Pop culture is important, too important for conservatives to neglect or dismiss as many often do. Since the popular culture is seldom on our side, it’s easy to simply label it as frivolous and decide that it’s not worth engaging with. That’s a huge mistake because pop culture is a powerful idea factory, and since much of it consists of fiction, the ideas don’t have to make real sense. They just have to make people feel like they make sense, which is how bad government is always sold.
Those ideas seep into our brains even if we don’t realize it. The most important reason then for staying engaged in the pop culture is that in the wrong hands, pop culture can make people stupid, and as Herman Cain once rightly said, “Stupid people are ruining America.”
I think the current state of American politics, i.e. a humongous diaper-filled dumpster fire, may have a lot to do with the influence of pop culture. It’s not simply because the entertainment industry has a pronounced leftward tilt, though that certainly is a factor. Much of the problem is that in entertainment, stories are seldom as complex as real life. The actions and motives of fictional characters are almost always over simplified and often exaggerated, but that’s fine because it’s just entertainment, right? Yes and no.
The problem arises when people start to conflate real life and fiction. With regard to politics, that’s a far easier trap to fall into today. Politics is entertainment now. It’s both a sporting event and a soap opera for people. We’re divided into competing cheering sections
Politics is reality TV. That is so true that we even elected a reality television character as President.
Politics is also drama. We watch 24 hour coverage of political news (when a few hours a day used to suffice) while also consuming shows like House of Cards, The West Wing, Designated Survivor, Madame Secretary and others like them. There is no shortage of politically themed—not to mention motivated—motion pictures either.
A common if sometimes subtle thread that runs through all of them is that conservatives or Republicans are always villains, or at best misguided comedic foils. It’s a cliché and a caricature that appears even in non-political shows. Is it any wonder these stereotypes pervade the thinking of so many people who otherwise have little interest in politics? Propaganda works. It works even better with car chases, a live studio audience, or even a laugh track.
Can you look at today’s political news and say that the influence of pop culture isn’t at work? I’ve probably seen or heard hundreds of remarks about how Donald Trump only ran for President in order to get rich(er). I’ve been critical of some apparent conflicts of interest myself but the idea of seeking the Presidency for the purposes of gaining wealth would be an idiotic business model. (The same type of things were said about Bush 43 and Cheney. If money were their focus, they never would have gone back into politics.) It’s the sort of scheme that could only appear reasonable in a cartoonish television show.
The hysteria over the firing of FBI Director Comey is another example. People are saying that Trump fired Comey because he was getting too close to the truth about…something. They can’t say exactly what that something is, but it involves the Russians and is, of course, evil. It is a theory born from melodrama though.
Movies and television shows about government intrigue must use composite characters because a realistic depiction of federal bureaucracy would be impossible to fit into 48 minutes. Even if it were possible it would be so mind numbingly boring that no one would watch it. This means that in a television drama, firing Jim Comey could be a major chess move that would take the investigations off the board along with Comey.
That’s not how things work in the real world. Comey wasn’t investigating anything. A team of career FBI agents was and is still doing that. There is no real world scenario where simply firing Comey would substantially benefit Trump if the investigations were getting too close to exposing some hypothetical wrong doing.
I think a lot of leaders in Washington realize this is true but play it to their advantage. Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer wield the “stupidity of the American voter” like a weapon just as easily and cynically as Barack Obama and Jonathan Gruber did to sell Obamacare. Others—like Maxine Waters—I think actually believe the nonsense they peddle. Either way, strategies that require the public to analyze situations critically are no match for inculcated intellectual bigotry and a good cliché.
Conservatives, disengage from pop culture at your peril.
Younger conservatives should be looking at it as a career path rather than trying to become the next big Fox News pundit. We don’t need to produce movies or a series about crusading Republicans fighting for free enterprise and the common man. All we need is a little influence that might make that one conservative character into something more than an ignorant oaf. We can build on that.