11.03.2003

MEDIA - Nobody Wins The Culture War

Brian Anderson's column We're Not Losing The Culture Wars Anymore declares:

"The Left's near monopoly over the institutions of opinion and information which long allowed liberal opinion makers to sweep aside ideas and beliefs they disagreed with, as if they were beneath argument is skidding to a startlingly swift halt."


Anderson doesn't attempt to prove that the Left (or Right or Middle) is part of a monopoly of opinion and information. Anderson simply states that the existence of Fox News, the NRO laughable Krugman watch, Dennis Miller, and South Park indicate that the end of Liberal Media snobbery is now over, forever, until the end of time itself. Excuse me while I go laugh myself sick...

Partisan pundits often attempt to place mainstream personalities into categories that serve the needs of the pundit, not the public. South Park is a good example of a show that has been picked apart by its fans (and critics), and has been adopted by both Conservatives and Liberals as a portal to impressionable youth. I would argue that South Park only has one main agenda, to be a type of bully pulpit for Matt and Trey's humor and libertarian ideology. Conservatives and Liberals might agree with some of the libertarian ethics that manifest themselves into statements on gun control or religion, but pundits from both extremes should hesitate before declaring that South Park pushes any legitimate agenda in the US two party political system.

When South Park first premiered in 1997 (the same year it received a GLAAD media award), it inspired most Conservatives and Liberal pundits to come together and agree that the show shouldn't be on television. Conservative media watcher, L. Brent Bozell III , said

There's simply no way that the executives at Comedy Central can deny they are polluting the minds of youngsters with this filth. It is what television has come to. It is what television was bound to come to because adults have sanctioned it through indifference. There is not one of us who escapes responsibility for this tragedy. It's going to get worse still.


Another Viewpoint adds:

Responsibility is not part of the program. An uncle gives free reign to the boys by handing them three things they are not supposed to have -- alcohol, automatic weapons, and cigarettes. This is probably used to promote the ultra-leftist "responsibility by government control" because they want to tell, "Parents can't do it, let the government do it." Now what real life parent would do such to their children?


So why is Brian Anderson so willing to look past South Park's stance on issues like abortion, drugs, religion, and homosexuality only to latch onto Cartman's anti-hippie, anti-rain forest stance? Well, Aunt Tom hits the nail with the hammer here with his term "South Park Republican". Young conservatives enjoy the show as much as young liberals. But youth, as a whole, is gullible and impressionable. Conservative pundits can throw around a term like "South Park Republican" and hope that young voters who identify with the libertarian philosophies of the show will think of themselves as Republicans. (It's a bit like political ambulance chasing.)

To put this in South Park terms, Anderson (and other conservative pundits) are acting like Cartman in a recent episode about Christian rock music. Cartman believed that he could exploit a certain niche market and service his own agenda.

Cartman: "This weekend is Christfest, the single largest gathering of Christians in the Midwest. Each one of them is a walking, praying wallet full of cash and I'll be there selling my album."

Stan: "Yeah, you don't even know anything about Christianity."


Cartman: "I know enough to exploit it."


(Cartman then ends the episode with the new Conservative party slogan: "Oh, Fuck Jesus. I'll say it again. Fuck Jesus." but I honestly prefer the old Conservative party slogan from the South Park movie: "God? He is the biggest bitch of them all.")


Pundits like Brian Anderson are similar to Cartman when they couple South Park with the a specific political ideology. They hope that any fans who might be Independent will read the article and say, "Well if South Park is pro-conservative, I must be too if I like it so much." I usually get upset when I read articles like Anderson's, but I can only smile at the strange bedfellows that he has chosen for the "right" agenda.


Anderson offers South Park as evidence that the youth of America are "trending" right, and then includes shows like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. Yes, he listed Six Feet Under as a show that would "make Karl Rove happy". I'm sure he and President Bush had many discussions whether Brenda or Lisa was the biggest bitch or whether David has chosen the right homosexual life partner. I'd be interested in knowing if Karl Rove has even seen the show, much less made him happy.

Anderson also throws in pro-choice, anti-drug war, pro gay marriage Dennis Miller on this list. Dennis Miller is a sign that the Left's monopoly on information has come to an end? (Does Dennis own hotels on Park Place in addition to all of the rail roads and utilities?) Dennis Miller has pissed off his longtime fans who enjoyed his scathing political commentary for nearly twenty years. He makes a shift to the right, lost his show on HBO due to extremely low ratings and an annoyed fanbase, and then shows up on Monday Night Football. Even though the MNF audience "trends" slightly to the right, and is predominately males between the ages of 18-60, Dennis Miller couldn't even make a connection with this audience and was eventually fired.

Dennis Miller razzled and dazzled conservatives with his remark that Howard Dean wears the tattoo of Neville Chamberlain on his forearm. How many "South Park Republicans" out there know who Neville Chamberlain is? How many conservative university professors know who Neville Chamberlain is? Hell, how many outside of Dennis Miller's reading circle know who Neville Chamberlain is? Sports fans couldn't care less about reading the ESPN Dennis Miller MNF web companion that explained all of his remarks, and I doubt that Fox News fans will either. Miller might identify himself as conservative, but if you listen closely he says "conservative Libertarian". There is a difference.

Brian Anderson should realize that there are no winning sides in the contemporary American culture war. One pundit can point to South Park, another points to the Daily Show. Some pundits may point out media surveys that indicate Fox News has more viewers, other pundits may point out surveys that indicate that Fox News viewers are more likely to be misinformed than viewers of other news shows. These arguments/observations are worthless in the context of a "culture war" because mainstream American ideologies are a little bipolar. In fact, they are a lot bipolar. Didn't America finally swing to the Left once-and-for-all in the 70's? Didn't America finally swing back to the right once-and-for-all in the 80's? Didn't America finally swing back to the left right once-and-for-all in the 90s? Am I to believe that America is finally swinging back to the right once-and-for-all in this decade?

Americans are much more reactionary than revolutionary. This is a function of youthful rebellion, youthful reactionism to the trends set by previous generations. If this country is truly "trending" to the right, I don't think that it is necessarily indicative of the American public fully embracing the conservative platform. I think that it shows the American public reacting to the perceived "liberal" media by switching channels to something different. When the American public perceives an overt "conservative" slant to the news, then they will react by changing channels again. It has happened in the past during the ratings battle between networks like CBS and NBC in the 70s and 80s, and it will continue to happen in the future.

Any pundit who wants to point to a specific piece of media, whether a television show or website, and declare that its success defines America's ideology needs to pull their head out of their ass. The West Wing hasn't turned America into a haven of liberalism. South Park isn't turning America's youth into a group of thoughtful Republicans. Murder She Wrote isn't going to turn our country into a bunch of little old women who solve crimes. And Dennis Miller? He didn't turn America into a liberal think tank in the 20th Century, and he won't turn America into a conservative think tank in the 21st Century.




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