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A Case For Why Conservatives Make Better Art

Writing in Salon (where else?), Richard Cooper complains that there are no left-wing superheroes. From the Cooper piece:

Maybe one day we will see a superhero movie championing something other than fascist or hypercapitalist values: a superhero movie in which it isn’t physical superiority that saves the day. Maybe one day we will get the hero we need: one who challenges rather than reinforces the status quo.

In the meantime, why can’t I stop watching these movies? Because my imagination is shaped by superheroes: fights and chases are iconic, mythic triggers for me. How cool it would be to say, like Christian Bale’s Batman: “Tell me where the trigger is, then… You have my permission to die.” How revolting it would be if I actually could. The hunt goes on for a superhero who says something worth listening to. I continue to dream the superhero dream, but that doesn’t mean I have any illusions.

He seriously calls Superman a fascist. Like I said, Salon.

In response, a blogger called Staffan offers  a Haidtan theory of why conservative artists have a bigger toolbox available to them than liberals do. Staffan begins on a Jungian note, saying that there are certain character archetypes that are hardwired into human nature. He says that social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s theory of moral foundations suggests that in a similar way, there are fundamental moral stances within nearly all humans, though generally speaking, modern Western people — the WEIRDoes — have to a certain degree evolved away from the full range of moral intuitions shared by everyone else on the planet. Staffan continues:

Both moral foundations theory and the theory of clannishness suggest that the modern person is partly detached or elevated from his innate tendencies. The moderns in Haidt’s theory have to some extent abandoned the three moral foundations that most of us view as the most traditional, old-fashioned or even primitive – Loyalty, linked to the tribal or outright clannish behavior, Authority, linked to the idea of innate superiority, and Sanctity, the foundation linked to religious belief. In a similar way, we find that the peoples who have outbred for a long time have weeded out the genes responsible for familial altruism and evolved into (relatively) free thinkers. These peoples started the Enlightenment and to this day democracy and human rights are strongest in their nations.

Now, given that a modern person is partly freed of moral foundations and clannishness, it would make sense to argue that such a person is also partly freed from his archetypal predispositions too. Because archetypes are so intertwined with these concepts it would be impossible to disentangle them from each other. The archetype of the hero alone incorporates many of the traits and concepts that the traditional/modern dimension is based on. He clearly represents Authority, but also Loyalty/Clannishness as the person who unifies the group, and Sanctity as he is often a half-god.

He goes on to claim that the fact that Hollywood keeps making movies that rely on archetypes that go against contemporary liberal dogma means that despite the individualism and anti-traditionalism of our culture relative to the rest of the world, it is very difficult to tell stories that speak to people as they actually are without relying on archetypes — which is to say, without using the full spectrum of moral intuitions, including so-called retrograde ones that people like Richard Cooper call “fascist.” Staffan says that these filmmakers have to lie to themselves about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, for the same reason that certain liberals will, for example, profess to favor diverse public schools, but pay a lot of money to send their children to all-white private schools.

If Staffan (who identifies himself as a “socially conservative lefty”) is right, then reality has a culturally conservative bias, and successful art and storytelling must as well.

I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that everybody who reads this blog is going to have an opinion about it. Go!

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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