Monday, November 26, 2012

BRINGING A KNIFE TO A CULTURE WAR. Conservatives of the what-went-wrong school are still working the culture angle. While some are predicting they'll win hearts and minds with Steve Crowder, others are still more confident; Sonny Bunch at the Wall Street Journal points to conservative gains in the crucial field of pop culture studies, offering Paul A. Cantor's schoolly The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture in evidence.

Once upon a time, the book tells Bunch, statist TV producers gave us propaganda like "Have Gun Will Travel," in which Richard Boone "sets himself up as superior to the community he is helping, imposing his own solution on it and often expressing open contempt for the people who run it." (Sounds a little like John Wayne talking about High Noon.) Now look how Lockean "Deadwood" is, how "Martin Scorsese's 'The Aviator' provides as clean a rejection of crony capitalism as exists in entertainment." Plus, did you ever hear of Edgar G. Ulmer? No? Then this book is for you!

Bunch's conclusion:
...the author's castigation of "elites who want to keep the American people in line" and who thus "fear the explosive energy of popular culture" underscores how much has changed since Mr. Cantor first mounted his defense of pop culture in "Gilligan Unbound." We live in a world in which "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is routinely taught in colleges and critical groupthink holds that "television shows are the new novels." The elites, if they haven't quite lost, are certainly on the ropes.
It's finally happened: The right's Bizarro Alinsky fetish had led it on a parallel long march through the institutions. Only instead of taking over the history and literature departments, they want to teach bored graduate students how  to "read" crap sitcoms and prestige cable shows. That'll show those elites with their long, boring books!

Either that or it's just a recruitment device: Hey kids, are the usual wingnut welfare sinecures too demanding for you? Enlist in the Pop Culture Corps! Beats workin'.


  1. Wait, I thought conservatives longed for the return of TV westerns where there was clearly defined good guys (the white cowboys) and bad guys (swarthy claim jumpers, corrupt/lazy Mexicans, whooping injuns) and wouldn't care for a show featuring a nerdy lesbian Wiccan as a core character.

  2. aimai9:20 AM

    Oh Roy! How do you do it? How do you find these guys? You predicted this necessary evolution years ago, with your many essays on the Stankhanovite tradition on the right, but it appears to have come to its fruition only now that they've lost the levers of power. Or maybe I don't mean fruition. Maybe I mean rot.

    Also: is it wrong of me to declare my love for that modern Shakespeare, the guy who wrote "Jekyll" for the BBC? I don't care who hears me say so: its fantastic.


  3. Oh wait, yeah, South Park Republicans again. never mind.

  4. aimai9:22 AM

    Oops, forgot to add that I wonder what me makes of Kung Fu, the original remix of faux buddhism/confucianism with the western? I am sure that watching that, at an impressionable age, made me the chinese martial arts wandering hero I am today.

  5. Guest9:36 AM

    The elites are "afraid of trhe explosive energy of pop culture"? But, but but . . . they've been castigating the elites for creating pop culture and holding sway over it through Hollywood and publishing!
    It's a wonder these people can rise to even minimal functionality on a day-to-day basis, given that their brains are saturated with "reasoning" abilities that force them to accept things that are not simply absurd, but that internally contradictory.

  6. Jon Hendry9:40 AM

    Fruiting like cordyceps fungus springing from a zombie ant's head?

  7. chuckling10:19 AM

    I caught the tail end of a talk by David Mamet on Book TV. Was mostly enjoying what he had to say, stuff about how academics ruined writers; that a playwright needed to learn to please a live audience, not a professor; that you could safely assume that any playwright who had won a large number of competitions is a terrible writer; and so on. But then he started going on about Alinsky and Hayak and brain dead liberals, which I thought surprising and bizarre.

    Of course had I seen the first ten minutes of his speech, I wouldn't have been surprised. Nor if I had read his piece in the voice.

    I find it interesting how someone as demonstrably insightful about human nature as Mamet could come to such ridiculous conclusions about politics. Not entirely because he is that far off in his criticisms of the closed mindsets of certain liberal types, but that he doesn't see the same phenomena squared in the conservative echo chamberverse.

    What becomes apparent, at least to me as someone who has studied mind control, is that he was brainwashed with a liberal narrative as a child. Not that it was any liberal narrative I have ever come across, but one has to trust him on this subject. For example, he says that he was taught that people were basically good at heart and that the biggest insight that turned him conservative was that people are not so good at heart. Well, duh, says I. But the point is that when one is propagandized into imbecility, one is likely to feel very resentful when one figures that out, and it is not unusual to have an equally ridiculous, though opposite, view imprinted at that point. That's just how the mind works.

    Anyhoo, it made me want to see his new play. Not because he's turned into a ridiculous figure politically, but because I generally like his work, and that of Debra Winger and Patti Lupone as well, and that tickets can be had relatively cheap right now. Even with that, I may need to start a kickstarter campaign to get funding for the ticket.

  8. chuckling10:24 AM

    Coincidentally, I checked out the first season DVD from the library the other day and watched the first episode with my son. It's actually not a bad show. Very slow by today's tv standards, but well constructed story-wise and somewhat interestingly shot.

  9. DocAmazing10:28 AM

    he says that he was taught that people were basically good at heart and
    that the biggest insight that turned him conservative was that people
    are not so good at heart

    Judging from his plays, I'd say he had that insight about the time he learned to spell. This is the White Dog theory of criticism, n'est-ce pas?

  10. DocAmazing10:30 AM

    Yeah, a show about a paladin who acted as a mercenary in frontier towns was totally collectivist, or elitist, or something.

  11. Rick Santorum10:35 AM

    Everything I know about Blah People I learned from watching Sanford and Son.

  12. Mitt Romney10:36 AM

    Temporary Layoffs, good times!

  13. Halloween_Jack10:36 AM

    Still not sure why Have Gun - Will Travel made that guy's shit list. Gun owner does bidding of whoever can pay his fee, disregarding local regulations, and backing it up by citing Western canon. What's not to like? Did he point that Colt at a cattle baron or something?

  14. Picture!

  15. I've always found it precious that cons believe fervently in the inherent evil of humans, which to them proves that they need an elite to rule them since they can't be trusted to do it themselves (Burke) and require a coercive law enforcement/justice system to keep the proles in line (Law'n Order Pugs), but at the same time believe that the Conservative Elite are so refined that they would never succumb to the temptations that mere moochers are subject to (Rand). And not to put too fine a point on it, but there they go again, redefining worthy moral principles and artistic values as conservative so they can be conscripted into the Culture Wars.

  16. Ulmer did Detour, so his cred is long and large with B-movie buffs. And he's also responsible for most of the Yiddish film of the 40s. To the extent that we have a record of American-Yiddish theater of the early 20th century, much credit belongs to Ulmer.

  17. chuckling10:58 AM

    He acknowledges that, but doesn't really explain it well. As far as I can see, none of his explanations for his conversion make any logical sense, except in the context of mind control science. And I don't mean that in a partisan way. Someone brain washed in conservative nonsense could just as easily flip to a fervent belief in some kind of ridiculous leftist worldview. It's the mechanism that's interesting, not the content of the actual acquired belief. Would be nice if we could all just be rational and tailor our beliefs to fit the available facts while always being open to changing them based on newly acquired knowledge.

    What is a White Dog theory of criticism? Google is unhelpful, though I'm guessing it must have something to do with the movie?

  18. sharculese11:06 AM

    It is the unique talent of the wingnut culture scold to find inspirational lessons about the state of contemporary pop culture in a show that was canceled six years ago.

  19. Again and again in "The Invisible Hand in Pop Culture," Mr. Cantor
    contrasts societal order that manifests itself spontaneously with order
    decreed by elites from above.


  20. Wait--it's the "elites" who "fear the explosive energy of popular culture"? And it's the conservatives who want to let a hundred cultural flowers bloom?

    I thought their indictment of higher education was based on a righteous denunciation of liberals using Derrida to destroy all standards and foster a godless society in which everything is permissible, and Modern Family is just as good as King Lear.

    They just make this shit up, don't they.

  21. sharculese11:20 AM

    Yeah, the thing is, once you get past the morally ambiguous nature of the Deadwood universe (swears! and hooker! and the good guy wears black!) Seth Bullock isn't some bleak anti-hero, he's basically the most straight-laced dude on the show, and his failings tend to arise out of his need to Do the Right Thing. The only way this dude's screed makes sense is if he watched Justified and assumed Deadwood must be like, basically the same thing but older.

  22. sharculese11:27 AM

    And how is this supposed to play out, anyway: "I used to be for gay rights, but ever since my freshman comp class watched Game of Thrones I'm outraged about Chappaquiddick?"

    Because... I don't really see that happening.

  23. What I will never understand is how someone like Mamet (or even Dennis Miller) can regard the finks, dwarfs, phonies, and frogs of the right, and the career liars and vile propagandists, and think, "Yeah, that's where the truth is. That's the gang for me."

    Okay, Miller has always been a vain opportunist, so forget him. But still. Does Mamet really think there is more wisdom on the masthead of National Review than on The Nation? That the acolytes of Andrew Breitbart are more insightful about the world than any ten random commenters here? Or has he just decided to give free rein to his inner macho asshole, and needs a congenial environment?

  24. Not a lot of Skittles in the old west.

  25. Societal order that manifests itself spontaneously with order decreed by elites from above...gilligans island? Or is this another version of "I was at a fight last night and a hockey game broke out?"


  26. A story about a self-made entrepreneur and his ardent capitalist son's filial piety? No taxpayer-mooching cardiac care for a proud businessman like Fred Sanford!

    Up next: "Welcome Back, Kotter" as a scathing critique of enforced diversity and the public school system.

  27. I really think Mamet is lying about that "I was brainwashed by my jewish liberal parents into thinking everyone was good..." I come from a family that was waaaaaay more left than Mamet's family ever dreamed of being--I've got anarchists and SDS and fucking weathermen in my family, close enough to have god damned thanksgiving with them and none of them ever believed that. As for my spouse's more conventionally jewish family--Sholem Aleichem Folk Shul and Workman's Circle Garment Worker's represent! a more suspicious and generally critically negative bunch of people have yet to be created out of upholstery materials and suffering. Mamet is parroting a right wing Christianist line which was developed in a laboratory to combat liberation theology and, cough, if you will forgive the term: The Jesus Problem.

    The Jesus Problem (great name for a Crichton novel, I think) is that Jesus specifically doesn't care whether your neighbor is good or bad, essentially a loser or a grifer or a moocher. He commands you to treat those people as yourself regardless. This has been a stumbling block for authoritarian christians ever since they allied themselves with Calvinism and Capitalism and Slavery. The way out of it is to accuse everyone else in the universe of mistaking the nature of mankind and proposing an unworkable solution to the problem of society--treating each person like a human being. It is necessary, according to this view, to treat most people like criminals--I'll do unto you before you do unto me is a race to the bottom, not to the top.


    **Forgot to mention that Mamet is of the same generation as the neo-cons most of whom famously felt their manhood threatened by being beaten up by the schwartzes. Maybe like the Kristols and etc... he was frightened by something in the woodshed and only slowly woke up to what it was.

  28. Jay B.12:06 PM

    The author finds Adam Smith's "invisible hand" exerting its influence in "Deadwood," for instance, when a bureaucrat informs the elders of the 1870s frontier gold-mining town of the terms under which claims on property in then-unincorporated Dakota Territories would be recognized by the incoming federal government. "Essentially, if you're on it and improve it, you own it," the functionary says. "This passage is so close to Locke's analysis of property that it sounds as if he deserves a writing credit for 'Deadwood,'"

    Conservatives: Putting the fuddy into duddy since 1621.

    But let's take it on their own terms. The Deadwood folks, of course, were very wary of federal government intrusion. Not just because of the gold claims, but also because the town fathers were running whore-and-gambling houses, while being able to kill basically at will without no gummit poking around. Adam Smith would have died a thousand deaths had he seen the not invisible hand of one of Swearingen's whores jerking off the government functionary in order to gain his trust in the coming licensing battles. And, naturally conservatives would want Locke credited for a piece of actual historical fact because they don't value art to begin with. Holy shit, a piece of historically-accurate exposition in a show that's primarily about the hell that unfettered capitalism brings to broken people? Lockean values!

    They are beyond help.

  29. Co-rect.

  30. i'm pretty sure there is a substantive body of work out there demonstrating culture is produced within a continuum of ideology, and i'm also fairly certain that - surprise surprise - many of our cultural products celebrate (or hardly subvert) the liberal-democratic capitalist narrative. but to accept that this is a good thing is something else entirely. that's not scholarship, that's propaganda.

  31. BigHank5312:19 PM

    I think it's even simpler. Mamet's just looking to dress up his naked greed, fear, and resentment so he can show it off in public. "Blame it on the liberals" is, sad to say, perfectly acceptable--Pinch Sulzberger said so!

  32. But why that myth? That's a specifically Christian/right wing origin myth for the difference between liberals and conservatives, progressives and reactionaries. Its definitely not a Jewish origin myth--its a gloss he puts on his own origins as a political person which only makes sense retrospectively. He's like any other person who joined a cult late in life, in this case the cult of the fuck you I got mine but I still want your respect anyway--he posits the existence of a "missing first pages of the sacred text" or asserts "when I was a child I spake as a child..." and argues that his parents generation were simply at a lower level of development than he eventually achieved. Presumably they were not as successful as he was because they didn't understand reality the way he does.


  33. XeckyGilchrist12:55 PM

    I was just thinking along these lines, but remembered that for a Kulturkampfer that's pretty cutting-edge.

  34. wileywitch1:27 PM

    Truer words, Bro. Truer words.

  35. I'd laugh harder at these idiots if I didn't spend a couple semesters of college trying to read Shakespeare through my Marxist glasses. Take it from me, fellas: Reducing art to its value as an ideological tool not only stunts your ability to understand humanity, it's murder on your English Lit GPA.

  36. JennOfArk1:44 PM

    I'm sure he DID see something nasty in the woodshed.
    The question is, did it see HIM?

  37. RogerAiles1:45 PM

    No, no and yes.

    "[Mamet] recently told The Weekly Standard that he does not read political magazines and blogs, and his main interface with modern conservatism is talk radio. 'I drive around and listen to the talk-show guys,' he said. '[Glenn] Beck, [Dennis] Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved.'"

    Glengarry, Glenn Beck.

  38. His writing has sucked since Oleanna at least.

  39. That reminds me of an old Mad Magazine satire, I think it was: Have Suit, will Commute.

  40. Sonny Bunches of Oy.

  41. I still like Have Gun Will Travel. Great show. I never thought it had anything to with politics, though

  42. The Dark Avenger4:23 PM

    I think it has to do with this book:

  43. yeah, adam smith, straight outta deadwood:

    The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of
    the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective
    abilities, that is, in proportion to the revenue which they
    respectively enjoy under the protection of the state

  44. M. Krebs5:02 PM

    "Essentially, if you're on it and improve it, you own it,..."

    Too bad that wasn't the rule the last time I rented a house.

  45. I wonder how Cantor deals with the fact that the hero of "The Aviator" (that's Howard Hughes to you) is also koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs. Or was it crony capitalism that drove him mad?

  46. AGoodQuestion6:37 PM

    We live in a world in which "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is routinely taught in colleges and critical groupthink holds that "television shows are the new novels."

    Brunch provides the first example I can remember of "groupthink" being promoted as a good thing. That probably is a sign that he knows his audience, at least.

  47. AGoodQuestion6:44 PM

    Jekyll is the work of Steven Moffat, who's also responsible for putting River Song on the TARDIS. May he be praised.

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  49. smut clyde7:07 PM

    The rule only applies to land previously owned by someone not-white.

  50. smut clyde7:10 PM

    Something nasty in the woodshed? Wasn't that Ada Doom's line?

  51. M. Krebs7:21 PM

    Hey, we'uns ain't no subject of no state. We's Americans!

  52. Good to see the wingnuts updating their pop culture CV a bit. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 to 2003), Deadwood (2004-2006) and The Aviator (2004) are a hell of a lot less embarrassing subjects for them to natter on about then the Ramones, Gilligan's Island and All In the Family, though still a bit distant. I guess at Wingnut U, the curriculum refuses to acknowledge any pop culture produced during the reign of the Kenyan Usurper.

  53. Just be glad they didn't drag out the body of Dick Van Dyke again.

  54. Most TV shows and movies don't delve into politics. John Rogers has written about this quite a bit but the short version is: too strong a political message ruins your story, drives away viewers (and add money) thus endangering the bottom line. And if Hollywood producers have a commandment, it is Thou Shall Not Endanger the Revenue Stream.

  55. aimai9:05 PM

    Yes, I remember that this is his new shtick (I mean, new in the last ten or fifteen years). I call to mind a friend's grandmother's classic insult "Smart, smart, and still you're dumb." This vox populi thing--along with "the country would be better run by the first 50 names in the phone book than by harvard professors or the Jew York Times etc...etc..." is so old it had whiskers on it in methusaleh's day.

  56. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard9:30 PM

    Now look how Lockean "Deadwood" is, how "Martin Scorsese's 'The Aviator' provides as clean a rejection of crony capitalism as exists in entertainment."
    Since when have Conservatives rejected crony capitalism?

  57. Tehanu9:51 PM

    We watched some of the shows on cable and were surprised at well some of them held up - the Gene Roddenberry-written ones in particular. And Richard Boone was the sexiest man EVER on tv (Captain Picard notwithstanding).

  58. BigHank539:51 PM

    If the scales have fallen from your eyes and you are now in possession of the revealed Truth, then whatever you used to believe must have been some kind of evil lie.

    If he's truly been getting his right-wing inspiration from the likes of Glenn Beck, then it's hardly any wonder at all: the quickest way to announce yourself as one of the Elect is to denounce everyone else as a moocher. If you need any evidence y'all can just point to your bank account.

  59. Tehanu9:52 PM

    Since it was somebody else's cronies and not theirs getting the profits.

  60. M. Krebs10:08 PM

    I installed two-way mirrors in his pad in Brentwood, and he came to the door in a dress.

  61. That whole "essentially, if you're on [the land] and improve it, you own it" thing was the rationale behind the portion of Ayn Rand's speech to the graduating class of '74 at West point, where she explained to the cadets why the American Indians had no right to the land they had lived on for a thousand years because they hadn't built a technology-based society on it. I'd love to know who the genius was who thought that that newly minted bunch of Second Lieutenants could benefit from a dose of Objectivism.

  62. The Dark Avenger1:09 AM

    "Barney Miller" is an indictment of a mad society where the cops briefly bring some sanity and safety while they maintain a precarious hold on their own mental stability.

  63. montag21:19 AM

    This was, I think, probably the most profound thing that the more pedestrian conservatives took from Leo Strauss (Strauss loved Gunsmoke), that one could model a society on the purely fictional world of Hollywood's concept of the Wild West, where there were never moral conundrums, ambiguities or complexities.

    That Bunch can take fluff like "Have Gun, Will Travel" and turn it into some telling narrative on the control [liberal] elites exert on society is almost a textbook example of the contortions to which conservatives today will go in order to fabricate a complaint.

    And their complaint is always that they are not the ones guiding the popular culture.

  64. TGuerrant6:03 AM

    According to Scott McConnell's "100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand" (a title worth its weight in punch lines), Rand's visit to West Point was arranged by an instructor there, Col. Herman Ivey, who said he "loved her as a person" for frightening "established academic intellectuals."

    The superintendent of West Point at the time was William A. Knowlton, soon to be the father-in-law of David Petraeus (Class of '74 - the year of Rand's speech at West Point).

    Ivey, who escorted Rand during her visit, said Knowlton invited her to his office for a private chat because he "was a great admirer of hers. ... He talked to her, and she talked to him, and it was a mutual admiration society, if one ever existed on this planet."

  65. aimai9:38 AM

    Well, isn't that actually the premise of Barney Miller? All joking aside?

  66. aimai9:39 AM

    Plus, also, too Sherlock. The guy's a genius.

  67. The Dark Avenger9:58 AM

    Except for the part about an indictment of a mad society(aka NYC), yes.

  68. smut clyde1:41 PM

    And when you gaze long into an woodpile the woodpile also gazes into you.

  69. It's just a western version of today's society where the citizens too afraid for their own skins hire someone else to do their fighting. In reality no town was ever "treed" by the bad guys..... you have to remember in those days everyone owned gun..... there were indian fighters, civil war vets, and so on and so forth..... get in their faces and they shot you out of hand.

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