The thread below, with the Jonah Goldberg fans (!), is as good an opening as any to talk about some ideas I've had about "movement conservatives" vis. the role of "intellectuals" in 21st century American culture.
(NOTE: By "movement conservatives" I mean those who participate actively or semi-actively in the field of wingnut production, that is, right-wing talk radio shitheads, the Right Blogosphere, ponderous print magazines like The National Review, political operatives, College Republican conventioneers, all the way down to dumbass comments thread trolls. I don't mean people who sometimes vote GOP, casual Limbaugh listeners, the "MSM," or odious "centrists." A more scientific designation is necessary, but this will be enough to get on with.)
Modern American "movement conservatives" are obviously perplexed by American culture, in its high as well as pop flavors. On the one hand, they hate it -- we're all going to Hollyweird Hell; lie-berals run the colleges, oh my. On the other hand, they can be pathetically clap-hands excited about any sort of cultural production that they can somehow pretend is authentically "conservative." Hence such embarrassing drivel as the "top 50 conservative rock songs", and, well, this classic, which is in some ways the high water mark of the "conservative movement," and is as revealing as it is hilarious:
Any red-blooded American conservative, even those who hold a dim view of Patrick Swayze's acting "talent," knows a Red Dawn reference. For all the talk of left wing cultural political correctness, the right has such things, too (DO shop at Wal-Mart, DON'T buy gas from Citgo). But in the progressive halls of the mainstream media, such things prompt little or no recognition. For the MSM, Dan Rather is just another TV anchor, France is just another country and Red Dawn is just another cheesy throwaway Sunday afternoon movie.
The jokes just write themselves. But hold off on that. Note the ambivalences. Contempt for the entire extant apparatus of American cultural production coexists with a bizarre enthusiasm for a stupid movie on the grounds that it somehow embodies and transmits markers of a specifically "conservative" cultural identity. "Conservatives" in this conception form a subgroup of Homo Americanus -- one with its own distinctive practices and rituals and modes of belonging. And these are validated by a film produced by an industry widely recognized as not especially friendly to "conservatives," as they themselves incessantly complain. Fascinating.
Note also the more subtle contradiction in that paragraph, in the slight on Patrick Swayze's "acting skills." Red Dawn is allegedly more than "just another cheesy throwaway Sunday afternoon movie"; but it still obviously features a big, dumb, cheesy performance by an actor notorious for appearing in big, dumb, cheesy vehicles. So even as the snivelling plagiarist we're dissecting sneers at the "MSM" for (subjunctively) dismissing Red Dawn as "cheesy" ephemera, he concedes that they would have a point in doing so.
It's all very confused. But it's worth stepping back and recognizing that these are structural ambivalences, necessary consequences of the way the movement conservative identity is being constructed. The imperative here is not to make an argument, or to even make sense. It is to validate the distinct group identity of "conservatives."
What's really being whined about is that "movement conservatives" lack the power to define what is and what is not authentic expression within American culture. It's a familiar lament. They contend that this power is unjustly wielded by self-interested elite classes such as the "progressive MSM," who for essentially political reasons conspire to deny movement conservatism its claim to independence as a unique American social group by deligitimizing or ignoring its self-distinguished forms of cultural expression.
Of course, this analysis has its empirical problems: there is no such thing as the "progressive MSM." Oh well; it's not like you can reason with them on this point, or on any of the other tenets of wingnut orthodoxy. What really matters is the very palpable wingnut fear that you can't be a member of a distinct American social group if you don't have a distinctive set of cultural practices which gives your tribe its unique identity -- and it bugs the hell out of them that they lack the ability to dominate the mechanisms by which such identities are for better or worse nowadays commonly produced and recognized, namely, TV shows, movies, shit on the Internets, popular music, and so on.
Which explains why these intrepid patriotic free-marketeers have so much static with what is probably the last economic area where American global dominance remains unrivalled: the Hollywood entertainment industry is our last powerhouse. More importantly, it explains their love/hate rhetoric with regards to mainstream American culture.
What do you do when someone else runs the game? You yell that it's fixed and you don't care about it really and that it's Evil and Corrupting. But that hardly means that you don't scream out in delight when you get any sort of momentary advantage. Never mind that denouncing the game and playing it to win are contradictory strategies. As Freud pointed out, when it's our identity and desires on the line, we're far more often convinced and comforted by the sheer number of arguments we can marshall to our cause than we are bothered by the fact that these arguments may be completely inconsistent.
Hence such absurdities as the wingnutty obsession with classifying movies according to whether or not they're "conservative" to the exclusion of all other criteria, which basically amounts to nothing more than a painfully naive exercise in self-flattering wankery (as in this comical Red State Lord of the Rings thread). And these structural ambivalences towards popular culture are precisely those shown towards high culture, as in The Academy: "conservatives" are staunchly opposed to affirmative action, except where it could benefit themselves, in the areas of more stupid movies made by wingnuts and more of the "conservative tradition" being taught by a right-wing faculty.
It's funny, but for all the whining about "identity politics," nobody is more tied to it than "movement conservatives." So tied to it, in fact, that they have to invent their own "intellectual tradition" out of old Norton Anthologies and a firm conviction that Edmund Burke would be high-fiving Alexis de Toqueville right now over the passage of the Patriot Act. More relevant to the Right Wankosphere, they're compelled to adopt a tortuous stance of "civil discourse" in order to pinch-hit for the intellectual capital they sense they lack, an attitude that in the end amounts to the contention that their insane enthusiasm for incompetent warmongering is a perfectly reasonable "intellectual position" simply because they don't use the word "fuck."