In the "No Country for Liberal Men" post Plok wrote a kind of large scale concern about this blog in general. I asked him to clarify in an email, and then responded to that email -- and now through the power of the internet you can read the exchange and totally join in.
I love the "virtual after-class bull session with the prof in the bar" feel you've created on your blog, Geoff -- you've got my favourite sidebar ever -- but part of what creates that feeling is the way that (occasionally) I think the commenters overlook their own contemporary biases. The discussion of conservative "badassery" for example -- it seems to me that this is not something implicit in a "natural" split between liberals and conservatives, but something to do with how the American political culture has been changed by its media culture: thinking there's a "natural" split between liberal and conservative that cooks down in cultural ways too is not itself natural, but the product of a whole amalgamation of influences and strategies and narratives of history and human nature which are simultaneously conjectural and politicized. "Branding". When I was young, Charlton Heston was a *liberal* icon to me, because I was in my twenties before news came down of his political affiliations -- and at that time it was the "liberal" who was the individualist, in popular entertainment. Naturally, I think, enough. But for people who've grown up with the idea of Heston as neo-con, this probably just seems contrafactual: how could I think such a thing when it's so *obvious* Heston stands for all the things -- individualism among them -- that liberalism doesn't?
Except it's *not* obvious: it's just the result of a successful brainwashing campaign, a successful narrative of difference promulgated for political ends. In the comments to that post, someone says they cringe to admit that when G. Gordon Liddy lights his cigar from an anti-war protester's candle and says "there, at least now you've been good for something today", for a moment they think "BADASS!"...but they only think that because of all the times Arnie says "got a light?" as he turns a flamethrower on a guy in a movie, and then kills all the villains and gets the girl, and he knows Arnie's a Republican (my joke may be an idiot's humour, but you're dead and I'm alive, and that's what makes it funny!), and Liddy's a Republican, so it all adds up. But it *doesn't* add up, that's just the success of the narrative which *says* it adds up. I expect any day now people will be talking about Amadeus in terms of "Salieri kicks ass, he totally pwns that Mozart wimp, now let's drill, baby, drill!" (In case you're not familiar with it, at the end of the play Amadeus, Salieri addresses the audience: "I know he was a genius, I know...but look, he was messing me up, and frankly what would *you* have done?"), but if they do it will not be because *it* adds up, it will be because somebody in a smoke-filled room somewhere *added* it up. And this is something I expected to see acknowledged practically right away in the comments to that post, but it wasn't.
So I ask myself: why wasn't it?
Partly, I think, is that it's just fun having cultural narratives in place: you can play with them. Any narrative is a brilliantly effective tool for justifying, for rationalizing -- it doesn't have to be *good*, in and of itself, so long as it's a useful *vehicle* for carrying one's own aesthetics, or one's own developmental explanations. As long as it makes it easier to reach conclusions.
Take, as another example, the post on "God Loves, Man Kills". The use of "the N-word" by Chris Claremont in 1982 or whatever is described as "inflammatory", a "lightning rod" -- extremely apt descriptions of what uttering the word in a work of art involves, for 2008. But is it right to read 1982's Claremont so powerfully from this present-day perspective? As I said in the comments, the value of that word is publically contested today in a way that it wasn't in the 80s, when it was not inflammatory but simply controversial -- when it was not a "lightning rod" but perhaps more a bucket of ice water. Claremont's scene between Kitty and Stevie is a fair replication of conversations that I have to believe go on all the time in real life -- only the Kittys of the world get called something other than "mutie" to start it all off -- but today, because the word gets used in public entertainments all the time, we're accustomed to talking about how and when its public use is justifiable, and how and when it isn't, in a way we never did before. This kind of evaluation is commonplace now. But in 1982 it wasn't, so why is everybody so quick to dismiss -- out of hand! -- Claremont's use of it, as mere bear-baiting? Today the taboo status of the word is much changed from what it was in the 80s, but it's as though no one notices that...or if they do, they seem to feel it would be breaking taboo to acknowledge the fact. But this is contemporary bias too -- there's probably a decent handful of interesting things to say about how Claremont deployed the forbidden word when he wrote his story (I can think of a couple already), but it probably *isn't* "OMG he used the N-WORD that is so wrong!", and I fear that this bias confuses analysis, not just of GLMK but of other things as well. It wasn't long ago that Paul Jenkins wrote a Spider-Man story in which he compared the Superhero Registration Act to the Japanese Internment in the Forties...but, not to draw our attention to the suffering of Japanese-American families at the hands of their government. Instead he does it so that we'll feel more sympathy for Spider-Man ("shoot, I didn't realize this Civil War thing was so important! Poor Peter!"). This is tasteless and offensive in a way that goes far, far beyond Claremont's use of the N-word a quarter-century ago...but I think there's a danger that by uncritically applying our contemporary bias to GLMK, we might make that "far beyond" more a difference of degree than of kind: this guy trivialized/appropriated other people's suffering to make the imaginary problems of comic-book superheroes more "realistic", and so did this guy. So what's the difference?
But because to me there's a *huge* difference, a difference of kind and not degree, I can't help but think that if we thought otherwise that might well *itself* count as a trivialization of the suffering in the Internment. But, now I'm just ranting and raving, probably: too much coffee, no doubt.
And anyway these are just the examples prominent enough to drive me to comment, Geoff: most of the contemporary biasing I've noticed has been subtler, just little occasional moments of assumption-sharing that kind of make me go "whah-HUH? Waitaminute, that's not true...", but they haven't been important...but then again, that's what *makes* them important, n'est-ce pas? Because they're the fine weave of the reliance on narrative. And that's how I *know* I'm older than most of your commenters, because they're operating on bits of the past to make them function as premises that enable their conclusions, but for me these *were* the conclusions, that I cooked up phony narratives to justify to myself, when I didn't understand as well as I do now the dangers of being convincingly wrong.
I have NO -- ZERO --interest in politics. I do not know what it is exactly. I just hate it. It bores the crap out of me, like little kids and museums. Sometimes I will joke that it is a kind of Gnostic hatred of the fallen world and so on, but I think that that is a narrative I constructed after the fact. And my understanding of distinctions between Liberal and Conservative -- like my understanding of a lot of social issues including race and sex and class and the kinds of things that give offense -- is very rudimentary, in a way that I think surprises people because I can be very subtle in other areas like influence and genre and the importance of pop and poetry. I am not going to give any examples, but there have been times when my lack of subtly in these areas has caused me to give offense to people and I have, I am embarrassed to say, sought out people like Neil Shyminsky (not actually Neil, but people like him) to sort it out for me so I can understand how to get things straight. This is why, by the way, it is very important for me to have Neil "on call" -- because I often have need of his readings of social and cultural products like, say, Slate's claim that 300 should not be read as a homosexual wish dream or whatever. I had wanted to write about Miller and McCarthy and 24 because I have a lot of outspoken liberal friends who seem genuinely seem worried about me because I like these "reactionary" type stories; these are the same people who have told me that my enjoyment of the Hulk videogame suggests to them that I am a bully of some kind, deep down. Most of the time I ignore these people as crackpots, but every once and a while I need to put my head above water just to check that I am still sane. I considered farming out the Miller is Conservative post to someone like Stephen Frug, but I did not sense that he was that sympatheic, and so it just became what all my posts become when I do not know what to say: some random thoughts thrown out there and comments solicited.