Embrace Your Inner Conservative Artist
By David Bozeman
As published by the Liberty Features Syndicate.
The Iraq War feature Brothers at War opened in Fayetteville, NC in mid-March. Executive producer Gary Sinise, who has been a tireless advocate for our soldiers, was on hand to greet fans. I have not seen the film, though I have heard it is a deep and heartfelt tribute to our military.
Predictably, one laments that such films today are the exception and not the rule, given the slew of anti-Iraq War films such as Rendition, Lions for Lambs and In the Valley of Elah.
Thus what follows is a clarion call for conservatives to embrace art and entertainment just as liberals have (though I am referring primarily to right-wingers, for the course of this discussion, 'conservative' can cover anyone, regardless of political or ideological affiliation, dedicated to preserving what are commonly known as traditional values).
Granted, culture is not altered by matching every 'liberal' work for a 'conservative' one merely to achieve parity. Culture is dangerously polarized when such cardinal values as patriotism and support for our military efforts (to name but a few) are labeled conservative. Warm, fuzzy concepts such as compassion and inclusion, of course, are always deemed liberal. Does culture, in this case art and entertainment, matter? Incontrovertibly, yes. Does culture influence society or merely reflect it? Probably a good deal of both.
Culture sustained homefront morale during World War II, though the era's cultural icons were not the domain of any ideology. For society to marginalize as conservative the belief that American might has been a force for good in the world is a fairly new phenomenon.
For at least the last 60 years conservatives have yielded too much cultural ground to the left. Though we have been sharply critical of our culture's relativism, we have been tentative about actually getting in there and reshaping it. Just as we readily concede huge swaths of the electorate to the left, we accept their determination that conservatives are, by definition, culturally impotent. We see ourselves as logical and not artistic, we stay in the comfort boxes of business and reason, stressing action over contemplation, athletic endeavor over drama and results over meaning. 'We excel at talk radio and Fox News, the left can have the culture,' is our default position.
It does seem that the sharpest and brightest talent thrives on the left. Liberal entertainment is harder hitting, more cutting edge. Sometimes the fact that a work of entertainment rebels against cherished values makes it a forbidden fruit and, thus, tastier. Let's face it, will Christian rock ever be daring or rebellious in the sense, of say, Led Zeppelin? Artistically, can anyone argue that the terms 'avant-garde' and 'traditional' are synonymous?
The Liberty Film Festival, highlighting conservative documentary, has not produced a right-wing Michael Moore. And speaking of Moore, An American Carol, which was a full-out lampoon of the famed propagandist, barely registered at the box office.
Nonetheless, culture need not necessarily offend mainstream sensibilities for quality and entertainment's sake. The 1940s offers numerous examples of films that sustained tradition and patriotism, yet rank among the most popular and critically acclaimed ever. The Why We Fight series of documentaries produced, in part, by the US Signal Corps and the great Frank Capra, is considered by film historians one of the finest.
By contrast, if Fahrenheit 9/11 is remembered at all, it will be as a prototype of the rabid, anti-war hysteria that animated the left during the Bush era. Countless dramas -- 1945's They Were Expendable and 1949's The Sands of Iwo Jima come to mind -- rank among the best of their genere. The aforementioned films and others -- as well as music, advertising and icons -- not only dominated the era, they defined it. One could argue that America has changed and the War on Terror is not World War II. True enough. The 1960s intervened. The studio system collapsed -- movies that bomb domestically can recoup their losses abroad and Hollywood's Democrat-Republican coexistence has all but vanished.
No one is advocating suffering through inferior entertainment just because we agree with its ideological content while ignoring superior entertainment that dares to challenge our most sacred beliefs. Fortunately, we need not always face that dilemma. Ben Stein's Intelligent Design documentary Expelled was both humorous and insightful, though it received less fanfare than Bill Maher's anti-God entry Religulous.
But few conservative artists and entertainers wield the clout of Ben Stein. Making it in the business is tough under the best of conditions but is next to impossible when your worldview lies to the right of center of those in your industry. Those fighting the good fight deserve our support. Why not a foundation to offer scholarships to our budding film makers? Let us continue the Liberty Film Festival and support and influence art and the humanities in academia and in our communities.
By carving out a niche in the culture, we can squelch the idea that antimilitary bile, profanity and illicit sex are cutting edge. Even granting that shock value and resistance to conformity are the sparks of creative achievement, conservatives are well positioned. With Obama-mania still the rage and single motherhood at 40%, we can be considered the outsiders. Conservatives could well own the term 'avant-garde' -- if we claim it. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has . . . all the exhilaration of a vice."
David Bozeman is a syndicated columnist.