Magazine | October 2, 2017, Issue

Thoughts from an Ocean Crossing

(Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

On the  National Review Atlantic crossing, the TV played channels from many nations, showing the rich diversity of cinema in other lands. In other words, American action movies dubbed in other tongues. Bruce Willis, in French, sounds like he’s upset about a bad review of his philosophy book; in German, he sounds like he’s gargling bottle caps. In the Japanese-dubbed movies, he sounded like a bull with bad gas. And so on.

The commercials say just as much about a culture as the movies do. Ads always tell some interesting truths en route to telling a lie, and vice versa. You’re being taught how you should want to be.

There was a cruise-ship ad, and it showed all the basics. A spa, where women had small rocks placed on their backs. Apparently this gives one the well-being that comes from having enough money to pay someone to put small black rocks on your back. There were gray-haired men of the senior-executive stripe, looking to the horizon with the confident smile of someone who knows the blue pill will kick in soon.

Standard vacation stuff. But then you realize the details are wrong. The commercial showed people striding through the buffet area with purpose, instead of toddling two abreast at the pace of sloths in the tar pit.

A well-manicured hand caresses the wooden railing on the promenade deck, as if this were some long-awaited sensual pleasure. Really? No one pages the glossy brochures and says, “Let’s choose this ship! They seem to have sanded the railings lately.”

Wouldn’t have remembered any of this if it hadn’t been for the last scene: a late-thirtysomething man is standing before the mirror, trying to put on a bow tie for formal night. He can’t do it. From the looks of his incompetent attempt you fear he will somehow get his big toe stuck in the knot. Cut to the elegant wife, who of course finished dressing before he did — a sign, perhaps, that the ship travels to exotic destinations such as “planets other than Earth” — and she’s looking at bow-tie instructions on her iPad.

Then she rises, and with the self-satisfied and self-indulgent smile you see on women in ads for cruise ships, spas, and hair conditioners, she walks to her flustered man-child and ties his bow tie for him.

So what’s the truth in this ad? That’s why you got Trump.

This may seem a stretch so long it vanishes over the horizon, but it’s true — at least for many who weren’t enthusiastic about the man himself. People on the left sometimes think that every Trump voter carries around a pillowcase and some scissors in case the Kluxers project a cross on the clouds with a searchlight, signifying the long-awaited White Uprising. Make your hood, Ma! I’ll saddle up Privilege, our White mare, and we’ll ride!

No. Of course not. It makes the Left feel good about themselves to think this about Trump voters, but that’s nothing special; feeling good about themselves is the Left’s primary motivation. What the Left failed to grasp is how decades of accumulated cultural shifts made millions eager to put a thumb in their eye.

It’s not that men should always be shown as confident creatures who can figure out neckwear. It’s the sense that any such depiction is “problematic” when compared with the alternative, i.e., the woman knows best. You almost expected the ad to conclude with an appearance from the captain, who would say: “Our ships always arrive on time at the proper port, because our navigator is female and not afraid to ask directions. If it were up to me and the lads, we’d be three days up the Mississippi trying to make the Yucatan Peninsula.”

A small thing, but there are millions of small things, and they add up. Note: These ads are much preferable to the women of old TV ads who fretted over their coffee — it was always horrible, and their husbands looked like they wanted to take off their belt after one sip — or spent their day admiring the shine on their newly waxed floors before little Jimmy, dressed in a cowboy outfit, shooting a cap pistol, ran over the floor with muddy shoes, thereby upholding the Manifest Destiny foundational myth that justified white men in ruining everything.

Well, maybe the last part wasn’t true unless you were a social-sciences major.

Point is, the Left acts as if the culture were still mired in the ’50s because half the cruise ships aren’t captained by women, and the Right regards the cultural shifts like a TV weatherman hanging on a lamppost in a hurricane report.

There are millions of disaffected people out there who might not have fixed positions on tax rates and have squishy indistinct views on social issues but regard the Left as smug scolds who want to do away with everything that existed prior to last Tuesday and won’t be happy until James Bond is a woman and Playboy’s centerfold model has a penis now and then.

If the Left wants to get back the vast middle, they’ll have to hide their truths, their beliefs about the indefensible ogre of Western civ and the blood-sodden crime of American history. They should hire the people who made the cruise-ship ad. One of the scenes showed someone calling up a webpage on shipboard Internet in less than nine minutes.

If they can get you to believe that, they can make you believe in anything.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


Politics & Policy


Shared Culture, Shared Beliefs Michael Lind is to be commended for trying to reunite America under “cultural nationalism” (“The Case for Cultural Nationalism,” September 11). He defines this as “an American ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The Boston Red Sox announced the hiring of Edward Snowden as bench coach. ‐ Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer wanted to extend the debt limit for three months, while their ...
Politics & Policy


LOOKING EAST A Yes or No answer, black or white, is Not found staring at the ocean, much as The sea magnetizes our attention. It holds us more completely than we feel It does, the ...

Most Popular


How States Like Virginia Go Blue

So this is what it feels like to live in a lab experiment. As a native Virginian, I’ve watched my state come full circle. The last time Democrats enjoyed the amount of power in the Old Dominion that they won on Tuesday, I was entering middle school in Fairfax County. In 1993 the governor was a Democrat, one ... Read More
Books, Arts & Manners

Why Study Latin?

Oxford professor Nicola Gardini urges people to read and study Latin. He believes that Latin is the antidote for the modern age, which seems transfixed by the spontaneous, the easy, and the ephemeral. His new book, Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language, argues that Latin combines truth and ... Read More