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Tags: Culture

Can We Dispel the Notion of Celebrities as Life Role Models?



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Alyssa Rosenberg, with perhaps the most intriguing/non-snarky/thought-provoking/tolerable argument you may ever see on the liberal blog ThinkProgress, prompted by the performance of Jay-Z and Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards:

If conservatives want to sell Americans on marriage, maybe they have to talk more about the bliss half of wedded bliss, to think about the desire part of making marriage desirable. And maybe the entertainment industry that [Ross] Douthat’s singled out as the enemy of marriage has something to add to the case for marital happiness. If marriage is a product that conservatives desperately want to sell, the smartest thing they could do right now is to hire Beyoncé and Jay-Z as a product spokescouple.

The wonderful Ericka Anderson largely agrees:

Beyonce’s lyrics to “Drunk in Love” are very risqué and sexual, her performance pretty much the same, but hello?! She’s singing with and about her husband — the one she married and had a baby with after they were married.

I’ve heard it time and again — it’s the CULTURE and much of the Right (not all — and it’s getting better) has a hard time getting a handle on it. Well, embrace it people — embrace it in the sexuality within hip, healthy marriages and highlight to good things Hollywood does do to promote the principles we already support. Maybe they are a little buried but unpack them, notice them and pat Hollywood on the back for delivering.

The problem with Douthat’s column isn’t that he’s wrong — it’s that like most on the Right, he relies solely on numbers, polls, research and policy talk. Where are the real life examples that everyday people are interested in and can relate to their own lives? Non-existent.

Our Reihan Salam notes that the argument skips a step — proving that people are wary about marriage because they don’t see enough high-profile examples of happy ones:

The problem, however, is that Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas famously observe in Promises I Can Keep, one of the chief barriers to marriage in high-poverty communities is not the notion that marriage isn’t desirable or fun. Rather, it is that because Americans hold the notion of marriage as a mutually supportive partnership in such high regard, many have come to see it as an unattainable ideal. And by putting the cultural spotlight in marriages in which “various parts of female experience don’t trade off with each other,” or for that matter various parts of male experience, we might be exacerbating this problem. As Rosenberg states, we can safely assume that Knowles-Carter and Jay-Z have little difficulty arranging child care and meeting various other challenges that prove overwhelming for parents in even the most generous social democracies.

Ericka Anderson is probably right that spotlighting celebrities is a good way to bring a message to communities that usually tune conservatives out . . . but I reserve the right to gripe that it’s frustrating and stupid that any idea, value, or argument requires a celebrity endorsement before some Americans will pay attention to it. If you take your behavioral cues from people who are (A) exponentially wealthier than you, (B) held to a completely different standard of behavior because of (A), (C) able to afford personal assistants to handle all of the chores, errands, details, and headaches of life because of (A), and (D) surrounded by sycophants, providing no useful check on their judgment, which has been deteriorating because of factors (A), (B), and (C) . . . you’re going to have serious problems. Your life will be a “Behind the Music” special without that opening rise to the top.

As mentioned in today’s Jolt:

The piece is entitled, “At The Grammys, Beyoncé and Jay-Z Made the Case for Marriage that Conservatives Can’t.” The argument is wiser than the headline, because you can translate that as, “Two Immensely Well-Known Celebrities Made the Case for Marriage that a Political Philosophy Can’t.”
It’s more than a little unfair to ask why non-celebrities can’t command the public’s attention or win over hearts and minds as well as pop stars can, in a celebrity-obsessed culture such as this. Most of us married folk don’t wake up in the morning and explicitly set out to “make the case for marriage.” Hopefully we set a good example, and unmarried folks say, “Boy, I’d like to have a marriage like that someday.”
In other words, if a celebration of the institution of marriage requires both partners to be immensely successful and famous, with buckets of glamor, reams of positive press, and throngs of adoring fans, then our only other option is . . . Brangelina.

A reader reminded me that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are not yet married, presuming the seasonal rumors of a secret wedding aren’t true.

Remember my wariness about conservatives citing quotes from Ashton Kutcher and Bono to bolster their arguments? Here we see the suggestion that marriage, an institution that has existed roughly as long as humanity has, and that has largely thrived in various forms in just about every culture around the globe, has suddenly become reinvigorated with coolness and desirability because a couple of glamorous celebrities tied the knot and appear to be making it work. I mean, good for them, but having your view of marriage shaped by these two doesn’t strike me as all that different from taking health-insurance advice from Harold and Kumar.
Cracked had an amusing article, “Five Reasons Why You Should Never Take Advice from Celebrities,” and it’s pretty darn funny (and very off-color) — and it’s unnerving that it might be necessary.

Tags: Culture

Cheering Up Frank Luntz, and Ourselves



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From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Cheering Up Frank Luntz, and Ourselves

Assume for a moment, that the conclusions that have driven pollster Frank Luntz into deep depression and angst are true:

“I spend more time with voters than anybody else,” Luntz says. “I do more focus groups than anybody else. I do more dial sessions than anybody else. I don’t know [squat] about anything, with the exception of what the American people think.”

It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn’t listen to each other as they once had. They weren’t interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opinions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington.” Haven’t political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? “Not like this,” he says. “Not like this.”

Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president’s message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution.

Before we go any further, let’s look a little closer at the phenomenon Luntz describes, and how the trend probably predates the president and is driven by a lot more than just who’s sitting in the Oval Office. Let’s start with those “class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution.”

Imagine if the most bland and milquetoast president had been in office since January 20, 2009. Instead of electing uber-celebrity Munificent Sun-King Barack Obama, we elected President Boring Center-Left Conventional Wisdom — the genetic hybrid of David Gergen, David Brooks, Tom Friedman, and Cokie Roberts.

America would still have endured Wall Street crash of late 2008 and the Great Recession. This recession (still ongoing, in the minds and experiences of millions of Americans) was driven by many factors but largely from the bursting of the housing bubble and the mortgage securities and asset-backed derivatives that came out of that. We can argue that better policies would have generated a more significant recovery from 2009 to 2012, but indisputably, America’s economy fell far and fast, and climbing back up to say, 2007 levels of employment and average household retirement savings was destined to be a long, slow, tough slog. All those folks employed in the housing bubble — the home builders, the construction guys, the suppliers, the realtors, the house-flippers, all that real-estate advertising revenue, etc. — had to find some other work. And with the exception of the energy sector, there hasn’t been much of a boom in the U.S. economy in the past five years.

At the same time, we spent most of 2001 to 2009 absorbing millions of illegal immigrants, a wave of unskilled labor flooding the market for the few unskilled-labor jobs out there. The multi-decade decline of American manufacturing hasn’t abated much, schools and universities continued to pump out new American workers who are only partially prepared for the reality of the modern job market, and new technology continues to wreak havoc in established industries (ask Newsweek). Competition from cheaper labor overseas continues unabated. The era of spending your career at one company is gone. The era of traditional defined-benefit pension plans is gone. The era of a college degree automatically providing a ticket to a white-collar job and middle-class lifestyle is gone.

Economic anxiety is baked in the cake in American life right now. It’s not that surprising that a lot of our fellow countrymen are receptive to a message seeking scapegoats. In other words, even under President Cokie Gergen Friedman Brooks, Luntz would be seeing a similar cranky, resentful, demanding mood in the electorate. This president may be particularly skilled at opportunistically exploiting that anxiety to further his agenda — in fact, it may be the only thing he’s really good at — but it’s not like he invented it, nor like he’s the only one to ever practice it (remember Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a “vulture capitalist”?), nor like he’ll be the last to try it.

If Luntz is right that a large chunk of the American electorate has turned angry, entitled, resentful and spiteful — and I’ll bet a lot of us have suspected this in the past year or five — then it is indeed ominous for the next few elections, and suggests American life will get worse before it gets better.

But there’s also an upside to this, at least for us. Because it means large numbers of our fellow countrymen are embracing a philosophy and attitude that is destined to fail them and leave them miserable. Anybody who sits and waits for the government to improve his life is going to get stuck in endless circles of disappointment, anger, self-destructive rage, and despair.

We would be foolish if we told ourselves that being conservative means we’ve got life all figured out. We all have our flaws, our foibles, our sins, and our moments of not practicing what we preach. But if you’re conservative, you’ll probably manage to avoid certain mistakes and pitfalls on this journey called life.

If you’re conservative, you’ve probably learned that there’s no substitute for hard work. Even great talent can only get you so far, particularly if you don’t apply yourself. Yes, luck is a factor, but we also acknowledge that old saying, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

If you’re conservative, you probably at least try to embrace individual responsibility — meaning you realize the quality of your life is primarily up to you — and there’s no point in blaming mommy or daddy, no point in blaming the boss, no point in blaming society at large, no point in complaining that life isn’t fair. It isn’t. We can’t control a lot of things. The only thing we can control is how we react to things.

If you’re conservative, you hopefully don’t spend much time worrying about or grumbling about somebody else who’s doing well for themselves. You want to figure out how to join them! Or at least “do well” enough for yourself and your family, and maybe have a little something left over to help out somebody who really needs it.

If you’re conservative, you may or may not believe in a higher power, but you probably believe in right and wrong and you’re wary of people who talk about the world as a murky blur of grey and endorse a moral relativism. You know doing the wrong thing catches up with you sooner or later. You know the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and life’s bad guys are always insisting that the ends justify the means.

If you’re conservative, you believe there’s evil in the world, and we’re not likely to successfully sweet-talk with it, negotiate with it, ignore it, or reason with it. Confronting it, on terms most beneficial to us, or containing it seem to be the best option.

If you’re conservative, you may or may not have the level of impulse control you wish — I sure as heck don’t at mealtimes — but you at least seem to recognize the consequences. Completely embracing “If it feels good, do it” will leave you in a dark alley, hung over and going through withdrawal, and perhaps with a venereal disease.

Individual responsibility, hard work, gratitude and appreciation, a conscience, fortitude — these things will never go out of style, no matter how cranky the electorate gets. What Luntz is witnessing is a lot of people embracing ideas that are going to fail them. At another point in that interview:

The entitlement he now hears from the focus groups he convenes amounts, in his view, to a permanent poisoning of the electorate — one that cannot be undone. “We have now created a sense of dependency and a sense of entitlement that is so great that you had, on the day that he was elected, women thinking that Obama was going to pay their mortgage payment, and that’s why they voted for him,” he says. “And that, to me, is the end of what made this country so great.”

I wonder if Luntz is referring to the oft-quoted Peggy Joseph, declaring in 2008, “I don’t have to worry about putting gas in my car, I don’t have to worry about my mortgage! If I help him, he’s going to help me.”

Except Barack Obama never paid for Peggy Joseph’s gas or mortgage. At least on that front, she’s probably found Obama’s presidency to be deeply disappointing, presuming she never found a way to serve on the board of Solyndra.

Both liberals and conservatives were appalled by the administration’s management and handling of the Obamacare rollout, but only the liberals were surprised. (Well, maybe we were surprised at just how epic the failure was.) We don’t expect government to do a lot of things right. We don’t count on it to immanentize the eschaton — to build God’s Kingdom, or utopia, on earth. But year in and year out, the Left always convinces itself anew that government can do it — even after it completely botches a website and fails to tell the president before the unveiling.

One final note:

Luntz lives alone. Never married, he tells me he is straight (and that no reporter has ever asked him about his sexual orientation before), just unable to sustain a romantic relationship because of all the time he spends on the road. “My parents were married for 47 years. I’m never in the same place more than 47 minutes,” he says. When I point out he’s chosen that lifestyle, he says, “You sound like my relatives.”

Marriage is a useful indicator of voting patterns. More Republicans are married than Democrats — and the benefits of marriage are enormous.

Maybe we need to set up Luntz with some nice woman, and maybe his outlook on life will brighten.

Tags: Barack Obama , Polling , Culture

Promoting STEM in a Celebrity-Obsessed American Culture



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The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt reveals new problems for patients under Obamacare in New Jersey and Minnesota, and taxpayers in Delaware; New York City’s new Mayor DeBlasio cracks down on the menace of horse-drawn carriages in Central Park; and these thoughts about the difficulties of steering young people to a realistic yet fulfilling career path:

The Dangers of the American Dream, or Teenage Dreams

It’s not that MTV’s “Cribs” — still on the air in a slightly different format — is the biggest problem in America, but it is a useful indicator of one of our problems.

This is not the standard-issue rant about materialism. If you love those professional-quality kitchen knives you got for Christmas, God bless ya. And if you have the chance to move into a mansion with the eight-car garage, with a custom built-swimming pool and Jacuzzi, overlooking the ocean, go ahead and enjoy every minute.

It’s great to have big dreams of success and wealth and fame. They’re one of the things that make the world go round, and the history of humanity would be dramatically different, and worse, without big dreamers like the Founding Fathers, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, the scientists and engineers of the Apollo program, Steve Jobs, etc.

It’s the message expressed directly and indirectly to all of our children: work hard, study, don’t quit, and you can live your dreams!

But not everybody’s going to live out their big dreams. You may dream of winning a gold medal as an Olympics sprinter, and just not be that fast. Some folks will strive for their dreams and conclude it’s too hard. They’ll get discouraged. They’ll be stung by the criticism, constructive and destructive. After trying and failing, they’ll conclude that it’s easier to not try.

And then what? What do they do with their lives afterwards?

If your dream is to succeed in an extremely competitive field, you may never get to give that Oscar acceptance speech, play to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, or declare that you’re going to Disney World after winning the Super Bowl. Hopefully you can find some way to enjoy your passion of performing or athletics, but whatever you end up doing, you’re going to have to make a living.

The free market has spoken, and it has decided that people who can play basketball as well as LeBron James can make unbelievable sums of money. There are about 400 roster spots in the NBA, and they make varying sums, from Kobe Byrant’s $30 million per year to ten guys making less than $100,000 per year. But there are thousands upon thousands of guys who are just “pretty good” at basketball who make nothing — as well as millions of singers, actors, musicians, artists — and millions more who make a little on the side while working a day job.

Part of the problem is that we live in a culture that celebrates music stars, professional athletes, and movie stars well beyond any other professions. There are entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, doctors, diplomats, and other professions who live in houses as nice as the ones on “Cribs.” But we only have a show about the celebrities. Elon Musk (founder, SpaceX), Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway and the drug-infusion pump), and Chuck Hull (inventor of the 3-D printer) aren’t even household names – at least not compared to, say, Kim Kardashian or Lindsey Lohan.

If there’s not much glamour in being exceptionally smart, there’s certainly not going to be much glamour or excitement just doing your job well.

You see a lot of educators beating the drums about STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – and how central they are to everything from long-term earning potential to innovation to national security. If you’re playing the odds, having great ability in these areas is your best shot to avoid unemployment, earn good wages, have good opportunities for advancement, etc.

So why don’t more kids dive into these subjects, and more college students major in them? Well for many of us, these subjects are hard. But there’s also that question of glamour, and why so few young people see being a scientist or engineer or even a doctor as a path to the kind of success they see on “Cribs.” Perhaps the road to Hollywood or sports stardom actually seems easier than memorizing the periodic table or understanding quadratic equations.

Still, there seems to be this disconnect between people’s dreams — perhaps even expectations of life — and what’s required to achieve those dreams. One of my all-time favorite essays discussed the notion of “effort shock”:

It applies to everything. America is full of frustrated, broken, baffled people because so many of us think, “If I work this hard, this many hours a week, I should have (a great job, a nice house, a nice car, etc). I don’t have that thing, therefore something has corrupted the system and kept me from getting what I deserve, and that something must be (the government, illegal immigrants, my wife, my boss, my bad luck, etc).”

And young people entering the workforce seem to be experiencing the greatest amount of “effort shock.” This Slate article by Brooke Donatone from a month ago generated a lot of snickering about Millennials, and offers one of the all-time great opening paragraphs:

Amy (not her real name) sat in my office and wiped her streaming tears on her sleeve, refusing the scratchy tissues I’d offered. “I’m thinking about just applying for a Ph.D. program after I graduate because I have no idea what I want to do.” Amy had mild depression growing up, and it worsened during freshman year of college when she moved from her parents’ house to her dorm. It became increasingly difficult to balance school, socializing, laundry, and a part-time job. She finally had to dump the part-time job, was still unable to do laundry, and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents keeping track of her schedule.

I suggested finding a job after graduation, even if it’s only temporary. She cried harder at this idea. “So, becoming an adult is just really scary for you?” I asked. “Yes,” she sniffled.

Amy is 30 years old.

Cue everyone’s “By the time I was 30, I had [worked 60 hours a week/served in the military/gotten married/had children/founded a company/etc].” stories.

Donatone’s conclusion:

A 2013 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that college students who experienced helicopter-parenting reported higher levels of depression and use of antidepressant medications. The researchers suggest that intrusive parenting interferes with the development of autonomy and competence. So helicopter parenting leads to increased dependence and decreased ability to complete tasks without parental supervision.

Amy, like many millennials, was groomed to be an academic overachiever, but she became, in reality, an emotional under-achiever. Amy did not have enough coping skills to navigate normal life stressors—how do I get my laundry and my homework done in the same day; how do I tell my roommate not to watch TV without headphones at 3 a.m.? — without her parents’ constant advice or help.

. . . The era of instant gratification has led to a decrease in what therapists call “frustration tolerance.” This is how we handle upsetting situations, allow for ambiguity, and learn to navigate the normal life circumstances of breakups, bad grades, and layoffs. When we lack frustration tolerance, moderate sadness may lead to suicidality in the self-soothingly challenged.

The U.S. education system is failing our kids in a lot of ways. But perhaps none bigger than their inability to accurately communicate just how much effort and dedication it takes succeed in this world.

Tags: Education , STEM , Culture , Millennials

A&E Finds Something It Absolutely Cannot Tolerate



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A&E, the network that airs “Bates Motel,” the series “The Killer Speaks,” which interviews convicted felons, and “Psychic Tia,” and that has in the past aired “Growing Up Gotti,” “Criss Angel Mindfreak,” and “The Sopranos,” has deemed “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson unsuitable for its broadcast because of an interview answer where he paraphrased Corinthians 6:9–11.

That’s where they draw the line!

This morning, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal issued a statement in response to the news of Robertson’s suspension:
 
“Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana,” Jindal said. “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

Tags: Culture

The Huge, GOP-Leaning Audience for ‘Duck Dynasty’



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Reid Wilson shares a map from National Media, a Republican ad-buying firm, depicting a recent television event: “Using data from Rentrak, a company that monitors data from set-top boxes, the map shows what percentage of television viewers in specific designated market areas watched this television event live.” It’s worth clicking over and reading.

Unsurprisingly, red or Republican-leaning counties, particularly rural and Southern, watched the season premiere of Duck Dynasty while Democratic-leaning counties generally tuned it out. Huge viewership in Louisiana, lowest viewership in New York, San Francisco, and Miami.

What’s more, you could argue that the red-state audience is what’s keeping television afloat these days.

That premiere episode of Duck Dynasty set a new record for audience size for basic-cable “nonfiction series” — read, reality shows — with 11.8 million. In broadcast television, the top show last week was CBS’s Under the Dome, with . . . 10.3 million. (Yes, most network shows are in reruns right now, while the Duck Dynasty episode was new.)

This Wednesday night, Duck Dynasty had 10 million viewers, gargantuan by the standards of basic cable and larger than most prime-time network television show audiences.

There’s a steep drop-off. The show that immediately followed Duck Dynasty on A&E, Modern Dads, was the second-most popular prime-time basic show on television that night, with 3.9 million viewers. Third-most popular? Family Guy, on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim,” with 1.5 million.

(If you’re wondering how cable news audiences compare for Wednesday night, it included 2.5 million for O’Reilly, 1.5 million for Sean Hannity, and 1.4 million for Greta van Susteren. Over on CNN, it was 568,000 for Anderson Cooper, 481,000 for Piers Morgan, and 360,000 for Jake Tapper Reports*. On MSNBC, it was 509,000 for All In with Chris Hayes, 575,000 for Rachel Maddow, and 643,000 for Lawrence O’Donnell. Notice that while it’s in a distant third place, MSNBC is one of the few networks where the audience gets larger as the night goes on.)

Some shows that get a lot more “buzz” have much, much smaller audiences. Mad Men averaged 2.5 million viewers, with another 2.4 million watching on-demand later.

HBO’s bloody sword drama Game of Thrones averaged 14 million. Breaking Bad, currently on the cover of NR, is at 4.7 million.

HBO’s Girls has only 632,000 viewers watching its episodes live, but 1.1 million watching its reruns, and one reviewer calculates 4.6 million on demand.

* UPDATE: I’m reminded that what ran on Wednesday evening at 10 p.m. on CNN was Jake Tapper’s documentary about Medal of Honor recipient SSG Ty Carter, not a rebroadcast of his 4 p.m. “The Lead” newscast.

All in all, the kind of news programming that many of us wish reached a wider audience:

Tags: Culture

Can Conservative Comments from Celebrities Change the Culture?



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The culture section of today’s Morning Jolt:

Can Conservative Comments from Bono and Ashton Kutcher Change the Culture?

Last night I had a chance to dine with some conservative bloggers, new media, and social-networking types, and once again the topic turned to winning the culture.

I won’t get into the specifics of our off-the-record discussion; instead, let me direct your attention to this blunt assessment from John Brodigan, one of the contributors over at Misfit Politics:

Today the new measuring stick of your conservatism is whether or not you want to defund ObamaCare which — in lieu of anyone explaining to me what the marketing plan is to appeal to people outside of our echo chamber — seems like just a ploy to fundraise and build mailing lists.

Nothing we’re doing is trying to engage the culture. Nothing we’re doing is winning hearts and minds, or challenging the view of what it means to be a Republican.

Then, one day, Ashton Kutcher gave a speech after winning an award.

He linked to this video, which has 3.1 million views. He continues:

Heritage (yes I realize they’re #DefundObamacare, but at least they’re trying to reach out) turned it into this:

They did the same with something Bono said recently:

Brodigan continues:

Don’t get me wrong. I know neither guy is going to be showing up at a FreedomWorks event anytime soon. Granted Bono has always cared less about being a slave to liberal ideology and intransigence than he is about helping people, but Kutcher I’m fairly certain supported Obama and is probably going to have to do penance in the entertainment industry for having so many conservatives sing his praise. Just focus on their words. If you swapped out their pictures with one of Ronald Reagan or Marco Rubio, would you know it wasn’t one of their quotes?

I’m still chewing this over, and trying to decide whether this represents a necessary tactic in an era of celebrity-obsessed pop culture, or whether it’s just the latest version of the conservative tendency to instantly adopt and celebrate any celebrity who happens to echo some of our arguments.

After all, when we say it’s shallow and silly and superficial for Democrats to emphasize their Hollywood star supporters at their political conventions, and to hold campaign events with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z and such . . . we’re not wrong.

At the Democrats’ 2012 convention in Charlotte, noted policy wonk Eva Longoria offers a detailed critique of Mitt Romney’s policy and its ramifications for small businesses.

Politics may be entertaining at times, but politics and governing are supposed to be distinct from entertainment. Not everything in life is supposed to be a fun show! Sometimes the country’s problems and potential solutions are complicated, detailed, involve trade-offs, and require a bit of thinking to evaluate. If you’re going to try to transform every aspect of the public’s evaluation of public-policy decisions into a flashy, glamorous, sexy, exciting thrill, pretty soon we’ll see campaigns rolling out Katy Perry in a latex dress at a campaign rallies!

Oh. Too late.

The Katy-Perry-in-latex approach obviously aims to get people with no actual interest or knowledge of what’s going on in the political world to suddenly become interested. Apparently it works, and there will be quite a few folks on the Right side who will want to see our side emulate the same tactics. And Lord knows, Republican beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to effective vote-getting tactics, especially with the young. But how likely are we to win if, through our own decisions, we legitimize the notion that campaigns ought to be duels of celebrities?

After the election, the great Melissa Clouthier pointed out that there is a large segment of Internet users who log onto Facebook . . . and never leave. It’s an audience left untouched by conservative blogs, web sites, magazines, and other media institutions. That’s why NR and every other institution is putting new energy into making these little square graphics with a quote, an illustration, and a hashtag: it’s an effort to bring conservative ideas, messages, and arguments to audiences that may otherwise never encounter them. (This is why we love it so much when you hit “like” for our stuff on Facebook, and share it on your pages with your apolitical friends.)

Those Bono and Ashton Kutcher quotes are swell, but it’s hard to shake the subtext,“look, these aren’t just bromides or slogans that nutty conservatives believe, because these apolitical celebrities are saying them, too!” But these arguments would be just as compelling and just as right if Bono or Kutcher had the exact opposite views. Touting the pair is an implied argument from authority, and we on the Right have generally believed that Hollywood stars are knowledgeable about what it takes to succeed in Hollywood, and not much else.* (Bono might have particular credibility because of his extensive work with international charities and aid groups.)

These sorts of efforts are probably necessary; a big rallying cry since November has been, “We have to take back the culture!” But I feel like we sometimes forget conservatives recoiled from American popular culture for a lot of good reasons.

We felt, and still feel, that Hollywood in particular has become trapped in its own liberal clichés, convincing itself that the latest dreck is a masterpiece. We’re tired of big corporations telling us stories about how bad big corporations are. We’re tired of seeing some of our religions mocked and demonized while others are protected by political correctness.

(If you ever find yourself in a Stephen King novel, trapped between a horrible monster and the small Maine town’s most overtly devout Christian, move away from the Christian and towards the tentacles, because by the end of the book, the monster will be less villainous.)

We’re tired of seeing our own military revealed as the bad guys behind the conspiracy, southerners depicted as ignorant hicks, suburban parenthood portrayed as soul-crushing conformity, and so on. The problem is that a whole segment of the electorate has marinated in that for years, and our efforts to persuade them lack a common frame of reference.

*Inevitably, some lefty will point to this . . . 

. . . as if Reagan hadn’t been a successful governor, thinker, debater, columnist, radio commentator, etc.

Tags: Culture , Democrats , Republicans , Hollywood , Celebrities

What Impedes Conservative Efforts to Shape the Culture?



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A conservative who has been quite successful in Hollywood writes in to dispute the notion that studio bias is the primary impediment to conservative cultural influence. He’s referring to the arguments in this section of the Morning Jolt:

Once More into the Breach of Conservatives’ Struggle to Influence the Culture

Rod Dreher, crunchy con and former contributor to National Review, now writing over at The American Conservative, examines and expands upon the common lament that conservatives need to become better storytellers:

  • Argument has its place, but story is what truly moves the hearts and minds of men. The power of myth—which is to say, of storytelling — is the power to form and enlighten the moral imagination, which is how we learn right from wrong, the proper ordering of our souls, and what it means to be human. Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind whose own longtime residence in his Michigan hometown earned him the epithet “Sage of Mecosta,” considered tending the moral imagination to be “conservatism at its highest.”

    Through the stories we tell, we come to understand who we are and what we are to do. This is true for both individuals and communities . . .

    Stories work so powerfully on the moral imagination because they are true to human experience in ways that polemical arguments are not. And because the moral imagination often determines which intellectual arguments—political, economic, theological, and so forth—will be admitted into consideration, storytelling is a vital precursor to social change.

But there’s one note in his lengthy cover piece that grated on me:

  • [Sam] MacDonald came from a working-class western Pennsylvania family, graduated from Yale, and worked in Washington journalism at Reason before returning home to raise his kids. His experience has taught him how hapless the right is at understanding the power of storytelling.

    “The smart people on the Right are working in the conservative infrastructure,” he says. “You want a conservative view on healthcare? It comes from Heritage, or maybe the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Except most people don’t care. It’s too confusing.”

    It would make a much greater difference, MacDonald believes, if conservatives were bringing their insights to bear writing for the network medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” But that is hard to imagine, he says.

Well, no kidding. My views about, say, the need for tort reform would catch on a lot quicker if Patrick Dempsey were to express them, shaking his fist in righteous indignation, about how the hospital’s fear of a lawsuit is interfering with him performing a high-risk but needed surgery on the critically ill adorable little girl of the week.* I’ll cast Wise as the ambulance-chasing lawyer and the audience will instantly know he’s the bad guy.

http://a.onionstatic.com/images/articles/article/9425/Ray_Wise_pic.jpg

“Hi, I’m Ray Wise, perhaps best known for playing Leland Palmer and The Devil. When I appear as a guest star on your favorite show, you can rest assured that I was indeed the one who committed the murder the protagonists are trying to solve.”

But a writing gig on Grey’s Anatomy or any other highly-rated network drama is hard to get. This is where the discussion amongst conservatives usually turns to, “and liberals in Hollywood will never hire a conservative writer, or allow a conservative message to get through!”

And that’s true, at least in some cases. A few years back, Ben Shapiro did a great job getting interviews with producers and executives who more or less openly admit that they see their work as a chance to promote their viewpoints, and that sometimes they put in story elements to emphasize a message of “’f*** you’ to the right wing.”

But the obstacle isn’t purely ideological. Some of the obstacle is that there aren’t that many high-quality shows with mass audiences, those shows only have a certain number of full-time writing gigs, and the supply of potential writers is way, way, way higher than the demand. Yes, there are probably a bunch of talented conservatives trying to make it in Hollywood and finding the doors closed. But there are probably some talented liberals trying to make it in Hollywood and finding the doors closed.

Trying to be a screenwriter in Hollywood requires being willing to endure a lot of rejection, with no guarantee of success, and probably trying to write, on spec, some sort of brilliant, attention-catching, so-good-the-producers-can’t-possibly-pass work while simultaneously holding down a day job to pay the bills. It means living in Los Angeles — with a cost of living 36 percent higher than the national average — and spending a lot of time trying to make connections in an intensely competitive field. And of course, the process of bringing a concept for a show or film to the airwaves or silver screen is legendarily complicated, arbitrary, consensus-driven, and difficult.

We’ve heard a lot of “we need to take back the culture!” and “Breitbart warned us, ‘politics is downstream from culture’” in the past nine months or so. Jonah reminded us:

  • [Hollywood’s] influence is agonizingly hard to predict or dismiss as unthinkingly liberal. Studies of “All in the Family” found that viewers in America, and around the globe, took different lessons from the show based on their politics and cultural norms. Despite Norman Lear’s liberal best efforts, many found Archie Bunker more persuasive than his “meathead” sociologist son-in-law. HBO’s epic series “The Wire” was a near-Marxist indictment of urban liberalism and the drug war, making it quite popular among many conservatives and libertarians. The popular BBC series “Downton Abbey” is shockingly conservative in many respects. The aristocrats are decent, compassionate people, and the staff is, if anything, more happily class-conscious than the blue bloods. And, yet, as far as I can tell, liberals love it.

    Obviously, the market is a big factor. No doubt many Hollywood liberals would like to push the ideological envelope more, but audiences get a vote. And that vote isn’t cast purely on ideological grounds.

    There’s a difference between art and propaganda. Outside the art house crowd, liberal agitprop doesn’t sell. Art must work with the expectations and beliefs of the audience. Even though pregnancies are commonplace on TV, you’ll probably never see a hilarious episode of a sitcom in which a character has an abortion — because abortion isn’t funny.

    The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment.

It’s worth noting that some liberal efforts to influence public opinion through art fall flat on their collective faces, perhaps the most notable recent example being a slew of mostly heavy-handed anti-Iraq-War films:

  • A spate of Iraq-themed movies and TV shows haven’t just failed at the box office. They’ve usually failed spectacularly, despite big stars, big budgets and serious intentions.

    The underwhelming reception from the public raises a question: Are audiences turned off by the war, or are they simply voting against the way filmmakers have depicted it? . . .

    The Iraq war-themed “In the Valley of Elah,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon, received mixed critical notices and did little business upon its release last September (total domestic gross: $6.8 million). “Redacted,” a Brian De Palma-directed film about a renegade Army unit, was barely seen when it came out in limited release in November (it grossed just $65,388).

    An even more paltry reception greeted “Grace Is Gone” (2007), in which star John Cusack deals with the aftermath of his wife’s death in Iraq; “Home of the Brave” (2006), about a group of soldiers (including Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Biel) adjusting to life after the war; and “The Situation” (2006), about a love triangle set amid the conflict.

To make a good movie requires talent, yes, but also capital — you need to get the equipment to make the film, hire actors, build sets or get filming permits in locations, costumes, music, etc. — and that’s just the basics, never mind special effects, stunts, sound effects and editing, renting the crane for a crane shot or helicopter, etc.

Notice that we don’t lack conservatives who can thrive in radio and more recently podcasting, web videos, etc. I think a big factor is that those products are cheap to produce.

* Why, no, I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy out of the corner of my eye while Mrs. CampaignSpot watches it on the DVR, and by no means do I mock that every episode ends with some patient croaking in melodramatic fashion during a montage set to Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” (“If I lay here . . . If I just lay here . . . Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”) leading to perpetual basket case Dr. Grey offering a voice over with some sort of pseudo-philosophical Chinese-cookie-worthy life lesson that the doctors learned while botching their latest life and death surgical procedure (“You spend your entire life searching for a place to call home, and only when all seems lost do you turn around and realize, you’ve been there all along”) and I absolutely totally don’t mimic EKG flatline noises every time “Chasing Cars” comes on the radio.

Tags: Culture , Hollywood

How Do We Win Arguments in a Fragmenting Culture?



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Today is the last Morning Jolt until April 1 — I’ll be away for Easter week. Today’s edition looks at the Senate vote on repealing Obamacare’s medical-device taxes, a creepy poll out of the Ivy League, and this thought on the difficulty of influencing politics through culture . . .

The Difficulties of Winning the Argument in a Fragmenting Culture

In her assessment of this year’s CPAC, Melissa Clouthier laments:

Pardon me, but why are we kvetching over social issues when the nation is staggering under it’s own indebted weight? It would be one thing if there seemed to be a reasoned, respectful, fact-based argument around some of these divisive issues, but no. Instead, the right is being treated to the same sort of shrieking emotionalism that one is used to getting from the left. The misinformation and loping strawmen arguments have been embarrassing to watch. Why are average Americans, trying [to] pay their bills and scraping by, supposed to take the Right seriously? The Right certainly isn’t acting like they care about how the average person is faring. For more on this read Ben Domenech’s excellent piece on which issues should animate the Right.

Domenech’s points about self-employed, home-business or contracting moms are indeed great. But beyond that, Clouthier hits on something important: whether the issues that inspire, drive, and excite the average conservative are the same as those that inspire, drive, and excite voters as a whole. And part of the problem may be that there may not be that much of an “average American” anymore.

Our electorate, and the culture, feel really fragmented right now. You can be in a bubble and not know it. It used to be if you wanted to know what was on everybody’s mind, you watched the evening news and looked at the front page of the newspapers. Now to the extent these programs tell you what the “big news” and “big issues” are, they reveal what is on the mind of the rapidly aging audiences for those products; the rest of the population is scattered in a million different directions. There are very few moments where a lot of us are looking at the same place at the same time.

At its peak years of 1986 and 1987, “The Cosby Show” had an audience of 30.5 million people, out of a country of 240 million people — meaning about 12 percent of the population were watching each week.

The top show last week was “The Big Bang Theory,” which had an audience of just under 16 million people — in a country of about 314 million people — eaning about 5 percent of the population were watching.

Every day, you can discover some little subculture that a lot of folks dabble in, and some folks can get completely wrapped up in:

There are 211 million video-game players in the United States. For perspective, 130 million voted in last year’s presidential election.

About 35 million Americans and Canadians play a fantasy sport (fantasy football, fantasy baseball, etc.).

At least 31 million Americans are “foodies,” with an avid interest in food and culinary trends, as of 2008.

A site of “Bronies” — grown men and women who are really into “My Little Pony” — estimates that there are 7 to 12 million of them in the United states.

I don’t begrudge any of those interests (okay, the Bronies are weird*) but the point is that there is no common popular culture anymore, which makes it particularly tough for conservatives to start influencing that culture. If we’re Balkanizing into more and more niche subcultures, it’s easier than ever to live in an unrepresentative bubble without ever realizing that you’re in an unrepresentative bubble.

Mind you, the niche culture has been good for conservatives in a lot of ways. You could argue we’ve become a “niche” culture ourselves, with our own news channel (Fox News) and entertainment programming (“24”, the History Channel’s “The Bible” series, Sarah Palin’s reality show, some would argue “Duck Dynasty”), sports heroes (Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin) , our own books, our own newspapers, magazines, web sites, morning newsletters . . .

But by becoming the well-cultivated niche, we’ve become this acquired taste, not always easily appreciated by newcomers and outsiders. Things that we think are absolutely vital, like the debt or Benghazi, end up being ignored by large swaths of the electorate, while things that seem absolutely unimportant to us, like the latest celebrity news, are given enormous attention and focus by millions of citizens who have a vote just like the rest of us. (Right now on YouTube, a guy getting punched by a street performer has 11 million views in three days. Remember, that’s about two-thirds of the audience of the most-watched broadcast television show last week.)

There are topics that we’re pretty sure are largely irrelevant to the voting electorate at large, but the speakers at CPAC go on at length about them because A) they think they’re important regardless of the public’s attention and/or B) they’re convinced their issues and views are popular, because everywhere they go, they encounter like-minded folks who agree with that assessment.

*My Libertarian side argues that as long as what you choose to do with your free time doesn’t harm others, it’s none of my business. But hearing about grown men dressing up like “My Little Pony” characters, I’m also reminded a bit of the Internet film critic Harry Knowles flipping out at the end of Toy Story 3, upon seeing the now-grown protagonist give away his favorite childhood toys.

If you are lucky enough to find a way to keep your favorite childhood joy in your life as an adult, good for you. Some kids who grew up loving “Star Wars” ended up working in Hollywood, I’m sure almost every professional athlete loved their sport as a child, and so on. But as one of Harry’s commenters pointed out, “not everyone has the luxury of holding onto their childhood.” Some people had to grow up and put their favorite toys aside and become farmers and lawyers and accountants and doctors and parents.

Some argued that when television was an endless succession of “Friends” clones, our culture was celebrating an extended adolescence — the carefree dorm-room life extending well into your 20s. Seeing grown adults almost obsessively embrace something designed for children exacerbates this sense that our culture is having a hard time groping with the concept of maturity.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Tags: Conservatism , CPAC , Culture

Our Increasingly Prominent National Scapegoat: YOU



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From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Our Increasingly Prominent National Scapegoat: YOU

Last Thursday, David French kindly praised this newsletter in the Corner, in a post about modern parenting and the ‘effort shock’ some people experience once they leave the protected enclaves of high school and college and enter the real world. (He added that he wants to see the culture-based material up top, so we may experiment in that direction.)

One of the commenters on that post responded:

You know what would be awesome? If well-intentioned people stopped trying to fix the world. Seriously. All of you. Just go get a good job, love your kids, home-school them, and stop worrying about how terrible the schools are, what bad parents your neighbors are, how much obesity there is, what drugs people are taking and what light bulbs they are using.

Another commenter responded, “refreshing.” And indeed, that notion sounds really appealing at times. But a lot of powerful forces prevent most of us from doing that…

…I remember a comment from Mark Steyn a few NR cruises ago, and I’m going to paraphrase it now: “Americans are first citizens of a global superpower with no interest in conquest. We don’t want other territory, we don’t seek to subjugate other nations, we’re not trying to wipe out any culture we deem inferior. And yet through the rhetoric and of the environmental movement, you, driving your SUV and drinking your Big Gulp and eating your Big Mac, are accused of literally destroying the planet! Not even history’s most brutal dictators faced an accusation on that scale!”

Our political culture and our popular culture are the one-two punch contending that you, ordinary American, going to work or looking for work or looking for better work and just taking care of your families, have somehow become the root of the biggest problems facing the country. It’s your fault.

Don’t scoff; we see this in the way the state chooses to enforce its laws.  We are a nation of laws… lots and lots of them. But we don’t really enforce all of them. Sometimes, as with speeding, the law chooses to arrest and prosecute the worst offenders – if you go 59 in a 55 zone, they’ll usually let it pass, but if you’re going more than ten miles over the limit, you’re taking a gamble.

Right now, one of our biggest debates at the moment is whether entering the country illegally should carry any significant legal consequence. There is an enormous, loud, consistent push for a giant, official “eh, never-mind that entering the country illegally thing,” after decades of spotty enforcement, where everybody in local, state, and federal government knew where to find illegal immigrants: every morning, there were a bunch of guys outside the Home Depot willing to work hard for a little cash paid under the table.

Certain laws just aren’t that important, apparently. As of January 2012, 36 of President Obama’s executive office staff owe the country $833,970 in back taxes.

D.C. attorney general Irvin Nathan cited “prosecutorial discretion” in his decision to decline to bring criminal charges against Meet the Press host David Gregory for his display of a 30-round magazine on air as he discussed the role of high-capacity magazines in the Newtown shooting. “According to D.C. law, it is illegal to possess a large capacity magazine — defined as holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition — even if it is empty. The misdemeanor is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in in prison.” Of course, other people, not so famous and influential, have been prosecuted and convicted for breaking the same law.

Remember Hadiya Pendleton, the girl who sang at Obama’s inauguration and who was fatally shot in Chicago? Her alleged slayer had multiple arrests, and yet he kept being released back out onto the street.

The reputed gang member accused of gunning down 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton last month was on the street even though he had been arrested three times in connection with break-ins and trespassing while on probation for a weapons conviction in recent months, the Tribune has learned.

In two of those arrests, including one just 2 1/2 months ago, Cook County probation officials failed to notify prosecutors or the judge that Michael Ward had been arrested on the new misdemeanor charges and allegedly violated his probation.

… Police also arrested Ward numerous times as a juvenile on charges ranging from robbery to battery to marijuana possession, court records show. At least two of those arrests resulted in convictions, and Ward spent time in 2011 on juvenile probation.

Apparently keeping him off the streets just wasn’t enough of a priority for the government.

Meanwhile, Michael Arrington tells us about his recent experience with the Transportation Security Administration seizing his boat… after he pointed out an error in their paperwork:

The primary form, prepared by the government, had an error. The price was copied from the invoice, but DHS changed the currency from Canadian to U.S. dollars.

It has language at the bottom with serious sounding statements that the information is true and correct, and a signature block.

I pointed out the error and suggested that we simply change the currency from US $ to CAD $ so that is was correct. Or instead, amend the amount so that it was correct in U.S. dollars.

I thought this was important because I was signing it and swearing that the information, and specifically the price, was correct.

The DHS agent didn’t care about the error and told me to sign the form anyway. “It’s just paperwork, it doesn’t matter,” she said. I declined.

She called another agent and said simply “He won’t sign the form.” I asked to speak to that agent to give them a more complete picture of the situation. She wouldn’t allow that.

Then she seized the boat. As in, demanded that we get off the boat, demanded the keys and took physical control of it.

What struck me the most about the situation is how excited she got about seizing the boat. Like she was just itching for something like this to happen. This was a very happy day for her.

The people of this country increasingly feel that the government and its laws are a rigged game, only enforced when convenient to those running the show. David Gregory, White House staffers, illegal immigrants  - for some reason, their lawbreaking isn’t worth the attention  or time of the government. Not even Michael Ward warranted more than a cursory punishment for crime after crime. But if we break any one of the ever-expanding encyclopedia of laws issued by Washington or our state capitals, we’re likely to face expensive and consequential punishments.

Tags: Culture , David Gregory , Laws , Mark Steyn

You Can’t Build Up and Mock at the Same Time



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Also in today’s Jolt is a long — some would say, meandering – series of thoughts on the nature of satire and conservative efforts to influence the culture at a time of cultural fragmentation:

At the heart of satire is the notion that you’re poking fun at someone or something that is held in high regard, but really shouldn’t be. The satirist is usually saying ‘the emperor has no clothes,’ but for that to work, the audience has to believe that A) the emperor indeed has no clothes and B) that they always knew that the emperor had no clothes.

I wonder if it’s getting harder to do satire because we just don’t hold many people or institutions in high regard anymore. Or perhaps the only people or institutions that are still held in high regard are ones that you really would have second thoughts about poking fun at – our men and women in uniform, charities, etc.

The problem is that the satirical worldview can drift towards nihilism – you’re constantly tearing down, you’re not building up. You can’t really have positive satire. You can’t build up and mock at the same time.

The big guns of modern satire today are Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and the Onion, and we can argue whether they’ve pulled their punches on Obama or whether they’ve grown constrained by political correctness. I’d defy any fair-minded student of modern comedy to dispute that a lazy, predictable, knee-jerk inclination to ridiculing anyone on the Right has permeated most of what Hollywood deems funny. I recall seeing some joke about Callista Gingrich’s haircut on one of the NBC sitcoms from this fall, and thinking… really? Really? That’s the freshest, best joke the writers can come up with at that moment? Newt Gingrich had been out of the race for six months, and I wonder how many viewers even remembered what Callista Gingrich’s hair looked like. And putting aside whatever you think of Newt, what did Callista Gingrich ever do to warrant making her a target of mockery? Really, the hair? That’s it?

Anyway, with offerings like this, it’s not surprising conservatives feel alienated from most pop culture. And some folks think that’s holding us back. Kurt Schlicter recently asked us to do something very difficult and painful: watch HBO’s series, “Girls.”

There’s plenty about Girls to annoy conservatives, yet this often creepy, usually skeevy, critically-acclaimed HBO series is also a test for conservatives.

Will we finally heed Andrew Breitbart’s warnings about the importance of taking pop culture seriously or just keep fiddling as the culture burns?

If conservatives are going to be in the popular culture – and act to change it – they can’t simply ignore shows like Girls that capture the zeitgeist, even if the zeitgeist makes their skin crawl. Season two is well under way, and conservatives need to participate in the discussion…

You can watch nothing but ABC Family (assuming that’s still a thing – is it still a thing?) and you may never again see anything that will offend or annoy or bother you. But by not participating, you miss the larger discussions that pop cultural events outside your safety sphere spawn. You cede the culture to the liberals, and we’ve seen how that’s played out.

You can’t talk about Girls at the water cooler with the rest of the office if you haven’t watched it, and if you aren’t part of the discussion you aren’t injecting and modeling the conservative ideas and values that we need to advance.

A lot of conservatives have responded to the defeats of 2012 with the slogan of “culture, culture, culture.”  But one of the challenges of this effort will be that, with 500 channels and oodles more options on the Internet, we don’t have much of a unified popular culture anymore. The splintering and fragmenting offerings are eroding the common frame of reference. In the coming years, the Right may end up building fantastic cultural offerings – and yet people may not come, because they have already found their niche cultural offerings.

Tying this back to my earlier point about satire, think of the times we’ve seen Jay Leno make a joke about some story that’s big on the political blogs or back in Washington, and the studio audience just titters nervously. They didn’t hear about the story, and so they don’t get the joke; Leno usually pivots back to “boy, Americans are getting so fat” jokes.

Tags: Culture

Obama, Cultural Indicators, and the GOP



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In the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, a look at Obama tipping his hand on what he really wants out of the immigration debate out in Nevada, Massachusetts Democrats get ready to replace John Kerry, and then this bit of thinking about the GOP’s image . . .

Adding New Cultural Indicators to the Republican Brand Image

Since Election Night, the cry on the Right has been, “culture, culture, culture.” And we’re probably going to get a bunch of good ideas and a bunch of bad ideas coming out of this new focus.

I’ve talked in the past about Obama as a ubiquitous pop-cultural phenomenon, and looking back to Obama’s rise in 2007-2008, perhaps we ought to look closer at his coverage in the non-political media than in the political media. Because we’ve had a lot of black politicians before, a lot of liberal politicians before, and a lot of charismatic politicians before, but clearly Obama managed to achieve a level of public adoration (deification?) unique in modern political history.

In the end, maybe the institutions that we consider the MSM were less relevant to Obama’s rise than the glowing coverage of him in places like Rolling Stone, Us Weekly, Men’s Vogue, Fast Company, Men’s Health and so on. (We can put put Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, and the New Yorker in the quasi-political magazine category.)

Think about Obama’s embrace of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. There are a lot of Americans, particularly young Americans, who have no real interest in, say, how federal stimulus money gets spent. But they’re sure as heck interested in Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Almost every politician before Obama wouldn’t have touched Jay-Z with a ten-foot pole. One look at the lyrics of “Girls, Girls, Girls” (you’ve been warned, it depicts the rapper assessing and categorizing his harem by ethnic stereotype) and they would run screaming from any stage with Jay-Z. But Obama assessed, correctly, that the “cool” factor of having an association with Jay-Z would overwhelm any complaints about Obama’s de facto association with or approval of the seedier side of the life depicted by the hip-hop star.

So along comes Obama, and he’s worlds apart even from what we had seen nominated by the Democrats in recent cycles, like Al Gore and John Kerry. He’s black, he’s urban, he’s young, he’s only recently wealthy and tells tales of financial woes as recent as 2000. He can sound like a preacher when he needs to (listening to Jeremiah Wright all those years) but also is the kind of politician your average outspoken atheist could warmly embrace. As a result, you have large swaths of a not-usually-terribly-engaged, not-usually-terribly-interested voting public gravitating to him: African-Americans, obviously, but also young voters, urban voters . . . they look at him and see a cultural figure who reflects themselves, not merely a political figure.

What cultural markers is the Republican brand associated with? Two things come to mind, the aspects of life that Obama said rural Pennsylvanians cling to, guns and religion. And those are pretty good ones; the country is full of people who take religion seriously and there are a lot of people who enjoy their right to own a firearm, for reasons ranging from hunting to sport shooting to collecting to self-defense. But as we’ve seen, that’s not enough to get a majority of the popular vote or 270 electoral votes, and there are some pretty big swaths of the country – mostly the West Coast and Northeast – where those indicators either don’t help us or work against us.

So, thinking of new cultural traits the GOP could attempt to adopt as some of their trademarks, just off the top of my head…

Foodies? There are a lot of folks who are passionately interested in food, in a way they just weren’t a generation ago. (See Vic Matus’ great article from a while back on the rise of celebrity chefs.) Why can’t the GOP be the Foodie Party, the one that fights moronic dietary laws like Bloomberg’s ban on 32 ounce sodas, California’s idiotic foie gras ban, the ludicrous talk of the Food and Drug Administration putting even more stringent regulations on raw milk cheeses on top of the existing ones. (For Pete’s sake, slap a warning label on it letting people know about the risk of raw milk cheeses.) We ought to be standing up to the Nanny State, and making the case that grown adults who we entrust with a right to vote, a right to own a gun, and a right to speak their minds ought to have the right to eat whatever they want.

College-Age Drinkers: Propose lowering the drinking age to 18, on the argument that you’ll see less binge drinking on college campuses if 18, 19 and 20-year-olds can just go into a bar or restaurant and order a beer. If you’re really worried about lowering the drinking age across the board, make it legal for those between 18 and 21 to consume alcohol in a licensed establishment, so that a bartender or server could cut them off if there are signs of dangerous intoxication.

I guarantee this would make the College Republicans a heck of a lot more popular on campus. Speaking of which…

Wasteful college spending: Turn the highest-paid university presidents in America into the new villains of our economy, hiking tuition and letting standards slide while they take home ever-bigger paychecks and wildly generous payouts upon retirement. How soft are the Democrats on this issue? They ran the highest-paid university president in America (more than $3 million in a year) for Senate in Nebraska last year. At least the companies run by greedy CEOs are forced to compete in the marketplace; universities can keep going under bad management by sucking up government aid, forced tuition hikes, and alumni donations for a long while.

Isn’t it time to bring a salary cap to university administrators?

Tags: Barack Obama , Culture , Media

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