Let’s be honest — we really don’t want to talk about last week’s big, horrible news stories. The Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 story is too disturbing and, aside from the usual it’s-all-Obama’s-fault knee-jerks, not much differentiates right from left on the subject. Similarly, reactions to the Israel-Palestine fight have little to do with anything in American politics except the strength of the Israel lobby and the absence of a Palestinian one.
So we will instead go with an evergreen — or, as we like to think of it, a topic that never gets enough updates: Culture War, which is what rightbloggers have instead of culture.Conservatives have for years been dreaming of “taking back the culture” from the potty-mouthed commie bohemians who apparently captured it in a panty raid or card game sometime in the early 20th Century; older readers may remember Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican National Convention gleefully describing how conservatives would “take back our culture” the same way National Guardsmen reclaimed buildings after the L.A. Riots.
In recent years the kulturkampfers‘ tone has grown slightly less martial, perhaps because many of the brethren recognize that the dream of claiming a culture for one’s own partisan cause is quixotic at best and fascist at worst. But it remains a valuable trope to stir the rubes.
In fact, some rightbloggers take the point of view that conservatives have already won the culture war. In a column called “Our Conservative Popular Culture,” Jonah Goldberg noticed a new movie with a laissez-faire approach to abortion had not made as much money as “2007’s Juno, a brilliant film widely seen as pro-life (at least among pro-lifers), or Knocked Up, a raunchier romantic comedy also hailed by abortion foes,” which he took to mean that America is totally juiced for comedies about the sanctity of life.
Goldberg also noticed that Hollywood — which he assumed is a single, sentient entity that, when not making movies, works toward the dictatorship of the proletariat — makes plenty of other entertainments that conservatives can endorse. For example, “The Left rolls its eyes at ‘family values'” — (cite not included, alas) — “but family values are at the heart of most successful sitcoms and dramas.”
The reason for this, Goldberg declared, is that “good stories must align with reality and a sense of justice.” Goldberg clearly has never heard the expression “givin’ them what they want,” nor the one about suckers and 60-second intervals. And he doesn’t seem to remember from one year to the next what he actually thinks about American culture. But at least he showed some awareness that the entertainment industry has more to do with separating audiences from cash than with spreading socialist dogma.
Most rightbloggers, however, appear to think that creative types are devoted to corrupting America and that conservatives have to step in and regulate with such tools as they have.
Some take specific tactical positions and use cultural tropes to try and mesmerize voters into thinking some of the less popular rightwing ideas are actually really cool. One such campaign is devoted to convincing single women that conservatives are not their enemies, despite everything they say.
A major figure in this movement is rightblogger kingpin Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, an advocate of Men’s Rights Activism (sample insight: “Why Is It Funny When A Guy Gets Hit In The Groin? But if you buy the explanations in this article, then rape jokes should be hilarious“) who likes to tickle his fellow drum-circle types by putting the “#waronwomen” hashtag to ironic uses, e.g. “#WARONWOMEN: Today in 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne died in Ted Kennedy’s car as he fled the scene.” (Reynolds’ wife, Dr. Helen Smith, tends her own sad MRA flock.)
A few years back, Reynolds suggested conservatives invest in women’s magazines, which he portrayed as mouthpieces of liberalism whose death-grip on hair stylist customers and supermarket checkout-line dawdlers had to be broken if the Free Market were ever to triumph. “Those magazines and Web sites see themselves, pretty consciously, as a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party,” he wrote; thus, providing alternative conservative content in a glossy lady-package might reach “female ‘low-information voters'” who “vote based on a vague sense of who’s mean and who’s nice, who’s cool and who’s uncool.” With a respectful approach like that, how could it fail?
But not much has come of that project so far — mostly websites like Verily, which regaled the world with stories like “Are Elite Degrees Wasted on Stay-at-Home Moms?” before abandoning its print edition last February. But conservative culture warriors do get out into the field to spread the message that your feminism-hyphenate is bogus and their feminism-hyphenate is rad. At Ravishly, for example, Christina Sommers recently denounced “college educated young women in the U.S.” who have “drunk deeply from the gender feminist Kool-Aid,” and bravely attested, “I plan to continue writing books and articles, making my Factual Feminist videos and lecturing at as many campuses and laws schools as I can.” All gave some, but some gave all.
Then there are smaller-scale efforts like the Women Against Feminism tumblr, which uses the popular hold-up-some-writing schtick to communicate talking points like, “I don’t need modern ‘feminism’ because I… don’t need others to fight my battles for me… believe in earning things for myself…” You get the picture — and so did manly-man site Return of Kings (“women are sluts if they sleep around, but men are not. This fact is due to the biological differences between men and women”), which gave Women Against Feminism top marks: “Considering such female protest didn’t even exist a couple years ago,” they wrote, “I see it as a great step forward to educating the public that feminism is not the answer.” Be sure to also visit the site’s July sponsor, Beyond Red Pill, which offers “coaching by an experienced licensed practitioner who integrates a red pill outlook into life planning and can understand what you want out of women and life.”
Most culture-war sites are less focused than this; their primary goals appear to be 1.) to solidify through repetition standard conservative talking points on liberals and culture, and 2.) to give wingnuts with a background in the humanities something to fill their time.
At Acculturated, for example, you can find male authors who lament at length that, since the days “when I was in high school at Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit school that prided itself on producing men who could both lay down a block and conjugate Latin,” culture has gotten crummy and Lena-Dunhamy, as well as female authors who lament at length that since the days of Downton Abbey, feminists have ruined everything (“The women of Downton want driving lessons, they want jobs, they want the vote. But are there things from that era that we have thrown away that might have had value?”).
These geniuses sometimes confront culture on a more direct level; in a recent edition, for example, R.J. Moeller attacked Rise of the Planet of the Apes because the filmmakers are trying to make us “resent our own species because in this film they have spoiled Mother Gaia’s paradise with their technological, bio-chemical greed and hubris… with all of the ‘animals are the same as us’ themes and morality-soaked subtext in this film, how are the ideas of spirituality, religion, or God never once broached?” Now who didn’t come out of Rise of the Planet of the Apes wondering that?
Also at Acculturated, Abby W. Schachter told readers that though generally Jonah Goldberg was totally right that conservatives rule the entertainment world, culture warriors must remain vigilant, for “liberal Hollywood hasn’t given up promoting its agenda on the big screen, either.” (Also, she added, “almost the only reliable place for traditional American values on TV are reality and home improvement shows like Rehab Addict and How It’s Made (which is Canadian),” which we admit is a new one on us. Wonder where Mighty Ships comes down on her political spectrum?)
Schachter also redirected readers to Liberty Island, a sort of rightwing content farm which contains conservative works of art — and yes, we know art is non-partisan, but Liberty Island’s curators clearly don’t see it that way; they describe their contributors as “writers and creators you’ve never heard of, and won’t find anywhere else, because their views have been excluded from the mainstream popular culture,” which is an excuse many of us have used when our manuscripts have been returned, but add that the work of their outsider-artists “boldly challenges the cynicism, nihilism, and stifling political correctness of popular culture today.”
We forebear to judge the artists’ work, and suggest you take a look and judge for yourself (though we especially recommend this short story, which contains the deathless lines, “Lousy world to raise a girl in, the husband thought. Luckily, now that that Supreme Court had legalized abortion on demand anytime during gestation, he wouldn’t have to.”) We also note that of late Liberty Island has been leaning heavily on self-promotional material: This recent flyer, for example, explains that Liberty Island is needed because “Liberals who once believed in free speech, freedom of conscience, and open discussion have been replaced by a new generation for whom Stalinist tactics are the first recourse… if you don’t quietly slink away, they don’t hesitate to sic the mob on you to make sure you are silenced. You will be blocked from speaking on campus. Your book will be drowned with negative reviews on Amazon. Your employer will be boycotted until you are fired.” It’s a miracle so many uncynical, non-nihilist, politically incorrect folks get to write columns for major newspapers and magazines — maybe the liberal purity squads haven’t caught onto them yet?
And so on. As often as these efforts are pitched as outreach, they’re probably more effective (if they’re effective at all) as ways to keep the already-conservative energized through Election Day. Look at the recent “culture war” news headlines: There are articles about how making fun of Ted Nugent will rile the gun nuts (as if they could be any more riled); appeals to end-times Christian types like “LEFT MOVES TO OUTLAW CHRISTIANITY“; and ragegasms over the latest gay and woman things, in this case Archie dying for a gay friend and Thor reimagined as a woman (“Ever since the baby boomers took over comic books, the industry has had pretensions to social relevance,” harrumphed the Weekly Standard; also, “the only time the media care about comic books is when a character is a minority or gay,” “Ladyboy Thor will forever be a missed opportunity for progressive propaganda,” etc.).
In other words, they say they’re interested in changing American culture, but what they’re really interested in is making sure certain American sub-cultures don’t change. And give them credit — this is the smarter way to go. The chances that the current trends in public opinion toward gays, women, and religion will be reversed by some web content are slim, but smaller groups of citizens who feel beleaguered and threatened by the changes they see all around them might appreciate a little positive reenforcement.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 20, 2014