The Paradox of Bashing Institutions for Cultural Elitism

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  1. Avatar LeeEsq
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    I think that the problem with conservative art is roughly the same problem with conservative comedy. A couple of years ago, Fox attempted to create a conservative answer to the Daily Show. It failed miserably. John Stewart commented that they forgot the first rule of comedy, that the humor comes before the ideology and you always go for the joke rather than the politics. William Buckley’s son can create conservative comedy because he knows that the comedy part is more important than the conservative part.

    The same problem exists with conservative theatre or novels, they are trying so hard to be ideologically correct that they forget everything else. Its why we get Ayn Rand, Left Behind, or a lot of other kitschy conservative novels and theatre. Telling a story in an engaging manner with well-rounded characters has to take precedence over politics regardless of the politics or ideology in question. The Chronicles of Narnia and Left Behind are both oestensibly a series of novels from a Christian point of view but Narnia is better because C.S.Lewis is a much better artist than the Left Behind guys. Thats because he doesn’t sacrifice telling a good story for doctrinal correctness and we get Bacchus/Dionysius make a guest appearance as a good guy in a story about Jesus because it made for great fun.

    This isn’t a problem with conservative alone, a lot of the whackier parts of the Left can also fall into the same trap of sacrificing art for ideology. Socialist realism and most art and literature produced in the USSR and China when it was Communist was a pretty good result. Any worthwhile art was practically an accident.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq
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      Lee,
      I’d quibble with Rand being “conservative.” But otherwise I’d agree with you completely. A good example from the non-liberal side is P.J. O’Rourke (at least he was funny once upon a time; but whether he’s properly classified as a conservative, or really is more libertarian is not always clear to me).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        A lot of conservatives seem to like Ayn Rand, so I count her as a conservative artist even if she would bristle at this. Where ever she falls on the ideological spectrum, she is a good example of a writer favoring doctrinal correctness over the requirements of art.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        Where ever she falls on the ideological spectrum, she is a good example of a writer favoring doctrinal correctness over the requirements of art.

        Lord, yes. It makes her writing intolerable. Her pursuit of an unmistakeable ideological statement led her to violate most of the rules of good story telling.Report

    • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to LeeEsq
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      I actually think the inclusion of Bacchus had a theological meaning, too.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Russell Saunders
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        That Jesus permits Christians to get drunk?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Russell Saunders
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        Jesus’ first recorded miracle was the turning of water to wine in Cana.

        Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

        Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

        They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders
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        Also, he liked Mr. Magoo.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq
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      I’m not sure what we mean by conservative novels here. I can think of quite a few great novelists who were conservatives and wrote novels that reflected that to some degree or another, but it sounds like they wouldn’t count here because they weren’t writing novels specifically to promote an ideology, yes?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
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        But, like you said, writing a novel to promote a political ideology doesn’t usually work well.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Rufus F.
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        Brecht was pretty good at it.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Rufus F.
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        Conservatives generally embrace Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn as their own. Both inserted politics into stories that were not derived for the sake of promoting ideology. (Except Flynn’s first book, which was pretty ideology-centric)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
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        Brecht remembered that you need to entertain and followed the requirements of good story telling. A lot of other Marxist literature does not. Didn’t Brecht say towards the end of his life, that he wanted people to be entertained at his plays?

        A lot of people misinterpret Brecht even though he is not subtle.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Rufus F.
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        I have yet to read Saul Bellow.

        Will,

        Tom Clancy as a conservative novelist sort of presents a he-man parody of conservatism in my mind.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Rufus F.
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        @newdealer That’s a fair criticism of Vince Flynn, but not really Tom Clancy. I think to view it in that context suggests an ideological specificity in art preference. Which is perhaps unfair. However, Clancy’s work is pretty straightforwardly thriller/intrigue. Some of it intelligent, some of it not. A lot of it with politics thrown in.

        (I’ll confess that one of the things I loved about Rainbox Six was seeing ham-handed liberal villain caricature of the sort I am used to seeing in conservative characters. Other than that, it was just a fun way to pass time.)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
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        JayBird, Tom Wolfe is a pretty good example of what a successful conservative author looks like. The outlook of his novels is at least partially conservative but he remembers enough about artistry not to get too preachy about this and to attract a wide range of readers. Bonfire of the Vanities made for a better and more popular movie than Atlas Shrugged.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Rufus F.
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        I’m not sure what we mean by conservative novels here.

        A novel will be conservative if the following seem to be more or less true:
        – The most likable characters are conservatives (even if they are not the “good” guys).
        – The situations described either turned out well because a conservative approach was adopted or would have turned out better had a conservative approach been adopted.
        – The less likable characters are not conservative (even if they are the “good” guys).

        I’m sure more should be added to this list, but that is where I am now.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Rufus F.
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        Isn’t Tolkien conservative?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F.
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        Bonfire of the Vanities made for a better and more popular movie than Atlas Shrugged.

        Faint praise indeed.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F.
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        Tolkien goes beyond conservative: he’s a medievalist. His dislike of technology is so severe (honestly, the least likable hobbit in LOTR owns one of those new-fangled sawmills) as to put him outside any ideology you might name.Report

  2. Avatar J@m3z Aitch
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    ND,

    Great post. I especially like the focus on conservative theater, of which I think most folks (including me, I confess) are unaware.

    Elitism seems to hold an uneasy place in a democracy. We have no problem seeing The Founding Fathers (TM) as an elite, but in general elitism seems something of an existential threat to the idea of democracy; that is, of rule by the demos. On the other hand, not only does that demos need some kind of elite to provide it with understanding of governance and good governing ideas (although obviously the elite is nothing like infallible), but something of an elite is inevitable in any sizable group.

    Curiously, there are multiple elites, depending on domain. I dislike hip hop and never paid much attention to it, but my friend PJ is a serious aficionado, and has explained to me (at somewhat more length than I can really bear) the ways in which hip hop artists use samples in a creative fashion, not just as copying or mimicking, but to build a structured and layered piece of music that has important contextual references that only the clued-in audience can recognize. Note that PJ has a musical background that exceeds my not inconsiderable one by a substantial margin, and has a Ph.D.–he’s not a neighborhood teen who’s unfamiliar with “real” music. Not only is PJ an elite in this sense, but there are other elites, both fans and musicians, in the hip hop world. And the same can be said for many different domains, because some people take a much deeper and more serious interest in Topic X than others, so elites are inevitable.

    The curious thing is that “the elite” has become synonymous with liberalism, especially given the number of conservatives who are clearly elites by any reasonable definition. I think this is because academia is largely liberal (this is consistent with your point about theater and large–predominantly Democratic–urban areas).

    But I suspect the disdain goes beyond just that, and is shaped in large part by liberal academics who speak outside their domain of expertise. I was recently shown a phrase from Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough For Love.”
    “Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.”

    The problem is not specifically that political scientists are liberal, or that many economists at least lean liberal, or even that a creative writing prof is socially liberal, but that a) the creative writing prof assumes that his education is sufficient to speak expertly on political matters, and/or b) that too many use their elite position as meaning they are essentially unquestionable–essentially committing the error of appeal to authority (“It’s ok as long as it’s my authority you’re appealing to!”)

    That’s not to imply that liberals are any more likely than others to do that. Ideally, liberals would be less likely to do so, because one of the ideals of liberalism is a greater open-mindedness to alternative arguments. But even if liberals are in fact, and not just in theory, less likely to do so, the dominance of liberals in these positions of intellectual elitism means we hear it more from them than others (because, frankly, while we hear it non-stop from folks like Rush Limbaugh, only their devoted cultists imagine them as intellectual elites).

    Now, why the academic intellectual elite leans so liberal…that’s a really tough question. I wonder the same about the theater liberal elite. Most of the hypotheses I’ve heard about either are plausibly either the cause or just the effect.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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      “Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.”

      Said the SF writer whose fans take him for a universal genius 🙂Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling
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        Heinlein was from San Francisco? 😉

        But, yes, the irony is delicious.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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        Another irony is that, even though when I talk about RAH, it’s almost always to try to deflate the hype, I could tell you all the places he lived (not SF, but he was in LA for a while), and I’ve read almost every word he ever wrote. He wasn’t a great thinker or political philosopher, but he was very possibly the greatest SF writer who ever lived.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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      Thanks!

      A lot of liberal theatre critics and artists do speak of Tyler Perry and similar work as being a conservative theatre and it often does not carry into mainstream theatre because it is too conservative. IIRC Mr. Perry’s latest film (Temptation) had a strongly implied or possibly explicit statement that someone deserved to get HIV because she had an affair. This rankled a lot of secular liberal morality.

      “The curious thing is that “the elite” has become synonymous with liberalism, especially given the number of conservatives who are clearly elites by any reasonable definition. I think this is because academia is largely liberal (this is consistent with your point about theater and large–predominantly Democratic–urban areas).”

      This largely annoys me and I’ve pointed it numerous times. I don’t quite understand how conservatives use the word elite. You are right that a lot of conservatives and libertarians are elites by any reasonable definition including the Koch Brothers, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, James O’Keefe, etc. Yet as I’ve pointed out here before it is the upper-middle class professional liberal from Westchester or Marin that gets called an elite/elitist for liking to shop at farmer’s markets. Or the young artist who works as a bartender while trying to jump start their art career. Elitism seems to go with how someone prefers to spend their free time. Going to SF Jazz or the Brooklyn Academy of Music is elitist. Going to NASCAR or any other sporting event is not. Income and job does not seem to come into it as a factor and this is puzzling. Also wrong.

      “But I suspect the disdain goes beyond just that, and is shaped in large part by liberal academics who speak outside their domain of expertise.”

      I can think of a lot of conservatives who do the same. Pat Robertson comes to mind. And there are a lot of liberals who go after people who speak out of their expertise. Many on the left dislike Matt Y because he earns good money from Econ 101 speak and nothing beyond. Plus he does not consider other factors. David Brooks also draws liberal ire.

      “Now, why the academic intellectual elite leans so liberal…that’s a really tough question. I wonder the same about the theater liberal elite. Most of the hypotheses I’ve heard about either are plausibly either the cause or just the effect.”

      Do you buy the argument that conservative academics have a lot more career options? This is an argument I’ve heard. Mainly the career options come from well-funded think tanks.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer
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        That might be part of it, but I’m dubious it’s much of it. That would assume roughly equal numbers of liberals and conservative getting graduate degrees, which I don’t think is the case. I think one of the fundamental questions is whether liberals are more likely to pursue an intellectual life, or whether pursuit of the intellectual life tends to move a person in a liberal direction. (I know some folks who think it’s because liberals tend to be more intelligent, but I’d say that’s BS.)Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to NewDealer
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        @jm3z-aitch
        I think one of the fundamental questions is whether liberals are more likely to pursue an intellectual life, or whether pursuit of the intellectual life tends to move a person in a liberal direction.

        I wonder about this, wonder and if it’s a large part of the ‘liberal elite’ talk we that sounds so anti-education. Is it because education pulls loved ones away from conservatism or because liberals in conservative families pursue education to escape conservatism?

        But there’s one huge thing here: this question resides in the realm of social conservative; one shaped by religion and old-school family norms. Most of the finance/investor folk I know consider themselves conservatives, but they’re also part of the elite economic class, well educated, and promotors/consumers of both art and education.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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      I don’t think this is why liberals get painted with the elite brush. Conservative political strategists were able to create the image of the elite liberal because many upper-middle class liberals are a bit more open with their bohemian/high culture tastes than rich conservatives. They seem different and weird to people who do not have these tastes and conservative strategists took this and ran with it.

      The Koch brothers give a lot of money to the arts and PBS but I doubt that many people on their side of the aile in politics are aware of that.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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      My main point is that these institutions get to become part of the elite and are the elite because they often get attacked by outsiders for elitism.

      So when I hear calls for our leading theatres to produce more conservative plays, it sounds like kids standing outside the VIP entrance to a hot nightclub and chanting “Please please let us in”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
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        Honestly, if I were put in charge of getting the message out there through entertainment media, “elite theaters” would not be near the top of my list. I’d focus more on televisions and movies. I think that conservatives would not have – and have not had – an easy time with the networks and studios, but that battleground matters a lot more.

        Plus, if after a big push, you’re locked out, then at least you know. And you get to work on creating a parallel system.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
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        A *good* parallel system, I mean. Not what they’re doing right now.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to NewDealer
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        @will-truman I doubt that my memories have any bearing to reality, but I recall a lot of this elitism talk starting around the time Murphy Brown had her kid. There were calls from the theocons to boycott Disney culminating in the release of the Hunchback.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer
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        are the elite because they often get attacked by outsiders for elitism.

        That’s an interesting argument, and a sort of weird self-fulfilling prophecy from the conservative perspective.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
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        James,

        I’m sure that many institutions especially the older ones like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera like to present themselves as members of the elite culture. Also Harvard and many of the older educational institutions including (and maybe even especially) the older boarding and private schools like Philips Exeter and Andover.

        But I think they can do this more easily because of getting attacked by social conservatives for their Soddom and Gammorah ways. Conservatives are conceding part of the battle in the attack. The book God and Sex at Yale could be written about almost any and every university but no one is going to write God and Sex at SUNY-Stony Brook or God and Sex at UC-Davis.

        This is especially true for academic institutions where conservatives love to bash but also attend. The right-wing Republican senate candidate for Arkansas is a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law just like Chuck Schumer.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer
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        New Dealer,

        Off topic, but I think you’ll appreciate the last link on this page.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
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        Wow, I got linked to!Report

  3. Avatar zic
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    One of the problems here is that artists become artists by questioning, they tend to push boundaries. Often, though not always, those are the social boundaries, the places that discomfort conservatives. I mean there’s a reason why Republicans have trouble attracting the top-tier musicians to their stages.

    Elite art institutions tend to promote elite artists; and while classical performances may not threaten one’s sensibilities, there’s a pretty good chance that some elite institution has promoted some elite artist who’s body of work offers something to offend someone who’s nature is conservative. So I suspect that you’re right, that part of the being elite is being open to criticism because you’re open to art that pushes the boundaries.

    Still, there is so much to art, so many fields, and each institution has its own niche. There are certainly conservative markets that thrive; just go look at the artist who make works for churches, for example. It’s a pretty lucrative market for sculptors who can tap into it.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to zic
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      I agree that there is a lot of art that pushes conservative boundaries. Sometimes intentionally like Karen Finley, Andre Serras, Judy Chicago, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tony Kushner, Larry Kramer, James Baldwin, etc. Sometimes a bit unintentionally by just going for new forms like Joseph Cornell or the abstract expressionists when they were new. Or Jazz or hip-hop, etc.

      But as a thought experiment what would it be like if conservatives just ignored places like BAM and MOMA or PS 1 instead of complaining about them.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to NewDealer
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        But as a thought experiment what would it be like if conservatives just ignored places like BAM and MOMA or PS 1 instead of complaining about them.

        I think this may be beyond possibility. Complaining about culture that’s deemed inappropriate seems part and parcel of conservative id. The whole Scarlet Letter deal; showing your superiority by denouncing the evils of the world. It’s sort of the inverse of wearing the latest outrageous fashion or the designer drug du jour.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
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        Fair point. There is an irony in complaining about a lot of these institutions in that many of them are really struggling especially the ones that were supposed to have a more populist tilt.

        New York City Opera was founded 70 years ago to bring opera “to the masses” (as opposed to the old-money elitism of the Metropolitan Opera). NYC Opera just announced they will need to cancel their 2014-2015 season if they don’t raise 20 million dollars in a very short amount of time.

        The Magic Theatre in San Francisco nearly shut down because of the fiscal crisis in 2008 and only survived by extreme austerity measures. Many other companies were not so lucky and needed to shut down. UCSC just announced that they were shutting down Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

        The audience for theatre is largely on the plus 50 side with a few exceptions here and there. I am often among a handful of young people in the audience with plays about young people by young playwrights. The characters in Bellville were in their 20s. I would say the average age of the audience was plus 50.

        It seems very strange that conservatives can raise a lot of heat over what are increasingly smaller parts of the larger cultural puzzle. I spend a lot of time thinking about why does theatre have a hard time getting young people interested in being audience members*. My generation and younger seems to largely prefer staying home to going out to things.

        *I don’t think a lack of conservative message is the problem because studies show my generation and younger are largely more liberal than our grandparents, parents, and older siblings. It seems that we can create X amount of people in every generation who are interested in creating theatre but not any or very few people who just want to see theatre.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
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        How many people say experimental theatre willingly during the days before radio, movies, and television? The theatre with the largest share of audience was always the most commercial; musicals, the classics like Shakespeare, and the least aritistically ambitious plays. People usually just want to entertain. Its why musicals tend to still do relatively well.

        Bellville’s problem was that it wasn’t very good. Everything depicted in Bellville could be shown on television. Why invest money and time for some unsympathetic characters we don’t get to know very well? A television series with the same premise as Bellville allows the audience more time to get to know the characters better.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
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        Lee,

        I am not talking about experimental theatre like the Wooster Group. Just theatre in general. There is a magic to seeing live performance.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
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        If you aren’t exposed to theatre as a kid, you’re probably unlikely to seek it out as an adult unless its a Broadway musical.

        Theatre does have some problems that other media doesn’t have. You admit that Bellville could have easily been the premise of a television series; young dysfunctional American couple in Paris. A television series could have created more time for character development. We would have gotten to known what causes the characters to tick. That would have solved a lot of Bellville’s problems. Modern audiences want to know more about the characters they are watching than theatre allows for.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer
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        In the early days, television showed some damned fine theatre. If things have gone downhill since, boobs and butts and Honey Boo Boo, cable has picked up the slack. The network stuff is mostly dreck because it’s become the victim of Marketing Weasels. See also the recording industry and the impact of the Internet. Our worthy Glyph would be hard-pressed to write these great posts without YouTube.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to NewDealer
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        @blaisep , in the early days of Television, it was all experimental, and most of it produced and broadcast before a live audience, so the very definition of theater.

        Seems like that changed around the time they invented color TV.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer
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        @zic : Television had been trying to work with videotape for years, I think it’s around the late 50s when the quality and reliability is good enough — and the control boards sophisticated enough — to broadcast from a videotape. Once that hurdle had been overcome, it was all downhill from there. The producers could wade in and do to television what they’d done to films.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to NewDealer
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        Elite institutions promote elite….

        I had a number of years as an employee of a tertiary institution that sold itself on its selectivity. I doubt its studio art program was particularly admired anywhere. (Then again, would an admired program have been any better?). The first leg of my employment there, I made it a point from time to time to schlep over to the art building to see what the studio art students were producing. In a word, junk. It is difficult to believe the students in that program produced worse stuff as high school students. They had to be encouraged by certified manufacturers of junk to produce that. Over a period of eight years, I am not sure I ever saw on display an ordinary and well-executed piece of pencil drawing (of the sort I could manage to produce in high school). Your 50K at work.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to zic
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      One of the problems here is that artists become artists by questioning, they tend to push boundaries.

      What’s it worth, most especially what’s it worth if they do not have demonstrable skill at representation and illustration?

      Robert Hughes remark about Julian Schnabel: there was never a time the man actually learned to draw, and he did not earn the right to radical distortion.

      Amusing:

      http://old.nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire121301.shtmlReport

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to zic
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      …in the early days of Television, it was all experimental, and most of it produced and broadcast before a live audience, so the very definition of theater…. Seems like that changed around the time they invented color TV.

      In the early days of television, sets cost a lot and stations were limited to major metropolitan areas — in effect, it was a medium for the urban elites, not the masses. Broadcasts had to be live because there were no means for recording things, which limited content production. A whole series of inventions over the course of the 1950s changed that — video-synchronized film cameras, telecine converters for standard film, and finally videotape.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Cain
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        Also, in the early days of TV, the FCC expected broadcasters to devote some of their programming to serving the community in return for access to the airwaves. For instance, network news and other public affairs programs were shown without commercials. And it wasn’t that long ago that the networks would keep a low-rated show on if it was especially prestigious, e.g. Hill Street Blues.

        That kind of disrespect of the gods of capitalism didn’t last, of course.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Michael Cain
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        If I am not mistaken, prior to 1962, network news broadcasts were 15 minutes long. John Cameron Swayze’s signature line was, “Let’s go hopscotching about the world of headlines”, after which was one sentence per story.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Michael Cain
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        If I am not mistaken, there were about 10,000 sets in private homes in 1947, whereas about half of all homes had one by 1955. It was not a rarefied commodity for very long. Something my mother would have told you motivating a common lack of interest in purchasing a television among the bourgeoisie of the late 1940s: a great deal of the programming was wretched. Professional wrestling was a staple, as was roller derby. Milton Berle was another. And translated radio programs (e.g. soap operas).Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to zic
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      @zic
      One of the problems here is that artists become artists by questioning, they tend to push boundaries.

      This idea that true art is transgressive is very much a peculiarity of modern art and goes back if I’m not wrong, to the Bloomsbury group who were transgressive, liberal, libertine and upper middle class. It is peculiar to a particular time and place. Given how things go through cycles, I am not prepared to say that this will be a permanent fixture of our understanding of art. In many many (practically almost every) ways, a lot of contemporary Hindu iconography (tanjore paintings, woodcuts etc) is conservative and its classification as art is appropriate according to older notions of art. Its only under modern western notions of art is such work considered a lesser, derivative type of art because it merely reproduces religious themes.

      If you look at earlier attitudes towards art, like Joshua Reynolds’ neo-classicism being transgressive actually counted against the merits of a piece. Of course, nowadays, we would consider Reynolds to be stodgy, uninspired and formulaic. Back to the Bloomsbury group. It would be uncharitable of me to say that conservative critiques of elite art is merely aimed at an enemy which no longer exists. A more charitable explanation of the conservative critique would be that there are a number of material features of modern life that allows the confluence of liberalism, libertinism, transgressiveness and an upper middleclass background. The upper middle class are better placed, economically, to transgress social taboos and get away with it. The reason why working class people tend to be more religious is not just because they are poorer and less educated, it is also because violating traditional norms places has significant economic costs. The upper middle class (and the upper class) can afford to burn their bridges. Working and middle classes cannot. Also, people in the upper middleclass can afford to pursue art and for that matter, consume it. Also, the nature of high art and the requirement that one be educated about art in order to consume high art makes it such that art (or more specifically high art) is produced and consumed by elites. And since these elites can afford to be libertine and transgressive, it is not surprising if they tend to a liberal politics as well.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Murali
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        says:

        @Murali this is all very interesting, and probably historically accurate as far as it goes.

        But I would challenge the idea that art is based on art education and requires wealth; that’s every bit as ‘wrong’ as my presumption that art should be transgressive (and I did note that this, to me, doesn’t necessarily mean socially transgressive, but transgressive to the artist in his or her creative process; transgressive to the art-consumer in communication). But I’ve spent my life with jazz musicians, and jazz is a relatively new art form. I know many people who make electronic, computer-based art, my husband teaches this. So I’d make a differentiation between elite art, a parallel to the original elite institutions of the post, and art for art’s sake, made by people who are driven and focused to think as an artist. That requires some substantial effort to master skills, and than a duality of thought; one open, collecting ideas and inspiration (which is how most people view artists), and one closed and focused, using the acquired skills to shape the inspiration into a consumable thing. That’s creative process, transformative process. And wealth, education, patrons, etc. may help foster it, but they are not necessary to it. The only thing necessary is the skills and the dual-focus of openness and than focus.

        But I should be clear here: I have no formal training in art or art history. I just know a lot of people who make art, and I’ve spent my life studying how they do what they do; it’s my anecdotal observation of art. That drive to master skill, the ability to think openly combined with the ability to focus are the hallmarks of artists.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        @zic
        well, I was talking about the stuff elite art institutions produce which usually tends to be abstract (e.g. a lot of installations and contemporary paintings are abstract that you see in museums and exhibitions are abstract) And I only began to understand abstract art when I took an art history course in the university. I don’t go to the theatre very often* but if this guy’s stuff is representative, a lot of contemporary theatre which is not Broadway is fairly abstract too.

        *other than musical/ dance performances of friends and family, the only things I’ve watched in the theatre are Phantom of the Opera and Julius CaesarReport

  4. Avatar Will Truman
    Ignored
    says:

    Other than my tendency to get irritated when people argue that there is not a significant liberal slant in entertainment, my views mostly come down to this:

    If people want conservative and libertarian voices in theatre, they need to create their own voices.

    This is absolutely correct. I see quite a bit of validity in conservative complaints in popular media. But they view complaining as an end, rather than a means to an end. First, you identify the problem. Then, you do something about it.

    Complaining doesn’t qualify as “something.”Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman
      Ignored
      says:

      I like to point out to conservatives that the market is giving people what they want, so if the market’s giving us lots of liberal elitism….Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        I reject the “Hollywood as the perfect capitalist machine” model, though. There is a lot of judgment and discretion involved. People are more likely to see the market potential in stuff that appeals to them personally. Those are also the projects they’re more likely to take a chance on.

        I mean, how many anti-war movies failed at the box office before they finally stopped making them?

        Or, put another way, even in a capitalist society, when an overwhelming number of people in a creative or narrative-driven industry lean in a particular way, it is exceedingly unlikely that you’re going to get a product that doesn’t reflect that.

        Which brings us back to the fact that conservatives are doing a really poor job of cultivating artists.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        Will, how many conservative parents are willing to educate their kid’s in the arts? The reason why more artists might be liberal or left-leaning is because liberal parents are more willing to cultivate artisitc ability in their kids or expose them to the arts.

        You said in past threads that you want your daughter to study something practical that could lead to a well-paid career like STEM rather than the humanities or the fine or theatrical arts in college. If most conservative parents believe the same than they are unlikely to have kids that go into the arts and create conservative-leaning art. When you add some sort of disdain for the Bohemian lifestyle that is usually associated with the arts than it makes conservative art even more unlikely.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        Doesn’t anyone remember or appreciate Amy Grant?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        Lee, that’s what I mean by conservatives doing a poor job of cultivating artists. I was thinking more of institutions, but it does apply at the family level as well. If I were a True Believer, though, and I wanted my children to make a difference in the world on a society-wide level. I would actually be more inclined to encourage them to go into the arts. Instead, my background is just vulnerable enough that less risky job paths are really important.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        What is “the arts”, here?

        Chorus? Chamber Choir? Band? (Strings, brass, woodwind?) I assure you, these things were pushed hard in my circles.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        Lee,

        There are plenty of liberal parents who also probably don’t want their kids to study the arts because of the general economic lives of most artists.Report

      • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        “Which brings us back to the fact that conservatives are doing a really poor job of cultivating artists.”

        I wonder if you’d care to speculate why that is.

        For me, I think it has to something to do with the romantic notion of the artist as one who speaks truth to power. As conservatism is the political orientation that favors maintaining the traditional order, this role as challenger to things as they are may not be a very comfortable fit.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        Will, I think that a lot of true believers do not want their kids to go into the arts for reasons of morality. The popular image of an artist is somebody who is a bohemian, unbound by societal conventions. A lot of true believers in conservatism, especially the religious sort, tend to be very big believers in conventional morality and traditional lifestyles. This is why Evangelicals created a parallel universe of “Christian” entertainment or why a lot of art that conservatives like end up as kitschy.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to J@m3z Aitch
        Ignored
        says:

        Will,
        Do you remember that discussion on all-white movies?
        “even in a capitalist society, when an overwhelming number of people in a creative or narrative-driven industry lean in a particular way, it is exceedingly unlikely that you’re going to get a product that doesn’t reflect that.”

        There are plenty of Hollywood movies that do not reflect liberal viewpoints in the slightest.
        Of course, most of them happen to be BAD movies (Carnivale took great inspiration from someone getting lost in Alabama, but most Hollywood types haven’t walked a mile in a rural person’s shoes..)Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    There are some weird conservative corners when it comes to the decisions that are made, though.

    For example, whenever there is a Very Special Episode devoted to, say, abortion, the entire show is devoted to the importance of Choice, Choice, Choice… and then the choice is pretty much always to keep the baby. (The one example I can remember where the choice was to get an abortion was Six Feet Under and their followup was arguably conservative as well).

    Give me a few moments and I’m sure I can come up with a handful of other hot button issues where, after a full-throated defense of the liberal option, the conservative option is the one taken.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Maud famously had an abortionReport

    • Avatar Shazbot11 in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Like the episode of Family Matters where Urkel wants to fly to Switzerland for euthanasia because he has annoyed himself to the point where life is a raging torrent of pain.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Which makes me wonder to what extent is the whole “family is what you make of it” theme where you’ve got a bunch of wacky people who are stuck with each other a conservative (or liberal) theme…

        I mean, Will and Grace strikes me as a good example of a show with vaguely conservative values.

        They aren’t *THEOCON* values, of course… and theocons will argue that values that aren’t theocon aren’t “really” conservative but… that doesn’t seem right to me.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        My metric is that a show (or movie) counts as conservative when conservatives can count it as a success without the response being “But that’s not really conservative.”

        Counting family shows as conservative works to about the same degree as calling Friends a liberal show. They are, in their own way, but not uniquely so.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        It seems like trying to make the “wacky family” type groups as liberal or conservative is where the problem starts. It seems more like a human thing that doesn’t really map that well to our to biggest political labels.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Will- The problem seems to be that many people on the conservative side only think something can be called conservative if they can say it is free of any “liberal” values whatever those are.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Greg, except when they do try to claim something as conservative, in which case it becomes yet another example of how they are trying to claim things as conservative that aren’t. Like libertarians claiming Firefly.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        That said, I don’t think you’re wrong. That would be one of the hurdles to the “parallel system” I referred to elsewhere in this thread. They’d have to fight the temptation of making it the Fox News of entertainment. Which a lot of people would demand.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        The whole problem here is the delusion that a universe can be conservative or liberal.

        About half the complaints about TV from the right seems to be that the universe does not match what they want it to be. It has too many gays or artists or pagans or elites or something.

        That…uh…does not decide what the theme of the work of art is. That is actually completely irrelevant to it.

        It’s like conservatives literally do not understand what ‘art’ is. Art is not actually the thing you are actually looking at. That’s a medium, not the art. Art is the message the medium is trying to convey.

        If this is confusing, consider photography. All photographs are photographs (duh) but not all photographs are intended to be art. They’re only art if there’s something _besides_ the actual picture that is being convey. (Or, at least, if they _attempt_ to convey something else. Art can indeed fail.)

        Art is not ‘liberal’ because it uses things that liberals are okay with but conservatives freak out about, anymore than art is ‘pro-Disney’ because it uses depictions of Disney characters, or ‘pro-shooting people’ because has people getting shot in it.

        Creating art using liberal characters does not make it pro-liberal. Creating art using gay characters does not make it pro-gay.

        In fact, it is nearly impossible to _criticize_ something in art without representing it somewhat correctly. Otherwise it turns into an obvious strawman polemic.

        Admittedly, the actual _art_ does get lost, it does fail, if the viewer is too busy freaking out over what it’s made out of to miss the intended message.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        David, I think art qualifies as conservative when it advances the conservative worldview, and liberal when it advances the liberal one. Not necessarily as a primary objective, but in a way that’s more than incidental. Everyone’s definitions are different, though, which is one of the things that makes this so hard to discuss.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman
        David, I think art qualifies as conservative when it advances the conservative worldview, and liberal when it advances the liberal one.

        As I said elsewhere, I suspect the problem is that conservatives do not actually understand their own worldview. Or aren’t able to state it reasonable.

        Almost every drama is very conservative. A good half of sitcoms are also.

        Here’s a conservative TV arc: A man, who’s been torn down his entire life for his strength, goes off to college where he finds a group of friends, along with a strong women who he falls in love with. Together, they help fight the forces of darkness, outside the law. Eventually, his family returns, intend on harm (In an episode called ‘Family’, no less.), and his friends, his new family, helps hold them off, showing him that he is loved, and does belong.

        Conservative, right? Anyone want to guess what TV show I’m talking about, and what fact of that explanation I fudged, which instantly made it Not Conservative?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        David, how many of those sitcoms and dramas, if conservatives actually tried to claim them as advancing the conservative worldview, would liberals respond “Yes, that is conservative and contrary to my own liberal worldview”?

        Or would they say the equivalent of “Anybody who watches Firefly and thinks it is libertarian isn’t paying attention to it”?Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Conservative, right?

        Not….really.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman

        David, how many of those sitcoms and dramas, if conservatives actually tried to claim them as advancing the conservative worldview, would liberals respond “Yes, that is conservative and contrary to my own liberal worldview”?
        Or would they say the equivalent of “Anybody who watches Firefly and thinks it is libertarian isn’t paying attention to it”?

        So it can only be conservative art if liberals think it’s conservative?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        I think that the argument can be made that if the argument can be made that the argument can be made.

        If you know what I mean.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Zic, at the very least, I would say that liberals should not call it conservative if liberals would object to conservatives calling it conservative.

        Personally, I don’t think something should be called liberal art, or conservative art, if both sides don’t acknowledge it to some degree. Otherwise, it is perhaps art with themes that could be considered liberal or conservative.

        But again, this is coming down to definitions. Where I am flexible. What I am noting here is a disconnect where “conservative art” is broadly defined when it comes to telling conservatives to stop complaining, but more narrowly defined when it comes to conservatives pointing out conservative artistic successes.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        David, how many of those sitcoms and dramas, if conservatives actually tried to claim them as advancing the conservative worldview, would liberals respond “Yes, that is conservative and contrary to my own liberal worldview”?

        Except, of course, that liberals and conservatives share almost the exact same worldview. Seriously, we’re all 20th century Westerners. (Except those of us who are 21st.)

        But liberals don’t get annoyed because a TV show demonstrates a straight married couple raising a kid. Whereas conservative apparently do when it’s a gay couple, and now it’s magically a liberal show. Or even a single parent. (Despite conservatives attempting to claim ‘strong families’ as their own theme.)

        As I pointed out in hypothetical example, which no one guessed, so I will reveal it is Buffy and I gender-swapped Tara, there are plenty of very conservative themes that are on TV. Buffy is a frickin _morality play_ about _vigilantes_ who can’t trust the government (And yet there’s a good depiction of the military once it manages to get out from under the heals of government idiots) who fight _evil_.

        The problem is, conservatives don’t seem to actually be able to articulate what they are looking for in TV.

        I mean, we’re having a big discussion about this and we _still_ don’t have anyone articulating the themes they want. What _exactly_ is missing on TV? Lone heroes who fight the system? A dime a dozen. Happily married families raising children? Almost every sitcom. Government bureaucracy, incompetence, corruption, and ass covering? Yup.

        I think the complaint here halfway boils down to ‘Conservatives don’t show up to scold liberals enough on TV’ or something. Seriously, Someone please come up with a conservative theme that is not on TV. Any example. At all.

        If you want to talk about what hypothetical other liberals say about ‘conservative shows’ and what is or isn’t them, you’re going to have to find someone who thinks the entire concept of ‘conservative shows’ or ‘liberal shows’ isn’t complete nonsense to have that discussion with.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot11
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        says:

        Friday Night Lights was conservative by any measure I can think of. It was set in small-town Texas, which it portrayed very affectionately. Its values were marriage, family, hard work, and responsibility. Though …

        When the lead couple found out that the town’s mayor (an older lady) was a lesbian (they saw her holding hands with another older lady), they went home and giggled about it rather than being outraged.

        And when the male lead found out that his daughter was having sex with her boyfriend, he was unhappy and worried, but realized he couldn’t forbid her.

        And the biggest villains it ever showed was a town that was going to arrest and do who knows what to one of the players who’d just beaten their team. It wasn’t a coincidence that he was black, and seeing one of his own coaches who was hardly a liberal on the race issue stand up to the SOBs was a huge “awwwwww” moment.

        So, does it count as a conservative show, or is being anything other than staunchly conservative on race, premarital sex, and homosexuality disqualify it? If the answer is “disqualify it”, I think we see why there isn’t more conservative TV. It’s a fishing straitjacket.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Friday Night Lights was conservative by any measure I can think of.

        Y’know who would take exception to that? The show’s writer-director.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        David, I owe you an apology. I missed that you had responded to my definition of terms.

        Here again, though, we’re just not going to find enough common ground to have a conversation. I believe that conservatives and liberals do have differing worldviews even if not diametrically opposed. Meanwhile, I think your views of how liberals and conservatives are really different to be markedly off-based. And I don’t see the point in discussing liberal shows and conservative shows with someone who doesn’t believe that either exist.

        Or, put another way, it would take an enormous amount of work just to get past all the background differences to get to the conversation at hand. I don’t think that’s a good use of either of our time.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        As I said elsewhere, I suspect the problem is that conservatives do not actually understand their own worldview. Or aren’t able to state it reasonable.

        You mean to a liberal’s satisfaction? Is it at all possible that it makes sense to a conservative even if it remains incoherent to a liberal? Are we back into that territory where Group X claims the authority to define for Group Y what Group Y’s beliefs are?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Joyner agrees with me. The show is conservative, even if Peter Berg isn’t.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        Mike, I haven’t seen it enough to have an opinion. I point it out in large part because the theme here is supposed to be that conservatives refused to embrace the conservatism of shows.

        So Peter Berg is denying it’s conservative, though conservative Joyner thinks it kinda is. Further, a quick scan of Brietbart reveals them praising the show and defending the abortion episode (with nuance I don’t typically expect from that site). And, of course, the show’s catchphrase was embraced by the Romney campaign.

        This cuts against the notion that conservatives will reject anything that isn’t ideologically pure.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot11
        Ignored
        says:

        It was a network show that almost died because of low ratings, and survived as long as it did only because of an unprecedented (and, I think, still unique) cable-network partnership.

        So, it was a conservative show, made by the liberal entertainment industry, embraced by conservative viewers, of whom there apparently aren’t enough to keep a network show afloat. Look at all the narratives that breaks.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Shazbot11
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        says:

        I really like Friday Night Lights, and I do believe it’s very conservative friendly, especially because it treats putatively conservative views/values with respect. But I wouldn’t say it’s “conservative by any measure.” In a way, I think it can actually be interpreted as critical of a certain type of conservative worldview, even as it embraces other elements of that worldview. The key, though, is that with some unfortunate exceptions, the show rarely looks down on that conservative worldview, even as it is critical of some of its elements.

        I’m not about to propound on a theory of art and literature, but I imagine that one element of most good art and literature is to be introspective and open to criticism, even if after all is said and done, much of the criticism is refuted or the status quo is maintained (and to both agree with and disagree with Murali above, I think a work of art can be self-critical and introspective without being transgressive). I think FNL does this to a very large degree.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Could this just be market awareness Jaybird? The pro-lifers would pitch a -fit- if the characters chose to abort but are content to claim victory otherwise. Meanwhile the pro-choicers shrug “it’s 100% fine that she chose not to abort, so long as she chose it”.
      So basically from a producer’s standpoint choice choice choice followed by choosing to keep the baby is the entertainment sweet spot; it keeps both sides happy and revenue flowing in.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Well, speaking impressionistically, I do not recognize the phenomenon to which you refer. I did pull this out of my memory:

      http://www.tv.com/shows/st-elsewhere/getting-ahead-43170/

      I seem to recall 1) she had an abortion; (2) her takeaway was “I should have had Seth condomized!” (spoken annoyedly to her father); 3) her father (the chief of internal medicine at a local quondam Catholic hospital) is contrivedly benevolent and cannot hold her responsible; it’s all on the medical resident she lay down with for the flimsiest reasons.

      (They had trouble with that character. He started out as a playah and they turned him into a caricature of an evangelical dweeb – living in Boston, no less).

      (It is amazing what sort of lint sticks in your head for 26 years).Report

  6. Avatar Shazbot11
    Ignored
    says:

    How do we define the word “elite?” I not sure.

    However, I do think there is (and we should remain clear about this in our definitions) between elite and aristocratic.

    I think conservatives realized (maybe subconsciously or consciously or whatever) that some of their ideas could carry the stigma of being aristocratic (some old-school conservatives would have been explicit about favoring more aristocratic ways of doing things). At that point, they decided to try to confuse the populous into thinking the other side were the real aristocrats.

    Of course, it is hard to argue that the people in favor of more egalitarianism of one sort or another are the actual aristocrats (even if you think it is true). But, as luck would have it, the most famous proponents of such liberal egalitarianism were academics or well-paid. You start off with ad hominem arguments against them, and eventually you have a pernicious stereotype about “elitists” that is pretty widely spread.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Shazbot11
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      says:

      I think this is a good point in a democratic republic everyone needs to present their ideas in the language of freedom and liberty. This means tarring the other side with the elitist/aristocratic brush.Report

  7. Avatar DavidTC
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    says:

    Erm, the Caleb Winebrenner is rather patently dishonest. It attempts to link the fact that there are very little shows about skyrocketing government debt because the government subsidies the arts.

    The problem, of course, is that the government _does not_ subsidies commercial theatre. At all. Oh, there might be an occasional grant to fix a historic building or something…which all historical buildings can apply for.

    But there are very few grants just for ‘theatre’, and even less grants that have anything to do with specific shows. Hell, half the grant for ‘theatre’ the NEA gives out are actually for just making a theatre look nice, or to convert a space _into_ a theatre.

    And, more importantly, theatre grants go to small random community theatres, almost exclusively non-profits. New shows originate at commercial Broadway theatres that are much too big for grants, and also sometimes by random playwrights breaking into the business who have no association with theatres.

    tl;dr: The people getting, and eligible for grants, in the theatre universe, are exactly the people who are _not_ writing the plays. The people getting the grants are those who want to replace the broken sound system in their community theatre so they can put on a new production of Oklahoma.(1)

    It’s like Winebrenner is talking about the government subsides public access TV, and that’s why HBO won’t runs hows critical of the government, because of all that free money going to ‘TV’. Uh, what?

    Hell, does Winebrenner not understand that plays critical of the government _do_ exist? Les Miserables, for an example. However, artists usually have _actual_ societal ills they are pointing out, instead of imaginary ones like ‘skyrocketing government debt’. And, unlike what libertarians like to think, the government is not the cause of most social ills, at least not because the government merely exists.

    Of course, there is a slight social bias here, in that theatres have to operate in cities, and cites are more liberal. So the theatre _market_ is perhaps slightly skewed to the left. This is not, it must be pointed out, the fault of liberals.(2)

    I call this ‘patently dishonest’ instead of just misinformed because Winebrenner _works in theatre_ and thus knows all this.

    1) Which incidentally may well _indeed_ prove the point that government funding waters down the arts. Although blaming this on Federal grants is nonsense…I’m willing to suspect there are a lot more local community theatres that end up too scared to do ‘risque’ shows like Chicago because of _local conservativism_ causing a risk to their local funding, than any sort of imaginary ‘we must not be too conservative or the NEA won’t like us!’ nonsense.

    2) OTOH, certain opinions that a lot of conservatives seem to hold will also not get them very far in theatre. Hating on gays, for example, or attacking unions. I guess this _is_ the fault of liberals, and conservatives should go and build their own theatres without gays or unions.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to DavidTC
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      says:

      Good points. I’m a former theatre guy who never knew Caleb Winebrenner but I seem to know people who know him. I know people with all sorts of levels of theatre success to non-success.

      A lot of non-profits do produce new plays but you are right that they are spending more and more time with putting up old favorites because those generate more ticket sales. Newer plays tend to get readings or constantly placed in workshop purgatory or runs on the smaller-stagged theatres. Every now and then you will have an indie production that becomes a hit like Urinetown or that horrible play about the Snoppy characters as hard-partying and dysfunctional teenagers (Lucy became a pyromaniac who gets locked up for setting the red-headed girl’s head aflame. She was played by Eliza Dushku in the off-broadway commercial run. The original production was at the Fringe.) Urinetown was also a surprise transfer from the NY Fringe. Rent famously transferred from downtown NY Theatre Workshop to Broadway but it is hardly a daring play, it is La Boheme for New York.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to NewDealer
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        says:

        A lot of non-profits do produce new plays but you are right that they are spending more and more time with putting up old favorites because those generate more ticket sales.

        Indeed. I don’t want to minimize that, there are non-profits making, or at least hosting, new plays. I’m a tech volunteer at a non-profit community theatre, and in my time there I’ve done tech for two original plays written by members. They were not groundbreaking stuff, being versions of, respectively, ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’, but I’ve seen some nearby productions of original stuff that was fairly fresh.

        But the idea that some non-profit theatre would have a guy come forward and say ‘I’m a playwright, and I’d like to put on a play at your theatre about the government debt’, and the non-profit would look around and say ‘Oh, the NEA might not like that!’ and refuse for _that_ reason is just so completely completely absurd there’s no way anyone involved in any sort of theatre could think that.

        It is much, _much_ more likely that plays, both new and old, would be rejected at community theatres (Which are the only theatres that really _get_ grants) for exactly the _opposition_ reason: That they are too ‘edgy’ for that theatre, that the community itself will stop funding them, and even actively oppose them.Report

  8. Avatar j r
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    says:

    If you want to understand the right’s obsession with the cultural elite of the left, the best analogue is how the left is obsessed with the Kock brothers and the whole campaign reform issue.

    Both of these things come from the same place: the belief that the other side is using some unfair advantage to impose their will on the masses. On the one hand you have conservatives who think that the liberal media and entertainment industry is brainwashing the masses and enforcing their elite tastes on everyone else. On the other hand, you have progressives who think that business interests are capturing the political process and enforcing their pro-business sentiments on everyone else.

    Both of these perspectives are largely overblown and come from the idea that if people are repeatedly choosing to do things that I don’t like, there must be some nefarious reason for it.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to j r
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      says:

      But, the right is usually obessing about themes, whereas the left is usually obessing about blatant lies.

      There’s a difference between saying ‘Nobody wants to make TV shows about how everyone should be Christian'(1) and saying ‘The Koch brothers are secretly funding lying attack ads and fake grassroots organizations’.

      Not all complaints are created equal. One of those really is a valid political point to make, you are not allowed to associate with liars in the political realm. The other is…just stupid.

      OTOH, you’re right in that a lot of times people making both those complaints are basically making the argument ‘People are easily led buffoons and we have to protect them from specific ideas’.

      1) I actually find it rather hard to figure out what, exactly, the right’s complaints here. It appears they actually just don’t like certain specific existing TV shows, but ‘Hollywood keeps producing some shows we don’t like’ is not a very good soundbite, so they have to pretend there are no shows that present a conservative message, when of course there are plenty of them.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        you are not allowed to associate with liars in the political realm

        Things are somewhat different in America than in… wherever this sentence happens to be true.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        Things are somewhat different in America than in… wherever this sentence happens to be true.

        I will continue to insist that is true, despite all evidence, and luckily the media will ‘report both sides’.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        David Koch is a major supporter of PBS Nova. That’s not propaganda. If he also funds lyin’ political propaganda, that’s no problem for me as a Liberal. That’s the great thing about being a Liberal, or in my case, I would call myself a Post-Conservative. I don’t have to worry overmuch about the impact of political propaganda. It’s mostly a waste of money. Nobody takes it seriously these days.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        The Koch brothers are secretly funding lying attack ads and fake grassroots organizations

        To what specific lies are you referring? And I don’t really see the distinction that you’re making. Is there any political candidate/movement that doesn’t use attack ads? Are there any NGOs that don’t fund themselves through contributions from rich patrons? There’s nothing that the Koch brothers do that isn’t standard operating procedure for political movements in this country. They only happen to do a lot more of it and with a much more focused ideological bent.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        Oh, c’mon. The Koch brothers tell lies when the truth would suit them better. They’ve been denying climate change for years, pumping money into colleges in exchange for putting Ayn Rand on the syllabus, lying about Obamacare being socialism. These are all demonstrable lies.

        Which is all okay, in my book. Facts won’t stay buried, no matter how much earth you put on their coffins.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        To what specific lies are you referring?

        Everything they say about the ACA? Climate change denial?

        And I don’t really see the distinction that you’re making. Is there any political candidate/movement that doesn’t use attack ads?

        The keyword there was not attack ads, it was ‘lying’. And candidates usually (Yes, yes, Jaybird, I know) can’t get away with provable lies in their attack ads. They are usually forced to at least withdraw the ads.

        The Koch brothers’s organizations, however, have no problems with that, and have repeated run ads that are, in fact, _blatant_ lies.

        It’s a rather new and novel approach. Just _keep_ lying. Even after being called on it. And because it’s not a candidate doing it, there’s no backlash on the candidate.

        Instead, of course, there’s a backlash on the Koch brothers.

        Are there any NGOs that don’t fund themselves through contributions from rich patrons?

        Firstly, yes, there are, and secondly, that doesn’t have any bearing on what I said.

        As I pointed out, the Koch brothers have started up multiple organizations that are pretending to be ‘grassroots’. That’s a little different than funding think tanks, and it’s also different than rich donors donating to actual grassroot organizations.

        But, hey, don’t ask me. Ask the Tea Party how much they like the Koch brothers organization’s pretending to speak for them. There’s a lot of honest Tea Partiers here in Georgia who bought into the idea that it was actually a grassroot organization, and are rather pissed that the Koch brothers are now attacking _their_ solar energy free-market initiative.

        There’s nothing that the Koch brothers do that isn’t standard operating procedure for political movements in this country. They only happen to do a lot more of it and with a much more focused ideological bent.

        Erm, what? What does that have to do with anything?

        My point was that liberals criticizing the Koch brothers actually have some sort of reasonable claim of ‘misbehavior’ to criticize. Those two are doing things that we, as society, should disapprove of. It doesn’t really matter that they’re really just doing Extreme Politics(tm) that everyone else does to a lesser extent, and it fact it makes perfect sense to criticize the _worst_ actors, so I am confused at the point you’re trying to make. (Admittedly, you might have some hypocrisy claim somewhere if the left was fine with lies of their own side, or of phony grassroot movements, but you’re going to have to make that claim yourself, but I do not see that happening on the left.)

        Whereas conservatives criticizing the art for being liberal are just talking nonsense. Mostly because, as I talk about elsewhere here, conservatives don’t seem to understand the medium and the art are not the same thing, and you can create art using conservative themes that has *gasp* gay people in it.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        Can you guys be more specific than “everything… about the ACA” or “denying climate change?” This is a serious question.

        And again, the purpose of equating the two isn’t necessarily to say that they are the same. Rather, I’m trying to get to the heart of what bothers conservatives about liberal elites. It’s the idea that the other side has control of some resource and they are using it to spread their agenda.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        jr,
        GASP is kinda local. If funded by “rich” people (ahem, pulmonologists!), they’re local too.
        You’ve never heard of GASP, I’m sure.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        David,
        link on the “solar energy free-market initiative” you mentioned?
        The Koch brothers are some of the more evil sons of bitches you’ll ever meet.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC
        Ignored
        says:

        Kim:
        http://grist.org/news/tea-partiers-fight-over-solar-power-in-georgia-and-the-solar-fans-win/

        It’s interesting how the Tea Party Patriots came to the conclusion they should support solar power. It was a rather fundamental breakdown in right-wing propaganda. The current propaganda system, where heavily subsidized corporations run around screaming ‘free market’ when the government choosing to subsidize some _other_ thing…did not work. The TPP said, ‘Hey, wait, we’re subsidizing all those other power types also, and the government micro-managed monopoly on power is not actually the free market anyway.’

        With that concept in hand, with no one in the group caring to fight solar power, the fight for it appears to have been decided by a combination of two sub-groups: First, the individualists who think they should be able to operate off the grid, and sell their power back. They combined with the conservationists in the group, because the Tea Party might be somewhat dubious about global warming, but that doesn’t mean they’re a fan of our coal and nuclear plants.

        (I don’t know if that’s how they actually decided, but they’ve said all those sorts of things during this fight.)Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC
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        says:

        David,
        Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Glad to see some fragment of the Tea Party has their shit together.
        Folks tend to forget that hunters and farmers experience global warming firsthand.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to j r
      Ignored
      says:

      J R,

      I really like this comment. The anti-elite’ism approach is not a stranger to liberal ways of seeing the world.

      By saying this, I’m not insisting that the anti-elitism equally distributed or plays the same function in each camp, however. It’s possible that some strands of conservatism depend on anti-elitism more than some strands of liberalism or leftism, or vice versa.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to j r
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      says:

      Astroturf is always troubling, from either side.
      GASP is not astroturf, never was.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Ironically, it’s also time-dependent.

    Let’s say that I made a show depicting the president of the United States as a buffoon who wants to bomb some country in the Middle East for reasons that aren’t the reasons he gives in his public speeches.

    Conservative or Liberal?Report

  10. Avatar BlaiseP
    Ignored
    says:

    Theatre is mostly about putting asses in chairs. When you’ve got the asses, then you can do interesting things. Case in point: Burning Man. The whole thing is one gigantic piece of theatre. Cirque du Soleil can do wonderful things — and charge much coin for them — because the market for gorgeous, innovative troupes of acrobats and artists has been a constant since theatre began.

    If you don’t have many chairs, same situation. As long as you can run your production with fewer chairs and still break even, you can do innovative things.

    Of course, the inverse is true. If you’re making a movie, where it’s someone else’s chairs and you’re reliant upon pulling people in, then innovation goes away and we get the usual dreck from the Star Machine.

    Americans have an allergy to the word “elite” but it just means “chosen”. If Charles Saachi says Marc Quinn is a great artist, do you agree with him? The price of art is a bogus yardstick for measuring greatness. If you like one artist and don’t like another, you are already an “elitist” for you have Chosen one artist over another. So a collection of Old Trouts decide they want Much Mozart at Orchestra Hall. If they had any sense, they’d hire in a conductor they like and let him choose — but sometimes it doesn’t quite work that way — and we’re going to hear Magic Flute until the end of days because someone told someone else that Dr. Moneybags wants less of those Modern Musicians and more of the Classics. Trainloads of Renaissance soft core pornography, likewise a shelf full of obscure and eminently forgettable Handel opera prove my point to a fare-thee-well: Handel was the Phil Collins of his day, the first musical superstar — and just about as musically significant.

    Though Art is rife with Politics and always has been, politics aren’t the usual arbiter of Great Art. It’s the people who love the art and are willing to pay for its creation, they determine the value of art. It’s not Conservative or Liberal, though collectors can have political opinions. A great bolus of art was disgorged from the maw of Lehman Bros when it was put through bankruptcy, including a few Damien Hirst pieces which sold at good prices. Art is all bullshit. Beautiful — but bullshit. The only elitists in art are the tastemakers.Report

  11. Avatar Tod Kelly
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    says:

    At the risk of self-promoting where I’m not wanted, what I said back here seems like it would fit pretty perfectly into the comments section here.

    Also: great post, ND.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly
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      says:

      I’ll say here what I said there. Conservatives are criticized for failing to embrace the conservatism that exists in entertainment. But then, when they try to claim something (like, ahem, libertarians claiming Firefly) they are scoffed at.

      I remember this happening in one thread, somewhere. Conservatives were criticized for overlooking movies with conservative themes like Iron Man, and they were criticized for claiming Iron Man even though it wasn’t a conservative movie.

      There is a valuable point in there, that some conservatives won’t accept anything that isn’t full-throttled conservative. That’s something any attempt at enhancing conservatism in popular entertainment is going to need to contend with. But that is only a part of the issue. I would argue that it’s not even the biggest part. Or even the biggest part that conservatives should be blamed for.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        ” Conservatives were criticized for overlooking movies with conservative themes like Iron Man, and they were criticized for claiming Iron Man even though it wasn’t a conservative movie.”

        And don’t forget the third option: “Well of COURSE you’d like Iron Man, it’s all about a RICH BUSINESSMAN who saves the world by blowing up nonwhite people!”Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        And I’ll say what I said in response:

        The big difference is that liberals create art, consume are, judge art, discuss art, and move on to the next piece of art. Conservatives mostly don’t create art (though those that do are often amazing), hold art up to measure it against the daily notion of whatever conservative values are, declare it “Conservative” or “liberal,” then move on to the next piece of art. (Officially as a group, of course. Unofficially and as individuals, conservatives do the exact same things liberals do.)

        To use your example:

        Liberal: “Firefly was a really great TV show.”

        Conservative: “Firefly was a really great TV show because it was libertarian.”

        Those two statements actually say very, very different things.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        I’ll say here what I said there. Conservatives are criticized for failing to embrace the conservatism that exists in entertainment. But then, when they try to claim something (like, ahem, libertarians claiming Firefly) they are scoffed at.

        What conservatives _should_ be criticized for is having created this problem in the first place. 😉

        There is no such thing as conservative art, just like there’s no such thing as liberal art. Art has _themes_, it does not have types. (Well, it has types like ‘musical theatre’ or ‘painting’, but you know what I mean.)

        So when conservatives started nonsensically claiming there was no such thing as conservative art, they ended up in a weird middle ground where they can’t win in either direction.

        So Firefly is not conservative art because…there’s no such thing. Firefly does have some libertarian _themes_, although libertarians are probably focusing on those specific aspects more than other people. (Which is fine. That’s how art works.)

        A hell of a lot of modern drama have _very_ ‘conservative’ themes….and will also have some random gay character somewhere, and suddenly it’s ‘liberal’.

        Although a lot of the problem appears to be that conservatives appear to have forgotten what they themselves are supposed to care about. Perhaps conservatives need to sit down and actually list some conservative _themes_, and I’m sure we could easily find TV shows that include those themes.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        There are a dozen kinds of “conservative” and different ones are seen as more “authentic” depending on the topic. When the topic is Culture, it seems that “Social Conservative” (if not “Theocon”) are the truly authentic conservatives.

        A pro-military movie (something you’d think that the Hawks/Neocons would like) is seen as automatically fair game for everybody because everybody supports the troops, having a pro-military message is politically neutral.

        A movie about the evils of Prohibition? Automatically fair game for everybody.

        A movie about a woman getting preggers without benefit of clergy who decides to carry the baby to term? Automatically fair game for everybody.

        A movie about Jesus getting his ass kicked by the Romans? Conservative.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Tod, you don’t think conservatives say “Firefly was a really great TV show?” Of course they do. If you look really hard, you will find conservative media outlets doing this as well.

        And you will find liberal media outlets talking about the liberal themes that exist in liberal and not-particularly-liberal entertainment (Did you know that Harry Potter is anti-NCLB?).

        I agree that there is a problem that conservatives don’t make entertainment. That’s the big failure. But just because they harbor a significant part* of the responsibility of the bind they are in doesn’t mean that they are not in a bind.

        * – Not that we should pretend that’s all that’s going on.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @davidtc , +1. Totally awesome comment.

        It might be important here to consider not just the art (which I agree, is often art, and has themes that may be considered conservative or liberal or pagan or religious or vulgar. . . ), but there are artists.

        Being an artist means having mastered a set of skills that you use to create in your media, be it fiber (mine) or drama or music or painting or dance or whatever. In all fields there’s craft; which I’d define as competent use of the skills, and there’s art, which has some other element of question or exploration; stepping a bit beyond craft. Artist push against conventional wisdom, in some way, a trait that pushes against the very nature of conservatism, which is built on tradition.

        For this conversation, I’m not sure how much it matters to separate the creators (who, by nature, are rarely conservative) and the creations, which are thematic, and those themes are as often created by the consumers as the artists.

        But complaints that there is a lack of conservative art sound like they’re complaints that there’s a lack of conservative artists to me. And that bears examining; for if you want conservative artists, you have to embrace the push against tradition that art often evokes, and that’s a conflict that discomforts and provokes a response of standing by tradition; an anti-art response; an embrace craft but not art response.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        It’s not true that art is something that necessarily pushes against tradition and norms. If we think it is, that says a lot about a lot of things.

        In any event, a whole lot of “liberal” entertainment is really quite culture-affirming. It’s not hard to imagine “conservative” entertainment that isn’t.

        I totally agree with the notion that conservatives are not doing a good job of cultivating art and artists. I wrote a post about that a while back. Conservative institutions (such as educational institutions, for example) need to make this a priority. There’s more to the situation than that, but (a) that’s part of it and (b) that’s a part of it that conservatives have more control over.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @will-truman please don’t read that to mean that art always has to push against culture. More often, the push is on the artist’s own limits and voice; his or her ability to help others read meaning into the art created. Perhaps my choice of words is poor, but to be art, there’s some element of transformation and communication that pushes beyond mere craft, and it’s a part of creative process and a part of creative consumption, both.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @zic Thanks for the clarification.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        “I totally agree with the notion that conservatives are not doing a good job of cultivating art and artists.”

        Conservative cultivation = “It’s the Koch Brothers indocrinating our youth into the cult of racist money-worship!”

        Liberal cultivation = “We’re just making sure they have a solid intellectual foundation, free of bias and harmful outdated ideas about society”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        I totally think the Koch Brothers ought to be taking a lead on this.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman, like this?

        In July 2008, Koch pledged $100 million over 10 years to renovate the New York State Theater in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (now called the David H. Koch Theater),[32] and has pledged $10 million to renovate the outdoor fountains at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[33]
        Koch has been a trustee of the American Ballet Theater for 25 years[34] and has contributed more than $6 million to the theater.[35]

        Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_H._Koch#PhilanthropyReport

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @zic I was thinking of something a little less generally philanthropic and something more ideologically pointed. Start donating money to universities to start film departments, try to gear the film department towards certain kinds of projects. Offer scholarships to young, conservative artists. Like George Mason or Florida Gulf Coast University, except for art instead of economics.

        It’s a bit of a long game, but it would likely do more to advance their belief than a lot of the stuff they’re spending money on now.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Just an FYI, I don’t know this of the Koch Broths., but I do know this of many wealthy people; they buy art, and they spend big bucks on it. They buy season’s tickets to symphonies and dance companies, not just to sporting events. They fund the purchase of art for churches and temples. Corporations also purchase art; often they commission it. We have a few bronze sculptures that were retirement gifts to my father-in-law for serving on boards of companies.

        So there’s this funny double vision going on here; because most of the artists I know owe some measure of their success to people wealthy enough to spend money on art. Where this get’s muddled is with the correlation that conservative = wealthy; yet many of the patrons I know are, in fact, pretty economically conservative, Republican in the pre-Reagan sense of Republican.

        Google some photos of the Cheney residence; filled with art, some of it quite amazing.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @will-truman
        It’s not true that art is something that necessarily pushes against tradition and norms. If we think it is, that says a lot about a lot of things.

        It’s not that art pushes against tradition and norms. It’s that art is _something besides what is there on the page_.

        Art is when you present something that, like everything, has some meaning in itself. And then it has another meaning on top of that.

        Narrative arts – aka books, plays, motion pictures, video games, even some dance – tells a story. But a story is more than ‘events that happens’. It is a cohesive whole that attempts to impart something besides the actual events.

        Hell, if you just wanted the events, you could read a plot summary. Although I don’t know why you’d bother, considering the events didn’t really happen anyway! ‘I better read up for my ‘Fictional history’ exam!’

        Narrative art (and that’s really what we’re talking about here, when people claim that art has a liberal bias they usually don’t mean paintings.) is creating those events, and displaying them _in such a way as to convey meaning and themes_. (Or, as I said, _attempt to_ do that. Art can fail.)

        And, and this is the actual point, art must have two layers(1), a real and symbolic, and the real layer is almost always something understandable. (Otherwise you have to explain that, which gets in the way of the symbolic stuff. This can be done…see ‘speculative fiction’…but notice the amount of shorthand tropes we have in that to keep from having to explain things.)

        So, if the real layer is, well, real, it is the status quo. It is how things are. It is conservative. An easy contrast to that is to put a symbolic layer on it that has liberal things. Show the status quo, and then show how that has _failed_.

        It’s not that art that is always pushing against traditions and norms, it is that art is often showing the actual real world, and trying to get across the message there are problems with it. That is probably the premise of 50% of all art currently made.

        And believing that problems actually exist and need fixing has somehow become a liberal concept.

        1) Technically, there are three layers. There’s the fact people are standing on a stage wearing costumes and pretending to be other layers, there’s the situation they’re trying to convey, and there’s a _meaning_ beyond that. Which is why suspension of disbelief is important…if the viewer can’t get past the ‘all this is pretend’, there’s no way in hell he’s getting to the symbolic stuff.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        And believing that problems actually exist and need fixing has somehow become a liberal concept.

        That’s a pretty odd – and transparently wrong – statement. Conservatives believe that there are lots and lots of problems with the world.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        So, if the real layer is, well, real, it is the status quo. It is how things are. It is conservative. An easy contrast to that is to put a symbolic layer on it that has liberal things. Show the status quo, and then show how that has _failed_.

        So if we’re critiquing, say, the prevalence of abortion in the post-Roe U.S., then the status quo prevalence of abortion is the conservative reality, and the pro-life symbolic critique is the liberal position?Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @will-truman
        Conservatives believe that there are lots and lots of problems with the world.

        The important part of the sentence was ‘needs fixing’, but that’s actually a bit unclear. ‘Believe a problem can and should be fixed by intervening in it’ might be a better term.

        @jm3z-aitch
        So if we’re critiquing, say, the prevalence of abortion in the post-Roe U.S., then the status quo prevalence of abortion is the conservative reality, and the pro-life symbolic critique is the liberal position?

        Leaving things how they are is, indeed, conservative. It’s not my problem if conservatives have actually become regressive on an issue, wishing to change things. Take it up with conservatives, or just recognize that words have different meanings in different contexts.

        The opposite position is not liberal, but that’s because liberal does not mean ‘any change whatsoever’. (Whereas conservative does mean ‘no change’ or ‘very little or slow change’.) Liberally actually have a pretty specific direction of change. So I was probably misusing the word there. _Most_ of the change that art here wishes to use thematically would be changes that liberals would support, but not all.

        I mean, Nazi propaganda was art that thematically asserted there should be changes the world, but that doesn’t mean the changes they wanted were ‘liberal’.

        But here in _this country_, right now, the deficiencies in the status quo that are most exposed in art are deficiencies the left tries to do something about.

        Because, and boy is this claim going to get some blowback, a lot of the deficiencies of the right are _imaginary_. Jesus Christ, on of those articles links above talked about art criticizing high government debt. Yeah, that’s a reasonable thing to make art about. I’m sure everyone will connect to those spreadsheets on an emotional level. It could be the next RENT!Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        And believing that problems actually exist and need fixing has somehow become a liberal concept.

        That’s a pretty odd – and transparently wrong – statement. Conservatives believe that there are lots and lots of problems with the world that need fixing and should be fixed by intervention.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        David,

        Are you using conservative in the sane way ND is, or have you subtly shifted the meaning?Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        @jm3z-aitch
        Are you using conservative in the sane way ND is, or have you subtly shifted the meaning?

        Okay, I’m not doing this weird game where I’ve already explained myself and we quibble over words.

        It should be clear I was speaking generalities, that art _usually_ starts with what is currently true, which is _usually_ conservative. And then it comes up with problems and criticism of that, and often those problems are the exact ones that liberals point out.

        So art has minor inherent bias towards ‘Not as things are’, which often matches the same direction as liberalism, whereas conservationism has a quite clearly stated bias towards ‘As things are’.

        That is all I am saying. I am not in any way saying that art cannot work the other way. It can. In fact, art can even look backwards and criticize modern society while suggesting the solutions are in the past.

        I’m not even saying this bias is actually that important, because art usually has a variety of themes at once.

        I’m just explaining why art often superficially looks like it’s making a liberal critique of society. It’s not. It’s just making a critique of society as it currently is.

        However, as I’ve said in other places here, I can’t possibly be using the word ‘conservative’ in the same way that people talking about the lack of ‘conservative arts’ are using it, because those people literally have no idea what _they_ mean by ‘conservative’ there. Poor Will Truman has been reduced to pointing out, correctly, that even liberals don’t know what that means. Yeah. No one does. No one is even vaguely sure why ‘How I Met Your Mother’ isn’t full of conservative themes. Or why ‘Person of Interest’ doesn’t have a conservative worldview.

        ‘Does fleebernorf, which we can’t explain, exist, or not, and if not, why not, and if so, why, and how come no one can figure anything out about fleebernorf?’ I feel like stamping a big ‘Words: You are doing it wrong’ caption on this entire conversation.

        For the love of God, will some conservative please sit down and actually come up with a conservative theme that you would like to see represented in a TV show. Come up with what a conservative worldview would look like.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        this weird thing where we quibble over words.

        “Quibbling” over words is important, because if we mean different things with the same word, then we’re not actually communicating. So you say you’re not using it the way people who complain about a lack of conservative themes do because they “literally” don’t know what they mean.

        I think you’re wrong about that (are you a conservative? should I trust what a non-conservative says about conservstives’ understanding ofvtheir views?), but more importantly, I think ND does know what he means by conservative. So in trying to parse your response to him, I need to know if you’re using the jey term the same way before I can discern whether you’re really addressing his argument or a subtly different one.

        I’m sorry that bothers you, but I think it’s a crucial point.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        David, I think we’re using the words too differently here to have much of a conversation.

        For the record, though….

        There is an argument to be made that, if Person of Interest is a liberal or conservative show, it’s closer to the latter than the former. A liberal could make a case that it’s the other way, though, and I couldn’t argue.

        While I could make an argument for Person of Interest as a primarily conservative show, it would be harder for How I Met Your Mother. I couldn’t make the argument that it’s liberal, though, either.

        I don’t have to imagine a conservative show. I could name a couple that I consider to be conservative or leaning in that direction. A couple more that could easily be conservative if they didn’t make the effort not to be. But, again, you really aren’t using the words as I use them. We seemed doomed to talk past one another on this subject.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @jm3z-aitch
        Quibbling” over words is important, because if we mean different things with the same word, then we’re not actually communicating.

        Except you’re trying to quibble over an unrelated use of the word ‘conservative’ which has very little bearing to any of the conversation, and, as I pointed out, is a word with different meaning in different contexts. I believe I have explained my use of the word in the context I used it, namely, to mean ‘The status quo’.

        If you do not like that word there and feel it is not correct, you should feel free to replace that with another word with the same meaning. I’m not going to dragged into a stupid discussion about an explanation about how narrative art often has themes about the status quo being incorrect, unless you actually wish to discuss _that_ idea instead of my word choice.

        Meanwhile, again, saying ‘conservative means status quo’ is _clearly_ not using conservative in the same context as this article is, because this article is talking about in the political context. There is no actual way to be confused by that, especially as I _at the same time_ explained that the way the article is using it is meaningless!

        Of course, there _is_ such a thing as ‘conservative art’ in other meanings of the word conservative. For example, an oil painting is a conservative choice of art medium, well understood and represented in art, whereas something like a painting in colored superglue would be rather experimental and require a lot of trial and error to come up with workable techniques. Or you can talk about ‘conservative art’ choices would be ones that make money, like action movies, whereas other choices are more risky.

        It just makes no sense to say ‘specific-political-philosophy art’.

        So you say you’re not using it the way people who complain about a lack of conservative themes do because they “literally” don’t know what they mean.

        Literally does not belong in quotes. There is an entire conversation here about the lack of something that absolutely no one can define a damn example of. It’s complete nonsense.

        ‘Does anyone find it strange there’s almost no narcoleptic art out there, but there’s plenty of mimsy art?’

        Words are not just letter strung together in the correct order. Words and phrases must refer to explicable concepts. Especially if your premise is that it is _missing_.

        If someone can’t give an example of what ‘conservative art’ would look like, or what attributes it would have, how the hell would anyone know if they found it?

        Of course, Will Truman has a perfectly valid point about how this works in practice, but, again, I’m not one of these hypothetical liberals denying Firefly is libertarian art. (It’s not, but that’s because there’s no such thing as specific-political-philosophy art.)

        So, there, we’ve got some libertarian themes actually showing up on TV. ‘A government that seems to fairly democratic, but yet is unfair. A war against people who just want to be left along. Government secrecy to extremes. Legalized prostitution. Wild-west style freedom. People fighting against the government’. Libertarian themes, those are indeed them, right there. The libertarian themes cannot be more obvious.(1)

        Now, how about those _conservative_ themes we’re not seeing? Anyone come up with one of those yet?

        I think you’re wrong about that (are you a conservative? should I trust what a non-conservative says about conservstives’ understanding ofvtheir views?), but more importantly, I think ND does know what he means by conservative. So in trying to parse your response to him, I need to know if you’re using the jey term the same way before I can discern whether you’re really addressing his argument or a subtly different one.

        I’m _not_ a conservative, and I was trying very hard to keep from having to define what conservative themes would look like.

        Sadly, literally, and yes I mean literally, no conservative will step forward and define what they see as missing from TV shows. So I eventually had to suggest a few.

        Conservatives have, so far, failed to either confirm nor deny them, which I suspect means they recognize them as conservative themes, but also recognize they appear on TV all the damn time.

        1) Ayn Rand has proven me wrong. Apparently, you can make libertarian themes so obvious that the reader starts bleeding libertarian themes from the ears.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @will-truman
        There is an argument to be made that, if Person of Interest is a liberal or conservative show, it’s closer to the latter than the former. A liberal could make a case that it’s the other way, though, and I couldn’t argue.

        That’s because the entire premise is flawed. Shows cannot be X. Shows can merely exhibit X themes. They will also exhibit other themes, because no one can write any sort of story with a single theme.

        And people can identify themes they agree with much more than themes they don’t. They’ll say ‘Oh, that show agrees with me’, whereas other people will just ‘That is just the universe of that show’. As I said, I look at Firefly and can identify plenty of liberal themes.

        Art means different things to different people. And any sufficiently complex TV show is going to produce themes that are, at times, in conflict with each other.

        While I could make an argument for Person of Interest as a primarily conservative show, it would be harder for How I Met Your Mother. I couldn’t make the argument that it’s liberal, though, either.

        How I Met Your Mother is quite possibly the most pro-marriage and pro-family show on television today. In a world with a reasonable conservative party, it would be held up as some sort of moral paradigm of family values. I am not in any way kidding about that.

        This would require a conservative party that wasn’t about 50 years out of date, though, and didn’t freak out because, gasp, thirty-year olds are having sex before they are married. (Like, oh, approximately 95% of the population.)

        I don’t have to imagine a conservative show. I could name a couple that I consider to be conservative or leaning in that direction. A couple more that could easily be conservative if they didn’t make the effort not to be. But, again, you really aren’t using the words as I use them. We seemed doomed to talk past one another on this subject.

        Well, yeah, as long as you keep talking about ‘conservative shows’. 😉 Cause there ain’t any such thing as ‘specific-political-position TV shows’.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        David, the problem here is that you’re trying to dictate the conversation with the words that you think it’s strange that we’re quibbling over. I told you what I mean by “conservative entertainment” and you flat-out disregarded it (to return to the notion that it doesn’t exist, when by my definition it does). Which would be fine, if you actually engaged me on the merits of the conversation. But you really haven’t, which is why I am reluctant to engage with you by talking about what shows I would consider to be conservative entertainment. Which, since you don’t believe that conservative entertainment (or liberal entertainment) exists, makes me wonder why you’re even participating in this conversation to begin with.

        Along those lines, I would be happy to discuss How I Met Your Mother or any other show with you, as far as liberal and conservative merits go. But we’re speaking a different language and don’t always communicate well when we’re speaking the same one.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        David, the problem here is that you’re trying to dictate the conversation with the words that you think it’s strange that we’re quibbling over

        This.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        To clarify, the word I said I’m not going to quibble over was the word conservative in this sentence, and _ONLY_ this sentence ‘So, if the real layer is, well, real, it is the status quo. It is how things are. It is conservative.’. That’s it. That one _very very specific_ sentence. That’s the totality of things I will not discussion, because I explained it right there, and attempting to discuss what I mean by conservative in the context of ‘status quo’ in discussion where people are using conservative in the political sense would completely confuse the hell out of everyone. (Not that this concept actually needs discussion, it’s a fairly traditional use of the word ‘conservative’, but whatever.)

        Which is _exactly_ what happened. Hey, look, I’m psychic!

        Sometimes I wish people would believe me what I say ‘That word is not actually important. If you have an issue with it, please imagine I said some other word there. Did you grasp the concept I was trying to convey, or should I explain it again differently? Either way, I will not stand here and justify my word selection there because I can’t imagine a more pointless discussion to waste everyone’s time.’ (And this specific time, it was confusing on top of that!)

        My use of the word ‘conservative’ in the political sense is exactly how everyone else uses it, and has nothing to do with the fact I assert ‘specific-political-philosophy art’ does not exist.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman
        Which, since you don’t believe that conservative entertainment (or liberal entertainment) exists, makes me wonder why you’re even participating in this conversation to begin with.

        I don’t understand why you would be wondering about that.

        The article’s claim: There are specific-political-philosophy art, and conservative and libertarian art is not anywhere near as numerous as liberal art.

        My claim: Conservatives have picked a non-existent battlefield to fight on. Art, instead being ‘about’ something in that sense, has numerous themes at once, some of which align up with specific political philosophies. And art often has contradictory themes in the same piece.

        And a further claim of mine is that conservative-aligned themes are actually doing fairly well. They’re doing better than many liberal themes. Just check out how many TV shows there are about, I dunno, unemployed or min-wage people that actually tackle money issues. 2 Broke Girls, maybe? (Libertarian themes, although I didn’t say, are not that prominent, but they’re probably _proportional_ to libertarian thought in the general population.)

        Now, I could be wrong, about either how art works (Pretty certain I’m not, but who knows.) or how well conservative themes are represented (And that theory would be a lot easier to talk about if a conservative would actually state some conservative themes.), but it’s a perfectly reasonable _claim_, and I fail to see how this isn’t the right place to discuss it.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Well, David, if it makes a difference, I have wondered at various points why I have been participating in this conversation (not with you specifically, but more generally). I think everyone comes into it with such different baselines that progress is very rarely made.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman

        Yeah, I’m starting to agree with you. I think when I start trying to explain how art works I gone so far down the rabbit-hole that at this point, the conversation would be better just starting the entire thing over.

        Anyway, let us leave this conversation with me agreeing with you that it is entirely idiotic that some liberals don’t think Firefly is libertarian art. It ‘is’, or at least it’s a libertarian setting with libertarian themes in it.

        Or, for another qualifier, it’s a universe where libertarianism appears, at first glance, to be a more obviously correct political philosophy than in the actual universe. (Which is sorta what I think you mean by ‘advancing a worldview’.)

        The thing is…that’s almost an incidental side result of art. Joss Whedon didn’t set out to make that universe, anymore than Gillian’s Isle set out to make a universe where the obviously correct thing to do is eat Gillian, or Star Trek a universe where the obviously correct solution is to fire all the engineers and put Wesley Crusher in charge of everything because he can fix anything in two seconds.

        Fictional universes often end up with all sort of weird cruft and unintended ‘truths’.

        And now I’m thinking about Murphy Brown, and the outrage towards her, and the bafflement the left felt over that, wondering if the right actually did understand she was a fictional character.

        Of course they did, but I’m starting to wonder if there’s some sort of different levels going on here. The right often appears to take issue with _the fictional universe itself_. Or, in the case of Firefly, love it.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Tod Kelly
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      says:

      Thanks!! I always get nervous about reaction to my posts.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Tod Kelly
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s worth remembering that up until recently, *all* art was the result of rich people paying for it. The notion of a professional artist supported by a mass audience rather than a single patron is a modern one. (Some rich people produced their own art, but that’s just a special case of “art bought by a rich person”.)Report

  12. Avatar Jim Heffman
    Ignored
    says:

    “elite”, in America, means “anyone who doesn’t have to be drunk in public to get on TV”.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jim Heffman
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      says:

      Good Lord, are we really declaring the Kardashians elite?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        Only if we now define ‘elite’ as a measure of cultural overexposure. We used to call that ‘pop,’ shorthand for ‘popular’ as in pop music, pop art, pop movies, pop stars.

        Fame does seem to be an important coin of the realm, however. And in every realm, there’s some correlation between having coins and being considered elite.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        James said above that we have many elites and this is true.

        I feel like Kardashians are one set of our famous elite.

        They really are not anything new. The Kardashians are famous for being famous and a somewhat more debauched and decadent version of the old socialite class. There were plenty of stories about young rich people being decadent many decades before reality TV. People used to read about this kind of stuff (but with more innuendo) in gossip columns and society pages for the cleaner stuff.

        They have money, media exposure, and can brand themselves to sell products and turn their name into a trademark or something close to a trademark. If that is not elite, I don’t know what is.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        Fun fact of the day, the High School prom started as an attempt to create a version of the debutant’s ball for the masses.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        I never went to prom, so I guess I rank below the masses even. Thanks a lot, Lee (where’s my prozac?).Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        Actually, based on NewDealer’s comment, I’ll amend that: “The American ‘elite’ is anyone who can get on TV without being drunk or selling something”.

        Note that a singer doing a guest appearance is indeed selling something, as is an actor doing an interview.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        I didn’t go to the prom either. When I was in my early twenties, I developed this weird sort of fascination with the high society of Gilded Age America for some reason. I also wondered about the cultrual origins of some of the stranger aspects of American high school and teenage life. I developed this theory that the prom was created to be a debutante ball for the masses. The average age of the participants, seventeen or eighteen, was about the same and parents pooling their resources to create a public coming out ball for their teenage daughters made sort of sense.

        A couple of months ago, the NYT Magazine had a special “Who Made That” issue, where they discussed the origins of everyday things, events, expression, and institutions. One of the things that they discussed was the prom and it turns out I was right. Proms were literally created to be a debutante ball for non-elite teenage girls. The word prom is short for promenade and refered to the opening ceremony of a debutante ball, the promenade.

        I was just happy that a theory of mine turned out to be accidentally accurate.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        Me too, James. Both of my kids did, which proves that I have given them a better life than I had. (The fact that I married a beautiful woman and they both look like her is irrelevant. It’s all my doing.)

        @leeesq

        Does that make you a fellow Edith Wharton fan?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly
        Ignored
        says:

        They act that way sober?Report

  13. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    Zic,

    There is a long and tricky relationship between art and commerce with many lines crossed.Report

  14. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    @mike-schilling

    Good point about Friday Night Lights. If conservatives demanded that outing and destruction of both the lesbian mayor and the girl having pre-marital sex, it would be very theo-con.

    Sadly I suspect that many conservatives would just consider it another liberal show instead of focusing on the heartland and humanist elements.Report

  15. Avatar Pierre Corneille
    Ignored
    says:

    NewDealer,

    Good post. I was prepared to get all huffy, as I usually do when “conservatives” vs. “elites” vs. “culture” comes up, but I appreciate your thoughtful investigation into the matter.

    For my two cents, I think the cultural institutions you discuss in the OP and at certain places in the comments (e..g, BAM, MOMA, etc.) are conveniently whipping posts for a lost of movement conservatives when they want to rile up their base. However, I suspect that conservatives, and a large number of liberals and left-liberals, simply ignore or are ignorant of those institutions. I know I do/am, for the most part.

    I will also say that my view of the matter pretty much aligns with Will Truman’s views as expressed in this thread and other posts/threads he’s been involved in.Report

  16. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    @mike-schilling

    I’m a fan of Edith Wharton. The Age of Innocence is one of my favorite novelsReport

  17. Avatar Kim
    Ignored
    says:

    Pish Posh, tish tosh.
    There’s plenty of conservative art.
    Wasn’t Erik talking about a video game written by monks?
    Hell, Thief qualifies as conservative art.

    Conservative themes aren’t always well represented in art,
    but that’s because they’re boring or upset artistsReport

  18. Avatar Brandon Berg
    Ignored
    says:

    My advice to those seeking libertarian and conservative voices in theatre is to form their own companies, produce their own plays and send out invitations to producers, casting directors, literary directors, etc.

    Excellent advice, and essentially the same as my advice to those who object to the way corporations do business.Report

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