wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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What if they gave a (culture) war and nobody came?

Terry Teachout has an essay on artsblogging which touches on the breakdown of American culture and part of the reason there's such a split between Red & Blue America.

Part of what caught and held my interest is Teachout's description of how things changed and why they changed, an account that dovetails neatly with Camille Paglia's "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders" and Jerry Pournelle's "Treason of the Clerks". Stripped to its basics, during the 1970s and 80s, American universities abandoned the notion that the West (and particularly America) had a common culture worth studying, preserving and passing on to new generations and instead turned to a relativist, "post-modern" attitude best exemplified by Jesse Jackson's chant "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture's got to go!". You can see the lingering aftershocks of that abandonment in the struggles of parents, politicians, and teachers over what should and should not be taught in high school English and history classes.

For the most part, though, I think Teachout is correct. The culture wars of the late 20th century are largely over, because instead of pitching in and fighting to keep the public schools, universities and media outlets, American conservatives instead chose to withdraw into their ouwn communities, choose their own media (mostly on the Internet, or by choosing Rupert Murdoch's FOX News network over ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC or PBS) and where the schools could not be convinced or pressured to change, withdraw from them and home-school the children. This is not to say that the culture wars are completely over. The universities are still the scenes of bitter controversy between leftists (or, as Paglia claims, careerist drones) following Gramsci's admonition to make the Long March through the institutions in order to transform society.

So on the one hand we have New York and Hollywood, (the networks and the studios), the universities, and the public schools. On the other, you have a decentralized collection of talk radio hosts, bloggers, and parents who have either decided to school their children themselves or who have fought tooth and nail for the right to send their children to schools they choose, not the ones chosen for them by school boards and unelected educrats. Red America: Tom Wolfe, Robert Heinlein, and Homer Hickam. Blue America: John Updike, Paul Ehrlich, and Dr. Phil. Of course this is gross oversimplification; the map that neatly divides America into Red and Blue actually is more accurate when it shows the country in a range of purple shades, and that map doesn't even begin to indicate the many and varied subcultural pockets all over the country that don't fit neatly into the simple red/blue dichotomy. Where precisely do the Hispanics fit in, and how do you separate the upper-class Cubanos from the middle-class Hispanos (who have been here since before this was America) from the Puerto Ricans and Mexicans and other Central American Juanito-come-latelies? They don't have much in common besides language and religion, and sometimes not even that.

For better or worse, America had a common culture and identity for most of its history, combining with the law to make us the nation we were. The culture is gone now, fragmented possibly beyond hope of recovery. The identity is constantly under assault as a relic of a culture seen as obsolete or irrelevant. Is the law going to be enough to hold us together as a country?

See also Daniel Henninger's column on the Michael Jackson trial.
Tags: culture & politics
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