November 23, 2003

South Park Crunchy Cons vs....

South Park Crunchy Cons vs. Consequentialist Bobos vs. the Death of the Two-Party System as We Know it: The L.A. Times, which today produced its most interesting (to me) Sunday edition in memory, ran a Column Left-Column Right deal in the Opinion section about whether there's some New Whatever regarding right-wingers and popular culture. Batting for the southpaws, the easily dislikable (to me) Neal Gabler argued: "Conservative revolution? No -- just dazzlingly effective PR," and scored some points that weren't all implausible. Here's a passage of interest:

So, why all this talk of conservative ascendancy? In a sense, it's pure invention. What conservatives have been able to do is deploy the same postmodernist techniques that celebrities have been using for decades, and for the same purpose: to make the buzz into the buzz. Like the Osbournes, conservatives take their little triumphs and package them as phenomena, which the media — including the conservative media — eagerly retail to the public. Blogger Andrew Sullivan, for example, calls the new cultural trend "South Park Republicanism" because "South Park" has taken its whacks at political correctness and other liberal shibboleths. But whether or not there is such a thing as South Park Republicanism, the idea is media-genic because it suggests something big is happening that the media want to be in on. You just whisper it into what critics of the right have called the "right-wing echo chamber" — of conservative talk radio, Fox News, various conservative publications and now conservative blogs — and it turns into a roar that the mainstream media cannot ignore. In short, the new cultural revolution is a sound-effects machine.
Batting for the Right was Brian Anderson, in a condensed update of his lengthy City Journal Piece (which I talked about a while back). All of which is interesting, or not ... I guess I'm more concerned right now with the need to label micro movements-within-movements. Who does it more, lefties or righties? Seems to me the Right is always coming up with some new appellation, whether it's the Crunchy Cons (conservatives can be yuppies, too!), or Birkenstock Burkeans (sometimes the conservative hippies smell!), or Andrew Sullivan's Eagles (fiscally conservative, socially liberal, war-mongering hard-to-holds!), Jonathan Rauch's apatheists (too apathetic to be atheist), or even David Brooks' Bobos (something about Jimmy Buffett). The Left, according to my wafer-thin analysis, mostly limits this sort of talk to theorizing hopefully (and desperately) about some new "movement" or "coalition," usually involving Teamsters and turtles, and Baby Greens, and/or Eddie Vedder's Seattle.

What's the half-assed explanation for this imagined phenomenon? Good question! I darkly suspect that conservatives, especially the younger libertarian types who live in various blue-state media centers, are constantly experiencing the thrilling dissonance of championing what they see as Middle American values while living nowhere near them. Left-libruls are always hoping that the "movement" of their youth (or favorite books) will rise up again, both because it's high freakin' time, and because that sure was fun. Also, I suspect (to say the least) that it's tempting as hell to ascribe one's own sudden alienation from one's political fellow-travelers to nothing less than the death of the two-party system as we know it.

Chances are most of those people have a better bead on the situation than I, sitting in my Porn Belt enclave of East Hollywood. Still, for what little it's worth, I suspect that we still have more or less a 48-48-4 nation (4 being independent & third party), and that the number of hawkish Democrats who will cross the aisle will be roughly approximate to the number of fiscal-hawk Republican defectors (lack of incumbency does wonders for discipline against third-party adventurism). Being a proud member of that 4 percent, I can tell you, as I've said from Sept. 11, 2001, that my next several presidential votes will depend almost totally on foreign policy concerns, and specifically the War on Terror. This doesn't at all mean I'm more likely to vote Republican....

But enough about me -- Is it true that Righties are more likely to invent fanciful names to define their narrow & perhaps non-existent political sub-categories? Can you think of any clever parsing nicknames of and by the Left? What's the best number to describe America's Dem-Rep-Indy split? Where will all those Alias characters go in their black helicopter, after breaking Heather Havrilesky out of the secret American jail & killing the fat guy? Etc.

Posted by at November 23, 2003 11:06 PM
Comments

You forgot "Reagan Democrats," neo- and paleo-conservatives, "Christian conservatives," Jack Kemp's "bleeding heart conservatives," Pat Buchanan's "peasants with pitchforks," PJ O'Rourke's "Republican Party Reptiles," and everybody's favorite, "Compassionate Conservative." Part of this (other than maybe the paleos) is the need by people on the Right to place themselves within a mini-movement within the movement without having to disown the rest of the big tent entirely over wedge issues like abortion and gay rights, or politicians looking to jettison the Right's bad reputation on civil rights. I think the neoconservatives get points for being the oldest of these groups now extant, assuming you give libertarians/Objectivists credit for being a wholly separate (if often allied) movement.

Posted by: Crank at November 24, 2003 09:33 AM

I think Gabler's half right, but he's wrong to think that smart marketing is ONLY smart marketing. In this case it's a form of inclusiveness that makes you want to be one of the above (not least because you have so many choices).

While on the other side... Howard Dean is getting reamed a new one for daring to say that maybe the Dems need to make common cause with some unreconstructed rednecks, since, y'know, that used to be their base and is now the Republican base. And it's not like that's an isolated case, either-- remember when Ross Perot said "you people" to a black audience and found himself being blasted for racism (to, no doubt, his utter mystification), thus ensuring that no person from the Reform Party would ever address a black audience again? What a triumph of pinched political correctness over the opportunity to build new coalitions and gain influence. Then one could add to this the teacher's union in New York, where the full guns are being pointed at a city councilwoman who dares to question union work and seniority rules. I always use dto think the idea that the Republican party was a Big Tent was nonsense, but by comparison these days, they actually do seem more tolerant of internal contradictions.

It is interesting that National Review, which used to seem like it spelled National with a Z, is happy to invite you to be a South Park Republican, but you'll have to go to a reeducation camp if you say you'd like to create Stars and Bars Democrats. (I say this with no brief for the cause of the South, which has needed to go over all that stuff for decades, just a recognition of the electoral reality that the past isn't past down there.) The Dems are in such a grip of thought crime vigilance that I think they have to keep going down, down, down before they'll ever know which way up is again.

Posted by: Mike G at November 24, 2003 09:55 AM

They're going to an island in the Caribbean, where they will hook up with David Cronenberg, who will graft Heather's head to a fly in a vain attempt to recover her memory.

One example of a faux-demography invented by liberals would be "soccer moms". I happen to be preparing a piece on an emerging sub-group in Los Angeles, of forty-something men who trend leftward on social and economic issues, believe in a strong but measured multilateral response in the War on Terror, are disheartened by the mendacity of the Bush Administration, yet are still able to balance their loyalty between the Lakers, Dodgers and Michigan football. Some of them drink a lot, as well, but get laid about as often as A.C. Green. I think that group is the key to the election in 2004 and beyond.

Posted by: Steve Smith at November 24, 2003 11:24 AM

I think another aspect of this is the constant attempt by the left to paint the "Christian Right" as the dominant, if not only, aspect of the right.

People who don't want to be associated with Pat Robertson, but still want to defend the Republican party or conservatism then reflexively place themselves in a faraway corner of the "big tent" and use whatever shorthand le seeing nutcases like PETA get lampooned). And they may not be for "forced" tolerance, but the show (to me at least) supports real tolerance by poking fun at prejudiced redneck attitudes, and portraying gay characters more realistically than most non-cartoon shows. The Afghanistan episode tried to explain why some Arabs who aren't terrorists hate us, and the one where George Bush decides to bomb heaven because Saddam Hussein might be up there making WMDs was genius. And don't forget the short-lived George Bush sitcom they did.

If more mainstream conservatives are digging this stuff (and I'm not talking about urbane California conservatives, but the heartland kind who still get seriously offended by four-letter words), it bodes well for humor in general. Now, if only Larry Elder would hire someone who's actually funny to write his lame comedy skits.

Mike G -- I dig Canadian Bacon also. I doubt Michael Moore's ever going to go back to non-documentary stuff, so it'll be a real interesting footnote in cinematic history.

Posted by: LYT at November 24, 2003 03:43 PM

David, I'm from the South, and the majority of people I know there don't read NRA magazine or regulation when it was on Fox, and I even have a good friend who IS an NRA member, who usually votes Republican based on gun issues, who liked Bowling for Columbine (I don't know many who have heard of "Roger & Me," but it is a very pro-working class movie, and appeals to people who don't normally like documentaries). None of these folks are traditional bleeding-heart liberals, and none of them exists purely in my dreams.

Did these people dig Moore's Oscar speech? Probably not -- I haven't asked any of them. But that doesn't negate the effects his work had before then.

Posted by: LYT at November 24, 2003 04:47 PM

The point isn't how conservative the South Park guys are (one of them summed up my feelings pretty well with "I hate conservatives, but I really fucking hate liberals"). It's the change in the media culture. It is unheard of to mock some of the targets they have been going after on mainstream television. With the line blurring between news & entertainment (what % of young people get their news from the Daily Show?), cleverly challenging entrenched (but debatable) ideas is a big deal.

Concerning SP's balance, it's also worth noting that the rednecks are portrayed as good people too, more complex than cheap stereotypes (although those are fun too). Also, Saddam actually was making WMD's in heaven. And Big Gay Al, Mr Garrison & Mr. Slave are realistic portrayals of gay people? They're not like any of the gay people I've ever met, but maybe I need to get out more.

I watched the Bush show a few times, but just didn't find it all that funny. It seemed like a regular sitcom that could have been anybody or nobody. I don't get the impression it would have been much different if Gore had won.

I also enjoyed Canadian Bacon (I live about 40 minutes from the falls). It's an interesting footnote as the last time Michael Moore was funny.

Posted by: Alex at November 24, 2003 04:50 PM

I loved "That's My Bush." Decades from now, we'll be buying the DVD set, and shaking our heads in wonder and delight.

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 24, 2003 05:15 PM

All I can really remember from it are cliched sitcom situations set in the White House and the pro life activist that was an aborted fertus that sounded like Cartman.

Posted by: Alex at November 24, 2003 05:18 PM

I meant foetus. Although the fertus episode was pretty funny too.

Posted by: Alex at November 24, 2003 05:20 PM

I'm sorry for getting us way off topic like this. Obviously, all the SP characters are cartoony and exaggerated. No redneck I ever met is exactly like Ned, for instance. But Mr. Garrison's arc over the course of the whole series, from closeted to over the top, feels very truthful in its own way and similar to some I know, albeit obviously exaggerated.

As for Big Gay Al -- anyone here ever been to the Sunset 5 on a Saturday night? Yes, I do know people like him.

The larger point I find interesting here is that traditionally, a majority of conservatives would object to ANY show with foul language and discussion of stuff like child molestation in a way that plays it for laughs. Now, what I'm hearing from you guys is that that stuff doesn't matter so much as long as it's in the service of ideas conservatives like. I consider that a step forward -- critiquing and discussing ideas is so much more constructive than getting hung up on the trappings and being humorless about them.

Posted by: LYT at November 24, 2003 06:06 PM

I'll change the subject a bit. I would argue very much with your "48-48-4 nation" description. That might be true among political junkies, but if you take the country as a whole, a lot more than 4 percent of the population is unaligned -- either their votes are up for grabs or they don't vote at all. We thought there was no way California was more than 40 percent Republican, and then 60 percent of the vote in the recall election went to Republicans.

I remember being told in college that the country was about 40-40-20. That might be wrong too, but I think it's closer than 48-48-4. Every time I talk to people who aren't in journalism or politics (which isn't often, unfortunately), I'm surprised at how many people don't have strong opinions on the stuff we spend our whole lives shouting about. It's a nice reminder.

Posted by: Tony at November 24, 2003 07:24 PM

Tony -- I was basing it on voters in presidential elections .... otherwise I'd pretty much agree with the 40-40-20 number.

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 24, 2003 07:35 PM

Hilarious post, Matt. I think your analysis is pretty much spot-on so I don't have much to add...

I'm glad people are talking about the cultural resonance of South Park, because I think it's huge, but Sullivan's "South Park Republicanism" just strikes me as overly partisan, simplistic, self-serving and silly. Why not speak of the "South Park Liberalism" for instance, meaning those who aren't ashamed to embrace their inner lefty while simultaneously loathing the Clinton-Streisand-Gray Davis axis of hypocrisy?

Posted by: Scott MacMillan at November 25, 2003 02:29 AM

In fact, I'll give you a name for the 20%: Reagan Democrats.

Aka Clinton Republicans.

The key swing vote in this country is that same block of pretty heavily unionized, fairly heavily Catholic, mostly midwestern/less extreme parts of the south folks who helped both those presidents become the only guys to actually win twice in a row. That's why a lot of people say Gephardt is the one Dem who cour), he would have a shot at those guys that it's hard to see Dean having, ever.

Posted by: Mike G at November 25, 2003 07:43 AM

I think it's about 20-20-60. I think there are more votes in play in any given election than most people realize. The swing is hidden because on the fringe of those 60 percenters are people who are harder to swing, but can be swung. I think blind party loyalty is slipping.

Posted by: Howard Owens at November 25, 2003 01:38 PM

No, No, No.
It's 31-31-31 (Dem, Rep, Ind)
here

Posted by: Josh Narins at November 26, 2003 01:04 PM
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:35 PM

Hilarious post, Matt. I think your analysis is pretty much spot-on so I don't have much to add...

I'm glad people are talking about the cultural resonance of South Park, because I think it's huge, but Sullivan's "South Park Republicanism" just strikes me as overly partisan, simplistic, self-serving and silly. Why not speak of the "South Park Liberalism" for instance, meaning those who aren't ashamed to embrace their inner lefty while simultaneously loathing the Clinton-Streisand-Gray Davis axis of hypocrisy?

Posted by: Scott MacMillan at November 25, 2003 02:29 AM

In fact, I'll give you a name for the 20%: Reagan Democrats.

Aka Clinton Republicans.

The key swing vote in this country is that same block of pretty heavily unionized, fairly heavily Catholic, mostly midwestern/less extreme parts of the south folks who helped both those presidents become the only guys to actually win twice in a row. That's why a lot of people say Gephardt is the one Dem who could actually win. If he got the nomination, and turned into a serious foreign policy contender (not likely given how squishy a lot of his pronouncements, of the we-should-have-spent-more-time-being-talked-to-death-by-Chirac kind, have been so far), he would have a shot at those guys that it's hard to see Dean having, ever.

Posted by: Mike G at November 25, 2003 07:43 AM

I think it's about 20-20-60. I think there are more votes in play in any given election than most people realize. The swing is hidden because on the fringe of those 60 percenters are people who are harder to swing, but can be swung. I think blind party loyalty is slipping.

Posted by: Howard Owens at November 25, 2003 01:38 PM

No, No, No.
It's 31-31-31 (Dem, Rep, Ind)
here

Posted by: Josh Narins at November 26, 2003 01:04 PM
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