Competing with the cultural establishment is becoming more viable as the structural barriers begin coming down. When the entire cable model dies, the internet will have done to broadcast entertainment what it did to the print press and what the book reader did to the publishing house. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that conservatives will be any better positioned to compete in the culture war than they were before. And they won’t be if they keep on worrying about the latest incarnation of New York and LA media High Culture.
There’s bad news and good news in all this. The good news is that the top-down model is shakier than ever before. The less centralized the culture becomes, the less it has to run through New York and Los Angeles’ incestuous media establishments, the fewer political gatekeepers there are. The bad news is that entertainment with fewer gatekeepers can also be worse than the left’s worst excesses. And the other bad news is that the new decentralized gatekeepers are more likely to be social media tastemakers crying racism for pageviews and denouncing thought-crimes on an hourly schedule.
The culture is more up for grabs than ever before, but it’s also a lot harder to corral. The problem is much bigger than buying a woman’s magazine or a television network or some airtime. None of those things really matter anymore. They’re like buying a telegraph pole to compete with AT&T. There is no shortcut to creating a counter-culture. The good news is that the bones of the counter-culture exist in the conservative movement. All that’s left is organizing them into a force.
Worrying about what HBO airs is futile. HBO is a dinosaur, but it has freedom of action and a great deal of media leverage. It is at that perfect intersection of media elites where things are important because everyone you know, who is in the same business as you, pays attention to them. That structural power to monopolize attention is becoming a lot harder to come by. In the long run HBO will be dead, but the problems of competing with a cultural establishment that is organized, trained and has the inside track will remain.
This isn’t about Hollywood. It’s about America. Creative industries tend to come with their own built in decay. That has been true for centuries and was probably true for thousands of years before that. It does not mean that the theater stage or the movie theater, the artist’s studio or the concert hall are bad places, but creativity tends to involve redefinition and a tearing down of the old to make way for the new. It can be a good thing, so long as a society has stabilizing values that it places above those of its entertainments, giving it something to believe in and giving them something to push against.
The entertainment industry is too big and powerful, but that will change. What will not change is that the nation is losing its values. And when a country’s values erode, then the critics and cynics, the poets and artists, the philosophers and raconteurs, don’t push against a pillar, but against a wheel, and discover that they can make the culture go where they want. They are not the real problem. The lack of stability is.
Changing all that will require thinking about more than what is wrong with Hollywood, but about what is wrong with America. Countering destructive entertainment with constructive entertainment is more doable than ever before. Building a consensus of conservative culture warriors is also doable. But the greater challenge lies not in the entertainment, but in the people. The agenda of the left has fit into a comfortable groove in a culture that has chosen the softer things over the harder things. It’s easy enough to create culture that fits into such lazy grooves, but harder to create ideas that challenge a nation to choose the harder path and the more difficult choices.
Originally published at Sultan Knish, under the title, “We Now Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming.”