Tag Archives: Culture

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

Democracy Demotion

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has some harsh words for critics of democracy promotion:

I’ve seen too many peoples dismissed as not ready for self-government. First it was Asians, and then Latin Americans and Africans were there for a while. I know for a while black Americans were, too.I’ve seen it said, well, you know: They’re illiterate; how could they vote? And then you see in Afghanistan people line up for long, long lines. Because somehow they know that making a choice matters.

This is the Bush Administration’s last gasp. Raising cultural, political, and social objections to democracy promotion is now the equivalent of racism. Never mind the fact that the past eight years have validated nearly every criticism of the Administration’s “elections at all cost” strategy.

This should go without saying, but it isn’t racist to point out that certain cultural contexts are extremely inhospitable to a liberal, egalitarian political tradition. Democracy did not develop in the United States overnight. Our political system represents the culmination of a extremely long process. The fact that the majority of stable democracies are Western countries is a testament to the importance of certain cultural precursors. It may be unfortunate that people in the Middle East aren’t acclimated to our political tradition, but for the foreseeable future, it’s an immutable fact of life that will continue to impede liberalization. This doesn’t mean that Arabs are intrinsically stupid or barbaric or deserving of another barrage of cruise missiles – it just means that we should be more judicious about imposing our own political institutions overseas.

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Filed under Culture, Foreign Policy


Speaking of Andrew Sullivan, his latest on gay marriage is quite good:

I have nothing against the voluntary and peaceful activities of any religious group, and regard these organizations as some of the greatest strengths of America. The idea that gay people somehow want to persecute these churches, that we’re out to get you, and hurt you and punish you is preposterous. The notion that there are rampaging mobs of gay people beating up on Christians is also unhinged. To take one flash-point between a radical Dominionist group deliberately trying to rub salt in the wounds of Castro Street bar patrons after closing hours – in which no one was hurt – as the harbinger of some kind of mass gay pogrom against Christians is daffy. To equate a few drunks gays with Bull Connor is deranged and offensive. There are elements on both sides who do not represent the core. That core can coexist with mutual respect in the context of legal and civil equality.

It occurs to me that this sort of arrangement would require a great deal of restraint from both sides. No more frivolous lawsuits forcing eHarmony to open its doors to gay users. No more purportedly conservative bills that foist a one-size-fits-all definition of matrimony on the states. Can our political consensus embrace an ethic of restraint? Some hardened traditionalists have resigned themselves to the prospect of gay marriage – what they’re really worried about is preserving a sphere of autonomy to protect their deeply-held religious beliefs. I don’t think this is at all unreasonable, but it requires us to allow the other side a little breathing room.

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Faking it Through the Day

James Poulos offers a nice tribute to Elliott Smith:

But if some percentage of the hipsters who survived Elliott Smith were themselves amateur blurs, Smith was the town professional, a wastrel who earned his stripes and a hero to the healing and the decaying alike. Over the course of a blotchy career that peaked on that Oscar stage but never escaped the darkness, Smith released a series of increasingly baroque, intricate, and depressing acoustic-based records that catalogued everything truly defunct about life as a skinny, greasy person entangled in, but always disappointed by, drug-and-sex-based relationships.

When he was criticized, he was derided as not just a downer but a whiner. But Smith — who worked out his musical amateurism in the earlier outfit Heatmiser — was one of indie’s most potent tunecrafters, a smith indeed. His natural ear for melody (occasionally, it bored him) produced some of the sweetest pop gems ever to emerge from a warren of stale apartments, dirty clothes, and cat hair.

Smith joins a rarefied group of singer-songwriters – Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake are the only others that come to mind – who, despite having interchangeable real names and stage names (and yes, I know that Elliott wasn’t his real first name), don’t suck. On the other side of the fence, we have Jason Mraz, Sean Lennon, Matthew Sweet (with the notable exception of “Girlfriend”), John Mayer, Josh Ritter, Ben Harper, Ben Kweller, etc. etc.

Here are my favorite Elliott Smith songs in no particular order:

  1. Miss Misery
  2. King’s Crossing
  3. St. Ides Heaven
  4. Say Yes
  5. Sweet Adeline


UPDATE: While trolling YouTube’s music video selection, I found this awesome Indonesian tribute to “Emma’s House” by the Field Mice. If you listened to Elliott Smith, I think it’s safe to say you’ll enjoy this:

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Filed under Culture, Music

Savage Reservations

Alan Jacobs has a smart response to Joe Carter’s previous post on libertarianism’s deficiencies:

All that to say that you can have a very low opinion of human nature and still be a libertarian; you just have to believe that our inevitable corruption has less dire consequences when personal freedom is maximized than when the rule of law has a far greater scope. And I would argue that the history of the past hundred years or so offers some evidence for this point of view.

Similarly, I don’t think Carter is right when he says that libertarianism “is rooted in an ethic of utilitarianism rather than virtue ethics.” I think it would be better to say that libertarianism doesn’t see the government as the primary custodian of virtue, at least not of most virtues. The model that George Will used to call “statecraft as soulcraft” makes libertarians cringe, not because they don’t believe in soulcraft or think that the cultivation of virtues is vital, but because they don’t trust the government to be a sound arbiter of what virtue is or to implement it in citizens. It is true that the Founders used that kind of language, but they lived in a much more ideologically unanimous society, with a narrower range of differences in citizens’ models of virtue. Our society is, I fear, too diverse in its moralities for that. I’d rather the soulcraft be left to families and communities, insofar as they’re willing to take up that essential task, and I’d like the government to enable that soulcraft simply through its role in preserving our freedoms.

My worry is that a hands-off approach to governance is only possible in a society that has achieved a certain level of cultural homogeneity.

This depresses me because I like our pluralistic model of social co-existence, and perhaps an extremely broad interpretation of the American creed is sufficient to hold a diverse society together. Driving through a leafy Northern Virginia suburb the other day, I remember feeling a certain appreciative thrill when I happened upon a mosque.

Furthermore, the idea that political liberty can only exist in a culturally homogeneous society implies that there is no intrinsic value to human freedom. If political liberty requires a bedrock consensus to weed out undesirable behavior, the only justification for constraining government is that cultural norms are more effective at policing society than political intervention. In other words, if government becomes more effective at reducing or eliminating certain undesirable traits, what’s the use of preserving political freedom or civil society at all?

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Filed under Conservatism, Culture, Libertarianism

Enough is Enough?

Via Glenn Greenwald, I see that Obama has responded to the “Lipstick Pigs” controversy:

I actually find this pretty persuasive, but, as Greenwald notes, it’s not altogether unprecedented. Here’s Michael Dukakis’s response to George H. W. Bush’s attack ads in 1988:

MICHAEL DUKAKIS: I’m fed up with it. Haven’t seen anything like it in 25 years of public life. George Bush’s negative TV ads, distorting my record, full of lies and he knows it. I’m on the record for the very weapons systems his ads say I’m against. I want to build a strong defense. I’m sure he wants to build a strong defense. So this isn’t about defense issues. It’s about dragging the truth into the gutter. And I’m not going to let them do it. This campaign is too important. The stakes are too high for every American family.

Dukakis, of course, was roundly condemned for running a weak-kneed campaign that never effectively responded to Bush’s aggressive tactics. To be perfectly honest, however, the first thing that the Obama clip reminded me of wasn’t the Ghost of Democratic Candidates Past; it was the final speech from “The American President.” To wit:

And here’s the money quote:

Bob’s [Senator Bob Rumson – the President’s Republican rival from the film] problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character.

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.

Now, I like “The American President,” but the entire film is basically an exercise in liberal wish fulfillment. I think that intellectuals engaged in politics assume that issues of culture, character, and values are just background noise, and that if you scream loudly enough about “the issues” the People will reward your righteousness at the ballot box.

Tragically, the real world doesn’t work that way. Voting is as much about intuition and identification as it is about issues, if not more so. The media – God bless ’em – isn’t going to cut Democrats any slack because our insatiable news cycle provides a structural incentive to gin up controversy at a moment’s notice. Obama may think he can win by appealing to our better angels, but I wouldn’t count on it.

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Filed under Culture, Presidential Politics, The Media, Uncategorized