Sometimes our politically obsessed friends, the rightbloggers, try their hands at culture. No, not at making culture — that’s for sissies! Rather, they work at making culture war. They realize that ordinary people like movies, TV, and music more than they like rightblogger posts about Obama the Muslim Communist. They seek to overcome this liability by thundering against artistic achievements of which they disapprove — or, if that doesn’t work, by arguing that the art and artists normal folks like are actually right-wing.
They worked both strategies to capitalize on the recent death of superstar Prince.
Prince’s death, on April 21, unleashed an outpouring of grief and clickbait that is only now beginning to abate (“Prince’s death, Day 11: His last meal, more tributes” — USA Today, May 1). At first rightbloggers, unsure of the play, could only produce normatively hackneyed tributes, e.g. Sierra Marlee at Right Wing News: “There is nothing as tragic as the sudden passing of a person who played a significant role in your life and this includes musicians.”
It took a few days for the brethren to come up with some angles on this global event.
Some of the brethren kicked it old-school, saying things you would expect conservatives to say about sexually ambiguous black men. “The much-discussed death of Prince last week brings up an old question: Why do pop stars tend to be rather fey?” said Steve Sailer at Taki’s Magazine. “…Stars, of course, tend to be attention-seeking, which is not an extremely masculine trait.” Swish, swish, swish, amirite?
“Prince was rightly praised for his musical genius,” admitted Pete Baklinski of LifeSiteNews, “but he was also disturbingly lauded for being a radical sexual trend setter [sic], someone who blazed the way for a new, amoral sexuality that rejected all the Christian virtues related to that intimate realm of human relationships.” And isn’t that the important thing? (Baklinski also claimed “Prince’s life can be seen as tragic,” perhaps unaware that most readers — probably even most of his readers — would be quite content with so tragic a life.)
When a local church played “Purple Rain” at one of its services, PJ Media’s John Ellis tried out some purple prose of his own. “Like its genius creator, the song ‘Purple Rain’ is drenched in its own ambiguousness but without undermining any overt odes to the god called sex,” he glurged, before denouncing the whole enterprise as blasphemous: “Employing a cover band to play sexually charged pop songs isn’t going to appeal to anyone except those who are looking for self-affirming, squishy religiosity,” he thundered. Back to the organ, kapellmeister! No, not that organ.
But there was what we might call an accommodationist stance in this culture-war skirmish, based on the facts that Prince had been a serious, observant Jehovah’s Witness, and that he had dropped (despite his pansexual aesthetic) some negative comments on homosexuality.
Since religion and contempt for gays are staples of conservative thought, it followed for some that Prince was therefore a Republican, giving flight to emails from your grandma and Curt Schilling, and stories like “You won’t see this mentioned much – ‘Prince’ was a CONSERVATIVE and a REPUBLICAN!”
It could be counterargued that Prince had shown sympathy and support for the Black Lives Matter movement, not to mention that his entire career was a flaming beacon of sexual liberation. But so what? Rightbloggers had a hook, and did what they could with it.
At WorldNetDaily, Greg Laurie reviewed Prince’s spirituality (“Prince was right in this regard. There is an afterlife”) before coming to this big finish: “I don’t know where Prince or [David] Bowie went. Only God does. But I do know where I am going when I die. I’m going up. Which way are you going? To find out how to be sure you will go to Heaven when you die, visit my website www.knowgod.org.” Talk about burying the lede!
Not only was Prince religious, said Randy DeSoto at Western Journalism, he was also a religious intellectual, in that he “Employed C.S. Lewis’ Line of Reasoning in Defense of Jesus’ Claims.” His argument:
“If one religion believes Christ is the king, and another doesn’t,” [Prince] said, “then there’s a difference in religions.”
The singer, who became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001, employed a similar line of reasoning to Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who famously observed that based on the claims He made about Himself, Jesus was either a “lunatic, liar or Lord.”
Well, maybe you need divine inspiration to get it. DeSoto also praised the religious seriousness of Prince’s opening monologue on “Let’s Go Crazy” — though he was forced to add, “of course, shortly thereafter, he took the Lord’s name in vain, at least in the original version.” Maybe ClearPlay can fix that!
The Lonely Conservative, among others, took a tax-policy angle: Noting that Prince died without a will and that a lot of his estate would thereby go to the government, TLC said, “I don’t know what [Prince’s] political leanings were, but what does seem clear is that he wasn’t a fan of others profiting off of his musical genius. So it’s kind of sad that the government will take more than fifty percent of his life’s work.” Sure, Prince was talented but, more important than that, he was rich; why can’t Obama’s IRS respect that?
Stephen Miller at The Wilderness asserted Prince as a conservative icon because in 1985, when Miller was an impressionable youth, Al Gore’s then-wife Tipper came after Prince’s “Darling Nikki” with her Parents’ Music Resource Center. “Tipper Gore’s actions…are why I will never become a repressive cultural liberal. Ever,” Miller pledged. After several iterations of this point (word count: 2,160), as if to show how far back in time 1985 really is, Miller went into Old Man Yells at Cloud mode: “Today pop idols can’t play instruments, have voices that are almost completely synthesized by computers and songs that are mostly written by teams of producers…” Plus they’re so loud! Maybe Miller realized who’s coming after pop stars now, explaining the preemptive dis.
Perhaps the smoothest variation of all was that of Rod Dreher at the American Conservative: He dropped two posts about how much he loved Prince — one of them about Prince’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” solo; wow, he must be a big fan — and used them to bookend another post about how great it was that an “alleged lesbian” had been thrown out of a ladies’ room on suspicion of being trans (“If you’re a woman, would you feel comfortable using a restroom if a tall, big man — or someone who looked and sounded like a man — was hanging out there?”). That’s how the pros do it, folks.
At National Review, David French attempted to split the difference: After pretending that he enjoyed or even knew Prince’s music (“He could write hit songs like few others…he was one of the few pop stars whose fame was fully justified,” ha ha, OK buddy), he explained to his readers that sighing over their old Prince records was a waste of time that could be better spent in church or throwing trans people out of public restrooms.
“You would have thought America lost a national hero, and not merely an immensely gifted artist,” French scolded. “…For conservatives, Prince was ultimately just another talented and decadent voice in a hedonistic culture. He was notable mainly because he was particularly effective at communicating that decadence to an eager and willing audience.” Eventually French got to the money shot:
And I don’t say this to shame people out of listening to music they enjoy, though not all music is worth hearing. Rather, it’s time for a dose of perspective. Music has its place, and gifted musicians undeniably enhance our lives, but if our hearts are given to these songs and those who make them, then our lives are unnecessarily impoverished.
Music’s all well and good, but what about conservatism? That’s what culture war’s all about — and why these guys keep on losing it.