Is There Conservative Art?


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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169 Responses

  1. Avatar Scrooge McDuck says:

    I believe that what E.D. was referring to was movement conservative art.     Partly it’s the political moment, and the degree to which that movement is driven by resentment and a sense of victimization.   But I think that even more important is the kind of fundamentalist, stark black-and-white wold view of the right, who cannot really conceive of the metaphor and indirection that make for truly resonant arg.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      It seems to me that if Erik is talking about movement conservative art, then his point is true but uninteresting and unoriginal.

      It also applies equally well to movement liberal art.  He might have written the very same article about liberal artists — panning them all unfairly — and instead of that painting, he could just use this one.Which would have been equally unfair.

      But if he is talking about non-movement conservative art, the point is obviously false.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        bumper sticker slogan art is easy to find in any political configuration. slogans are catchy!Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Jason, I think you’re right. This “no conservative art” view pops up every couple years on liberal blogs, and I find it difficult to take seriously. It can only come from people who don’t really know much about art. I mean, art that is overtly political, and particularly art that is overtly political in a timely way (saying something about the political issues of the day from a mainstream political perspective of the day) is going to suck in almost every case. It probably won’t even make for good satire, unless its approach is at least somewhat universal.

        Looking for conservative art in the painting E.D. posted, or in the movie American Carol, is sort of like looking for ethnic food at Taco Bell.Report

        • I agree with all this.  If I might go on a slight tangent, however, the better question that should be asked is why there is so little decent conservative art criticism, or perhaps more accurately, why so many conservative art critics seem to look first for a work’s political message and then base their evaluation thereof on whether they agree with that message.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “He might have written the very same article about liberal artists — panning them all unfairly — and instead of that painting, he could just use this one.”

        Or that riff on Goya that presents George W. Bush as Saturn devouring his children.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Actually not so much either of these things. What I’m referencing specifically is the fact that conservatives can’t do pop culture very well. I use the phrase “art” but my broader point is that they have been pretty awful at influencing mainstream pop culture through the arts outside of country music. So high literature is probably not going to do this one way or another. But conservatives aren’t doing a very good job of getting their message into television shows either and so we get a lot of talk about “liberal Hollywood” and so forth.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I suspect that this is the case largely because more indirect liberalism: there’s a gay couple, an interracial couple, an unorthodox living arrangement, etc., and you’ve got liberal pop culture. Conservatives tend to try to hit you over the head with it (witness American Carol or Apocolypto or hell, Dirty Hairy), which sometimes works (Dirty Hairy), but usually doesn’t (American Carol and Apocolypto).Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        JasonK beat me to this.  A roundup of the most laughable art would no doubt tilt left.


        This teaches us not much.  I would expect that on the whole, lefties are more likely to overtly politicize their art, for good or ill.

        There is also the problem, as illustrated at Mr. Kain’s OP at his own blog, that leftish observers are loath to accord elegant pieces of conservatism like Lord of the Rings to the “right” column.

        A right-wing group recently claimed

        Movieguide identified 91 movies in 2011 that scored high in “conservative/moral categories”; these earned an average of $59 million apiece. On the other hand, it identified 105 movies that scored high in “liberal/leftist categories”; each of those titles earned an average of just $11 million.

        I question whether Movieguide’s designations of right and left could even make it out of the starting blocks in a forum such as this [and perhaps I’d find it too contentious meself], but it’s something to consider anyway.

        Art lends itself to emotion more than logical argument, of course.  It might be fair to call art that emphasizes the suffering of poverty or war to be “liberal” or “left.”  On the other hand, the two decades following WWII had a lot of war movies and bravery and patriotism and stuff we might call ‘conservative.”  [Not to mention the war years themselves, and the late ’30s as the Axis menace grew.]

        I give the nod to the left for its themes being generally more compatible with art itself, but there is also the question of the fashion of the times, and the threats they pose.



        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          I really do think you’re all missing the point. It’s not about whether political art left or right is bad or good (it’s usually bad) it’s that the left has managed to do pop culture quite well, inserting broad cultural themes and narratives into mainstream art, whereas conservative attempts at this tend to fall on their faces. These days. I do think this is a symptom of movement conservatism and the shape its taken. I’m not sure that makes it an “uninteresting” argument or not.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            EDK, the problem with this is that it assumes that liberals and conservatives have equal access to mainstream culture outlets. That mainstream culture outlets, the movie studios and TV networks, aren’t populated in a particular direction. There are comparatively few conservatives in Hollywood, and a lot of liberals to call them out if they try to insert ideological tidbits in the material. The notion of “liberal Hollywood” comes about in large part because Hollywood and the entertainment industry is populated by liberals. This isn’t much in doubt. The only disagreement is whether and how much this affects their product. If their product is affected, I think it hard to say that it has nothing to do with the comparative populations of people trying to insert political memes in entertainment and is, instead, about conservatives being incapable of inserting political memes into an entertaining product.


            • Avatar Kim says:

              money runs the show. corps got the money, corps run the show. plain and simple.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The notion as Hollywood being the Perfect Capitalist Machine is flawed. They’re (typically*) not going to create shows that are destined to fail (though they’ll make a movie every once and a while), but there is a whole lot of gray area between “this will fail” and “this will succeed” and it’s up to the creative directors to make the judgment calls. The notion that these judgments will be entirely unaffected by their worldview is flawed.

                But even if that *is* the case, when it comes to subtle inserts, or a particular storyline built around the virtues of Free Health Care or the importance of a woman’s right to an abortion, the networks could not care less the vast majority of the time. These inserts and storylines are more likely to follow the inclinations of the writers, which skew pretty heavily in a particular direction.

                * – It’s not unheard of for failing TV shows to get second and third chances because influential people Believe In It. This is not political in nature, but indicative of their being some discretion involved.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The subject is movies. And many, many movies are made to go bust. Not to make a profit.

                I know much less about TV, and I tend to think they’re less about “charity/tax breaks”Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The subject is art more generally, I think. And I speak of Hollywood, which does both TV and movies.

                Doesn’t your point about movies that are made to fail undermine your point about “money running the show”? Or am I misunderstanding the original statement?Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                not really. In a normal consumer market, at least some thinking is spent on “will someone like it”? In the “built to fail” model, it’s just whatever the corps wanna spend, doing whatever they want.

                How much TV is really LA/Hollywood? Maybe it’s just that I know comics, but I always think of TV as being NYC.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                TV is arguably more Hollywood than movies. Hollywood is increasingly moving filming out to various host cities (your town being one of them, the State of Louisiana being full of’em). Though Vancouver is an increasingly popular destination, most TV (even TV that takes place in NY) is still filmed in Hollywood. The ownership of both tends to be in California, though.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                On a sidenote, I am actually of the mind that one of the major networks (well, NBC, if that counts as a major network these days) should move out of California and to Louisiana almost entirely. They could still film some stuff in Cali and Vancouver (and NYC, to a lesser extent), but I see the potential for some real upsides. NBC needs to do something, anyway.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:


                What is your beef with NBC?  They have some of the best stuff on TV with their Thursday night programming, plus they probably do the best job with sports of the major networks (though they don’t have the range that CBS does).Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I think NBC has great programming, but they’re a failing network and need to not be a failing network. That’s why I single them out.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              Or, as I pointed out (and I thought you were also pointing out), it depends on how much slack the audience is willing to give particular viewpoints.  i.e. when we’re presented with rebellious youth as the heroes of the piece, do we insist that there’s a political message being passed the way we would if the rebellious youth were the antagonists and the clean-cut straight-edge athletes were the heroes?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Oh, we agree on that. That’s definitely a part of it. (I think there are many parts to it.).

                But I think there is something else at work: I think that within the creative community, some ideas are considered more objectionable (and therefore more risky, we’d better take that out).

                Your example is instructive for a couple of reasons. One of which is that it can be considered an apolitical manifestations. A lot of writers themselves were the rebellious outcasts and fewer were straight-edge athletes. Therefore, the sort of portrayal that you mention is so common as to not be worthy of mention. The opposing portrayal is much more likely to illicit a “Hey, wait a minute…”

                And so I think it often goes with politics. Having a nurse at the hospital make all sorts of statements about how much better our health care system would be if we just socialized it is showing the character as Socially Aware. Having complaints about overly-entitled Medicaid patients, well that would be political, wouldn’t it?

                (The Glorious Conservative Counterexample is in tact. We don’t think of it as political messaging when cops complain about civil rights. We’re conditioned to it. We *do* consider it political messaging when a TV show is set up around the idea of a law practice that is defending guilty people’s civil rights. That was a new one on the TV-viewing public.)Report

            • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

              To add something to Will’s point, I doubt Country Top 40 radio gets included, to a large degree, in discussions of the politics of pop culture. But at least as many people are listening to it as are watching many of the shows that do get considered as important components of pop culture.

              Also — non-genre fiction can’t count toward pop culture anymore?  Fine, I’ll grant you Bellow’s later novels, and Wendell Berry (except in Kentucky, where even those who don’t read him recognize the name as the state’s crazy uncle), but Home and Gilead made quite a stir when they came out — so, fine, it was in a particular set  — and especially when Obama’s Facebook page listed Gilead as his favorite novel in 2008.  If TV shows that create buzz among New Yorker readers count, then the books that create buzz among them should, too.Report

          • Avatar Sam M says:

            I don’t know. Pop culture? Everybody Loves Raymond is a little long in the tooth, but there are a bajillion sitcoms like it. Is King of Queens “liberal” in some sense? Has lots of family values stuff. In fact, a whole lot of what I see on TV seem like sappy tributes to conservativism.

            I don’t know. When I think of pop culture, I think of TV. And most of that seems pretty conservative in a lot of ways.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              Are liberals willing to concede that the family is anti-liberal in the way that conservatives see a gay marriage on TV as anti-conservative? If we’re going to include family sitcoms as conservative, I think we would have to take single-people-sleeping-around as liberal. The latter outnumber the former to a significant degree on network TV.

              Personally, for the sake of this discussion, I would not count Everybody Loves Raymond as conservative any more than I would count How I Met Your Mother as liberal. The former has an arguably “conservative” setting (built around the family), and the latter a “liberal” one (mostly single people in NYC), but neither make a point of being political (except Marshall’s environmentalism and any time suburbia comes up) or scoring cultural points (as Suburgatory does).Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Props for the clarity, WillT.  And megaprops for Dead Man Walking, by megalefty Tim Robbins.  The political-metaphysical quotient pins the meter, yet all Robbins’ film seeks is the truth, and the truth, both the execution and the murder that obliged it, isn’t pretty.

                I’m still stunned by the movie, just recollecting it here.  Robbins stirred the pot of conflicting notions of justice and mercy, and did not dump it over our head.  Robbins will enjoy my everlasting respect as an artist for what he did with this film.

                My first reply was about TV and your observations, which I wished to agree with as well.  Sex and the City didn’t glorify the single life, esp Samantha’s libertinism, which was a two-edged sword.  It showed that human experience for what it is.  Good art.



              • Avatar BSK says:

                FWIW, “Dead Man Walking” was based on a book written by the nun herself.  Perhaps you knew this and were speaking specifically to Robbin’s interpretation of the book for the movie, but I thought it worth pointing out for people not aware.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                I struggle with the notion of “family” as “conservative”.  Conservatives have no more a monopoly on family than liberals do on sleeping around… both groups have plenty of involvement in both areas.

                You also have shows like “The Simpsons” that cut both ways depending on your perspective.  Many people have criticized the show as crude or obscene.  Others have noted it having more positive references to religion than any other network show.  Ultimately, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, which is part of what makes (made) the show as amazing as it is (was).

                A good case could be made that “24” was a conservative show, especially because of the social impact of it.  The show helpd normalize the idea of the “ticking terrorist timebomb” and legitimize the steps taken by many of the characters, steps most people would identify as torture, to prevent disaster.

                “Lost” had a ton of religious themes, both implicit and explicit.

                You also get into tricky areas with movies that attempted to be liberal but off ended up very lliberal.  Take “The Blind Side”.  The consensus was that the movie was incredibly liberal, what with the cross-racial adoption, general underdog story, and black hero.  Yet, you peel back the layers, and you realize that the movie infantalized Michael Oher, stripping him of much of his humanity and made his success wholly dependent on the intervention of a great white hope.  It was Babar all over again… a large bumbling simpleton is civilized by generous white folks and saved from the presumed failure that his homelife destined him for.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I struggle with the notion of “family” as “conservative”. Conservatives have no more a monopoly on family than liberals do on sleeping around… both groups have plenty of involvement in both areas.

                I agree. That was the point I was trying to make. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on that. You can’t say a show is conservative just for having a solid family. Lots and lots of liberals have those.

                A good case could be made that “24? was a conservative show, especially because of the social impact of it.

                A case can be made, though it’s also a show that (a) consistently had Good Democrat presidents and Bad Republican ones, (b) had more than one plot involving trying to keep us out of war, (c) had an evil businessman (particularly Big Oil and Big Government) in a suit lurking behind every shadow. Its politics were all over the place, but it was conservative on that One Big Thing, I will grant.

                I agree that The Simpsons cut both ways. Conservatives were not right to say that it was a conservative show. But they tried to adopt it. That was my point.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:


                Thanks for clarifying.

                On “24”, were the Presidents’ parties ever named?  I don’t remember them ever being so, but I could be wrong.  Unless we are saying black presidents = Democrats and old white presidents = Republicans, at which point we are just looping back upon ourselves.  “24” is probably not out-and-out conservative, though that One Big Thing looms large.

                As others have pointed out, I think the problem comes down to how we define conservative.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                The President’s parties were never explicitly referred to, but there’s enough out there to determine who was who.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                BSK, David Palmer’s party was explicitly mentioned, and everything else flows from there (who ran against whom, who was whose VP, and who was whose brother). The only question mark was the last president (Taylor) who could have been a part of either party. I can go through it, if you’re interested.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                WT and JE-

                24 Wiki confirms Will’s account.  I will say I always presumed them to be Democrats or, at least, more liberal than conservative, but I didn’t remember it being explicitly mentioned.  It’s been a while, so it certainly could have slipped my mind.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                They usually avoid mentioning such things explicitly (though they often give it away in other ways), but in David Palmer’s case he was running in a presidential primary in the first season and I guess it would have been too awkward to try to conceal it.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:


          I’ll give you Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars too. There’s plenty of good conservative stuff out there — much of it truly non didactic.

          And there is a whole lot of difference between Grave of the Fireflies and Legend of Basara (which, surprisingly, is a pretty liberal series. But if you wanted to say, “but elected government isn’t liberal!” I’d probably have to shake my head).Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Kim, it all depends on what Erik is willing to cede to “conservative” art.  If we narrow it to the “movement” conservatism of the last decades, excluding LOTR, Braveheart and the like, then we need a similar ideological narrowing on the left.

            I suggest that that type of film is overly represented on Movieguide’s list of liberal-left box office stinkers.  😉  I see these things pop up on cable and wonder who spent good money to make such things.

            “Art is moral passion married to entertainment. Moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and entertainment without moral passion is television.”—Rita Mae Brown

            My first thought on this topic was to cede art more to the left—Art is a more proper medium for moral passion and emotion than for reasoned argument.  But it did strike me that the dimension of patriotism and physical bravery as in war movies is an overlooked component of the equation.

            I dig the anti-war protest songs of my youth; on the other hand, in the grand scheme of things I question whether a one of them can hold a candle to the Battle Hymn of the Republic.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              “John browns dead body lay a rotting in the grave…”

              Yeah, that’s a right patriotic old hymn, ain’t it?

              I know someone what helped contribute to an oscar-winning movie. “We’ve got some powerpoint slides, is that okay?” “Sure! Send ’em right over!”

              Powerpoint slides do not deserve to win oscars. Period. It’s cinema, people — moving pictures!Report

  2. Avatar Scrooge McDuck says:

    …or, for that matter, truly resonant art.Report

  3. Avatar Plinko says:

    Mark Helprin’s novels come to mind as great conservative art.Report

  4. Avatar Kim says:

    Yahn. Conservatives don’t get humor. As fascism proves, Authoritarians get art well enough, thank you.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We’ve got Thomas Kinkade (the painter of light!) as the obvious (well, it’s obvious to me) example of the modern “low” artist embraced by Conservatives (even though his art is hardly political).

    Norman Rockwell is the quintessential “New Deal” Conservative who was mocked mercilessly at the time (and I still believe that he is still sneered at) but has been embraced as having captured the country as Conservatives “remember” it. His work, with a handful of exceptions, was never particularly political but, golly, it sure as hell is political now, ain’t it?Report

    • Avatar Scrooge McDuck says:

      Norman Rockwell is both underappreciated and misunderstood.

      He was a new deal liberal, and a strong supporter of Roosevelt.   And, in a way, his art was political:  believe it or not, it celebrated the diversity of experience of early-to-mid 20th century America  (we where a pretty white country in the 30s and 40s).   The empathy he extended toward his subjects pretty much signals his liberalism.

      One of the ironies of modern conservatism is the disconnect–which the Democrats are too hapless to exploit–between the movement conservative “base” and its rank and file.    The rank and file yearn for the days of “the great compression,” they grew up in, when tax rates were high, the government was trusted, and Keynesian economics shrunk the gap between rich and poor that had marked the 20s.

      I’ ve loved Norman Rockwell since I was a kid.    The people who think he’s kitchy are just not looking closely enough…Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        I think the issue is that as photography became ever more common, the concept of “illustration” as art became less revered.  Nobody cares about painting a real thing anymore, because you can just take a picture; particularly these days, where you can not only take a picture but show it to all your friends right away.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          If you can just take a picture, it must not be a very good picture.

          Dew on a flower, moments before the storm hits the plateau.

          Sliding through the water in a canoe, sneaking into a high security zone, to snap photos of the cherry blossoms.

          The sun lighting the sky with twin tunnels of fire — caught on the top of Cadillac mountain.

          The ghostly shapes of rats and men, scuttling beneath the skyscrapers.


          Good photographs take work!Report

  6. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    We’ve gotten used to Liberal Art over the years to the point where the Conservatives feel free to attack artists and arts organizations.   If the Conservatives’ ham-handed Object Lessons are subjected to the smirks and japes of the critics, these Preachy Painters have wandered into a landscape they can’t control and have always despised.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Oh, no we have not! Liberal art is the guy who draws pornography in his bible, and then shows it off at busstops. he gets arrested all the freaking time.

      Or encyclopedia dramatica.

      Liberal art laughs at boundaries, gives a grin, and then asks “Free speech? Really!?”Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Wa-a-all … to some extent, art pushes people’s buttons and it’s not always a pleasant experience for those thus pushed.   The Bible is full of some rum old stories, Mark Twain said

        I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady — she will tell you so.

        Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck’s character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood.

        If there is an unexpurgated in the Children’s Department, won’t you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    What does “conservative” mean, again? “Skeptical of progress”? “Christian”? “Southern Baptist Convention Christian”? “Pre-vatican II Catholic”?

    I mean, The Passion of the Christ was a conservative movie. We in agreement on that?

    But I’d go on to say that Lord of the Rings was a conservative movie (the whole trilogy, why not).

    Shit, I’d say that Up was probably one of the most conservative movies I’ve ever seen (and it wouldn’t have worked any other way).

    I don’t know what “conservative” means.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Gosh.   This leads to some interesting questions.  The ancient Islamic and Jewish theologians and philosophers said God could only be defined by what he isn’t.   This seems to be the case with modern Conservatism as well.   It’s very clear on what it isn’t.  What it stands for  is nil.

      But if you’re in any doubt, ask Rush Limbaugh.   They’ll tell you what’s conservative.   Or Mark Levin.   Or Bill Kristol.   That’s the great thing about Conservatives these days, you don’t have to think for yourself, others will gladly do it for you.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Stealin back what used to be theirs. Because they ought to have it, you see. Because we ought to scrimp and bow to our betters.

        Conservatism stands for quite a good many things, but they all come from the zero sum game that Conservators tend to slide into. When I can’t make my own wealth, everything that isn’t “stasis” means “risk.”

        If you’re instead asking about “cranky liberals”, well… I think they stand for “Think! Not Everything Just has Good Consequences, People!”Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          I’m only joking with Jaybird.   There are honest Conservatives in the world, perfectly capable of defending their own positions.   I just don’t see many out there and none on the current GOP stump.   Like Silent Cal Coolidge on the subject of Sin, the sum total of their opinions is They’re Against It.

          If Conservatives wanted to create art for the ages, they’d stick to what’s appealing about their philosophy, the continuity of progress, the essential humanity which gives rise to decency and mercy, the virtues of labor and hope’s perennial resurgence.   We have survived many an evil day and we will survive many more if we cling to what’s essential: family, friends, the land, the hard-earned wisdom which can only be acquired by long life and love of learning.   There is great beauty in this vision.   It’s a message the Conservatives have largely abandoned.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Brin’s got a few essays on the subject. Including why Star Wars is conservative. His definition of conservative is quite a good deal more insightful than most so-called conservative’s definition.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Gnostic, sure.   Conservative, ecch… I question George Lucas’ conservative bona fides.    Brin looks forward, to a time when mankind isn’t the only game in town.   Lucas looks back from the distant future. His worlds exhibit the wear and tear and grime, the patina of mud and junk which lend a verisimilitude to his vision.   Brin’s Big Movie was The Postman, a dystopia with a saviour, suspiciously Conservative to some who might attempt to deconstruct it.

        Yes, I suppose those who look back might be considered Conservatives.   Star Wars does encompass monarchies and elites but I question some of Brin’s more ardent conclusions about Lucas.   I remember Lucas’ first movie, THX1138 and it’s colored my view of him ever since.  THX1138 was hardly a Conservative movie.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Brin hated The Postman (The Kevin Costner Vehicile). In fact, I don’t think he kept a dime of the money he made off it for himself…

          “There are few words that make people quail more than ‘six figure mischief budget.'”Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Ecch, Brin was singing a slightly different tune on his blog.

            In sum, despite many disappointments, I have to say that I’m not ashamed to be associated with The Postman movie. Yes, the book is much better! 😉 And yes, the film might have benefited a lot if the director ever had a few brews with the guy who told the original story. Yet there’s something deeply likable about this film, despite its flaws. Above all, in these days of rampant and contagious solipsism, with so many people claiming to despise a civilization that has been so kind to them, this movie’s overall message needs to be heard.

            We are in it together. Civilization means something. IAAMOACReport

            • Avatar Kim says:

              guess he cooled down a bit. 😉

              (and I don’t think he’s calling Lucas a closet-Luddite or anything like that! Just saying that Star Wars (strangely like Harry Potter) runs on the old Chosen One trope. Man, he had some flames for Crichton — that seemed an actual “I can’t stand anything by this guy”)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The older I get, the truer it gets:   that which annoys us in others is exactly what they find annoying in us.   Brin’s preachments are no less tendentious, often considerably more tendentious, than George Lucas’ loving recapitulation of his own hero (and mine), Joseph Campbell.

                Lucas hates Hollywood and always has.   That’s why he’s up there in Marin County.   He wanted to tell a different sort of story.   For my money, I’ve never like George Lucas’ scripts, they’re wooden and awkward.   They’re rather like those old morality plays,

                I shall show you how it is:
                Commanded I am to go a journey,
                A long way hard and dangerous,
                And give a strict account without delay
                Before the High Judge, Adonai.
                Wherefore, I pray you, bear me company,
                As ye have promised, on this journey.

                That is matter, indeed! Promise is duty—
                But if I should take such a voyage on me,
                I know well it should be to my pain;
                Afeard also it maketh me, for certain.
                But let us take counsel here as well as we can,
                For your words would dismay a strong man.

                Why, if I had need, ye said
                Ye would never forsake me, quick nor dead,
                Though it were to hell truly!

                So I said certainly,
                But such pleasant things be set aside, the truth to say;
                And also, if we took such a journey,
                When should we come again?

                Nay, never again till the day of doom.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I’m not sure how much I trust George Lucas on any damn thing any more, now that he’s decided that has plan re “Greedo Shot First” is to double down and claim that it actually happened that way in the original print but we didn’t see it because of “bad editing”.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Lucas needs to be kept away from his own creations. Make new ones, old chap!Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                It’s debatable how much of the success of “Star Wars” was due to Lucas and how much was despite him.  (see also: Ridley Scott.)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I’m with Duck.   George Lucas was playing around with powerful myths.  Star Wars’ success happened in spite of Lucas, not because of him.   The boys at Industrial Light and Magic were the real stars.

                I’ve always thought the aftermarket tschotschkes sold so well because they weren’t all that different than the actors.   They had two shared characteristics:  they were plastic and could stand upright.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Mark Hamill can act. They cast him in Wing commander, for crying out loud (and he’s no prima donna either).Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Umm Jay, Up was at least partially about a childless couple who had a deep and meaningful relationship based on love and companionship in the explicit absence of procreation and children. The first fifteen minutes of that film eviscerates a core conservative arguement against SSM more devastatingly than any other art I’ve seen. Maybe Up works for conservatism in general but it’d certainly be banned from American Conservative dialogues.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        North, your argument(*) would make more sense if the couple had specifically decided not to have children, rather than trying and being unable due to medical issues.  And if the central conflict of the movie wasn’t about a man becoming a father figure despite his predilections.

        (*) note spellingReport

        • Avatar North says:

          The point was that a couple could be (legally) married, in love and have a meaningful relationship despite having produced (and not being able to produce) no children. Additionally the main core of the film was about a man becoming a father figure to a child not biologically his own in the absence of the boy’s biological father. Both of these things cut far more in favor of the SSM advocates side of the narrative than not in my mind.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        While I might agree that the story of Up was a story about a couple, the couple was not Carl and Ellie.

        The wonderful first 15 minutes of Up tell us what we need to know about Carl for the rest of the movie and how, in particular, he is (for lack of a better term) haunted by the absence of his deep and meaningful relationship based on love and companionship in the explicit absence of procreation and children.

        It’s a story about Ellie only in the same way that True Romance is a story about Elvis.



        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          I also think that Up got waaaaay too much traction for killing Carl’s wife in the opening sequence.  I mean, sure, that takes some guts, but it also makes the whole rest of the movie feel like a guilt trip–like, “how you not like this movie, you horrible person, I mean his wife died right in the opening scenes!”

          I’d like to conduct an experiment (and I have no idea how this would be possible) where I showed someone Up but without the opening sequence.  Just tell the viewer “this is Carl, his wife was Ellie, they wanted kids but couldn’t have them, and she had this Adventure Book, and she died and now he’s alone”.  See if they think it’s as good as everyone else.  (Personally, I found it to be about equal to a Dreamworks product.)Report

        • Avatar North says:

          The point was that a couple could be (legally) married, in love and have a meaningful relationship despite having produced (and not being able to produce) no children. Additionally the main core of the film was about a man becoming a father figure to a child not biologically his own in the absence of the boy’s biological father. Both of these things cut far more in favor of the SSM advocates side of the narrative than not in my mind.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:


            I watched it with Maribou. I didn’t think about SSM at all.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Likewise (well except for the Maribou part) but when it’s raised as a conservative exemplar I can’t help but point out how it defenestrates the core pillar of an important (american) conservative cause.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I suppose that this goes back to me not knowing what “conservative” means.

                It seems to me that gay marriage is quintessentially conservative, these guys shouldn’t be out tomcatting around, after all, they should be sitting at home in the parlor. Perhaps discussing the events of the day, perhaps pleasantly ignoring each other while one updates facebook and the other listens to the Victrola.

                The point is that they should be home.

                This strikes me as a fairly conservative take on things.

                I am told that I am progressive because I think it.

                I don’t know what “conservative” means.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I suppose that’s a good point; it’d entirely depend on your definition of conservatism. I generally go off the conservatism practiced by the masses of conservatives (and don’t get me started on the liberalism of the masses of liberals).Report

  8. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Harold Bloom (no, the other Bloom) has said that he thinks we’re all Romantics now because the Romantic mindset has so deeply permeated our consciousness. For once, I agree with his point. I also think the Romantics were one particularly interesting branch of philosophical “conservatism”, even if many of them were politically “liberal”. It is, you know, possible to be temperamentally and philosophically conservative, while also being a political liberal. In fact, I’m encountering more and more of this sort. Also, if my theory holds true here, there should be quite a bit of conservative art being made in the modern era.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Romanticism died in the trenches of Verdun.   Harold Bloom needs to catch up to what happened thereafter.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Video game designers aren’t romantics. It’s work, they do it, they go home at the end of the day.

      Wagner won  the art war way back when, it’s why Donizetti and folks who were more like Bach in temperament are unfairly judged.

      I don’t know if that unfair judgement is ongoing though. If you heard that an author wasn’t composing in paroxycisms of “must write now”, would you think less of him? (I gather that Martin is another person of similar Bach-like temperament)Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      It should be noted that Bloom’s view of Romanticism and just about everyone else’s view of Romanticism are almost opposites, so when he says we’re all Romantics, he includes Ezra Pound, say. If Ezra Pound was a Romantic, then the war sure as hell didn’t kill Romanticism, because it created Pound (it’s not like Victorianism hadn’t already killed that Romanticism that everyone else thinks of as Romanticism, though).Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        It would probably help a lot to define Romanticism and a Romantic mindset. Instead of looking to Bloom, my stab at a definition would be that Romanticism is a negative response to both the burdens of social self-hood and the impossibility of transcendence that it associates with modernity. So, the artistic movement? Probably it’s over. I’m not sure at all that the mindset is dead. Of course, I’ve likely got an idiosyncratic reading too, which I can accept, but I generally thought of Amy Winehouse, for instance, as an artist in the Romantic mode.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I can live with that. I think your definition is somewhat idiosyncratic, particularly in that it doesn’t even mention a turn to nature as part of that “negative response,” but it seems closer to what Romanticism was as a movement than Bloom’s definition.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Good catch! Romanticism definitely includes the Rousseaunean turn to nature as a sort of salvation from western societies where an emotionally healthy life is seen as somehow being no longer possible. I do think there is room there for temperamental conservatism. Maybe Wendell Barry would be a link to that tradition.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. says:

              Ah, that shouldn’t imply that I think Wendell Berry is a political conservative at all, for the record.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              I agree. I’m not even sure most of the Romantics were liberal/progressive for their time. Goethe was a political conservative, I know, but more than politics, there was that whole Rousseau/Herder thing about returning to the folk, or the volk, small town, old school livin’. Plus there’s that whole nationalism thing, particularly in Germany, but throughout Europe, associated with Romanticism (I’m thinking of Schiller, Fichte, the Grimm brothers, and those heavily influenced by Goethe and Kant’s 3rd Critique, who saw Romanticism of the Goethean style as an authentic reinvention of German culture, but there were others outside of Germany with whom I’m less familiar).Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                It gets tricky though. Byron was very much a social reformer in Parliament and died trying to help the Greeks break free of the Turks. Chateaubriand coined the word ‘conservatisme’ in French (I believe- not 100% sure) but was fairly liberal politically. As a group, they were all over the map politically. But, temperamentally, that longing for the older, simpler, more humane world really does fit a good number of both Romantics and conservatives.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                ya conservative all.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Also, I will use this as an excuse to suggest that everyone read the great late Gothic Romance, Melmoth the Wanderer, by the extremely conservative Charles Maturin. It’s well worth your time.

                That is all.Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    I think I watched fifteen minutes of the half hour news hour. Doesn’t that count as conservative art? Or is it more of a crime against humanity?Report

  10. Avatar Will Truman says:

    There is relatively little politically conservative art out there. While I do agree with EDK that what is out there is often pretty bad, I also believe at the end of the day that anything that comes out as distinctly politically conservative will be mocked straight out of the door by the tastemakers and such. I consider Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue to be indicative of this. It is derided, in good part, due to its political content. It is (or was) also markedly popular. In part because it came out of one of the few incubators of politically conservative art (which is not to say that country music is uniformly conservative, but its audience tends in that direction, its producers know it, and it’s one of the few places where entertainment is far more concerned with alienating conservatives than liberals in political messaging).

    To take it another step along the line, I think that in some ways we take a fair amount of liberal messaging for granted. So when something politically conservative does come out, it seems more conspicuously political. It’s certainly conspicuous. If it’s anywhere nearly as aggressive as left-leaning shows frequently are. (There are some exceptions to this. It’s not conspicuous to have cops moaning and groaning about criminals’ civil rights, for example.)

    And so, when someone wants to break the mold, they do so on a very conscious level. This is where EDK’s criticisms come in. The liberal counterpart often (though not always) makes what it makes to be thought-provoking and entertaining. Which, because it’s producers are liberal and the people who approve the show tend to be liberal and so on, means it’s thought-provoking and entertaining in a liberal way. When conservatives try to “respond” to this, I believe they frequently do start with the conservative and then try to move to the entertaining.

    Now, to get to the OP, there are – even outside country music – conservative themes in art. There are shows built around it (Seventh Heaven was about a family trying to retain its values in a modernist world, for example). Touched By An Angel deals not only with God, but red statistry. In my view, though, these are not sufficient counterbalances to the plethora of shows that lean in the other direction. And I believe they face an uphill climb working their way through the ranks. A nearly impossible climb if they were to be any more conservative than they are.

    When conservatives look for conservative art, they often have to resort to calling things conservative that really aren’t (Iron Man) or simply take things that are somewhat traditional and not overtly-hostile (The Simpsons) and do the same. Liberals, meanwhile, get OTA and major cable station shows that appeal directly to them. And aren’t derided for it.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Man, I don’t do rap. But I’m pretty sure you could find a LOT of conservative rap out there. Not that African American Art tends to align neatly with the Arthouse Shtick — but I’m certain that it’s possible.

      Gospel? Christian rock?

      Conservative music seems to clash, rather violently, with the Romantic Ideal. It wants to be all Classical — peaceful and soothing and calming — hopeful. Romantic music is tumultuous.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “When conservatives look for conservative art, they often have to resort to calling things conservative that really aren’t…”

      Or, rather, you see things that are really conservative (Joss Whedon’s work) that everyone pretends actually aren’t.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        If Whedon’s work is conservative, it is despite his personal views. That’s not to say that it isn’t conservative, but there is a difference between taking a non-conservative’s work and calling it conservative and taking a liberal’s work and calling it liberal. Conservatives have to resort to the former. Liberals get the latter.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “If Whedon’s work is conservative, it is despite his personal views.”

          Does that matter, though?  Particularly in this age where dogwhistling is supposed to be taken seriously, does it matter whether or not the creator is notably conservative, whether the work was intended to depict conservative concepts in a positive light?

          I mean, it sounds like we’re drilling down to “if it’s dumb then it’s conservative on purpose, if I like it then it’s conservative by accident and so it’s not like really conservative.”Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Conservative is conservative. One can be both a conservative and a liberal. One can write in both mileus, and have fun with both. One can even depict both sides really, really well.

            Or, one can do what Martin does, and show both sides being blinkered shnooks!Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            I think it helps when the creative talent behind a product believes in the political worldview it is advocating. Or rather, it helps to make the case that it is advocating that particular worldview.

            Whether Firefly/Serenity is actually conservative I do not know (I haven’t seen it). That, if it is conservative, it takes a liberal to put conservative entertainment onto mainstream media is telling.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      This, in part, touches on why I closed with the lines from the Leonard Cohen song — “The Future” channels Biblical doom prophecies to the point of being an exceptionally reactionary piece, but this gets a pass/overlooked because, at the same time, he looks with sympathy and trepidation at the AIDS crisis, was once a womanizer and open about his drug experimentation, and is also a Zen monk, so the fire and brimstone get moderated in reception.Report

  11. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    This blog is no longer being updated, unfortunately, but it did have some discussion of what a “conservative movie” might look like. (Do a Google search for that site plus “conservative” and “movie” to find more posts.)Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I think that, for an idea of what more politically conservative art might look like, a good place to start would be Tom Clancy’s later novels. The ones after Jack Ryan became president. (The point at which Hollywood suddenly decided not to make Jack Ryan movies out of those books anymore.)

      When I was reading them, it was almost jarring to have the conservative talking points echoed without effective counterpoints being made. It wasn’t my favorite aspect of the book, because I had the desire to say “It’s more complicated than that!” (just as I do with liberal-work counterparts). They also had roster of lefty antagonists (Vice President Kealy, environmental terrorists) to compliment the foreign enemies.

      But they didn’t stop being entertaining. Entertaining enough that I would roll my eyes at some of Jack Ryan’s and George Winston’s pronouncements and continue forth. What I find notable is that when Tom Clancy comes up, in liberal circles, I see his works dismissed based on political ideology. The same way conservatives do it. A big difference is that it’s easier to avoid one kind of work than the other.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        I do think it’s like you say, though, that we’re so used to seeing traditionally-liberal concepts expressed with a talking-points level of sophistication that we’re much more likely to overlook it than when a work does the same with traditionally-conservative concepts.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Yes, the latter case is making it political. And that just ruins it…

          Incidentally, I was rather excited when Private Practice had not one, but two bona fide pro-lifers on the show (in contrast with… well, everyone else on the show who disagreed with them). So, of course, one of the pro-lifers changes his mind over the course of the episode. The other, finding out that her daughter is pregnant, demands that she have an abortion. Then, in a later episode, gushes over a coworker who helps a young woman have an abortion, telling her that she’s “doing a really good thing” or something like that.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Is a cowboy conservative? The myth of the Epic Individual… is that person conservative?

          (does Nailin’ Palin count as conservative?)Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Actually, I think the reason why the stopped Jack Ryan movies was that Harrison Ford didn’t want to make any more and the reattempt to reboot it with Ben Affleck died on the vine.

        For my money, the Clancy books went to crap when they ignored their own timeline and suddenly said, yeah, 9/11 happened the exact same way here as well. I basically skimmed over the political parts of EO and BatD. After that, it just got too silly.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          It could just be a coincidence that they chose to start over rather than carry on into the conservative Ryan Administration.

          I, too, didn’t like the fiddling with the timeline. They should have just used the Denver Nuke as the Big Terrorist Attack.

          Really, though, the timeline itself had more general problems than that. Even so, it didn’t cease to be entertaining. And most people don’t care about that stuff.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            The thing that I specifically remember was that the terrorist attack in the book was Muslim terrorists and the movie made the attack white supremacists in order to be sensitive to Islam following 9/11.

            And I remember thinking “yeah, that’ll help.”Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              I did like how the beginning seemed to be this totally context-free event, like an Israeli jet just happened to be flying around with a nuclear bomb and a missile came out of nowhere and blew it up.  Because, y’know, that just happens to airplanes sometimes.Report

  12. Avatar joey jo jo says:

    unsolicited perspective:  it’s ok that conservatives are not “good” at everything.  it is much more important that they are very good at getting people to vote against their interests than being good at humor or art.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      What is the matter with Kansas???Report

      • Avatar joey jo jo says:

        the band?  nothing since they rightfully figured out that their target audience is located at the various county and state fairs across this great land.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Nah. I was actually making a reference to Thomas Frank’s book (of the same name) and mocking the amount of hubris required to automatically assume that one knows what someone else’s “interests” ought to be to the point where one can easily assume that someone else is obviously voting against their own interests.Report

          • Avatar joey jo jo says:

            i know but i crack myself up.  carry on my wayward jaybird.Report

          • Avatar joey jo jo says:

            also, too, as mcMEgan once said, that is technically true but collectively nonsense.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              What are you hoping for from this interaction?

              I’m getting the impression that you just want to give your opinions and have people grunt and agree. Am I mistaken?


              • Avatar joey jo jo says:

                yeah mistaken, speculation is fun but produces mixed results.  i don’t care if people agree, disagree, ignore me, respond kindly, respond angrily, etc.  just adding to the discourse.

                “this interaction” = the post you replied to or commenting at the LOOG?  not clear from your post.

                your reference to what is the matter with kansas reminded me of mcmeg’s credo that “no one can know anything ever but you should accept her opinions as fact”.  then i remembered her technically true but collectively nonsense bit and hamfistedly jammed it into this scenario.  it is technically true that there is a huge assumption made about what individual voters’ interests ought to be and i will self administer 1000 lashes for not clarifying “economic/safety net” interests.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It takes some of the punch out of it when you specifically acknowledge that different people value different things differently.

                That’s diversity for you.Report

              • Avatar joey jo jo says:

                feel free to dock me 10 punch hit points.  would it really help if i tried to argue the inverse of “different people value things differently”.  people may not realize that what they value and perceive as benefitting them may not be actually benefitting them.  NYT went into this over the weekend (a few years late but what the hell) but the other low hanging information fruit is “keep the government out of my medicare”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If they’re saying “keep the government out of my medicare”, doesn’t that mean that they are arguing for their own best economic self interest?


              • Avatar joey jo jo says:

                can’t reply to your post jay.  it certainly means that they do not understand that medicare is itself a government program and that they believe that a privatization of medicare will benefit them.  their belief does not make it so.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It seems to me that the problem isn’t that they’re not voting in their own interest but that they’re voting in their own interest in ways that aren’t also in your interest.Report

              • Avatar joey jo jo says:

                my interest is irrelevant to this discussion, innit?  i get why you want to concentrate on the subjective nature of “interest”, though.  i’m speculating but i don’t find the existence of an objective view of “interest” as objectionable as you do.  OH NOES I’M TOTALLY ELITST.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                The question he’s asking is “what the hell are you doing here”, because we’re trying to take you seriously but you’re making it pretty hard.Report

              • Avatar joey jo jo says:

                same thing you are density.  commenting.  take me seriously or not.  won’t hurt my feelings. ’tis just discourse.Report

              • Avatar joey jo jo says:

                i said i was joking, i said i was hamfistedly jamming thoughts in.  if you can’t find a reason to dismiss me on the meager merits i put forth today, dismiss me because of process, seriousness, unwritten rules, whatever.Report

      • Avatar dexter says:

        What’s wrong with Kansas is that it is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.  A person needs one or the other, but having both will make you think the world is flat and Darwin was wrong.Report

  13. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Experience demonstrates that comedy can be funny, or preachy, but only very rarely both. I suspect art is the same way: it can be powerful and moving art, or it can convey a political message, but only rarely can it do both. So it’s not the fault of conservative artists, or liberal artists, that they so rarely achieve both good art and a good message in the same work — it’s inherently a very tall order to achieve both.

    Perhaps as the passage of time removes the political context of a work of art its technical mastery and artistic elements can become more prominent. We can look at paintings from the Renaissance and not see the politics of the day, since those politics matter to us almost not at all, even if contemporaries would have dismissed the painting as propaganda.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Carlin’s managed it, a good few times. But when what you want to preach is “stop quakin in your boots and Live a little” it’s easier.

      When it comes to moralizin’ — talk small, laugh large.Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      Perhaps as the passage of time removes the political context of a work of art its technical mastery and artistic elements can become more prominent. We can look at paintings from the Renaissance and not see the politics of the day, since those politics matter to us almost not at all, even if contemporaries would have dismissed the painting as propaganda.

      I’ve mostly stayed out of the art-appreciation discussions but this seems to me to be an extremely key observation there as well.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “Perhaps as the passage of time removes the political context of a work of art its technical mastery and artistic elements can become more prominent.”

      Indeed, they say that one of the first steps in art appreciation is to kill the artist. 

      “We can look at paintings from the Renaissance and not see the politics of the day…”

      Ha.  How about The Divine Comedy?

      (I have this amusing dystopian-future vision where it’s the year 2704 and everyone talks about “Family Guy” like it’s supposed to be just this totally-abstract concept of allegorical roles, and has no idea that it’s meant to be a sequence of pop-culture references.)Report

    • Avatar Scrooge McDuck says:

      Experience demonstrates that comedy can be funny, or preachy, but only very rarely both 

      I couldn’t disagree more strongly.   The best, and funniest, and most profound comedy comes from a strong moral and ethical world view.   Right now, pop culture’s strongest comedy (and most astringent statire) comes from the Daily Show.   And the best comedians–Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Louis CK–are wrestling with a the sharp contrasts between our culture and our ideals.  This could take place from a right or left moral framework, but in real life, seems to seem dominated by the left.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Comedy’s all about the lack of dignity — all about the lulz — your pants are down!

        Art that is meant to be inflicted — not liked… is it good art?

        Art that seeks to test the audience… Do you know who you really are?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I didn’t say “never.” I said “rarely.”

        For every George Carlin who (mostly) pulls it off, how many others try and get applause but no laughter?Report

  14. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    Half-assed response… I’d say that if you’re really comparing “liberal” vs “conservative” art (at least, when it comes to films or television here in the U.S.) you’re comparing the wrong two things.

    Without giving too much thought to it, I’d guess a huge swath of American popular culture is basically libertarian; it may be liberal or conservative in terms of the message, but if there’s one thing that’s quintessentially American in television and film, it’s Stickin’ It To The Man/The Man Can’t Help Me, He’s Fished It Up, and It’s Up To The Hero To Do Justice.

    On The Waterfront – liberal in feeling, libertarian in execution.  Every Western ever made – mostly conservative in feeling, libertarian in action.  Firefly.  1984.  Silkwood.  War Games.  Erin Brockovich.  The movies that are American Culture As Impressed on Foreign Cultures are quite a bit like this: Braveheart, The Last Samurai, Rob Roy.

    I’d like to see what Movieguide thinks qualifies as a “liberal” vs. “conservative” movie.Report

  15. Avatar MFarmer says:

    Is there conservative art? Is art conservative?
     Is pop art effective — do icons
    matter in the large scheme of things?
    When neighbors covet their neighbor’s knives,
    does this explain reality’s final play?
    Not so fast, said the man in second place.Report

  16. Have we had an entire thread of people talking about how conservatism can’t get a foothold in pop culture without anyone mentioning Twilight?Report

      • Avatar North says:


        But really I despised Bella so much that really it’s probably best she was inflicted on team sparkle power. Pity about the cruel fate she bestowed on Jacob tho.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Is Twilight conservative in its portrayal of male-female relationships, or liberal in its portrayal of human-vampire and human-werewolf interracial relationships? These are the sorts of questinos that keep me up at night.Report

      • Either way, the entire first book is about how you shouldn’t have sex with your boyfriend.

        Then again, you might also mention that the age difference between Edward and Bella is the sort of thing only a liberal could countenance. It’s vaguely NAMBLA, although without the gay part.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Dude, she’s really mature for her age. She’s special.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          There’s also the fact that Edward’s dead. I think necrophilia is pretty liberal. But there’s also the fact that he was a Confederate soldier. That’s conservative, eh(this is also a conservative element in True Blood)?

          I do wonder, though, if the author (she’s Mormon, right?) thought that the reason you shouldn’t have sex before marriage is because it will cause you to break the bed and get pregnant with half-vampire babies which will kill you.Report

          • Avatar Scrooge McDuck says:

            I think necrophilia is pretty liberal. 

            I don’t know exactly what that’s supposed to mean, but I’m guessing you watch Fox News…Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            There’s no way in hell Chris is a Fox news guy, but he certainly knows way too much about Twilight for a man his age.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              My girlfriend, who is slightly older than me, is a huge fan, though it’s mostly (mostly) ironic. So I have not only seen all but the latest movies, but I have had endless discussions about them with her and her friends (who are also mostly… mostly… ironic fans).

              I will say that a friend of mine, who’s a 30-something like me, and an ex-NBA player, is the most unlikely Twighard in the world. He loves the books and the movies, and saw the last movie at midnight the day it opened. Since he’s 6’8″ and well built, I haven’t been able to bring myself to make any jokes about it, though.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:


        Showing off your Spanish?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      because anything involving sex is fundamentally country matters… unbefitting discussion in this rarefied intelligensia (or mixed company, if you will).Report

  17. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I find this discussion depressing.  Yes, polemical art is going to have a strong tendency to suck (with exceptions). Duh.

    But from there in these discussions we always get gravitationally pulled into this game of stuffing decent art into the political boxes we obsess about being politically obsessed people.   I can’t think of a way to do greater violence to works of art or artists than this.

    Just because you think you can spot what you want to call a conservative message in a work of art does not mean that it is “conservative art.”  Hell, I could take the same part of the art and draw a liberal message fro it; for that matter I might even think that the exact message you articulate as conservative is actually liberal.

    Good art challenges such determinations; defies them.  Arguably all art does.  What this illustrates is that this is all just our shit: our same boring fights.  It’s not in the art. Or if it’s really just that simple in the art, then the art is very likely to be polemical garbage.  If it happens to be the rare polemical piece with merit, great, but guess what: yours, the one you’re hoping is that gem, ain’t the exception; it’s the rule.

    Lord of the Rings isn’t conservative art, folks.  It’s just art.  You’re what’s conservative about it.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Lord of the rings isn’t conservative by American political standards.  It’s not anti-gay, not pro-church, and sure as hell not pro-capitalism or industrialism (see “The Scouring of the Shire,” and the ruination of Isengard.

      But in its lament for a lost world, in its certainty that things were once great and have inevitably declined, and it’s romancing of the stoutly middle class shirefolk, it is profoundly conservative in thought and tone.Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        One of the core themes of LoTR is that while we might lament progress and the loss/decline we see, it is neither desirable nor possible to stop it.The shire-folk are charming, yes, but mostly they’re naive and provincial. I’d say that the theme of progress in LoTR is more anti-reactionary than it is either truly liberal or conservative.

        On the other hand, in Tree & Leaf Tolkien said that it was not faerie stories that confused children about whether or not men and animals were the same – but modern politics and philosophy that blurred the lines between animal and man and confused people. That’s why you’ll see so many folks on the hard left deride Tolkien the way they do.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Fair enough – bad example, perhaps.  I definitely don’t deny that the values you describe are present in LoTR nor that they are conservative (though, as my comment suggested, I’m not sure I’d grant that they are exclusively conservative, especially in a political sense – i.e. that among political worldviews, only conservatives express these sentiments with any regularity). My experience reading and watching LoTR was that these were natural “human” (sic) yearnings that were understandable on a human level given the overall picture of encroaching doom that Tolkien paints.  I see Mordor as basically an analogue for the then-timely threat of spreading totalitarianism, and one of my personal political bugaboos is the idea that resistance to that constituted or characterized a core tenet of conservatism any more than of liberalism.  In fact, I happen to see liberalism as essentially the pure opposite of both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism, while I see conservatism as slightly more orthogonal to it, though still profoundly opposed.  But these are the political senses of the terms – not ones restricted to the most hyper-recent understandings of them, but political nevertheless.  And that was the sense of the word conservative I took to be under examination here, at least as the discussion trended – the OP makes a somewhat similar point about more broad meanings, but I thought the contentious question was in categorizing art by political identifier.  What is (politically, I didn’t think I had to add) conservative about good art is us, because we are political.  Good art will in fact challenge and frustrate our comfortable tendency to label it with political or other labels we want to apply to it.

      Because certainly it’s not mysterious that broadly culturally conservative (not in the Ralph Reed sense!) sentiments in art abound, if that is what we choose to call any longing for earlier, simpler, or better times, for example.  Or any endorsement of any established order, or questioning of change. I guess as Jason says above, if this were what would be necessary to claim that something is conservative art, then clearly the question whether it exists or not becomes absurd.  These are ubiquitous themes in much of art.  If you find them in some art, to then leap to saying that that is ‘conservative art,’ seems like a bit of stretch; various themes can be present.  Even if you think that they dominate a work, in my view the predominance of themes like this are not what we are really saying when we say that some pice of art is “conservative art.”  I think that term is pretty clearly meant ot have a political claim attached to it, not merely an artistic assessment.  That political claim needn’t be attached to the most recent signifiers of a particular embodiment of conservatism in just one country (Why would even think that it would at at all? That seems like a straw man distraction.), but I think it needs to be attached to distinctly political values recognizable as conservative political values.

      As an artistic assessment, then, I can’t but agree that the values of LoTR have an overwhelmingly conservative cast to them.  But I’m not sure these values, in particular as you describe them, rise to the level of distinctiveness or specificity to mark the work as a pice of politically conservative art – the topic which I understood to be under discussion.  I took this  to be the case because I didn’t feel that the question of whether art existed that was of a general, artistically conservative cast, or that expressed human yearnings that we might call conservative in the broadest sense (yearning for better times, mild questioning of progress, portrayals of the difficulties of institutions in adapting to change) could even be of interest; the more apt question might be whether there is any denying that more art is in fact conservative in those terms than is not, even now today.

      Perhaps I should have understood the original post this way, but if so, then I think indeed it is not covering interesting territory.  There is just no doubt that ‘conservative’ themes of this kind continue to be prevalent in art of various genres and aspirations.  I think it is telling that each of E.D., J.L, and Professor Hanley contrast works of general artistic or human values we could call conservative values with the idea of “conservative art” as something that must reference political signposts of the very most current vintage (Obama specifically for our initialed compatriots, and things like anti-gay politics for the professor).  The politics of politically conservative art needn’t be that specific nor topical to be indeed politically conservative (again, I think those references are something of a mild form of a straw man here), but they do need to be recognizably politically conservative, above and beyond being artistic expressions of a general sort, or evocations of arguably universally human responses to trial and conflict, which we might simply say reflect something of the conservative side of human nature that resides in every person (if we are so inclined – which is really my whole point: the labelling itself is really dependent on our own attachment to the labels and the ideas we want to attach to the art).

      For as J.L notes,

      The problem with conservative art isn’t that it’s too overtly conservative—it’s that it’s not overtly political enough to be acknowledged as conservative by today’s left or claimed as such by today’s right.

      But the problem here lies in what it means for a thing to be conservative art.  Again, I would resist the idea that because we find the expression of human yearnings that we might label conservative in an artwork, that we should then call that art “conservative art.”  Where such values absolutely dominate a work, I likely have to concede the label isn’t entirely inappropriate (though I think from its creator’s perspective it it will likely still constitute an unpleasant if nto violent shoving of the work into a categorical box they didn’t have any interest or thought of placing it in.  But if this is what we want to mean when we say that some work is “conservative art,” then I think we need to be willing to admit that what we are not  claiming is that it is politically conservative art (the claim that, despite that passage, I initially took the inquiry to be asking after).  Politically conservative art must needs be political, and it is an interesting question where and how it exists, and what merit (both artistically and politically) it has where it does.  The question of whether “conservative art” (a term that, as broadly defined as it here is being, I’d prefer not to use because it analytically simplifies and obscures while merely pointing out that this value or its expression might be seen as a conservative one does not – but if refusal betrays a prejudice on my art, then I am willing to go along) exists,  on the other hand, is a much less interesting one, because of course it does – indeed, broadly enough defined (how much must broadly-conceived conservative expressions of human yearning and doubt predominate in a work for it to be “conservative art”?), one might even say it is a prevalent, even dominant tendency in all of art generally.Report

  18. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The larger question might be:  Is Propaganda Art?  Or, to put a finer point on it, at what point does Art become Propaganda?

    Let’s take yet another step back:  is propaganda a pejorative term?    How different is art from propaganda?   Isn’t art an attempt to shape perceptions at a gut level?   One guy’s Propaganda is another guy’s Educational Pamphlet.

    Trying to shoehorn any adjective in front of that troublesome noun Art is always fraught with difficulties.   Those who would try have already reached conclusions about the message of the art itself.   JRR Tolkien’s villains cut down trees and his heroes planted them.   Yet he could also write Old Man Willow, a wicked tree, and the Ents, the shepherds of the trees.

    It seems to me the best propaganda leaves us to make our own inevitable conclusions.   Facts don’t take sides but art always does at some level.   We sense its power in its ability to push our buttons.   Art is terribly transgressive at its core.   Art doesn’t give us facts.   Art gives us images.   We only seem to think about art.   We feel art.   There’s precious little abstract thinking going on:  we process the image and delude ourselves into believing we’re reaching independent conclusions about that image.   Art exists only in the context the artist gave it.

    No, after the past few decades of political Conservatism’s attacks on the art world, anyone who would describe himself as a Conservative Artist is merely a propagandist.   Oh, he might be technically accomplished:  that’s of no matter.   People are generally stupid.   They focus on the obvious.  McLuhan talks about how this process works:  it’s like a piece of steak on a string.   The burglar uses it to distract the guard dog, pulling the string along.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      The larger question might be:  Is Propaganda Art? 

      “Triumph of the Will.”

      Or, to put a finer point on it, at what point does Art become Propaganda?

      Oh, well, that’s a much more difficult question.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I’ve said it before and I’m sticking to it — it’s difficult, but not impossible, to blend preachiness with greatness. It happens that Leni Riefenstahl was damn good at her craft and she pulled it off. So did D. W. Griffith. But generally, you’ve got to be damn good at your craft before you can pull off something like that.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Not difficult at all.   I tried to address it with that business about Adjectives in front of that troublesome word Art.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I’m pretty sure the game designer for Left Behind thinks that he’s an artist and a champion of his faith.Report