A quarterly magazine of urban affairs, published by the Manhattan Institute, edited by Brian C. Anderson.
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Culture v. Reality
Can you spot the difference?
5 February 2010
Culture in America is an enchanted place where the conservative facts of life are magically transformed into liberal fantasies. In movies, TV shows, novels, even comedy routines, our intellectuals, entertainers, and other fools are busily reshaping reality into works of art through their piercing insights into what will get them good reviews and awards, and through their rich and varied experience of the café in the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.
To illustrate, Ill give you some examples. See if you can spot the difference between reality and American culture. In reality, President John F. Kennedy was a fierce Cold Warrior who twice tripled Americas military presence in the Vietnam War to try to stop the spread of Communism and risked nuclear disaster by standing up to the Soviet Union in Cuba. He was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, an America-hating leftist who had once defected to the USSR.
Now, the culture: in Oliver Stones film JFKnominated for Best Picture Oscar in 1991Kennedy is a peaceful lefty contemplating a withdrawal from Vietnam. Hes assassinated by a vast right-wing cabal that includes every single person in America except for Oliver Stone. Reality, culture. Can you spot the difference?
Heres another: in reality, Terri Schiavo was a severely brain-damaged woman who was judicially starved to death in 2005 at the request of her husband, while evangelical Christian right-to-life groups unsuccessfully petitioned to keep her alive. In the culture, a 2005 episode of Law and Order entitled Age of Innocence depicted a severely brain-damaged woman whose husband tried to euthanize heruntil he was murdered at the instigation of an evangelical Christian right-to-lifer. In reality, evangelical Christians try to keep people alive. In the culture, they murder people. Thats a subtle one, I knowbut can you spot the difference?
Lets try again. Isnt this fun? In reality, anthropological studies have shown that primitive societies are even more violent than civilized ones. Primitive life is pretty miserable in general, with no protection against drought or famine, no medicineso that even the simplest diseases can be deadlyand no equality for women, who have zero defense against pregnancy or oppression.
Now lets look at the culture. In films such as Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and now Avatarwhich are really all the same filma civilized man enters primitive society and finds its values far superior to his own. The collectivist natives are peaceful, the women are treated with respect, and ancient forms of medicine work as well as modern ones.
Spot the difference? Right! In reality, its civilization, democracy, capitalism, and technology that give us greater health, equality, and happiness. So when you go to see Avatar and enjoy its special effects and 3-D imagery, just think to yourself, wow, wed never have anything as cool as that if we lived like the Indians. I mean, they never even invented the wheel!
Hey, and speaking of Avatar, it not only celebrates being at one with the sacred Earth, but portrays U.S. soldiers as evil sadists out to destroy native peoples. Can you spot the difference between Avatar and, say, Haiti, where our old pal the sacred Earth slaughtered innocent people by the thousands and the U.S. military turned out in a massive rescue effort?
But in our culture, the U.S. military is always evil, housewives are always desperate, corporations are always corrupt, and poverty is always the fault of wealthy peoples greed. Can you spot the difference between those assumptions and reality?
If you cant, youre probably a liberal. And a knucklehead.
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 in February.