Thursday, June 05, 2008

CULTURE OF COMPLAINT. I see at the City Journal Andrew Klavan is calling for conservatives to reverse the noxious tide of our "culture" by getting into the arts racket:
Conservatives respond to this mostly with finger-wagging. But creativity has to be answered with creativity. We need stories, histories, movies of our own. That requires a structure of support—publishing houses, movie studios, review space, awards, almost all of which we’ve ceded to the Left.
I never tire of hearing this kind of thing, and am pleased to see Klavan, an accomplished writer, has gone beyond demanding Hollywood make his conservative art for him, and started to ask his fellow travelers to put their backs into it. The Liberty Film Festival site Libertas, which has long been on the right side of this issue (if of little else), responds affirmatively:
While conservatives won elections the last thirty-years, the left infested schools, universities, the entertainment industry, news media, and publishing. They understand politics follows the culture, not the other way around. Conservatives have done well grabbing back a piece of publishing and the news media, but have a long way to go with entertainment and educational institutions.
Of course there is a problem, and keen readers will have picked it up already: though these conservatives recognize the power is in their own hands, they still obsess on the blame they find in liberals for their (or the culture's) problems. In this way, to paraphrase Raging Bull, they defeat their own purpose.

It's odd, really. They went mad for the popular Knocked Up -- which I enjoyed myself -- but fail to notice that, first, that culture is a two-way street -- you can gain entree to the cineplexes faster with dick jokes than with propaganda -- and, second, that while the urge to remake the world is often a spur to artistry (especially among the young), it's not all that's needed.

That's also odd because we live in the age of indie. You can make music and movies on your laptop; you can publish your own books and magazines; you can even earn entree to mainsteam media with your blogging. The barrier to entry has never been lower. If you're an artistically inclined rightwinger, even if you sincerely believe that Oliver Stone and Susan Sarandon and other manifestations of The Man are trying to keep you down, you ought to feel pretty good about your chances. They let Zach Braff make movies: why not you?

But still the dull complaints are reiterated: the liberals run this, the liberals run that. To backtrack a bit on Klavan's essay, he says, after a gloomy rundown of cultural decay, "I hardly need mention the movies and TV shows that endlessly undermine notions of manly self-discipline, feminine modesty, patriotism, and all the rest." Why say this to budding conservative artists? It's a great incentive to political operatives, but to a guy with a camera or a palette or an urge to write novels, it's an invitation to put the cart before the horse.

Maybe there are some Bizarro Zolas out there who can take this bile and make of it engaging political works of art. But those are always rare, and, our consumer culture shows, more rarely appreciated by audiences. If the scene is as devoid of conservative practitioners as Klavan and Libertas presume, why not instead encourage them to the simple joys and salutary discipline of creation? Klavan gets published, and the Libertas writers are supposed to be in the movie business. Why are their writings on the subject devoted to how badly the deck is stacked against them?

I fear this represents a managerial approach to art-making -- guys at the top of the chain of command dictate the creative brief, and others further down are supposed to address it with appropriate copy and art direction. That works okay with advertising and commercial design, but except for rare occasions, that isn't going to move the art needle. Experience shows that it is more likely to piss off the really smart CWs and ADs.

Even in the old punk rock days, there was a scene before there were hundreds of 'zines and commentators telling everybody how much better the scene was than the crap the majors had to offer. Maybe they think Seth Rogen is Big Star or Lester Bangs or something. But, if they can't get a Zola, they ought to get at least get some Televisions, Ramones, and Talking Heads. I know they're out there, and could use a little support. Even when you're a critics' darling, art's a hard dollar.

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