Wednesday, February 17, 2016


The title -- "Sanders and Trump Have Risen from the Wreckage of a Broken Culture" -- makes it look like yet another of those "I literally can't tell them apart" comparisons of the share-the-wealth Senator to the TV bully-boy. But National Review's David French doesn't explain the rise of the two candidates or what it means, and I'm not sure he was really trying. He mainly talks culture war. That's his usual hobby horse and it's even lamer than usual, but in an instructive way. He begins:
Pop culture can normalize radicalism with astonishing speed. Conservatives have long known and lamented the truth of Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher’s famous declaration: “Let me write the songs of a nation — I don’t care who writes its laws.” Artists and the media shape our cultural environment so profoundly that their progressivism has become the default, the air we breathe. Wherever the progressive current flows, the people will drift.
Taking his own Zhdanovite POV for granted -- that liberals have the Billboard 100 while conservatives have Congressional majorities -- I'm not sure what this political operative has to complain about. If you're getting the laws you want, why do you care what the art looks like?
Since its birth, the modern conservative movement has fought bravely to create its own counterculture, in hopes that at least some people could drift the right way, and eventually the current would be reversed.
"Fought bravely to create its own counterculture"? What could that possibly mean? Have they been woodshedding or workshopping their counterculture in a black-box theater at the Heritage Foundation? Before attempting to explain, French bitches about how hard it is for such as he to make how-you-call-the Culture:
But it’s impossible in one generation to either replace or match liberal-dominated institutions that have existed, in some instances, since before the founding of the nation. One doesn’t simply create a conservative Harvard out of thin air. Hollywood is the product of generations of artistic effort. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the major broadcast media are collectively immense institutions, governed by a set of shared assumptions and located in geographic regions where dissent is rarely heard.
This makes no sense. If you don't like Harvard, why not build up Bob Jones University and other Bible schools into the academia that you claim to desire? If you don't like Hollywood, why not make your own indie flicks? People do it all the time. And haven't you guys been telling us that the Liberal Dinosaur MSM is dead as the dodo, and pumping out conservative newspapers, magazines, and TV networks for literally decades? But French goes on whining:
The Right, by contrast, hasn’t truly had time to build institutions, so it has built celebrities.
It’s easier to make one man famous than it is to make Harvard --
Oh, well, if it was easier I don't see what else you could have done
-- so conservative culture is dominated mainly by a series of personalities, and those personalities are often defined and exalted not so much by the quality of their distinct ideas but by personal charisma, with particular emphasis on anger and “fearlessness.”
Long story short: The dog ate their manifesto, so instead of building a counterculture they built a living pantheon of radio shouters, bow-tie dicks, and other assholes, and now one of them is the Republican Presidential front-runner and it's someone else's fault.
... As William Butler Yeats wrote at another time of existential crisis, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” We’re left with a world where “the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

When a culture breaks, so does a nation.
Buddy, you don't know what culture is. Nor counter-culture. Those movies, books, videos, songs, etc. that you wish were promoting your values? You can have them -- all you gotta do is make them yourself. Don't waste time squawking about how Big Culture is against you -- or go ahead if it makes you feel better; avant gardists and punk rockers did it all the time, when they were the new kids on the block. But they also did work. That's the only way anything gets done. If Jasper Johns or Patti Smith just bitched about how they ought to be the next big thing, raised a bunch of money off that, and didn't use that money to make art but instead used it to bitch some more about how they ought to be the next big thing, you never would have heard about them.

I mean, holding the back of your hand to your forehead and moaning like Dr. Smith on Lost in Space isn't getting you anywhere -- unless you goal is to get some saps to pay you good money for it, in which case mission accomplished.

UPDATE. As is traditional at alicublog, comments are excellent. Yestreblanksy gives us the full provenance of that Fletcher quote, and it's so much richer than the looka-me-I-read-books use French put it to. MichaelNewsham posits:
If only there was a vast entertainment complex producing its own movies and TV shows, owning its own studios and broadcast and cable network, owned by a right-wing billionaire who also had an enormous chain of newspapers to help push his conservative productions without fear of the liberal MSM.
As I've been saying for years, Murdoch knows better than to throw good money after bad.

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