Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Real Culture War

Using a title like that begs the question: “What is the Real Culture War, Einstein?”

It’s not between Christians and the so called Secular Humanists. It’s not between Liberals and Conservatives. It’s between information and exformation. It’s between background noise and foreground meaning. It’s between simply having a free speech society, and making good use of it. Everything else is just vanity and ego.

So many people talk about the sad state of our culture nowadays. It's become a standard line as a matter of fact. Again and again, people blame the media and blame the movies for all the violence, discontent and unhappiness. But a culture is not merely something passive. We choose what we watch.

But market forces only shape one half of things. Filmmakers and other artists have their set of choices too. While the blame doesn't rest alone with them, there is a certain responsibility that these people have for what they put out in the world. That said, there's another loop in this system of feedback, and it leads right back to the rest of us.

These folks in Hollywood making this stuff rarely come from a show-business family. Many of them are transplants from other parts of the country, or even other nations entirely. Same for all the screenwriters, producers, execs, and whoever else is making this stuff. We're not dealing with a part of our culture we could simply sever from the rest with a Californiectomy.

These people reflect our values, reflect our greed, our narrow-mindedness and excessive control-freakiness in business. It reflects our inability to confront many of the moral issues of our time, and our anti-intellectualism, our disdain for education and learning. To the extent that the entertainment industry fails us, it fails us because we don't demand better from ourselves.

Physician, heal thyself, in other words.

We have so much history, so much science and technology, so much meaning at our fingertips, brought from here and elsewhere. Occasionally, it manages to leak out, and works from various artforms inspire and amaze us. This need not be the isolated case. Our paths into the the world around us need not be so short and overused.

I have believed for quite a while, as a writer and a student of film and the other arts, that art serves as means of communicating things that are far too complex to be conveyed well in a literal fashion. To do this, though, they must have some sort of fresh connection to the time, some kind of nugget of meaning within that allows the work to extend beyond what is simply presented.

The reason for writing about it here relates to this very fact: the richness and usefulness of our political dialogue depends on the very same thing that our other disciplines and sensibilities do: on that irreducible complexity within what we communicate.

The solution to our cultural situation and political situation is similar: we must do our best to expand our knowledge of the world and our wisdom about it past our narrow understanding and thinking at the moment. We must be continually striving to discover the truth about ourselves and everything else, because otherwise we become sunk and stagnated in simplistic illusions. If we want to improve our culture, we must, as a culture, take on more of the world and the meaning in it in our studies and our thoughts.

We don't need to solve the problems of our culture by subtraction of the unwanted elements, but by the addition of bettter worldviews, more convincingly argued and presented. We are not going to make this a better country, as long as our worser impulses are more comprehensively and persuasively argued. We need a new direction, and the tough part about this is that we will have to think of it for ourselves.

Good luck, folks. We'll need it.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at December 9, 2005 2:43 PM