Democrats & Liberals Archives

Tumblers in the Lock of Time, Part Six

Culture
The Culture Wars. Sounds so grand. The notion shapes and has shaped the attitudes of many, especially people on this site. The notion that the left is eroding away society, and must be stopped before it destroys it. It’s a notion that confuses us liberals, as we don’t picture ourselves as evil. We explain that, and the conservatives go, oh, well, you just don’t know it. Great. Now we’re being patronized. Has anybody considered that the culture war is just a fruitless waste of time, that would better be spent talking to the other side of the aisle as if they were adults?

I think in some way, culture war rhetoric is as much a part of the youth culture as it is a reaction against it. It's so teenage angst in it's black and white outlook, and it so fits the baby-boomer model of delayed maturity.

That it is so much a product of the youth culture would go far to explaining its ineffectiveness in rolling back the obvious slide in terms of permissiveness in the media. How is this? Every new generation is raised in the old media environment, and comes to accept the mores of that time as the object of conservation. Instead of stopping or rolling back the tide of objectionable material, it can only serve to institutionalize a level of objectionable material to begin with.

What's more, the culture war's battles have become very content independent. I mean, come on, the Teletubbies? Spongebob Squarepants? They pass right over the raunch of the bouncy girls on the Man show and all of that assorted nonsense, and they go straight to asexual kids shows. They see liberal conspiracies to corrupt our children in every popular pop phenomenon. Not even Harry Potter is safe. But complain about the flood of cynical material like Survivor or Fear Factor? People wonder whether they can show noble material like Saving Private Ryan, yet have few qualms about Desperate Housewives, except when a bare backed seduction is shown before the football game.

The pattern should be plain. They take some well known show with little objectionable content, and they find something to object to by claiming there's a hidden touch of obscenity there. Or, they find stuff whose content is objectionable, and start making the rules about that, regardless of the moral qualities of the story.

Why those things? Because parent's fears are easier to control on those grounds. Get into debates about what the story's really about, and you may find that our culture is not nearly as bankrupt as it seems. As a consequence, though, they miss many of the obvious hits whose morality is questionable, because those hits often are created under regimes of cautious content control which ensures that nothing the audience sees is too bloody, too profane, or too naked. You'll rarely catch them doing something controversial unless they want the attention. The culture warriors only manage to make typically mediocre material forbidden fruit, warning everybody about the danger to public morality- and thereby increasing ratings.

It's a lot easier to make such measureable strikes against sin and wrongthinking in the media, than to counter the cynicism and mercenary attitudes that really corrupt the media. The truth is, the culture warrior go out and get their attention, and do little else. They have their reward: their piety is acknowledged by their audience. What they should be doing is teaching storytelling from their own perspective.

People wonder why Hollywood is so Liberal. I'd say it's because liberals take the arts more seriously as a set of professions. They're not told from birth that the media is out to get them. They're also provided with a healthy skepticism of the products of that media. Conservatives need to become more savvy consumers of the media, and less paranoid. Paranoia is the error of naivete taken in the opposite direction, and can be exploited as such.

That's what Fox News is. Can't trust the media? Head in our direction! Instead of looking at the product critically, and deciding that way, Fox News Afficionados go it's way because it's not the liberal media. It was marketed on being "fair and balanced", a claim that only makes sense in the context of the claim that the competitor is otherwise. Fox News is comfort food for people who believe the rest of the media too liberal.

Separation is the name of the game, encouraging Republcans and conservatives to uproot from everybody else and form an echo chamber of conformity. We can't make everybody else think our way, we might as well circle the wagons and try and reinforce our beliefs within our enclaves. In the end though, this alienation only makes dealing with the rest of society more difficult.

This is how Bush got reelected, despite all he screwed up: he simply played the culture war's paranoia against itself. Elect us once more, or see all that you love perish. Meanwhile, the rest of us, who see the irrationality of Bush's policies, predict ruin.

Nothing like competing prophecies of the same doom to create an empasse, huh? That empasse should have been bypassed, but we Liberals considered the issues at hand too important to let go on our sides. It was a trap for both our sides, one we cannot easily avoid as long as unity is the surrender of one side or another in a war, rather than the unity born of understanding and a willingness to understand.

That takes discussion and compromise. That takes patience and humility. These are not the things an immature culture does well.

We have to grow up, and realize that when the next terrorist attack or economic recession comes our way, the crisis will not fall along party lines. It is time to look beyond the interests of one culture, subculture, or counterculture against another, but to look at the rest of the nearly three hundred million Americans and recognize that somewhere in there, we have interests at heart that closely resemble one another.

Our government was set up by our founding fathers so that no one religion, ideology, or faction could achieve state-sponsored dominance over all others. Where other countries outlaw certain political parties, stifle dissent, impose one religion on all in their borders, ours lets people choose. We are Catholics and Protestants and Jews and Muslims and Atheists at our own choice. We are Democrat, Green, Natural Law, Libertarian, Independent, or Republican by choice. We are Religious Right or Secular left and everything else on those spectrums by choice.

Ours is a culture of freedom, and the only two things stand in the way of that freedom- the necessities and consequences of the real world, and our own illusions about those things. We have prospered as a society, because a person can choose to believe a new belief when the other one fails to work out. Ours is a society that constantly dies, only to be reborn. We are the spring and the summer of modernity, so long as we take advantage of our freedom to escape our illusions when we recognize them as such.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at May 13, 2005 9:02 PM