Saturday, August 2, 2014

Taking Back the Culture

A friend of mine gave me a photocopy over lunch the other day of an article by Adam Bellow at National Review Online. As he passed it across the table he said with tongue-in-cheek, "You may not know it, but you're a counter-cultural hero." I was intrigued. I've long thought of myself as counter-cultural, resisting, however futiley, the cultural tide threatening to inundate us in our own sewage, but heroic is not an adjective I ever thought appertained to anything I did. Having read the piece, I understand what my friend was referring to, although humility, and reality, constrain me to reluctantly decline the encomium.

In his article Bellow issues marching orders and instructions for conservatives who wish to take back the culture. He argues, rightly, I think, that the market for non-fiction books laying out the whys and wherefores of conservatism as well as the plenitude of flaws in liberalism is maxed out:
Recently I was asked to comment on the state of conservative publishing for an article in BuzzFeed. My major focus was the difficulty of publishing the sort of serious, intellectually demanding books that used to be the staple of the movement. I ticked off relevant factors such as the rise of conservative mass media, the proliferation of publishing imprints, the decline of book reviewing, and the bifurcation of political media into spheres of left and right, leading to the disappearance of serious controversy.

What I didn’t say is this: The real problem isn’t the practical challenge of turning serious books into bestsellers. The real problem is that we may have reached the limit of what facts and reasoned arguments can do. The real problem is that the whole conservative nonfiction enterprise has peaked and reached its limit of effectiveness. [E]ven as we appear to be winning the political argument, for the moment anyway, we are losing on the cultural front. For proof, you need look no farther than the recent successful attacks on conservative spokesmen.

Conservatives do seem to understand that this is a battle that must be engaged. But they don’t seem to know how to fight it. What they urgently need to realize is that this is not a battle that can be fought in the realm of ideas and politics. We can win every election for the next 50 years and it won’t matter, if conservatives are not allowed to speak. Nor can we debate and argue this incipient totalitarian movement out of existence. We can publish all the polemics and blog posts we want. But if that is all we’ve got, we are still going to lose the larger war.
So, to paraphrase the Marxists, what is to be done? Bellow writes this:
Fear not, however — this is no doom-and-gloom scenario. I actually come bearing good news. A second front is opening in the oddly misnamed culture war (which has nothing to do with culture). The tools of our salvation are at hand. There’s a new posse in town. We just need to wake up and support them.

The late Andrew Breitbart understood the importance of popular culture and was determined not to neglect it. “Politics is downstream from culture,” he famously said, and he continually called upon conservatives to quit griping about liberal media bias and do something constructive instead. Write your own books, he exhorted. Record your own music. Make your own movies. Everyone agreed that this would be a great idea. But no one knew how to go about making it happen.

Andrew was right. The conservative counterrevolution is coming. Indeed it is already here. It’s just that most conservatives haven’t noticed it yet. It came to my attention only because of the position I occupy in the New York publishing world. As a nonfiction editor throughout my career I never missed publishing fiction. It just seemed a little bit beside the point. I figured we would win the battle of ideas first, and then the imbalance in the culture would correct itself. But that didn’t seem to be happening. If anything, liberal dominance of popular culture seemed more entrenched than ever.

Meanwhile, more and more, I started hearing from conservative authors asking if I would look at their novels. I read quite a few of these, and while some of them were awful, many others were entertaining and well done. But they didn’t rise to the level of proficiency required for mass-market publication, and no sectarian market existed for conservative-themed fiction. So I suggested they self-publish, making use of the new digital-distribution technologies.

At first I thought of this as an isolated phenomenon. But the queries continued and after a while I began to see it as a trend. I started poking around the Kindle store to see what was up and found dozens of self-published books by conservative authors bravely putting forth their work and hoping to be discovered. I already knew that science fiction had attracted many libertarians. But this phenomenon was clearly more extensive. Conservatives were writing books in every genre — thriller, mystery, historical, military, western, gothic, supernatural, romance, and young adult, not to mention numerous hybrids. Similar searches at iTunes and YouTube turned up dozens of conservative and libertarian pop songs and videos.

Andrew didn’t live to see it, but conservatives are making their own culture. They are writing and publishing their own books, recording their own music, and making their own videos and films. It is Breitbart’s Revolt.

This outpouring of creativity on the right doesn’t just represent the emergence of a new genre or market — though it is both in my opinion. Taken together, it amounts to nothing less than the rise of a new counterculture. Only this time it is coming from the right, and not, as in the Sixties, from the left.
My friend's jest was a reference to my novel, In the Absence of God,which, though it's not political or ideological, is an attempt to fire a few shots in the culture war through the medium of fiction. Like Bellow, I just don't find that very many people, especially young people, read non-fiction, and they especially don't read non-fiction that argues for a point of view contrary to their own. There are tons of books out there on all sorts of topics relating to politics, religion, etc. that just gather dust on bookshelves. People are, however, may be inclined to read stories and to to be swayed by messages that are conveyed by stories. That's why most best-sellers are novels and even non-fiction works that become best-sellers are biographies or other works, like histories, that tell stories.

Movies and television have been such powerful propaganda weapons for the left because they tell stories. Popular music plays a similar role and conservatives could certainly do more in this field as well.

In between the excerpts I cite here Bellow packs a lot of argument for his thesis, and it would repay reading the whole thing. He finishes with this.
I know what Andrew Breitbart would say if he were here: Stop giving money to Karl Rove to spend on useless political ads. Instead, you should support the conservative literary wing, which has been producing great stuff against tremendous odds and urgently needs your help.

The question is, What are you personally going to do about it? Every conservative has a responsibility to support the rising counterculture. Buy their books and records. Share their videos with your friends. Join the crew at Liberty Island and support our authors with tip-jar contributions and donations to our crowd-funding efforts. Or become a creator yourself — write a story, record a song, make a video.

What good will it do to write a novel? May as well ask what good it did to show the revolutionary flag at Bunker Hill (a battle we lost, by the way). We need to hoist our flag and show the strength of our resolve in order to build morale and win recruits. Remember, this is still a fight that can be lost. Will we as a society reject the new regime of liberal thought control or will we let it impose a politically correct orthodoxy on us that we will all have to live with for the rest of our lives? Win or lose... defiance is both a moral and a practical necessity.

As a friend of mine once put it: Resist! Surrender is futile.