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Thursday, February 07, 2013

We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

The last election has brought on essays bemoaning the conservative disconnect from popular culture and the need to somehow reconnect with it. The means of this reconnection are hardly ever stated, though there is the implication that conservatives would need to "evolve" on certain social issues in the hopes that its economic viewpoint will be taken seriously by a population whose social way of life doom it to be dependent on government support.

As plans go, this one is nearly as clever as trying to promote weight loss by opening a cake shop. And it ignores the obvious reality that the only way that  conservatives will be allowed to participate in popular culture is as the butt of a joke. Whether it's Sarah Palin's appearance on Saturday Night Live or Rush Limbaugh's Family Guy appearance, trying to be a good sport about liberal culture is the strategy of a good loser playing into the prepared stereotype, rather than destroying it.

The culture is polarized. That means there is no place for conservatives in it except by playing the villain's part, and the villain's part, whether played with good humor or reluctantly, is not the winning part. But it's also a mistake to call it the culture, when what we really mean is the culture created and perpetuated by a small number of corporations, their affiliated creatives and their affiliated press.

Take Girls, an HBO series that is one part nepotism and nine parts artificially generated corporate trend, that was recently the subject of several essays insisting that we take it seriously because it is "the culture". How big of a slice of the culture is Girls? It's on HBO, which means it has limited viewership and unlimited publicity. HBO exists to promote the illusion, not so much of quality, but of relevance. And Girls is a triumph of fake relevance. It is the show that you must consider relevant, because well... it's relevant. Isn't it?

The Girls Season 2 premiere scored 866,000 viewers. After multiple airings it made it up to 1.6 million. It wasn't exactly a case of the entire country tuning in. Nor its entire female population or even its entire population of women in their twenties. And since HBO only exists as a desperate effort by the dying cable industry to hang on to its subscribers, its episodes are not available on iTunes, Hulu Plus or any of the other concessions to the age of internet broadcast entertainment.

Girls is doubtlessly relevant to the daughters of wealthy urban liberal families who find themselves with too much money and too little common sense. And it's probably not even relevant to them since its larger audience share is with men over 50 and its median viewer age is 43. Is it relevant to the culture as a whole? Not really. And its perceived importance highlights the disconnect between the Low Culture of the free TV sitcom and the High Culture of the cable indie drama. Both may have a leftie agenda, but one exists  to be consumed by overeducated professionals, many of whom also work in media, in the major cities, while the other is mass culture entertainment.

Trying to tackle, adapt to or duplicate leftie High Culture is a senseless and useless task in every sense of the word. Their only relevance comes from their trickle down effect into mass culture. It's mass culture that is relevant, but though that Low Culture is mass consumed, it's still created by the same sort of people who create the High Culture and packed with many of the same agendas.

The difference between them is in tone and the perception of importance. Elites imagine that what interests them is important, because they are important. What interests the masses is less important, because they are less important. Important people and their important programs influence the culture or even are the culture. Unimportant people are not. In fact it's the other way around.

Girls is not America. No television show is.. But the closest to America may be American Idol or Sunday Night Football, which dominate the ratings and reflect the culture far more than it ever will. That's not something to celebrate either. Not when you consider that most entertainment emerges out of the bowels of a cultural and corporate establishment well to the left of the country at large. And unlike Girls, much of what it spews forth does slowly push the country to the left. But that also shows why trying to run alongside it in the hopes of staying relevant is a dead end. Not unless the goal is to go on being the villains, comic relief or otherwise.

Competing with the cultural establishment is becoming more viable as the structural barriers begin coming down. When the entire cable model dies, the internet will have done to broadcast entertainment what it did to the print press and what the book reader did to the publishing house. But that doesn't necessarily mean that conservatives will be any better positioned to compete in the culture war than they were before. And they won't be if they keep on worrying about the latest incarnation of New York and LA media High Culture.

There's bad news and good news in all this. The good news is that the top-down model is shakier than ever before. The less centralized the culture becomes, the less it has to run through New York and Los Angeles' incestuous media establishments, the fewer political gatekeepers there are. The bad news is that entertainment with fewer gatekeepers can also be worse than the left's worst excesses. And the other bad news is that the new decentralized gatekeepers are more likely to be social media tastemakers crying racism for pageviews and denouncing thought-crimes on an hourly schedule.

The culture is more up for grabs than ever before, but it's also a lot harder to corral. The problem is much bigger than buying a woman's magazine or a television network or some airtime. None of those things really matter anymore. They're like buying a telegraph pole to compete with AT&T. There is no shortcut to creating a counter-culture. The good news is that the bones of the counter-culture exist in the conservative movement. All that's left is organizing them into a force.

Worrying about what HBO airs is futile. HBO is a dinosaur, but it has freedom of action and a great deal of media leverage. It is at that perfect intersection of media elites where things are important because everyone you know, who is in the same business as you, pays attention to them. That structural power to monopolize attention is becoming a lot harder to come by. In the long run HBO will be dead, but the problems of competing with a cultural establishment that is organized, trained and has the inside track will remain.

This isn't about Hollywood. It's about America. Creative industries tend to come with their own built in decay. That has been true for centuries and was probably true for thousands of years before that. It does not mean that the theater stage or the movie theater, the artist's studio or the concert hall are bad places, but creativity tends to involve redefinition and a tearing down of the old to make way for the new. It can be a good thing, so long as a society has stabilizing values that it places above those of its entertainments, giving it something to believe in and giving them something to push against.

The entertainment industry is too big and powerful, but that will change. What will not change is that the nation is losing its values. And when a country's values erode, then the critics and cynics, the poets and artists, the philosophers and raconteurs, don't push against a pillar, but against a wheel, and discover that they can make the culture go where they want. They are not the real problem. The lack of stability is.

Changing all that will require thinking about more than what is wrong with Hollywood, but about what is wrong with America. Countering destructive entertainment with constructive entertainment is more doable than ever before. Building a consensus of conservative culture warriors is also doable. But the greater challenge lies not in the entertainment, but in the people. The agenda of the left has fit into a comfortable groove in a culture that has chosen the softer things over the harder things. It's easy enough to create culture that fits into such lazy grooves, but harder to create ideas that challenge a nation to choose the harder path and the more difficult choices.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think of America as a nation under glass. Though keeping items of value under glass is still regarded as something the rich and powerful do, there remains a segment of society that keeps things of value under glass.

Water globes. The left has plastic water globes. The wise and holy people keep things under glass, not plastic. The beautiful water globes you'd find at Things Remembered.

Two things came to mind as I read this article--plastic water globes versus glass and Thins Rememberd and how religious Jews will quote a great sage and begin with In the Name of: a sage that is wise/kind/brave etc.


I don't know why that is more important and beautiful than just quoting or writing: as this person said.

In the Name Of has more value. Thing Rememberd placed under glass.

Keliata

Joan of Argghh! said...

An old preacher once admonished his very youthful congregation with this word-picture:

"Ya ever been in a rut? Driving down a country back road and your car just naturally falls into the long rut that was carved into the road before you got there?

Well, what does it take to get outta that rut?

That's right, it takes a violent motion on the wheel. Otherwise, you're gonna go where that rut leads you."

AG said...

I think it once again seems imperative to no longer play the villain or butt of jokes, and temporarily regress. We can let the savages beat each other to death instead and pounce when the time is right. The Right Wing establishment unfortunately isn't hip enough to play the alternative to the villain role, the anti-hero. It's a thin line between the two, and apparently those are our current choices. But in order to shift from villain to anti-hero, there has to be a redeeming quality, something for the average person to relate to. Unfortunately there isn't much to relate to in the establishment.

And does anyone else have an issue calling women in their 20's "girls"??? Seems a bit creepy to me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you AG.

And Obama's "leadership" skills came to him via the Gamaliel Foundation. Clinton knew how to play his game and assume the role of the anti-hero.

I have know all about how that group and its affliates work--its weakness and its strength. An understanding of that would be key to becoming an effective anti-hero.

It is essential know your enemy to beat them. Some of the ways Gamaliel works are not easy to watch but that is their how you can defeat liberals. Again, it's difficult to watch it in action.

But it is needed and the only reason Clinton was the only person to come close to defeating Obama in the 2008 primary.

Keliata

Anonymous said...

Jsyk my family members were able to purchase "Girls" on iTunes

Anonymous said...

"The agenda of the left has fit into a comfortable groove in a culture that has chosen the softer things over the harder things. It's easy enough to create culture that fits into such lazy grooves, but harder to create ideas that challenge a nation to choose the harder path and the more difficult choices."

I think the elites are inadvertently herding the majority (middle class) down the harder path. It won't be a matter of choice. There will have to be an end to the freebies someday. The current elites talk a good game about valuing the middle class, but their policies will ultimately tend to eliminate it. It will gradually be less and less comfortable for the majority to watch progressive culture in any medium as it becomes clearer that the possibilities of participation in that culture are fewer and fewer. This is the pinch that will reveal the anti-hero.

megohm

mushroom said...

That reminds me of Jeremiah 15 where God instructs the prophet to separate the precious from the vile then adds, They will turn to you; you are not to return to them.

I'm not sure pop culture will ever turn back to truth, but it's vile.

JoeFromSidney said...

Yes, the demise of gatekeepers means that a lot more trash gets out there. It also provides opportunities for the rest of us. Self-publishing books. Blogs. Social media. We have an opportunity to get our ideas out without having to go through a liberal filter.

I've self-published a book through CreateSpace that is enjoying modest sales. I made several tries to get it through a regular publisher, before I decided to "do it myself." No, it's not a best-seller, but at least some people are exposed to my ideas, whereas no one would be if I'd had to depend on a regular publisher.

There are opportunities out there. Let's take advantage of them.

Anonymous said...

Sultan, there are already outlets if the Conservative movement chose to use them. Just one example there are huge numbers of YouTube channels that put out original scripted material. I don't know of any that push a Conservative agenda. Plenty are neutral and many are liberal, but not so much conservative. If conservatives want to effect culture they need to put more effort into influencing culture. How many plays, novels, or movies have an even remotely conservative message. Until we do the work nothing will change.

On a positive note I can think of three successful scripted TV shows that do push a very conservative message; Downton Abbey, traditional British Conservatism and patriotism, Breaking Bad, the more evil the lead character becomes the more he suffers, and Justified, which focuses on the hero dealing justice to criminals.

Anonymous said...

Sure Joan, Try calling men boys and see where it gets you.
But most men are boys today.

Anonymous said...

So turn off the telly already. Big deal.

Anonymous said...

I often think we are reliving the time of the Roman circuses. Violence, sex, and murder permeate the culture in real life as well as in all avenues of "entertainment."

Add the fact that so much is fake-even people, and not just their body parts. Fake is so popular because a soft culture can't deal with the reality that life will be hard sometimes.(I read in USATODAY that the Millennials (ages 18-33) say they have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders at a higher percentage than those aged 34-67+).

The culture that not only is living off the heritage of strong, moral, hardworking people but are fakes and soft cannot survive forever. So there is hope. And when the hard times-the really hard times come, as they will-everyone will be forced to look at and accept reality and choose to either live or die.

Elaine

Elisandra said...

Considering that Liberals think they're for freedom and fun, while supporting the idea of the government running every aspect of their lives, which will of course mean less freedom and less fun, and Conservatives want less government in our lives, therefore, more freedom and more fun, it would be nice to see more Conservatives talking about fun things they do, and want to keep doing without interference from the government.

As long as Liberals are perceived as the freedom and fun-loving side, they'll keep attracting more people to their group. Conservatives need to get the point across that being Conservative doesn't mean we want a dull limited life. It means we want a limited government so we can have a full free fun life, with big sodas and all.

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IgorR said...

All it takes is one conservative genius of a certain kind. If Trump really understood what the word "conservative" meant and behaved just a little bit differently, he could have been President. You take someone like Ted Cruz (hopefully born in the US) who is educated, generally speaks well, and understands Conservatism, and with just a few outrageously politically incorrect statements he can be President. The biggest problem isn't really the liberal media, it's that most Republican donors like to support the common RINO and not a rebel.

Anonymous said...

"That reminds me of Jeremiah 15 where God instructs the prophet to separate the precious from the vile then adds, They will turn to you; you are not to return to them.

I'm not sure pop culture will ever turn back to truth, but it's vile."to

Interesting choice of words there. Not bring yet another comment back to music but...I've been listening to the song "Turn Around Look At Me" by the Vogues. About six months ago I wrote in the YT comment section that it was a beautiful love song.

This seemed to perplex a couple of verses from it used in Final Destination 3, as a sort of stalking song. I have never seen any of these movies and one person told me not to because it would ruin the song for me.

How sad that we have a generation that can't recognize something of beauty. A love song perceived as something ugly.

Nope. I will not watch that movie and have this beautiful song turned into an ugly song.

Listening to it right now on YT. It's remains beautiful in my ears, appreciating the beautiful harmony of the Vogues.

Sad, too, that conservatism is all about politics. It goes deeper than that.

Keliata

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the left is in the buisness of defineing "cool", and that is what attracts gullible young people.
SWARTZ

meema said...

It is a common mistake to assume that conservatism vs liberalism represents the age-old battle of good vs evil, however, if you must generalize, if one disregards the wolves in sheepskins cleverly embedded in the conservative camp, the liberal ideology attracts the personality types that are rabidly, self-righteously passionate about forcing everyone to do and be as they think everyone should.

Conversely the ideology of conservatism attracts the laissez faire types, meaning they wish to be left alone to live as they decide, to swim or sink, succeed or fail, based on individual choice.

This is the difference that makes the difference. True conservatives, by nature, lack the passion to force anything on others; they’re not hardwired to even know where to begin. They wish to put their energy and focus on what works for them individually and let others take care of themselves. This, then, is the root problem and historically why psychopaths and other liberals get the upper hand.

This dynamic is also why depravity easily swamps and overrides true morality; the former is determined to overcome the latter, which simply wishes to be allowed to be.

If there is good news in this assessment, it is that true morality is as much a natural law as depravity is its counter-force and thus, like matter, cannot be entirely destroyed; it waits quietly until depravity self-destructs and then the cycle begins again.

Unfortunately, much is lost in the process.

I personally believe we are near the tipping point and though it is easy to say that it certainly can get worse before it gets better, it’s hard to imagine what that means.

painterman said...

Just found your blog Daniel.
Most excellent, and now bookmarked.
Reminds me somewhat of the intellectual 'Mediocracy' blog i already read, in your attacks on malignant elite-led egalitarian culture (which i advise you to check out.... http://inversions-and-deceptions.blogspot.co.uk/).

Elisandra said...

One reason there are so many Liberals out there is because they have lured in a bunch of people who think they are Liberals because they think Liberals are for more freedom for the individual when it's actually the opposite. I used to consider myself a Liberal, until several years ago I found out that it actually means supporting more freedom for the government and less freedom for the individual. Liberal politicians never actually come right out and say that, or they'd lose a lot of their followers.

I'm surrounded by people in daily life who actually think they're on the freedom-loving side being Liberal Democrats and that the Conservatives want to take freedom away from people. And it seems most of these people are misinformed freedom-loving people who are being lured in by the supposed sexual-freedom stance of Liberalism. But they don't realize that supporting the idea of a government that controls every aspect of their lives also includes their sex lives. If the government can ban big soda so that people are healthier since others are going to be forced to pay for everyone else's medical care, the next step is banning sexual activity that leads to increased cost in medical care, such as sex without a condom, or sex with more than one partner. I'm convinced these people are being used to help create total government control, and once it's done, BAM!

It boggles my mind that the same people who don't want the government tapping the phones of terrorists want the government in charge of medical care.

Anonymous said...

One commenter above thinks Downton Abbey is conservative. Tune in every week and celebrate as the Victorian era falls to modernity. Watch Lord Grantham grumble ineffectually and then acquiesce to his daughters' every feminist whim.

Anonymous said...

what the Sultan is driving at but is wary of is the gays infiltration of our media and their constant attack on Judeo-Christain values in an incessant drive for acceptance that has turned our culture into a cesspool that is slowly engulfing us....Gays are the great corrupter s..., G-d couldn't find ten righteous men in all of Sodom because they sinned EXCEEDINGLY against Him..their sins grew and spread...and since He is lenient that means finally there was nothing worth saving...Witchcraft, gender conflict, abortion, feminism, evolution;, science fiction, a butched up fashion industry for women, lawlessness, the corrupting of the music video industry, disrespect for police and government, repealing the death penalty, attacks on Israel and its people are all gay movements...anything that can erode the values and thus make them acceptable is fair game...they have created a trend and it now has its trend followers...it is not just their sexual practices that make them the arch villains in this drama playing out with tragic consequences...they are also the arch deceivers and because of Daniel's exalted position(well earned) he has to dance around the issue but I have no qualms nor position to protect as they swarm like bees at anyone who dares mention anything negative about their machinations..

Anonymous said...

the gays have infiltrated our libraries and school system (we now teach gay history), and are in a drive to get a hold of our children in the Boy Scouts...they infiltrated the Catholic Church (for evil purposes) and left it in disarray... they are in the Jewish Reform movement (also for evil purposes)...either we stop them or G-d stops everything when we are finally corrupted to such a degree that its best for the world they He banishes us to the fire below...

Joseph Dooley said...

Convincing government dependents to shape up their lives is contingent upon them sharing the view that government dependence is bad.

Dan Kurt said...

Tell us about your book.

Dan Kurt

Dan Kurt said...

Where to begin?

Why the the liberals control the agenda is because they captured the Robes more than a century ago: religion, courts, and Universities.

I graduated high school in 1959. While there I remember a history teacher telling us that NO person should be allowed to make more than 25 thousand a year. He was not atypical and that was more than 50 years ago.

Dan Kurt

Bill C said...

"the gays have infiltrated our libraries "
Anonymous get your head out of your ass.

Anonymous said...

To Bill C.

Nice comment to anonymous (me)...just exactly does it mean? We have gay movies on our shelves, a witchcraft section, a teenage section that offers the latest in vampire, witchcraft, and other sordid offerings...and since you didn't know this maybe its you that needs to get his head straight...bunch of narcissistic jerks who comment on this website...puffed up with their own theories that only serve to show how smart they are

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