A quarterly magazine of urban affairs, published by the Manhattan Institute, edited by Brian C. Anderson.
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Celebrating the Good Stuff
Conservatives should embrace more of our popular culture.
16 April 2010
For years now, some of us conservatives have been struggling to take back American popular culture. Sick of movies, television shows, music, and literature disfigured by a lockstep conformity to leftist ideology, weve sought to wrestle the arts out of the grip of an alienated and small-minded elite and give it back to artists in moral synch with most Americans. The idea, as far as Im concerned, is not to reshape the pop-culture landscape into one of sentimental patriotism and faith or limit artists to the creation of squeaky-clean family entertainment. I merely want to see more art that represents the moral universe as it is: that shows a world, for instance, in which freedom is better than slavery and therefore America is better than, say, Saudi Arabia; a world in which military courage in defense of whats right is worthy of honor, and therefore a U.S. soldier fighting an Islamofascist is a hero, not an abuser; a world in which faith can be uplifting and not corrupting; in which women and men are different and therefore might be justly treated differently; in which ideas and behaviors can be judged on their own merits whether the people involved with them are white or brown or black.
For the past 40 years, too much of our culture has been dedicated to propagandizing us, to normalizing and elevating moral relativism, atheism, and brainless multiculturalism. The deep philosophical corruption that now permeates our government and the Obama administrations assault on American traditions and values could never have happened if we hadnt lost the culture first; they will never fully end until we take the culture back.
But we cant win back the arts unless we love them. Too many conservatives boast of their philistinism. I havent seen a movie in years, they brag, as if that were some sort of achievement. Too many others seek to clip the wings of artistic imagination, demanding that artists turn away from anything disturbing or violent or sexual, which is to say from much of life itself.
Artists work for love more than they do for money, and unless we learn to celebrate and nurture whats good in our culture, it will not grow. Yes, its right to express moral outrage when a film like Avatar undermines our troops in the field or when a TV show like Law and Order relentlessly casts patriots and priests as villains. But such moral outrage can be addictive. It can keep us from enjoyingfrom even noticingthe terrific work thats being produced all around us.
We might consider, for instance, that both the greatest living English playwrightTom Stoppardand the greatest living American playwrightDavid Mametare not only brilliant but politically conservative. We might take delight in some of the amazingly beautiful video games that allow young men to imagine themselves as American soldiers and other heroes, just as we older guys used to do while watching John Wayne and Clint Eastwood films.
Or we might consider television, which has been enjoying a startling Golden Age with great police dramas like The Wire and The Shield, soap operas like The Sopranos and The Tudors, and plenty of good straightforward comedies and mysteries like The Big Bang Theory and the new Justified. And while too much family entertainment is still marred by political correctness, theres also wonderful stuff like Up, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles.
Good art is like those desert flowers that grow in any drop of water they can find. Its growing now, and we need to nurture it and keep it alive until the leftist lies fall silent and the culture speaks the truth again.
Andrew Klavan is a City Journal contributing editor and the author of such best-selling novels as Dont Say a Word and Empire of Lies. His new thriller for young adults, The Long Way Home, is out now.