is that the 2nd amendment is absolute, even more than the 1st amendment (which they constantly want to abridge). No citizen can be prevented from owning any weapon they want, except for those filthy, convicted felons who are mostly non-white of course. Because you have to be able to have a fully loaded, .50-caliber fully automatic minigun mounted to the back of your truck in case you want to go duck hunting in the middle of the night. Or the zombie apocalypse happens.

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                • “Despite the fact that hunters ought to support strong environmental laws and reasonable restrictions on hunting so as not to wipe out endangered species.”

                  That’s a non-issue. Hunters DO support restrictions on hunting. You will never hear a responsbile hunter advocate for excessive bag limits or seasons longer than the animal population can support.

                  As for the gun rights stuff, I don’t want to derail the comment thread. I would encourage you to write a guest post on the subject of gun law though. It would definitely see plenty of traffic.

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                • Augusta WI is a hunter and fisherman’s paradise. My g/f’s brother grumbled a bit about a low part of his cornfield being taken over by sandhill cranes. There’s talk of hunting them. The hunters are of two minds on this: they don’t want to take whooping cranes, which remain endangered.

                  Wisconsin’s wolves have made an astonishing comeback. There’s talk of hunting them, too. Bears have made a fine recovery, they’re hunted now. It’s the hunters who are doing the political legwork to preserve the wild places. These people around here almost worship this land and its bounty.

                  The American hunter and fisherman is without a doubt the most intelligent conservationist you’ll ever meet. The deer hunters here are deeply concerned: chronic wasting disease has appeared to the northwest of us. Acid rain and nitrate runoff is screwing up our lakes and streams. The EPA isn’t viewed as the enemy here: when a couple of lakes started going toxic from bacteria and algae, nobody screamed about the regulations. What happened in Wisconsin? A movement started to integrate all the watershed information so the farmers could intelligently capture nitrate runoff across property lines. Lots of farmers are now going to a fermentation system for their cattle and hog waste: the process produces methane to run generators.

                  Kids around here are taught gun safety from the time they learn to walk. You will never find a more militant ecologist than a gun owner.

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          • But, aren’t we both talking about Rockwell being interpreted ideologically after the fact. I don’t want to say that he was apolitical, because he wasn’t. But doesn’t a painting like the gorgeous Thanksgiving dinner scene in Freedom from Want have a different political meaning in, say, 1971, much less 2012, than it did in 1943 when it was painted?

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            • Maybe a bit tangentially, I do want to mention the film Tree of Life, which I found deeply religious and a beautiful attempt to make sense of that lost world and its enduring values. As pop art, though, it failed. Most of the audience walked out of the theater when we saw it.

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            • Rufus – I think you are exactly correct. So then the question is, does the interpretation change with time and also the ideological slant? Is it fair to say a non-partisan work of art can become conservative (or liberal) many years later?

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              • I think it can be reinterpreted as conservative in retrospect, but I don’t know how far I want to separate art from artist’s intent (although plenty of people do make that separation currently). Actually, the question reminds me of the observation many have made that you can often guess the politics of an American by how they feel about the 1950s, which on the face of it seems pretty strange.

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              • ” Is it fair to say a non-partisan work of art can become conservative (or liberal) many years later?”

                I think you can go farther than that. I think you can say that a liberal piece of art can become conservative of time. All our conservative policies were progressive if you go back far enough.

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                • “An eye for an eye” was originally moderating. It meant that penalties should be proportionate: if someone puts your eye out, you shouldn’t kill his whole family. Now it sounds bloodthirsty.

                  And the New Testament was radical back before people realized that “sell all you have and give the money to the poor” didn’t really mean that.

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        • On the other hand, many liberal leaders have done their damnest to all-but-denounce those things, seemingly ceding those things to conservatives.

          You’ve got it backwards. The drumbeat as I’ve been listening to “conservative” talk radio – as well as looking back into some of the older stuff from the 80s and onwards – has been about telling their base that “liberals don’t value” this kind of stuff.

          Find a married couple who are liberals? Who want to raise their kids together with moral values? Who intend to be together “till death do us part”? That gets tossed away in the “conservative” cherry-picker.

          Endemic in Conservatism is the idea of fighting “the other”, and a lot of values are thrown out to get there. Most recently, the list of bona fides or litmus tests is so long I find it hard to believe that any of them can possibly qualify; the whole “etch-a-sketch” Romney candidacy makes it all a farce.

          Liberals don’t dislike stable families, they love the idea of stable families; it means kids get raised in a good home, it means society works better, it means stronger social support nets when someone hits rough times. But liberals also don’t care whether the “family” in question is a “traditional one-man-one-woman having sex only for procreation” family. A loving family is a loving family – gay, straight, whatever.

          Likewise, “the community” as values – liberals do have community values. But a strong community isn’t solely defined by “who you go to pray to the sky spirit with.” Conservatives have a funny way of defining “community” in such a way that anyone who is “other” can be cheerfully left out of the viewpoint and if possible, driven away completely. I am immensely suspicious of the conservative push to funnel tax money to “faith based organizations” to replace existing social services because I know from demonstrated experience that the next step is to insist that those “faith based organizations”, in the name of “religious freedom”, can then take tax money and engage in filtering who gets it via religiously based standards. Even absent outright discrimination – how many gay people down on their luck who need help are going to go to a church whose doctrine includes rounding up gays to internment camps? How many blacks or hispanics will go to the Church Of Keeping Them Damn Illegals Outta Our God-Fearin’ White State?

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      • What values do you associate with Norman Rockwell? These values?

        Freedom of speech = the right to critically question the government and weaken your country like some kind of commie, with undeserved impunity.
        Freedom of worship = the right to not say the Pledge of Allegiance because of your weird religion that none of the Founders ever subscribed to.
        Freedom from want = culturally and economically corrosive social welfare programs giving food to moochers who don’t deserve it.
        Freedom from fear = HOLY CRAP THERE’S A FIRE RIGHT OUTSIDE THE WINDOW GET THE KIDS OUT OF BED YOU FOOLS!

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  13. If it ain’t revolutionary, it’s conservative. If someone disagrees that it’s conservative, point out that it’s *AUTHENTICALLY* conservative, rather than the faux conservative that the conservatives have.

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  14. Incidentally, there’s a lot of noise in the gaming community about this documentary where a woman is doing a video series about gaming “tropes” (that being the early-010’s word for “memes”, which was the mid-2000s term for “themes”) relating to “gender”. (by which she means that the chicks always have huge tits and wear chainmail bikinis, which is certainly true.)

    Because, apparently, trolling for flames is OK so long as you’re a girl doing it by saying all men are pigs, and when the men complain it just goes to show how piggy they are.

    Which says to me that it’s acceptable to point out creative media’s emphasis on one viewpoint, and the lack of presentation of other viewpoints, so long as they’re the PROPER viewpoints to call out.

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