Over at the blog Acculturated, James Poulos has a wise take on the question of whether conservatives are “bad” at pop culture.
While I think he overstates the degree to which liberals are interested in “using culture as a vehicle for liberal projects” — most aren’t, at least not consciously and explicitly, as in the case of the filmmaker Davis Guggenheim — Poulos is certainly right that artists with a conservative bent should worry a lot less and simply do their jobs.
[T]hey should realize it’s enough to contribute to pop culture without agonizing over whether their contributions are adequately or truly conservative. That agony is a ticket to endless frustration. It’s oftentimes hard to tell exactly what ideological content is really embedded into songs, art, or movies. Is “Gunpowder and Lead” conservative? Is a Thomas Kinkade painting? Is Juno? Or is this the wrong kind of question to ask? …
[I]t’s usually enough to let one’s work be one’s work, whether it’s collecting trash or building houses or throwing a football.
True, pop culture seems different; it’s supposedly so creative that it requires a creedal infusion that “uncreative” jobs don’t. If so, the key is how the infusion is done. Conservatives could relax if they focused on being who they want to be and then contributing to the popular culture whatever products happen to come out of them.
Implicit in Poulos’s advice here is that conservatives who engage in this sort of agonizing are, in fact, artists, and not merely ideological bean-counters. This is a point that can’t be emphasized enough: However one defines “conservative” art — from the Sistine Chapel to An American Carol, we’re talking about a staggeringly wide range of artifacts — one requirement of the job should be that you know what you’re doing.
A conservative artist whose uppermost goal in producing art is to mount a Breitbartian counterattack on liberals is likely to produce a lot of garbage.
I had related thoughts on this topic back at U.S. News. Conservative truths are embedded in all sorts of works, from the pop-rap hit “Hey Ya!” to the films of Kubrick and Lubitsch. They issue from wildly different voices and sensibilities and genres.
Which brings us back to Poulos’s original point: namely that conservatives who are interested in producing art for a popular audience need first to find a voice and then stay true to it. Since we’re talking specifically about the field of popular culture, that’s necessarily going to narrow one’s range of creative choices (one would be ill-advised, for multiple reasons, to try to recreate the Sistine Chapel, for instance).
Poulos is right that going into a field of battle on the assumption that you’ve already lost is not an auspicious way to start. I would add that approaching the job as though it were a battle in the first place is equally deadening.