Ed Driscoll

Re: Reclaiming the Culture

In his latest post, Maximum Pajamahadeen Roger L. Simon explores “Reclaiming the Culture:”

Put simply, give up on the culture and you lose forever. (It’s hard enough with the media and the educational system rigged the way they are.)

So my point is quite simple. Quit bitching and start doing.

Sean Penn and Oliver Stone are going to do what they are going to do. Conservatives and libertarians have to do the same thing — but better.

Sorry about the better, but that’s just the facts right now. Bias exists and you’re going to have to overcome it. The best way to achieve that is by aesthetic excellence. And the only way to achieve that excellence, assuming you have the basic talent, unfortunately is hard work. It all comes down to the old tourist query joke about “How do you get to Carnegie Hall.” (“Practice, practice, practice,” for the twelve people who don’t know it).

Whoever said it was going to be easy? And making it more difficult is that conservatives tend to be out of practice where cultural endeavors are concerned (except perhaps in country music, which is important). When you disdain or ignore something, the skills wither.

I’m talking in generalities, of course. Plenty of great conservative artists exist. But the number needs to be extended considerably in order even to come close to parity and level the artistic playing field to some small degree. Cultural institutions (movie studios, theatres, philanthropies etc.) must be built as well because you can do terrific things but, without the means of distributing them, they are the proverbial trees growing unseen in the wilderness.

There’s no reason why the two need to be exclusive, of course. As John Podhoretz mentioned in a recent Ricochet podcast:

If you had said 17 years ago, or 18 years ago, that the dominate force in cable news would be a right-wing news channel, everybody would have thought you were insane. In 1994, Paul Weyrich started such a network. It was called the National Empowerment Network; it was one of the most embarrassing things that was ever put on the air.

Two years later, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch started the Fox News Channel, and there it is. It is a cultural institution that was built instantly, from the ground up, by a major corporation. Granted, with a chief who is an ideological conservative, and saw a market opportunity.

This notion that the culture can’t be changed, and it’s all impossible, is ludicrous. Of course it can. The problem is that it can’t be changed by saying, “How do I change the culture?” Things have to happen organically.

But Fox wouldn’t have happened without the groundwork laid by millions of grass roots conservatives complaining about media bias across first the dinner table and then in talk radio, and without the pioneering work writing about the topic by first Reed Irvine’s Accuracy in Media, founded in 1969, and Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center, founded a quarter century later.

On the flip side, when the New Left took over Hollywood in the mid to late 1960s, they also had Pauline Kael and other critics in liberal magazines actively championing their pictures.

And the New Left filmmakers behind the lines in Hollywood also understood something that Roger discusses here — whatever the bias of your movie or TV show, it must entertain first:

Paramount in all this too — particularly for storytelling artists in fiction, theatre, film, and television – is that art must come before ideology. If it’s not pleasing, it’s worthless. The goal should be to make the reader or audience forget their biases and live the experience of the characters and their story. This is the method to “reach across the aisle” and actually make an impact, to change the atmosphere.

Liberals often think of themselves as “liberals” because they like the image and the connotations of the word itself. But their actual thinking and certainly their behavior are more conservative. Those people can be reached through art because their guard is down, especially if the artist is engaging in his or her presentation.

Or as I wrote back in 2007, it’s all about burying the subtext deep into the magma of the story:

In the 1950s and up until the mid-1960s, it was possible to sneak all sorts of leftwing ideas into films by burying them deep into the subtext of the shooting script. Did you think that The Hustler was merely a film about a down-on-his-luck pool bum brilliantly played by Paul Newman? So did I–until I listened to the audio commentary on the DVD, and discovered that it was a film about the Blacklist. (Hey, if you say so, guys.) Similarly, on one level, it’s possible to argue that The Manchurian Candidate is a leftwing fantasy concerning the assassination of Joseph McCarthy, but the film’s incredible pacing, plot twists, and eye-popping cinematography help to soft-sell that it’s yet another anti-McCarthy movie. And from the same era, while Dr. Strangeloveis obviously an anti-military/anti-Cold War film, its Swiftian absurdity and brilliant screenwriting, and pox-on-both-sides message makes it all go down remarkably smooth.

The need to bury these themes to get them past the censors in the Hays Office made for brilliant writing and great moviemaking. As did the need to use innuendo rather than overt sexuality (see: Hitchcock, Alfred). That period ended when–talk about unintended consequences–the demise of the Hays office depressed Hollywood’s box office by removing restrictions upon its writers and directors. Thus subtext and innuendo went out the window, ultimately leading to today’s Hollywood and “liberal revenge fantasies.”

But then, that’s why they call it subtext! Unfortunately, that notion has largely gone out the window on both sides of the aisle — when Oliver Stone became an industry in the mid-1990s, he thought he could produce overt agitprop, rather than entertaining movies such as Platoon and Wall Street that told stories first, before delivering the leftwing talking points. And similarly, David Zucker’s 2008 American Carol was outright conservative agitprop, rather than a funny comedy that happened to be conservative, just as his earlier Airplane was a hilarious movie that happened to have been made by a (then) liberal.

But I disagree with Roger slightly: Yes, conservatives in the movie industry need to keep fighting to get — hopefully entertaining — projects made. The rest of us need to keep bitching, when we see objectionable material from Hollywood, and the MSM. (Which are essentially the same these days, given that Warner Brothers owns Time magazine, CNN, and HBO; Universal and NBC are one in the same, and Fox owns, well, Fox.)

Besides,  as the Insta-professor writes, along with a link to Dr. Helen’s take on Roger’s essay, “bitching and whining has worked pretty well as a strategy for lefties. As for being better than them — it’s important to be good enough. And that’s enough.”

Heh, indeed.™