Ace @ Ace of Spades HQ:
I wrote about this a while ago, before the election, and somehow I wound up on an old post discussing it again. It’s worth noting again:When Joe Biden endorsed gay marriage in May, he cited Will & Grace as the single-most important driving force in transforming public opinion on the subject. In so doing he actually confirmed the long-standing fear of conservatives—that a coterie of Hollywood elites had undertaken an invidious and utterly successfully propaganda campaign, and had transmuted the cultural majority into a minority. Set aside the substance of the matter and consider the process of it—that is, think of it from the conservative point of view, if you don’t happen to be one. Imagine that large chunks of your entertainment mocked your values and even transformed once-uncontroversial beliefs of yours into a kind of bigotry that might be greeted with revulsion.You’d probably be angry, too.
He makes a good case for the fact that Hollywood (= the news and entertainment media) has a monopoly on popular culture messaging — what the PoMos would call “hegemonic discourse.” This is dog-bites-man stuff to conservatives, of course, but even at this late date, it will come as a controversial claim to many liberals. Chait makes a point that usually falls to right-wingers to make: that Hollywood liberals are pleased to take credit for their power to change hearts and minds and therefore the culture when it suits them, but plead otherwise when it doesn’t.
The truth is, they really do have this power, and, as Chait avers, have triumphed completely. It is overstating matters to say that politics are a sideshow conservatives have to console themselves in the face of overwhelming defeat in the culture. But it’s not overstating matters by much. Chait tells of some fascinating research from Brazil and India speaking of television’s ability to radically alter social practices, simply by undermining traditional culture with a countercultural message.
For the most part, your television is not consciously attempting to alter your political beliefs. It is mainly transmitting an ethos in which greed is not only bad but the main wellspring of evil, authority figures of all kinds are often untrustworthy, sexual freedom is absolute, and social equality of all kinds is paramount. Within the moral universe of this culture, the merits of these values are self-evident. But to the large bloc of America that does not share this ethos, it looks like a smug, self-perpetuating collusion against them.… This capacity to mold the moral premises of large segments of the public, and especially the youngest and most impressionable elements, may or may not be unfair. What it is undoubtedly is a source of cultural (and hence political) power. Liberals like to believe that our strength derives solely from the natural concordance of the people, that we represent what most Americans believe, or would believe if not for the distorting rightward pull of Fox News and the Koch brothers and the rest. Conservatives surely do benefit from these outposts of power, and most would rather indulge their own populist fantasies than admit it. But they do have a point about one thing: We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite.
Drehrer goes on to discuss this further — the left’s complete domination of the imaginative arts — and is worth reading (particularly for the quotes).
He also quotes another writer, a Christian discussing what might be called the Imagination Gap.
Cultures cultivate. A culture is more like an ecosystem than like a supermarket. And human persons, as encultured creatures, are generally less like independent rationally choosing shoppers than like organisms whose environment predisposes a certain set of attitudes and actions.Cultures cultivate. Not that our activities are absolutely determined by cultural influences. We are rational beings, not just instinctual beings. We can make choices that go against the conventions sustained around us. We can lean into the prevailing winds, but only if we know how to stand somewhere solid. Only if we are not being carried by the wind. We need to be able to imagine alternative ways of perceiving reality.
Cultures cultivate, so if we want to offset the influence of cultural systems that distort or misrepresent reality, we need more than good arguments that analyze the distortions. We need cultural alternatives that provide opportunities for participating in a different way of telling the story of human experience.
For example, counteracting the materialistic reductionism of our time requires practices that convey to our imaginations the coherent unity of matter and spirit. Challenging the assumptions that human beings are best understood and best treated by social structures as autonomous choosers whose choices provide meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe requires settings in which submission and obedience to some order of things that precedes our willing is known as a delight and a blessing.
Distorted institutions and practices can’t be confronted only by arguments. They require well-ordered practices and institutions. Resisting cultural confusion is more than a matter of thinking outside the box. We need to be able to intuit outside the box. And to encourage well-ordered intuitions to those under our care, especially our children — because cultures cultivate.
I’m surprised by how often this simple fact is ignored by people who talk about cultural engagement. There are people who are honestly concerned about one trend or another in our social life, who regard those problems as the effect of bad arguments or bad intentions, and not, as they often are, as the product of some malformation or other in the shape of lived life. So they end up using malformed tools to repair the damage caused by the same malformed tools, thinking that better ideas, or a more clearly articulated list or priorities, or worst of all, the right political leadership, will fix things. To switch metaphors, they aren’t attending to the ecosystemic causes of those problems. They are applying more fertilizer or more water to plants that are suffering from a fatal amount of shade.
I’ve seen the same misunderstanding of my point here a few times, so let me clarify: No, I’m not telling anyone they need to “watch more TV” or “watch more movies,” for crying out loud. We live in a Spectator Culture, not an Active Culture, and that’s a bad thing. I certainly would not urge that anyone further embrace a bad habit.
I have myself too long lived the life of the Spectator. It’s deadening to the body, mind, and spirit. Not just as a political matter, but as a human one or health one or psychological one, I’d advise anyone (particularly myself) to spend less time watching and more time doing.
Doesn’t matter what objects follow those gerunds. Doing > watching, critiquing in almost all fields (except, I guess, murder, or other vices).
My discussion along these lines is not really directed at the average conscientious conservative as far as taking action. It’s really directed at people who fund and organize conservative causes. It’s a suggestion that perhaps we have enough think-tanks and alternative media of the same basic types and perhaps we need to start thinking about other important forms of expression we’ve been overlooking.