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Mon Oct 1, 2012, 03:44 AM

Salon.com: The Right's Pop-Culture Problem - A Recent History of Embarrassing Moments [View all]


SUNDAY, SEP 30, 2012 08:00 AM EDT

The right’s pop-culture problem
From Clint to "Won't Back Down" to "October Baby": A recent history of embarrassing right-wing culture moments


As the anti-union inspirational drama “Won’t Back Down,” Dinesh D’Souza’s deeply crazy Obama conspiracy-theory documentary “2016” and the Clint Eastwood fiasco at the Republican National Convention suggest, conservatives have a problem with pop culture. They don’t much like it or trust it, and the feeling is mutual; every time the two try to dance, the results are embarrassing to all. This becomes painfully clear every time a Republican candidate holds a fundraiser in Hollywood, which has of course been a bottomless source of money for Barack Obama and every other significant Democrat on the national stage, going back at least as far as Adlai Stevenson.

Last weekend Mitt Romney’s campaign held just such an event in Beverly Hills, and most of the names on the guest list were downright depressing: A few aging producers like action-movie impresario Jerry Bruckheimer and 1970s game-show pioneer Burt Sugarman; a few showbiz relics like Pat Boone and Connie Stevens. Almost the only contemporary and recognizable figures were Patricia Heaton (you know! Debra from “Everybody Loves Raymond”!) and “CSI: NY” star Gary Sinise, quite likely the only Republican who has ever directed a Sam Shepard play. Indeed, Sinise is so beloved by the lonely cadre of culturally savvy right-wingers – they do exist! – that former George W. Bush and John McCain aide Nicolle Wallace floated a rumor in 2009 that he might run for president. (Given the way things look for Romney right now, I bet a lot of Republicans would love to go back in time and work a little harder on that.)

You can slice this particular cultural phenomenon any number of ways: Depending on your perspective, Hollywood is either a bastion of progressive, independent thinkers or a hotbed of America-haters, socialists and sexual deviants. Viewed more neutrally, it’s probably fair to say that the creative classes in every modern society have skewed leftward, and that the reasons for that are deeply encoded in history. When power belonged to the king, the church and the generals, and was devoted to enforcing obedience, conformity and bourgeois family life, you could hardly expect the poets and actors – what with their absinthe and their opium and their complicated sexual affairs – to play along.

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It’s as if the producers and directors of these movies never got the memo about how culture in the digital age is supposed to look and feel – and they probably didn’t. (I’m not necessarily endorsing the sleek, knowing manner of nearly all entertainment aimed at an educated adult audience, but we’re all pretty used to it.) Whether this is a deliberate strategy I couldn’t say, but in the case of “Won’t Back Down,” which positions itself as a “Stand and Deliver”-type inspirational tale about inner-city education before dropping some deep wisdom on the evils of teachers’ unions, the answer is probably no. But if you think I’m exaggerating or manufacturing this tendency, I double-dare you – no, triple-dare you! – to watch “An American Carol,” the anti-Michael Moore spoof from 2008 and the most notorious of all conservative efforts to engage in waggery, ribaldry and high jinks.


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