culture war

Now that I’m becoming a Jon Stewart watcher (!), last night he said it was the first time he really “got” the culture wars. It really is about developing a system that can accommodate difference – the most radical alterity – those whose vision of what human culture ought to be is different than ours – the red states.
I want to disagree with Stephen’s reactive insistence that we have to resort to the rhetoric of fear in order to sway those still “reachable” through various forms of communication. I want to contest his pronouncement, “Democracy is not possible.” (Viveca’s retort, “What about rhetoric and performance?” was a gem.) ­čÖé


Perhaps “a” rhetoric of “fear” is needed, but a different one than the threat of random violence (already endemic, but heightened via “terrorism”). Indeed, we were close, and the electorate was (and hopefully will continue to be) more engaged than in decades. This is hopeful. Of course, few people have access to the kind of venue we have in this class – where our forcefully-stated opinions run the gamut from the Greens to old-style, “small r”, conservative Republicans. We were ALL equally disturbed by the result of this election. This is extremely hopeful; it demonstrates that there is a middle-ground (not a center, smile) that can be carved out in which difference is encouraged and respected. THAT is what we need to move to, moreso, I think, than a capitulation to the tropes that have worked effectively in the past.
What would be the new terms of fear? I don’t think Stephen is far off with his trio of “racists, rapists, and the rich”. The refusal to accommodate difference and the cowardice to confront our own internalized biases and prejudices IS the crux of the culture war (and I do have a sense that its singular now, here in the US, not plural).
But I think where Kerry made an error was in not continuing with the strength of his message that “we can do better” and a rhetoric of hope to counteract the rhetoric of fear. Maybe he did, but the media didn’t cover those sound bytes, preferring to cultivate the antagonism of character defamation. Most of us recognize that Kerry’s policies were not going to be that different from Bush’s – which is a huge problem in and of itself, that we can only produce candidates who intend to perpetuate economic neo-liberalism – the difference would have been more subjective, based in attitude, which would open up different possibilities.
Our response, I think, has to be consistent with a different attitude. So, if we develop and utilize a rhetoric of fear, it needs to be balanced with an equally powerful rhetoric of hope. Bush did that too – that’s the point of the “strong father who will protect women’s childern” image that swayed so many women – and the Dems were also weak on that, although I think there are seeds that can be grown.
We need a movement, and that takes wicked hard work, hours, days and years of dedication. Although the youth block was still relatively small (17%?), the majority preferred Kerry. That bodes well for the future.

3 thoughts on “culture war”

  1. An invitation from someone to hear MY comments? wow…thanks. Below are two. One written yesterday morn. The other written some 7 weeks ago in response to a Donna Halpern (who I do not know) bulk email about the jaundiced eye of journalism.
    You asked……
    ******************
    Some random thoughts at 7:30am – November 3
    Republicans are smarter than Democrats….get over it….or get smarter.
    And they tell the best stories…even if we don’t like to hear them.
    The Northeast and West Coast are simply out of touch with America. Get out and look around.
    Dems were absolutely trounced on every conceivable level.
    Popular vote, Senate, House, Supreme Court….even Daschle….
    It would have been worse if Clinton operatives hadn’t parachuted in at the 11th hour.
    Ideology clearly trumps intellect. This may take a generation or more to overcome.
    Indoctrination comes from everywhere…but churches clearly trump schools.
    EVERYTHING in our lives will now be categorized red or blue.
    Young adults….is it any surprise they not as blue as we thought? This will worsen.
    The new great election game is to lie to exit-pollers.
    The country is polarized by design not chance. This will not change, it’s how ideologues govern best .
    Ohioans prefer Shilling and Arnold over Springsteen.
    When campaigning – use short sentences.
    Check the futures market this morning. Make money and shut up.
    Mainstream media as we know it today is dying on the vine…..believe it.
    Osama has a lot to learn about the new media world. Obama does not.
    The huge military offensive now amassing outside of Fallujah will be a spectacular and patriotic event.
    Say adios to civil discourse, the environment, roe v. wade, (fill in the blank) ______________ .
    4 more years…that’s a reeeaaallllly long time.
    ****************************************************************************
    From: holland@pencilogic.com
    Date: Sat Sep 25, 2004 8:27:29 AM US/Eastern
    To: Donna Halper
    Subject: Re: how the media use right-wing framing of issues
    On Friday, September 24, 2004, at 04:50 PM, Donna Halper wrote:
    Here is a recent New York Times headline of an article describing a George Bush stump speech in Michigan:
    ************
    ************
    Donna,
    Thanks for the excellent email. I reply with my personal thoughts – very respectfully….
    Headlines? Is this news news to anyone? “Journalistic standards of fairness” are the ghost of some christmas past. It’s almost quaint to reflect in the sepia tones of that soft-focus notion. It”s a bare-knuckle world. Was journalism any different in 1900? This article plays out the real history of our politics and “journalism”. We say what we want. They say what they want. Like stupid neighbors shouting at each other over the fence. The Republicans are just doing it a whole lot better right now.
    The “right” doesn’t have a monopoly on double speak. The country bleeds from both edges of that sword. Journalists have an overarching “duty” to feed their families…and even more so, now that newsrooms are simply “for profit” ventures. Who can say with certainty that Kerry’s healthcare “proposals” will be less or more…better or worse? I’m an engaged citizen…and I can’t. I want to believe Bush is wrong…but truly I don’t know what “facts” to believe. I’d like to know where they put the truth so I can take a good long look at it. But one thing for sure, whining over statistics is for losers during an election campaign.
    The Dems will lose in 45 days because:
    1. Equation: 2 strong emotions > 1.5 strong emotions.
    Republicans love Bush and hate Kerry. Dems hate Bush and like Kerry. And that could be the ultimate difference.
    2. It is much more effective campaigning (and selling news) in terms of black-and-white, than it is struggling to convince by nuance-ing through some gray-scale logic. Educated people (and they are certainly in the minority) can grapple with complexities….most voters however seemingly do, for whatever reason, prefer to parrot back party cliches. So the Republicans feed them their preferred kibbles of meaningless drivel. They apparently like to eat it. Why else would the Boston Herald be going even faster in the wrong direction?
    3. The Dems don’t have Karen Hughes or Karl Rove. Where is Kerry’s “Jim Carville” brawler? Hughes and Rove are spectacularly effective. Just look at how they staged the RNC visuals. A cardboard set with a plywood podium? Why not bring those bales of hay? It was the perfect counterpunch to the “hollywood” approach taken here in Boston. They get the FORMS of the message, and they play ’em like a fiddle. The Dems don’t. We saw McCain, Guiliani, Pataki and Arnold? Where was Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Powell, Thompson, Ridge, Rice? Brilliant. Talk about framing….the Republicans win on every front.
    As vital and noble as the article’s argument is, not everyone can fight that fight. I mean, if you have a gun and one bullet….who do you shoot? The prez or Dan Rather? (that’s a metaphor…) My guess is that Mary Mapes actually takes the bullet…but that’s another email rant. The Republicans “rule” the language, the discourse, and the delivery systems. It’s too simplistic to blame the people or the reporters. We sound like mumbling toddlers in this election. They sound like strong men in suits. Who do you think’s gonna win that one? Maybe Oprah (I mean GM) can give a car to every Democrat? If scholars are so smart…why aren’t we on TV?
    I was on the convention floor when Kerry’s balloons came down. I clapped and stomped until I was numb. But the bottom line is that to win… “we” need better (double?) speakers than they have. Like a Bill Clinton. Because that’s how the battle line is drawn right now. Whether you like it or not Orwell was 55 years ago. We still cry about it while Roger Ailes masters the concept. We continue to preach to our choir, while they rabidly recruit from every street corner, boardroom and pew. The high-road of intellect leads off into the clouds somewhere in this race. If you don’t win you can’t lead anything. Simple. That’s why they call it a fight. And that’s the repeating history of our democracy. Human events change but human psychology does not.
    Please, read these yammerings with the intent and tone in which I offer it. Respectfully.
    And now, I’m taking my fight to the street…. to bloody somebody’s nose.
    Holland Wilde

  2. forwarded to the socjust listserv by Katherine Mallory:
    Dear friends,
    I did not expect that I’d be writing this, since
    really I was ready last night to weep or just strap
    on my AK and go underground. But blame it on
    yourselves, or on my young people here in Harlem, or
    on meditating too much, on some strange combination
    of factors beyond my control, but here I am feeling
    perhaps the most nonsensical thing I can imagine in
    a time like this: hope.
    Let me begin by saying I have been beaten by the
    police and thrown in jail for what I believe to be
    right, and I am more than willing to do that, and
    more, again. That’s easy. And really, it’s not a
    matter of having the courage to put my life on the
    line, if only because I understand that it is on the
    line already

  3. Steph wrote:
    “maybe you’re all just busy, but I am wondering if it was “too much” that I sent the last link out to a broader audience? anyway, it didn’t inspire much engagement.”
    I was too depressed to talk… I am getting some incredibly gloating e-mails from my Conservative Christian friends about how it’s “our country” and “we’ve taken it back”– I fear the Talibanisation of America, and am wondering if indeed this is what democracy looks like… it seems all too easy for a strong leader to pander to the fears of the country and get them to follow him without question.SO what does this mean for those of us who did not buy into the myth?
    I was standing in line at Staples last night and got into a conversation with a black woman who is very active in her church and who told me in no uncertain terms that she could never vote for the Democrats because they are the “party of immorality.” I asked her to explain– I mean, isn’t invading a country (Iraq) immoral or letting the poor fall deeper into poverty immoral? But no. She and her church are totally mobilised around “saving the life of the unborn” and preventing homosexuals (her word) from marrying. She said the churches are taking care of the poor, and that Iraq is not immoral– the war on terror, you see– but that having an abortion or being gay is causing the wrath of G-d to come down upon us. And she spoke eloquently and with sincere feeling about her belief that America must be saved. I naturally asked her, being the kind of person that I am, where the Jews fit into all of this. She said she while she respects the Jews, they must come to Jesus or face the wrath of G-d. “The Jews,” she said, “are being punished for their unbelief.” But she said G-d is not singling out the Jews– she named me a number of groups who are being punished for their unbelief, Democrats among them. She was not a raving loony, she was not a bad person– she was a fervently convinced evangelical and she was pleased that now “her country” was in “godly hands.” And for once in my life, I was speechless. I’m pretty good at debating, but how do you debate a person who does not even want to consider any facts which contradict their basic belief?
    This morning on WBZ, Paul Sullivan of the Lowell Sun chided Democrats for “mocking people of faith.” I don’t recall that I or anyone I know mocked them– but I agree that it’s difficult to understand people who seem so intolerant– who believe the moderate or (gasp) liberal point of view is immoral and sinful, who reject science, who believe that women have no right to control their own bodies, and who proudly say that anyone who isn’t like them will go to hell. So it’s not my country too– I have faith, but it’s the wrong faith, so I guess I am not welcome in the evangelical scheme of things. And I kept wondering how this had happened– how did so many churches, which once stood for values like social justice, decide to abandon that and focus on two issues (gay marriage and abortion rights) and create an army of believers who feel that only this matters and nothing else…

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