Tell It To The Chair

Over at Salon, Andrew O’Hehir  looks into the Right’s disastrous relationship with pop culture:

[…] It’s almost more a question of affect or tone or presentation than it is of substance. Conservative-oriented, family-friendly movies like “Won’t Back Down” or the hit antiabortion drama from last year, “October Baby” – only the most prominent example in a recent wave of Christian-themed, social media-promoted films – are made cheap and fast, without the slick, professional cinematography and editing of most Hollywood productions. Watching them, you feel a vague time-warp effect, as if you had stumbled on a 1997 made-for-Lifetime production while channel-surfing.

Along with the relative artlessness and the technical weakness comes an overwhelming sense of sentimentality and sincerity, the almost uncomfortable feeling that the movie is coming at you heart in hand, saying exactly what it wants to say, and shamelessly urging you to share in the exaggerated emotions of its characters […]

More than that, pop culture (also known simply as culture to you and me) refutes the Conservative Movement’s major claims: That America is a conservative, Christian nation that has fallen from grace and needs Big Daddy Republicanism to put it back on the straight and narrow. If this were the case, Kirk Cameron would be the biggest movie star on the planet, instead of a half-forgotten hack with some confused ideas about the utility of bananas.

The reason Conservative attempts at entertainment come off as artless, preachy and fatuous (not to mention dull, strained, hackneyed, trite, and clumsy) is because the entertainment value is placed second behind the message. Rather then craft and genuine expression of anger, frustration or bewilderment about living in in the 21st century and how that clashes with traditional concepts of a meaningful life (a movie I, a godless Lefty would go see) Conservative entertainers instead, with minor exception, preach. Because going to church is just so much fun.

By and large, conservative entertainers talk down to the audience (America) and make them feel belittled, disenfranchised and inconsequential. I blame 30 years of sucking up to rich psychopaths, but either way, they loose the audience, is my point. Exhibit A, for now and years to come, will be the time Clint Eastwood harangued an empty chair for 15 minutes. Yes, it was at a politcal convention. But the only reason Dirty Harry was there was so Mitt Romney, king of the artless nimrods, could hitch a ride to the White House on his coat tails. Shiny shiny coat tails earned by making artful, non propagandistic entertainment.

The reason all that Hollywood lefty* pop culture is so popular, with its sex and drugs and Darwinis, is because it encourages the audience to relate to likable characters who are flawed and have wants and desires. People who a e just like them: moved by human motives. Everybody wants to win, to beat the smug asshole, to get the girl. What they don’t want is to have some frustrated closet case stand there for an hour, trying to tie the parable of the sower to a year-old Internet meme as a way to explain why Jesus hates condoms and teachers unions.

If conservatives want to use entertainment to recruit to their cause, their cause needs to first and foremost be something people want. Until people want to be scolded for their shortcomings and die alone and unloved in the gutter, the Conservative message is going to flop. Hard.

Link via Roger Ebert on Twitter.

* As John Rogers and others have explained, Hollywood isn’t Left at all, or even political for exactly the reasons I outline above in relation to Conservatives: propaganda doesn’t put buts in seats. You aren’t going to make money with a movie that tells people they suck. And making money is Hollywoods agenda. Everything else is craft to support that goal.

Back To The Moon!

I’ve recently discovered a fantastic magazine called Jacobin, which is unreservedly Left leaning and offers a nice, refreshing alternative voice to the wishy washy liberal middle-of-the-roadism you find in a lot of other “Lefty” sites.

Over on the Jacobin Blog, Leigh Philips proves the magazine’s worth (to me at least) with a piece about how capitalism killed the Space Program:

[…] Nobody is asking why it is that the high point of manned spaceflight was reached at the end of the sixties, wondering whether there might be a reason for this drop in ambition, this retreat from humanity’s destiny in space. It’s not as if the planet has abandoned its love of space. The international excitement over the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory hints at a yearing to be thrilled about the possibility of life on other planets.

At the same time, a kind of left-wing cynicism about  space exploration has bubbled up. Wasn’t this simply a distraction from the crisis? How can we be spending money on space while the Earth burns? How can we care about the improbable chance that we find possible evidence of the conditions for microbes having aeons ago existed on Mars when thousands of Americans are losing their homes to repossession, when half of all Spanish youth are without work?


Because these questioners might as well be asking: “Why bother exploring at all? What has curiosity ever done for us?” And this way of thinking is itself unwittingly framed by a neoliberal set of metrics, demanding immediate return on investment, and accepting the falsehood that we have an extremely limited reserve of public revenues, the greatest share of which must be directed to those areas with the highest priority.

The first point is obvious. We don’t know what benefits will be achieved when one sets off to investigate distant terrain. The adventure of exploration of the unknown is its own reward.

This comes along with Matt Novak’s appreciation of The Jetson’s on their 50th anniversary, and why they still matter:

It’s easy for some people to dismiss “The Jetsons” as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future.

Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of exploration and innovation for its own sake. And by we, I mean our capitalist overlords. The 1% who demand that every human endeavor turn a profit, that they get the lion’s share of that profit, and that everything not profitable (to them) be scrapped. This attitude, what I’ve taken to calling Economic Calvanism, is what’s keeping us from recovering from the Great Recession, let alone settling Mars. We used to do great big things back when our leaders weren’t all greedy bastards and knew that to make money you have to spend money, often and especially on things that don’t return the investment, simply because they produce knowledge about  the Universe and provide and investment in human worth, something that cannot be balanced out on ledger or calculated for in your semi-annual report.

Or, as Leigh Philips put it:

Of course, if there were a limited pie of public resources, then a prioritization of other areas would be legitimate – Gill Scott Heron would be right. At the moment, there are other areas in more dire need. But money can be found.

The UK’s Tax Justice Network in July published research showing that revenues lost to public coffers by the super-rich hiding these sums in tax havens amounted to $21 trillion as of 2010 – as much as the US and Japanese economies combined, and the figure could be as high as $32 trillion.

There is more than enough money out there to have decent social services – and new ones, guaranteed incomes, well-funded pensions, a transformation to a low-carbon (or even carbon-negative) economy, and investment in space exploration. It’s a false choice to say: either space or everything else. The choice is actually between the current crop of political ideologies clustered around the neoliberal center, and something genuinely transformative on a global scale.

Future Tense

Over at io9, Charlie Jane asks,

The overwhelming emotion among our political classes and pundits appears to be bitterness, laced with weary fake-outrage. There’s been almost no attempt at even feigning optimism. No “Morning in America.” Hardly any sign of that happy can-do spirit. Are we just finally succumbing to fatal levels of angst? Do Americans just not believe in a bright future any more? And what would it take for the United States to feel cheery again?

The problem is that America is controlled by an entrenched and extremely conservative ruling class, who views its power — accrued through decades of exploiting racism, sexism, and fear of the other and the unknown — slipping away. And so they demonize the growing multiculturalism (an ironic byproduct of their exploitation of global capital) all the while, hamstringing even modest attempts to produce a prosperous environment, specifically because such an environment will allow undesirables (women, minorities, foreigners, queers, etc) to share in some of the prosperity.

Conservative activists in the US and other countries are actively preventing a full economic recovery, in the hopes that they will weaken the government enough to be able to effect a takeover, installing themselves permanently in power. That way, they can manage the reconstruction, putting themselves and their 1%er constituents in positions where they can take advantage, while stifling any meaningful competition form the aforementioned undesirable classes.

(And no, to preempt the  inevitable Liberals-Do-It-Tooism, there is no organized Lefty equivalent of the Koch brothers, the Tea Party or the Club for Growth in the US. So STFU with that noise).

Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy solution to this problem. The only way to procede is to use our one lever of power, to vote.

First, we vote in Democrats as often as possible, in every possible position. They aren’t much better than the GOP but they are better.

Once the GOP is gone the way of the Wiggs, then the Dems can become the voice of moderate conservative America and a new Lefty Movement, building steam over the next few election cycles, takes the second party slot. Personally, I’m in favor of Democratic Socialist party, something that could actually serve as a voice for Socialist reform within a democratic system.*

Let the Libertarians, Randroids, Dominionists, Corporatists, and White Supremacists scream voiceless in the wilderness, until they finally scream themselves silent.



*Platform: universal health care, universal wage, drastically reduced military (for defense purposes only), space exploration, scientific and cultural investment program, and a massive infrastructure renewal work program, for starters.