"We need to buy a movie studio."
Amid the umpteen conferences, panels, meetings and informal conversations in the wake of the presidential election, this idea has been a near constant among conservatives who feel like the country is slipping through their fingers. Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee combined raised just more than $1 billion, and all we got are these lousy T-shirts. Since conservatives are losing the culture, goes the argument, which in turn leads to losing at politics, maybe that money could be better spent on producing some cultural ammo of our own?
It's a bad idea.
Let's first acknowledge that Hollywood is overwhelmingly, though not uniformly, liberal. Hollywood constitutes a major part of the Democratic Party's financial base and, arguably, the constituency liberal politicians fear -- and revere -- most. That's why all of the post-Newtown talk of the Obama administration "going after Hollywood violence" was nonsense from the outset.
In August, New York magazine's Jonathan Chait wrote an interesting essay arguing that the right-wing culture vultures of the 1990s were essentially right: Hollyweird really was eroding traditional conservative values. A committed liberal, Chait is grateful for this effort: "We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite."
Chait makes a strong case. But just as there's a problem with conservatives drawing straight lines from the silver screen to social decay, there's a problem with drawing similarly unwavering lines to progressive triumph.
Hollywood produces culture, but it also takes its orders from it. For instance, according to today's pieties, the gun is an evil right-wing talisman. And yet, every year Hollywood vomits up a stream of films that cast guns as the solution to any manner of problems. Martial arts stars notwithstanding, you'll be hard-pressed to find an action movie in which the star's most trusted sidekick isn't his gun.
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