Saturday, December 13, 2008

Culture, Conservatism, and Christianity

"Our goal is to provide the most interesting perspectives on life
in America as our nation, and the culturally conservative in
, find themselves in a time of rapid change
and uncertainty." — Culture11 Editors

"I continue to hear — from politicians and their constituents — that
Republicans must start connecting with voters on a cultural level or
they are screwed." — C11 editor Ericka Andersen, "The Cultural Connection"

" ... And reality has a well-known liberal bias." — Stephen Colbert

Right — Left ...
Red State — Blue State ...
FOX News Channel — MSNBC ...
Conservatism — Progressivism ...

America's bipolar disorder.   [video*]

Culture11 (Beta) is web site that began a few months ago with a goal to connect conservatism, as it exists in 2008 onwards, with culture. With a collection of blogs, administered by the "C11" editors, such as The Confabulum and Postmodern Conservative, one might expect something interesting or novel. I have yet to see something that would go against the grain of what progressives (I include myself) think conservatives think about our modern culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

There are lots of references to Culture, Conservatism, and (of course) Christianity**, but reading the site one is left with the question:

    Is Conservatism the turd in the middle of that punch bowl?

Reading “The Cultural Connection” article, for example, it is baffling what conservatives could mean by the word “culture”. Typically when you think of culture, and Western culture in particular, you think of the artistic, literary, architectural, and (now) scientific and technological transformations (some radical) that come with each age of history. For this century, who knows what cultural inventions will be established as iconic for future generations. For the last century, one could point to movies (or, more stuffily, cinema) as one of its cultural gifts. (I only choose this one example from a huge list. For another example, today there are courses in universities covering the subject of Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity.)

Timothy Egan’s NYT op-ed The Party of Yesterday pretty much nails it (and this was written before the 2008 election) when he points out that the top “brainiest” cities listed by the Census Bureau in 2006 are moving to the Democratic Party. Look what happened, even, in red Nebraska, with Omaha (#22 on the list) giving the Democrats a Nebraska elector.

Now this is not to say that all cultural invention comes from people having Bachelors degrees or better — Of course many artists and inventors don’t have that! — but it is telling, and also asking the question:

When conservatives talk about connecting to modern “culture”, why are they really just talking about disconnecting from it?

How primarily evangelical-based Republicans use the word "cultural" interchangeably with "social" or "traditional" is another confusion, as evidenced by statements like Republicans must start connecting with voters on a cultural level. (What does that mean? Having neighborhood Bach parties?) Transparent code words, like when Anuzis (the Michigan Republican Party Chairman referred to in "The Cultural Connection") says on his web site, in the usual fear-mongering fashion, "President Obama [will appoint] judges who will turn their back on our constitution and substitute the values of Hollywood. "Hollywood", which has left us the art of cinema from the twentieth century and continues to do so in this one, trashed. (Ironically, most non-Hollywood "indie" films are even more progressive and radical than their well-monied "competitors"!)

It would seem, based on the articles at Culture11, that a conservative connecting to (modern) culture is like the Wicked Witch of Oz connecting to water.


Today: Even yesterday, editor James Poulos writes

"... in the spirit of being aghast at the stoopid and tasteless. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, one thing that transcends our political and cultural polarization, it’s that the nativity cannot be updated."

Yeah, everyone knows those artists from the Renaissance painted exactly how it looked in ~0 CE. (They were the Jackson Pollock — the Andy Warhol even — of their day.) It never stops!

2008/12/16: Someone commented [on The Confabulum] about conservative connections to modern culture including tractor pulls, and I suppose as corollaries, monster truck events and, of course, NASCAR. Certainly Christian cultural icons including megachurch moguls Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Ted Haggard (oops), Benny Hinn, etc. can be included.

I think this is a good point. These indeed are a part of today’s culture. But I wonder what an artist like Andy Warhol, if he were here today, would make of them.
"Geeze, could you BE any more condescending? If you’re going to brand every conservative a NASCAR & Monster Truck fan, I’ll just go ahead and assume you’re a cross-dressing, devil-worshipping, bi-sexual prostitute. Cause you’re a liberal, right?

"When I talk about preserving the great tradition of Western/Judeo-Christian culture, I’m thinking more along the lines of Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Beethoven, etc… Monster trucks and NASCAR aren’t my thing, though I’m perfectly happy to let others indulge. Live and let live, right? As for Andy Warhol, I couldn’t care less what he would make of any of the above."

Perfect! (especially the last sentence)

It makes my point perfectly. Thanks!

BTW, of course I wasn't "putting down" Monster Trucks and NASCAR. (And remember too my comment on the other side about Rap music — not considered "high-brow" but a definite cultural contribution.)

Quite the opposite. If you had read what I wrote, I was just looking for something to hang my hat as being "conservative" contributions to 21st century culture. Just preserving past cultures doesn't do it — The Beatles did that giving their due to Bach and Beethoven, but they created new things.

also BTW: Michelangelo was gay. From his poem to Cecchino:

... and here my bones,
bereft of handsome eyes, and jaunty air,
Still loyal are to him I joyed in bed,
Whom I embraced, in whom my soul now lives.

I don't know if he was a "cross-dresser" though. How terrible that would have been.
... that art is no longer about glorifying the creator or seeking truth and beauty… it’s all about shock value, making a statement, and deconstructing all the forms and institutions that once undergirded our lives and gave them meaning.

I’m sorry about that.

(And what’s wrong with my undergirdles anyway?)

Culture11 is a work in progress. I am biased but I think it is a very good work in progress.

The thing about being “in progress,” however, is that it means there is still plenty of work to be done. [...] Culture11 wants to be a cultural catalyst pushing the ideas, concerns and creativity of Main Street Americans onto the world’s center stage. We believe that the role for conservatives in this culture isn’t just to critique, it is to proactively move culture. — David Kuo CEO,

As evidenced by the article itself and comments to Academia Abuses of 2008 as a typical example of many others, Culture11's goal really seems to be, not to how to connect with modern culture, but how to disconnect from it.

There is still no rational presentation for specifically how conservatism is actually contributing to 21st century culture rather than just bad-mouthing it. Someone there mentioned tractor pulling, maybe as joke, maybe not. But it is true: tractor pulling, monster truck events, and especially NASCAR are a part of today's culture, and one might think of them as conservative contributions. But I was looking for something else one could hang one's hat on — it is yet to be seen. So plenty of work to be done? You betcha.

* needs updating, post 2008

** No need to waste time here on the two "versions" of the New Testament's first four books: one as presented by conservatives, the other by progressives. Progressives, when they also throw in the Gospel of Thomas, seem to ruffle conservatives' feathers. Culture, you know.