Wed. May 30
Of Course Conservatives Can Do Pop Culture Well
Editor’s note: This piece is part of a symposium in which a variety of writers and thinkers weigh in on the relationship between conservatism and pop culture.
I no more believe that liberals are better at pop culture than I believe they are better at cooking or welding. The kind of conservative representation in the arts—where conservatism isn’t the message, merely the underlying philosophy of the work—that Erik Kain laments exists in every medium at all skill levels. He may not realize this for two reasons.
1) Even awful liberal art is praised by the press.
To prove his thesis, Kain shows a none-too-subtle painting, pictured above, in which America under President Obama is a group of people in shackles. But for every work like this one I could show him ten like that by Alfred Phillips that depict President Bush being sodomized by a Muslim man over a barrel of oil. For every Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue I can show him at least one hundred Sweet Neocons and American Idiots. Such compositions are obvious, juvenile, and terribly, terribly derivative, yet all hailed as genius by mythmaking mainstream critics.
2) Even excellent conservative art is panned and/or ignored by the press.
To wit, over the past few weeks I’ve been researching dystopian teen fiction, and I can tell you that the level of conservatism in this extremely popular and profitable genre is astounding. The Hunger Games, a story in which an all-powerful federal government assigns jobs and doles out meager sustenance to vassal districts, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, the book that currently tops the New York Times children’s bestseller list, features a main character who begins to doubt her leaders’ conversation-and-compromise response to aggression. “What happens when not everyone wants to strum banjos and grow crops?” she wonders. “What happens when someone does something terrible and talking about it can’t solve the problem?”
Then there’s Allie Condie’s bestselling series Matched in which the authorities only allow citizens to eat preapproved, nutritionally balanced meals. Fatty and sugary foods are outlawed. This same book includes grandparents who are forced to ingest poison and “die with dignity” at age eighty so as not to become burdens to the state. At least a dozen similar YA dystopians have amassed huge sales over the last few years, yet no one is discussing how strongly their conservative cautions are resonating with teens.
As for higher-level conservative art, the novels of Tom Wolfe, the films of Whit Stillman, and the music of Rush all come to mind. (I’m afraid I’m not well-versed in the visual arts, but I’m sure right-minded artists are represented if unrecognized there as well).
That said, I don’t think the media oversight is always intentional. The average liberal reporter or culture critic is so uneducated on true conservatism that he’s incapable of seeing it unless it’s overt, as the painting Kain posted was. Therefore that’s the only conservative art he bothers to comment on. The rest of it, for the most part, flies above his radar.
Megan Basham is lead entertainment critic for World Magazine.