December 17, 2016

Culture is downstream from politics: TV shows adapting to Trump era

The Hollywood Reporter writes about how TV executives are struggling to make their programming relevant in the age of Trump. They don't know anybody who voted for Trump, and none of their current shows has an even accidental chance of reaching Trump voters. Either they get with the times, or they're effectively off the air.

They're not changing everything abruptly in an attempt to pander, as though pleading for them not to vote Trump next time as long as we keep our promise to make TV shows that aren't all about degenerate cosmopolitans. It's described as more of a shift in tone, toward hopeful and optimistic and away from snarky and cynical. You can smell the feel-good family-friendly sit-coms from here, making the 1980s great again.

This is a good example of how pop culture follows changes in the political and economic realms, rather than the other way around. Andrew Breitbart is frequently quoted to the effect that culture needs to change before politics does ("Politics is downstream from culture.") Here is the summary from a representative post at RedState:

Culture matters. Withdrawing from it is no answer. If you want to change the future of the country, you need to engage the culture and not just expect that the kinds of citizens who vote for your values can be summoned from the hills.

The Trump phenomenon has proven this theory wrong, since he ran exclusively on economic and political topics, ignoring culture (other than to complain about "Why are they remaking Ghostbusters? Are they incapable of making good new movies?"). "Despite" this stance, and despite not altering the cultural foundations of the country, he did indeed summon voters from the hills in Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Losing observers from both sides try to reduce cognitive dissonance by chalking up Trump's popularity to being a reality TV star, which goes to explain why his counterpart in the other party enjoyed his own success against all odds. Trump, like Bernie, achieved as much as he did thanks to his stances on the issues, not on personality or fame.

The entire cultural realm had long been, and still remains united against Trump the man, Trump voters, and the Trump agenda. Bernie had some cultural supporters, but not as big as Hillary did, and they did not cut ads for him or introduce him, as though his young supporters needed their candidate to be validated by cultural figures they already care about.

As mentioned in the post about who puts out conspiracy theories and why, the idea that politics is downstream from culture is part of the conspiratorial worldview. After decades of defeat, Republicans and conservatives began to attribute their failures to the Democrats and liberals invading and taking over the major cultural institutions -- schools, churches, the media -- and using this strategic position to influence or brainwash the general public into believing liberal bromides and voting Democrat reflexively.

How did those people explain the heyday of conservatism during the Reagan years? It's not as though the 1980 landslide against all odds had followed the defenestration of liberals from academia, the media, and the Mainline churches, where they have been in control since forever. It was not an attempt to analyze or explain, but to soothe their pain by shifting the blame to external hostile actors instead of their own smug leadership, sell-out politicians, ossified think tanks, and disgraced cultural figures such as the televangelists of the 1980s.

Returning to mainstream TV shows, which came first -- Nixon's defeat of Humphrey, or the release of All in the Family? Archie Bunker arrived to television a full two years after Nixon's first inauguration. A key demographic in the Nixon coalition was working-class whites who were sick of the excesses of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, whether these were rural Southern whites or urban white ethnics.

In 1968, both groups had been loyalist Democrats for generations, but the influx of the Civil Rights movement antagonized them enough to defect at least temporarily (for white ethnics) or permanently (for white Southerners).

The Democrats were apoplectic that such large chunks of their New Deal coalition had been so effortlessly poached by the GOP. It couldn't be because the Great Society policies were failures -- it was because... uh, well, let's explore who these Nixon voters are in sit-com format, contrasting them with their liberal Democrat children. Maybe by portraying them halfway sympathetically and "feeling their pain," we can bring some of them back into the fold.

But culture has minimal influence over politics, so no, these groups did not come back to the Democrat party until a generation later with Clinton in '92, after the Bushies had alienated most of the Nixon and Reagan voters.

It was the Democrats' version of thinking that politics is downstream from culture. It's just that the Dems control the media, so they can translate that mindset into cultural change more than the Republicans can when it's their turn to blame culture for their political failures.

Another show in the vein of All in the Family was Family Ties, wherein liberal Jewish media executives tried to explore the nascent conservative and yuppie phenomena, as the liberal Boomer parents struggle to understand their uber-Republican son Alex Keaton. Nixon did not run as a conservative, but as a pragmatist, law-and-order, liberal-moderate. Reagan's landslide was even more unforeseen to Democrats in the media than was Nixon's, and provoked greater panic to figure out what went wrong.

Family Ties debuted nearly two years after Reagan defeated an incumbent Democrat, again showing that culture follows politics and economics. The producers hoped to pull the Alex Keatons at least halfway toward the liberal Boomer generation, but they resisted and remained GOP loyalists -- although it's worth asking if he would have voted for Trump? Maybe. But maybe Alex P. Keaton put yuppie elitism over party loyalty and voted for Clinton. (Many such cases! Sad!)

Since these political re-alignments tend to have a strong geographic pattern, the TV producers have hinted at portraying the lives of people other than coastal elites, and exploring what makes working-class and middle-class whites in flyover country tick.

I looked through Wikipedia's lists of major TV shows set in various states to see when the last time they actually devoted attention to Trump country. It looks like it was after Nixon's first win, and lasting through the Reagan-Bush years. They had taken parts of the Midwest for granted during the New Deal / Great Society years, when so much pop culture focused on coastal cities (or the Old West). Suddenly they became obsessed with the Great Lakes region, and Chicago in particular, to try to figure out who these defectors were.

Chicago plays such a central role because after Democrat loyalty during the New Deal and Great Society eras, Illinois became Republican from 1968 until 1992 -- and they did not do that without the support of metro Chicago. Wisconsin went Republican in '68, '72, '80, and '84. Even Minnesota went Republican by 6 points in '72. Michigan was a little late to the party, but stayed Republican from '72 until '92. Indiana and Ohio were also heavily Republican during this period, but they were not defectors from the New Deal era, when they were still fairly Republican.

Here are the major TV shows set in the Midwest during the Nixon-Reagan-Bush years, where the locals are portrayed sympathetically, there's a strong sense of place, and the regional culture and economy are not sneered at for not being elite and cosmopolitan.

1970s

Mary Tyler Moore Show - Minneapolis
Happy Days - Milwaukee
Laverne and Shirley - Milwaukee
Bob Newhart Show - Chicago
Good Times - Chicago
WKRP in Cincinnati - Cincinnati

1980s

Roseanne - Chicago
Married with Children - Chicago
Family Matters - Chicago
Life Goes On - Chicago
Family Ties - Columbus

1990s

Home Improvement - Detroit (began before Clinton)

Shows from the Clinton era onward, like That '70s Show or Parks and Recreation that are set in Wisconsin or Indiana, feature liberal cosmopolitan elites doing a mocking blackface performance of flyovers, or portraying the liberal cosmo elite-wannabes stuck in flyover country.

The media elites even became interested in the blacks of flyover country (Good Times, Family Matters), which we still haven't seen despite a two-term black President whose political career began in Chicago.

Outside of the Midwest, the liberal media elites tried to understand other newly Republican areas, such as Connecticut. It was more of a swing state during the New Deal and Great Society periods, but was solid GOP from '72 until '92. The hit '80s sit-com Who's the Boss? set up an intercultural dialog between an urban blue-collar Italian from Noo Yawk working as a live-in housekeeper for a suburban professional WASP (portrayed by a Jew) in Connecticut.

The star of that show, Tony Danza, had also starred on Taxi, set in Manhattan during the dingy stagflation era of the late '70s and early '80s. Even when the media elites did cover the Center of the Universe back then, they focused on everyday blue-collar life at work, rather than the conspicuous leisure of cosmopolitan yuppies that began to characterize Manhattan reality and cultural portrayal during the Clinton years and afterward.

So perhaps in the Trump era, not only will we see a more sympathetic portrayal of whites in the Midwest but in working-class coastal areas, too. If the past is any guide, though, don't expect any of this to be visible until about two years into the strange new times. Right now the media elites are still in the denial and anger stages of grief.

If formerly shrill Civil Rights hippies and Jews can make family-friendly WASP-y sit-coms like they did in the Reagan-Bush years, they can change their tune during the Trump years as well. Unlike the Democrat party itself, the creators of pop culture need to appeal to the mainstream, which has now revealed that it doesn't give a shit about conspicuous leisure, elite degeneracy, and identity politics.

26 comments:

  1. You might see Netflix's Stranger Things series as an early harbinger of this trend. Set in a self-consciously Spielbergian 1980s small town, it has a remarkably low level of that snide weren't-we-all-benighted-back-then that our media elites feel compelled to insert into their period pieces.

    The other thing I'd point out is that while they made those Nixon- and Reagan-era series to appeal to neglected white constituencies, they did so precisely in order to subvert their values and get them back on the liberal plantation. Remember all those "very special episodes" dealing with Hot Button X (homosexuality, abortion, racism, feminism, etc)?

    Of course, these didn't take immediately. Archie Bunker and Alex Keaton were supposed to be figures of mockery, but instead became the most sympathetic characters on their shows. But over the decades, the unrelenting liberal drip-drip had the desired effect, to the point where even lower-middle class whites now accept vast swathes of the liberal social agenda, to an extent unimaginable to their 1970s forebears.

    So you and Breitbart are both right: politics causes our cultural overlords to cultivate neglected markets with a subversive intent, which in turn affects politics downstream, which affects culture, and so on.

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  2. There is no delayed effect of those attempts to get old Dems back on board. Otherwise you can posit a delay of arbitrarily long length, and say, "See, it may have taken 20-30-50-100 years, but it's finally having an effect!"

    That view suggests that Clinton won in '92 because of All in the Family finally kicking in and paying off.

    Working-class whites did not finally succumb to Norman Lear propaganda from the '70s. Rather, the yuppie globalist Bushies managed to alienate their base so widely that only the Plains stuck by the GOP in '92 and '96. Every other stronghold saw several states break off for Clinton -- California, Mountains, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and the South.

    Most of the "very special episodes" were about problems facing the audience and their world -- assault, robbery / burglary, drugs, suicide, divorce, sexual abuse, running away from home, teen pregnancy, and so on.

    It was rare that they equated "racism" with "sexual assault" in severity because the audience wouldn't buy it. And even those identity politics episodes didn't come on really until the Bush years (late '80s, early '90s). That was just tailing on to political changes -- Jesse Jackson's run in '88 with the Rainbow Coalition.

    The Trump phenomenon has proven how little the lower-middle class actually believes any of that BS about everything being racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. The Cultural Right assumed they had bought into these ideas merely from their voting Democrat.

    That was a profoundly stupid interpretation, when all signs pointed to them biting the bullet and thinking that the Dems were the lesser of two evils compared to the yuppie corporate globalist party led by the Bushies -- not an undeserved reputation.

    Now that the Dems have proven themselves to be the new party of corporate globalism and elitism, and now that a Republican has decided to run on populist and nationalist platforms, the lower-middle class has returned once again to the GOP.

    They want to build a wall against Mexico, deport illegals, ban Muslims from entering the country, and so much else. They didn't buy into multicultural liberalism -- they simply had no nationalist alternative in the cuckservative GOP before Trump came along.

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  3. And of course the Cultural Left made the same profoundly stupid interpretation of the lower-middle class whites voting Democrat as their endorsing multicultural liberalism.

    That's why they were so damn smug about getting their vote in an election where they finally had a real choice to say "the hell with multiculturalism".

    They had forgotten what brought that demographic to their party back in '92 -- being relatively more pro-working class than the arch-corporatist George H.W. Bush.

    The only person who did remember that was Clinton himself, who tried in vain to prod his bullheaded bulldyke of a wife to focus on white working-class regions in flyover country, rather than multicultural elites and elite-wannabes on the coasts.

    Both sides in the culture war assumed that culture was upstream of politics, and both sides were decisively proven wrong during the Trump campaign -- first the Cultural Right during the primary (when Breitbart started off anti-Trump and pro-Cruz), then the Cultural Left during the general.

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  4. "You might see Netflix's Stranger Things series as an early harbinger of this trend."

    Perhaps, although it wasn't that big -- had to be shown on Netflix.

    There's something similar going on with Gen X and Millennials flocking to Red Letter Media instead of Buzzfeed, Onion AV Club, etc. RLM is in Milwaukee, not the coasts or the Sun Belt.

    Again, I'll wait until major critics and reviewers come from and are based in flyover / Rust Belt country before saying that much has changed.

    Right now it's still more like people are escaping and seeking refuge in Stranger Things and RLM reviews.

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  5. That 70's show was set in Wisconsin (I believe the town name was fake though).

    Stranger things.....eh. Here we go again. What is with all the damn period movies/shows? Set in the 80's (or later 70's), no less. Let me take a crack at the things that I'm sure taint it:

    - Shot digitally, with either desaturated or garishly over saturated colors. Poor delineation between people/objects. You-are-there frame rate, instead of the more dream-like motion captured by real film. Granted, an apologist would say that many 80's TV shows were shot on analog video. Sure, that's true. But more for soaps and sitcoms, while other shows were shot on film.

    - Flat as a pancake line delivery.

    - Bored or hysterical facial expressions. Not the sincere joy, anger, stoicism, etc. you see in actual 80's media.

    - No theme song, or if there is a theme song it's either annoying bombast or dull minimalism with little melody or syncopation. If there is incidental music it's also going to have the same problems.

    - Sour late Gen X/Millenial actors who've spent most or all of their lives in a high striving/low outgoingness era. Silent and Boomer actors didn't have this baggage.

    These are criticisms that apply generally to all period pieces set in an era much different than the one we're currently in.

    WRT Family Ties, liberal early Boomers were very harsh towards 80's teenagers. Pragmatism was in, idealism was out. Movies, which were predominately oriented towards teens at the time, were very hard edged. R-rated action movies and slasher movies were huge. 80's late Boomer and Gen X culture was often derided by liberal elites for glorifying violence and cynicism. To those who were young at the time, they might remember that 80's youth culture was about survival and street smarts. The Sixties generation (not Boomers per se, but those born from about 1935-1957) had their chance, but blew it big time, leaving a mess in their wake. Who wanted to listen to a generation of yuppie sell-outs, preachy charlatans, and drug burnouts? 80's teens shied away from "fighting" for a cause, or telling the world that they had some kind of "mission". To an aging hippie, Alex Keaton probably was horrifying. But to many younger viewers, he was unpretentious.

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  6. Cynical Optimist12/17/16, 9:04 PM

    Agnostic, have you ever watched Northern Exposure from the early 90s? That one shows a bit of culture clash between cosmopolitan NYC med school grad and quirky small Alaskan town. It's a slow burn but it's a rich, wholesome show and it's very refreshing, in my opinion. It won a handful of Emmy's and Golden Globes too. i'm curious to hear your take.

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  7. I am inclined to side with Murray on this one and view the media powers willingness to engage flyover country in less than scathing tones as a means to slowly wrangling them back on the path of cultural degeneracy. The path to appalling levels of cultural faggotry was surely littered with scores of small concessions to normal, healthy white people.





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  8. Alice De Goon12/18/16, 5:36 AM

    Agnostic, have you ever watched Northern Exposure from the early 90s? ...It's a slow burn but it's a rich, wholesome show and it's very refreshing, in my opinion.

    Funny, but I seem to recall it being loaded with Poz. Given what Agnostic has said about the Western US Wilderness being naturally permissive and shitlibby, I figured this might have been the reason this particular setting had been chosen. (I seemed to recall that the town in the series had been founded 100 years prior by a pair of lesbians. It would have been difficult, if not impossible to install such a plotline in the Midwest-centered "Little House on the Prairie", although the producers of THAT show tried their best to turn that into an engine for acceptance and multiculturalism as well.)

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  9. "I looked through Wikipedia's lists of major TV shows ...."

    Great post but even though culture is downstream of politics, help fight the culture wars by discarding Wikipedia for Infogalactic (https://infogalactic.com/info/Lists_of_television_programs).
    Initial search speeds are slower as Infogalactic scales up but, to me, worth is to escape such as one escapes Twitter by going to Gab.

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  10. I think I might of mentioned this before. I lived in Milwaukee in the 70s and their was a lot of talk about how the Laverne and Shirley characters were very New Yorkish, nothing like Milwaukee people. Yet their was a lot of pride that Happy Days was set there.

    I was very young at the time but I seem to recall that the local CBS affiliate did not air All In The Family it's first year. Either that or they played it at a later time with a bunch of warnings and disclaimers. The talk was they did this was because Milwaukee is "very conservative". It's interesting that the people of Milwaukee thought of their city as "very conservative" even if the city was liberal politically, including a history of voting in Socialist Mayor's. At the time the word conservative seemed to have a more cultural than political context. I remember my Uncle trying to explain conservative to me using an example of cities where men wear suits and ties to a restaurant instead of more casual dress that you would find in a liberal city. Anyway, I think all along Wisconsin has been more culturally conservative than the coasts despite mostly voting Democrat for President. It's just that TrueCon politics didn't appeal to them, except for the Milwaukee suburban counties which have been surprisingly Republican, even in the post 1992 era.

    You mentioned an article from RedState. Has there been a shakeup over there? I noticed the anti-Trump articles are gone (if anything they are now defensive of Trump). The writers names seem to be different and I don't see the diaries I used to, although perhaps I don't know how to navigate the site. If they really did change my guess it's because their NeverTrump attitude cost them a lot of readers. Perhaps their corporate owner was unhappy about this and changed direction.

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  11. That '70s Show

    I'd quibble on that show being mocking of Flyovers; the show is absolutely horrid (which is why it's replayed constantly on IFC--"middle-aged hipster TV"), but it doesn't mock its area code or state, at least as far as I can see when I flip through the channels. I think it really just doesn't revel in the local community like older shows did; most of the characters are miserable, snarky NYC-sitcom types magically transported to the Midwest. But there is some respect for old-timey values; in one episode, the parents are inadvertantly invited to a swinger group, and, when the joke is revealed, the father seriously calls the swingers "perverts", and he isn't castigated or mocked for his characterization. The father is also in control of his family, not the mother, although he is portrayed as violently overbearing. The boy and girl next door end up together, although the girl is the dominant of the man. The people who slut it up are portrayed as miserable. etc.

    I think it's fair to say the producers were snarky-hipster older folks who at least had a decent nostalgia for the traditional family and love stories.

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  12. I'm not sure Breitbart is so wrong, but I don't think you are either. I think that politics affects culture AND culture affects politics.

    The communists who infiltrated Hollywood from the beginning inserted pro-communist messages into movies that moved the culture. Hollywood pushed the idea of desegregation and blacks-as-victim-saints well before it took hold in the culture. We can find major pictures from the 1920s-early 1950s pushing the ideals that would later lead to busing, ignoring black criminality, etc.

    After all, it's not for nothing that wily-leaders such as Augustus and Elizabeth I imposed strict codes upon theaters and other arts. They understood that plays and poetry and paintings could stir up a lot of trouble (e.g. just before one of the many coups attempted against Elizabeth I, the conspirators performed Shakespeare's Richard II, which was widely viewed as a play excusing the deposing of a monarch).

    The media elites of our culture, however, have vastly overrated the effect of their propaganda. They just don't get that only 1% of the country watched John Stewart; 99% did not. Even as they've doubled and tripled down on the amount of propaganda on TV, they've only succeeded in heightening the beliefs of their followers, but not at converting new followers.

    So while the media elites can create a loud echo chamber of dedicated followers, they can't swing the masses who aren't watching. So if they seek to launch a social campaign (e.g. gay marriage), they need one where their small group of loyal followers is way dedicated and energized, while the masses are either unopposed or only slightly opposed. But if the masses are even only moderately opposed to an elite policy (e.g. mass immigration), the elites will lose.

    As to settings for fiction, Soviet-style realism doesn't sell in hard times; people want escapism. During the Great Depression and WW2, audiences flocked to screwball comedies set amongst the rich where the greatest problem was who was going to marry whom. Similarly, the stagflation, losing-Vietnam 1970s saw a boom in movies about the roaring, wealthy 1920s Jazz Age, where money and liquor flowed like water, every man could be rich, and the country was riding high off it's victory in WWI.

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  13. Random Dude on the Internet12/18/16, 2:09 PM

    The real challenge is to see if the elites are able to overcome their loathing of Trump Country to create sitcoms and movies that appeal to the Midwest and the rust belt without being cynical or condescending. This of course clashes with the culture warriors who want to see more trannies and genderfluids in their media. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The elites in the media obviously want to go with shoving more pronouns into their shows but they know they got to appeal to Wisconsinites if they want to stay in business. This may lead to some interesting media where they might try to tie the two together.

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  14. "As to settings for fiction, Soviet-style realism doesn't sell in hard times; people want escapism. During the Great Depression and WW2, audiences flocked to screwball comedies set amongst the rich where the greatest problem was who was going to marry whom. Similarly, the stagflation, losing-Vietnam 1970s saw a boom in movies about the roaring, wealthy 1920s Jazz Age, where money and liquor flowed like water, every man could be rich, and the country was riding high off it's victory in WWI."

    Actually, if you read enough of this blog the two big influences on art seem to be cyclical- Are people outgoing or not? And are we in a toned down or highly stylized decade? When people didn't get out very often in the late 30's-early 60's, movies were indeed often about elites. Who spoke precisely and dressed well. I'd put this down to wish fulfillment. Cocooning audiences are highly insecure and prefer entertainment with glamorous characters.

    When people were more outgoing in the late 60's-early 90's, the costume budget shrank, frizzy hair and zits were shrugged off, characters became more down to earth, and houses/apartments were more cluttered and unpretentious. Cocooners often mock the aesthetics of the period as cocooner OCD can't tolerate imperfections.

    Also, we alternate between BIG and more drab decades. The 20's, 40's, 60's, 80's, 2000's etc. featuring greys, blues and reds, bigger hair, energetic and propulsive music and so on. Whereas the 30's, 50's, 70's, 90's were more about earth tones, flatter hair, and relaxed music.

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  15. That 70's show had characters who weren't amiable or humble enough to be authentically 70's. But the parents did seem fairly plausible anyway. The dad is a no-nonsense early Silent/late G.I. character who was often right if a tad stodgy. Seems like the actor was channeling the Archie Bunker's of his parent's generation. The mom was a bit flaky and clearly not the leader, which seems period accurate.

    And the show's producers, being Boomers, made the show more about generational differences than geographic differences. Remember that the Sixties generation who came of age in a middle class paradise mostly didn't think that much about class or geography; it was more about "are you with the establishment (read: the G.I. generation) or not?"

    X-ers and Millennials have acquiesced to Boomers on just about every thing imaginable. To the post-Boomers, it's not really about generations. So with that out of the picture, and having grown up in a high striving climate, I think post-Boomers are more likely to be concerned with class and geography (which aren't mutually exclusive).

    Note also that civil wars, annexations, and secessions tend to be more common in high striving eras.

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  16. "It's interesting that the people of Milwaukee thought of their city as "very conservative" even if the city was liberal politically, including a history of voting in Socialist Mayor's. At the time the word conservative seemed to have a more cultural than political context."

    You can best judge a region's traits by ethnicity. The upper Midwest has an affinity for big government but is not socially liberal. It was settled by German farmers, so, there you go. Coastal liberals who rarely or never go up there sometimes conflate Western/Sunbelt libertarianism with generic heartland social conservatism. Hell, even hipsters in the Midwest itself can make this mistake. In fact, big government paranoia is quite rare among Midwest teutons, provided said government isn't funding abortions or exalting the wonders of fudge packing.

    Deracinated whites out West and flinty Northeastern WASPS tend to be the biggest libertarians in America. This fella I heard on a podcast said that he visits family in Minnesota and New England, and one thing that hits him is how the Nordic set tends to be at least passive if not openly enthusiastic about government solutions and programs. Teutons cooperate, Yankees caution.

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  17. Reboots coming for All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times. Right on schedule.

    http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/norman-lear-all-in-the-family-jeffersons-reboots-1201944546/

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  18. Think how close we came to President Maude

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  19. All beer summits during the Trump admin will be conducted with Steve Bannon in an Archie Bunker chair.

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  20. Rob Reiner is one of the rumored pedophile kingpins in Hollywood, BTW (Blind Gossip; connection to Corey Feldman is Stand By Me). He's going to be brought down big-league.

    Archie is going to get revenge once and for all against Meathead.

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  21. Home Improvement is soaked in toxic feminity and contempt for the non-college educated pater familias, who is being portrayed as a perhaps good-natured but thoroughly feckless guy.

    What his wife tries to tell him constantly through her "caring" behavior, but what equally constantly he fails to understand, he finally has explained to him by the neighbor Winston (if that was his name). That wise, earthy and at the same time learned man eventually makes Tim see the light, i.e. understand his wife's wishes and defer to them. And that's when true Home Improvement happens, the series stealthily instructs us.

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  22. Jack Claxton2/7/17, 2:08 AM

    I think that the problem with this blog-post is that it confuses different concepts of culture with each other.

    Wikipedia has the following to say about culture:
    “Culture – set of patterns of human activity within a community or social group and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards, religious beliefs, and traditions are all examples of cultural elements.”

    THAT is the culture Breitbart means when he says that "Politics is downstream from culture." In fact, using this definition of culture, politics is merely a natural and necessary extension of culture – the answer to the question: “How do we structure power-relations in order to enable, protect and secure our culture?”

    This is very different from the sense “culture” is used in this blog-post, which is more in the way of being as a synonym to “The Arts”. Now whereas “The Arts” are no doubt closely bound to culture as in the first definition, it comprises only a small subset of it, and then mostly as a sort of running commentary on culture as defined above. This is NOT the culture Breitbart is talking about when he mentions it in relation to politics.

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  23. If politics is *by definition* an extension of culture, then either 1) you are begging the question (defining politics as downstream of culture), or 2) including politics as one of the things that makes up culture, in which case neither can be downstream of the other since they are not clearly separate things.

    The people who quote Breitbart are *not* talking about the broad "way people do things" definition. Click that link from RedState:

    "Because for all the talk about the politics of ‘Trumpism,’ a major part of what allowed Trump to rise and prevail in the primary was his prominence in popular culture as well as the generally debased state of American culture in general these days. And if conservatives have any path back from the ruins, it will have to include finding a way to get our message and messengers into the cultural mainstream."

    Earlier his definition of culture is:

    "People generally put more of their hearts and free time into cultural pursuits – from mass media and video game consumption to churches, schools, museums, gun clubs, bowling leagues, etc. – than political ones, so the attitudes that pervade the the larger spaces of their lives affect the smaller ones, not just in what they believe but who they know and trust."

    His focus, too, is on my definition of culture -- media, schools, "cultural" institutions, and only passing mention of bowling leagues and gun clubs.

    This is all beside the main point, though, which is that Trump and the Trump movement did *not* engage and change "the culture," however broadly or narrowly defined, before changing politics.

    They did not organize out of gun clubs, bowling leagues, union halls, etc.

    They did not form enclaves in work, living, or leisure spaces.

    They did not adopt and model alternative lifestyles for other potential converts.

    The only cultural domain they fought in was the media, and they did not change anything there -- it was even more business as usual from the media.

    Breitbart et al are talking about creating parallel institutions within the media (schools, museums, etc.), whereas Trump went right into the existing structures. Most of the parallel conservative institutions were bitterly raging against Trump all throughout the primaries -- so that shows how much that was worth.

    Trump was simply putting out a signal to people whose minds were already on the same wavelength, letting them know that finally someone to their liking was running for office. He did not change their usual thought processes or their daily behavior routines.

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  24. There have been several articles since the election talking about how liberals have started to withdraw from social media because they head headline fatigue, drained energy from arguing, constant reminders of what Trump's accomplishing, etc.

    This is another clear example of people's patterns of activity changing after politics changed, not vice versa.

    We did not eject liberals from social media, and with our foot in that door, proceed to win the White House. We won the election without changing a crucial domain of social-cultural activity.

    Likewise, conservatives didn't really start to drop out of mainstream culture until after Clinton was elected. Clintonites did not win the White House by changing the patterns of activity that prevailed during the Nixon-Reagan-Bush period.

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  25. Jack Claxton2/7/17, 11:31 PM

    Well yes, I mean it more in the sense of “2) including politics as one of the things that makes up culture” although I don’t agree that the one cannot then be downstream of the other.

    I’m not sure that it is possible to obtain the clean sort of demarcation between culture and politics that would make it accurately treatable in propositional logic. My model is more one of culture being a huge set of things, with politics as a smaller subset of that set with some sort of time-lag existing between the two. Politics is informed by culture and there is, of course, some feedback from politics into culture. Think of things such as synergy and equilibrium, here. Because politics lags culture temporally, "Politics is downstream from culture." (Some, who shall remain nameless, would probably talk of a ‘dialectic’).

    The reason I do this is because I want to agree with Breitbart, and I can’t conceive of it as that he meant it to imply that politics is dependent on what you can watch on TV.

    I agree that the Trump movement did not engage with and change culture. As you say, it tapped into an existing culture of which the members perceived themselves to be under the threat of their extinction even whilst paying for it – a threat posed from both the Democrats and the Republicans equally. In terms of culture, I believe that Trump-support came from those who feel that they are fighting for their identity, and that is quite emphatically a cultural identity. In that sense, the vote for Trump wasn’t a vote for Trump at all, it was a vote out of desperation that would’ve gone to anyone who showed a willingness to disrupt the status quo.

    Anyway, this merely confirms that the culture that made Trump possible was an existing one, it did not follow from Trump's election. Trump is downstream of this culture.

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  26. Trump voters don't care about identity politics. Only upper-middle class people fight culture wars, whereas Trump's decisive win was due to working class voters who don't have a strong opinion, one way or the other, about hanging the Ten Commandments in public schools.

    The existing mindset that Trump tapped into was based mostly on economics -- de-industrialization -- and the nature of government per se -- open borders, interventionist foreign policy, etc. Not cultural or social matters.

    You admit to twisting the definition of "culture" to be whatever allows you to resonate with the feelings of Breitbart and others, rather than evaluate some claim about how the world works.

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