Category Archives: Culture

Gene Wolfe is a conservative

I suppose there were elements of The Book of the New Sun that could plausibly be described as conservative, but I never really considered the man’s politics. Here’s an interesting podcast interview with Wolfe from National Review.


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Filed under Conservatism, Culture, Science Fiction

Highbrow vs. Lowbrow

Sonny Bunch had a smart comment on the latest Culture11 postmortem:

Yeah, but this is a problem with the culture writ large, not just in conservative spheres. Example: In my day job, I’m a film critic at the Washington Times, and my boss just came over and talked about the DVD reviews that generate web traffic (workout DVDs) and the ones that don’t (Criterion DVDs). I bet if you look at sales numbers you’d see a similar trend (and you certainly see a similar trend at, say, Amazon when comparing run of the mill tripe to quality DVDs, like those produced by the Criterion Co). It’s tough to discuss highbrow (or even middlebrow) stuff and be popular.

A fair point. But if you’re a magazine of ideas like National Review or a national newspaper like the Washington Times, there’s something to be said for acquiring a certain highbrow cultural cachet. In much the same way that capturing the 20-35 year old male demographic is more important to ad execs than American Idol-type mass appeal, becoming an important cultural barometer can be more lucrative (and certainly more influential) than churning out tons of workout DVD reviews. The importance of a publication like the New Yorker, for example, can’t be explained by sales figures alone.

I’m sure it’s pretty tough to hit that cultural sweet spot, but appealing to a mass audience has its own limitations. I can’t really take Big Hollywood seriously after reading Dirk Benedict analogize the new BSG series to castration. Is a site that features posts like “Jack Bauer and the Pope” ever in danger of become a real hub for engaging cultural criticism? Or is it simply a culturally-tinged version of RedState or Little Green Footballs? Culture11, at least, had the potential to become an important, right-of-center intellectual publication. The significance of that type of outlet can’t always be measured by comparing traffic statistics.

Liberals seem to be better at appealing to a highbrow cultural audience, probably because their subscribers are already thinking along the same cultural and political wavelengths. But I think there is an audience out there for serious cultural criticism from a right-of-center perspective. Take it away, Mr. Poulos:

“The right has a lot to learn from people who are completely outside of it,” he explained later. If they did that, they “might actually win some latecomers, people who have lived unhappy or unsatisfying lives. And if they show up at the door of the right and say, ‘Gosh, my super-transgressive life is sort of unrewarding, maybe I’ve exhausted this mine of self-indulgence and personal freedom and saying ‘fuck the man,’ and the right is completely disinterested in engaging those people, I think they’re missing out.”


Filed under Conservatism, Culture, The Media

Larison Brings the Funny


The contrast Homans makes between C11 and Big Hollywood is instructive, and tends to confirm my rather jaundiced view of the inverse relationship between success and quality. Essentially, on one site you would find intelligent cultural criticism, and on the other you would find a lot of the cultural whining that seems especially concentrated among actors who have a political grudge with the rest of their own industry. In the former, there would be smart takes on new films by Suderman, for example, and in the latter you get Dirk Benedict complaining about how feminism corrupted the new BSG or Breitbart going off on another one of his insane rants. One site was challenging, the other flatters its audience’s prejudices. Naturally, the second one survives and thrives.*

And as if on cue, National Review’s John Miller chimes in, pointing to NRO’s laughably bad lists of conservative rock songs (Blink 182’s “Stay Together for the Kids” is number 17) and conservative films (300? Really?) as examples of serious right-of-center cultural criticism.

But shoving round cinematic pegs into square conservative holes is not serious cultural engagement – it’s wishful thinking. This, of course, is precisely the approach that Culture11 sought to correct by dealing with the culture as it is, not as NRO thinks it should be.


Filed under Conservatism, Culture

Exercising Civic Virtue: or, Why Dive Bars Are Best

Obviously, I’m in favor of anyone who defends drinking after work, but the latest from Front Porch Republic goes above and beyond the call of duty:

The news is dreadful: According to the Census, since 2006 we have been living in a republic where, for the first time in the history of the republic, Americans drink more bottled water than we drank beer.Why is this important?  It’s important because beer is a socially oriented beverage, and bottled water is a privately oriented one.

There’s a reason that beer commercials tend to include lots of people hanging out in a room together, and bottled water commercials tend to include lone individuals climbing things and running around by themselves, usually on a beach at sunrise – even though they are not being chased.

Drinking beer emanates, albeit clumsily and with all the familiar risks, from essentially social impulses.  Most people drink beer to lower social inhibitions, to make it easier to have conversations with other people, to assuage loneliness, to grease the wheels for engaging in what my students euphemistically call “relationships” – in other words, to give a form and excuse for social life.  You don’t drink beer to improve your private, individual health.

This is all true, and perhaps the best justification for finding a nice hole in the wall to go relax at is the social aspect. Of course, you want to avoid the cliquish, high school-like atmosphere of most meat markets, so your best bet is to identify a local dive to call home. If you’re in DC, the best option is definitely the Galaxy Hut, a place with the ambiance of ” . . . a grunt’s hooch in Khe Sanh circa 1968.”


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Filed under Culture, Worthy Links


Via John Schwenkler, it seems plagiarism has finally caught up with our globalized economy:

Screen after screen, assignment after assignment — hundreds at a time, thousands each semester. The students come from all disciplines and all parts of the country. They go to community colleges and Ivy League universities. Some want a 10-page paper; others request an entire dissertation.

This is what an essay mill looks like from the inside. Over the past six months, with the help of current and former essay-mill writers, The Chronicle looked closely at one company, tracking its orders, examining its records, contacting its customers. The company, known as Essay Writers, sells so-called custom essays, meaning that its employees will write a paper to a student’s specifications for a per-page fee. These papers, unlike those plucked from online databases, are invisible to plagiarism-detection software.

Everyone knows essay mills exist. What’s surprising is how sophisticated and international they’ve become, not to mention profitable.

In a previous era, you might have found an essay mill near a college bookstore, staffed by former students. Now you’ll find them online, and the actual writing is likely to be done by someone in Manila or Mumbai. Just as many American companies are outsourcing their administrative tasks, many American students are perfectly willing to outsource their academic work.

The entire article is a fascinating (and depressing) read. I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now I’ll leave you with a classic Will Ferrell cameo from the late, lamented Undeclared:

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Filed under Culture, Education

One of them

I was a bit perplexed by this Brad DeLong entry, which purports to criticize Ross Douthat for expressing reservations about hooking up with a girl in college:

From Ross Douthat, Privilege, bottom of p. 184:

One successful foray ended on the guest bed of a high school friend’s parents, with a girl who resembled a chunkier Reese Witherspoon drunkenly masticating my neck and cheeks. It had taken some time to reach this point–“Do most Harvard guys take so long to get what they want?” she had asked, pushing her tongue into my mouth. I wasn’t sure what to say, but then I wasn’t sure this was what I wanted. My throat was dry from too much vodka, and her breasts, spilling out of pink pajamas, threatened my ability to. I was supposed to be excited, but I was bored and somewhat disgusted with myself, with her, with the whole business… and then whatever residual enthusiasm I felt for the venture dissipated, with shocking speed, as she nibbled at my ear and whispered–“You know, I’m on the pill…”

What squicks me out is (a) that the real turnoff for Ross Douthat is that she has taken responsibility for her own fertility and gone on the pill, and (b) that Ross Douthat does not take this to be a learning moment–is not self-reflective enough to say “Hmmm… If there are other men like me who are turned off by women who take responsibility for fertility control, isn’t that likely to be a cause of more abortions?”

Combine that with what Ross Douthat’s dismissal of Belle Sawhill’s point that free-as-in-beer (but not free-as-in-no-hassle) birth control appears to prevent 1/5 of abortions–and there is an awful lot here not to like, and an awfully good reason to think that Tyler Cowen or Kerry Howley or Virginia Postrel or any of a large number of other candidates would be an infinitely better choice for the job.

And, of course, there is the other point: here is a Reese Witherspoon look-alike who has offered Ross Douthat the extremely precious gift of wanting to make love to him, and he writes her into his book in this way with what look to be sufficient identifying details.

Perhaps I’m misreading the excerpt DeLong highlights (I haven’t read Privilege), but it seems to me that Douthat is giving voice to a fairly common sentiment on college campuses across the country – that is, the regret and disillusionment that inevitably follow any ill-conceived hook-up. Given the context, I don’t think this is an attack on female contraception as much as it is an attempt to grapple with the problems of devaluing sexual relationships. It’s particularly ironic that DeLong refers to the encounter as a “precious gift” – I’m quite sure there’s nothing special about drunkenly fooling around in an absent parent’s bedroom.

Now, I’m not sure how I feel about all this, but I’m glad that someone out there is at least trying to grapple with these issues in an intelligent and sensitive manner. I should also mention that discussions like this one were noticeably absent from my (recent) college experience, and I don’t think any of DeLong’s proposed replacements at the Times – all writers I admire, by the way – offer a comparable cultural perspective.  A lot of people have suggested that Douthat’s brand of reformist conservatism is a bit too close to Brooks’ big government tendencies, but one of the reasons I look forward to reading his column is that it provides a platform for a brand of cultural conservatism that rarely gets mentioned in the major metropolitan dailies (much less discussed respectfully).

Over the past few years, many of the most interesting and challenging writers I’ve encountered have all shared certain socially conservative tendencies (or at least attempt to engage cultural traditionalists with some regularity). I’m not particularly religious and I don’t share a lot of their core assumptions, but I’m consistently challenged by their writing and now regret that it’s taken me so long to discover such a rich vein of argumentation. Many people, I think, would benefit from at least being exposed to this intellectual tradition, and giving a New York Times column to a smart young social conservative is a strong first step in that direction.

(Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan)


Filed under Conservatism, Culture

Best Gift Ever

I received a pretty awesome pirated copy of “The Wire” for my birthday. Among other hilarious miscues, the cover features Bunk, Sydnor, Freemon, and Bubbles arrayed against the Sydney skyline. The artist presumably thought that Sydney’s waterfront was a decent stand-in for Baltimore, but then forgot to remove the painfully-apparent Sydney Opera House from the picture.

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Filed under Culture, Uncategorized