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Wednesday, October 27, 2004
I wanted to follow up a bit on what Hillary and I were discussing below. What Brooks goes on and on (and ON) about amounts to a grafting of a very superficial understanding of the party system onto a macro vision of the culture, particularly middle-class culture. The result, which is a very circular one as we've all no doubt noticed by now, is that he sees both a huge cultural divide and a huge ideological divide that map directly onto one another. The problem is that this is MAYBE true for some white city dwellers, college students, and the most sheltered of evangelicals. It is not, ironically enough, true for the stereotypical middle-class person in a suburb. Brooks' argument is, of course, easy to dismantle; I understand Thomas Frank devoted a decent bit of his new book to doing just this.[1] He's become mildly insane, or at least obsessional, unable to see anything outside of this frame, and it's just horrendously self-justifying.

What I'm trying to say is, I think, considerably different. (I hope.) I have the polar opposite of Brooks' Big View: that people really are a lot closer, both culturally and politically, than we do (or want to--or, I guess, or pundits want to) admit. This is a dead horse I've been beating for, oh, 5 or 6 years now, I reckon, but I strongly disagree with the idea that there's No American Culture (Anymore).[2]

But I'm not really interested in mapping that onto politics disputes. I think what I was trying to say is that our political conversations are now largely cultural ones, in form more than in content, although contenty too. We don't really seem to talk about policy much anymore--and that's fine, I'm not bemoaning that necessarily. But it does seem like we talk about politics like we talk about pop culture now; conservatives take the same tone toward abortion that they did toward heavy metal or comic books, and liberals' opposition to the war or civil liberties abuses usually seems less couched in practicalities and more in an appeal to some sort of aesthetic ideal. In other words, it's not really arguing or debating, it's more just grandstanding. We're taking the most trivial aspects of our discourse about popular culture and making them into the basis of our civic dialogue. I'm all for salaciously gossiping about Britney's antics, or speculating on the way the new Usher single will impact his career, because, you know, art doesn't matter. But politics does, and when we're instead salaciously gossiping about Tom DeLay's antics, or speculating on the way the new Kerry ad will impact his career, I start to get worried.

But in contrast to what I think would be the normal approach, I don't think the way out lies along the path of avoiding cultural-type dialogue. I think the non-policy-based, non-ideological parts of our cultural dialogue, including aspects of cultural production itself, are far more political than the overt statements, and I think it's precisely those non-ideological ways of communicating that suggest a model for non-ideological (but, note, not non-political) civic discourse. I think that Eminem's "Stan" suggests a far more useful political model than Crossfire does.

I don't know if that actually clarifies anything, as I recognize a lot of this is hand-wavey, but this is merely because I've been considering this sort of question a lot lately in preparation for a possible large-scale project. Hopefully I'm conveying the gist, though.

[1] Which I'd love to read, as Frank's take on cultural criticism is always interesting and mainly correct, although his diagnosis of the Democrats' midwest problem was painfully ignorant, at least as he expressed it in the Salon interview, something I've wanted to break down for a while now. Ah well, maybe later.
[2] I don't know if I'll actually need to acronymize this or not, but hey, let's go ahead: NAC(A).