Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Culture War: A Reflection

Well, Polymath has just received its first Amazon review – those of you who purchased your copies at SmashWords can review it at both sites, you know, and I’d consider it a great favor if you’d do that – and I must say, it was far more favorable than the book (or I) deserve. But that review, plus the reactions registered in my email, plus this new emission from Larry Correia have me thinking about that struggle of insuperable viciousness that never seems to abate: the culture war.

It’s a commonplace that fish aren’t aware of water. Humans aren’t fully aware of their cultural matrix for the same reason: it’s omnipresent and unceasing. Yet there’s hardly anything more important to the national spirit or our individual tendencies when confronted by some question of significance.

When we deign to notice the fusillades in the culture war, it’s normally because some noisy interest group has made a stink about the “marginalization” of its mascots. Consider homosexuality as a case for study. Get into your DeLorean, fire up the Flux Capacitor, and go back a mere thirty years. How many openly homosexual characters were featured in prime-time television shows? The number is approximately zero. What accounts for the heavy statistical overrepresentation of homosexuals on TV in our time?

Hint: It’s not heterosexuals’ vast, previously unexpressed desire to see homosexual relationships and homosexuals’ interactions with normal people portrayed on our giant-screen HDTVs.

I could go in a myriad directions from here, but I have a specific one in mind.

Unless you’ve spent the last several weeks immured in a Turkish prison, you’re surely aware of all the Sturm und Drang that’s arisen around Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster movie American Sniper. I hardly need recap the movie for those of you who’ve seen it; it’s too powerful and memorable to need my tender mercies. (For those of you who haven’t seen it, see it. Now.) Those who hate it, and they are far more vociferous than numerous, seldom admit to their true reasons; those who love it aren’t always capable of articulating theirs.

The script does inject a few fictional motifs into this otherwise faithful biopic, drawn from Chris Kyle’s book of the same name. Whether those injections were vitally necessary to the movie’s impact is open to debate. What seems indisputable to me is that what elicits the rage of its detractors isn’t the drama but the depiction of the life of Chris Kyle himself. To the pansified cultural elite that dominates arts criticism in our media, Kyle is a major affront – an embarrassment. His patriotism, dutifulness, commitment to his undertaking, moral clarity, and absolute lack of regret or apology for his deeds – for me the most stirring line of the script was “I’m willing to stand before my Creator and answer for every shot I took” – paint him in the sort of pure masculine colors that the glitterati would prefer not to exist.

More succinctly, Chris Kyle was a man. His detractors are not.

Perhaps those detractors would have passed over Kyle’s book without comment had Eastwood not picked up the movie rights. Perhaps they would have dismissed the movie had it not shattered every box-office record for a January release. Perhaps the denunciations wouldn’t have been quite so thunderous had Eastwood and his scripting team injected some harsh statements about the “Bush wars” into the movie. We’ll never know.

What we can and do know is that Eastwood’s portrayal of Chris Kyle has upset the cultural applecart, at least for the moment. The glitterati aren’t happy for the rest of us to see fictional portrayals of unabashed patriotism, moral clarity, and courage. They’ve put too much work into their efforts at portraying whining self-nominated victims and moral deviates as the proper heroes for today.

It testifies to the ineradicability of Americans’ native moral sense that a single well-made movie could so dramatically countervail the glitterati’s counter-valorization campaigns.

One of the reasons I write fiction – indeed, perhaps the most imperative of all of them – is my desire to provide readers with heroes of the kind I favor. There aren’t a lot of heroes of that kind in the fiction coming out of Pub World; the reader pretty much has to go to the independent-writers’ movement for fare of that sort. (Back when I was fool enough to think that a conventional publishing house might take an interest in my novels, several of the rejections I received for Chosen One and On Broken Wings specifically criticized my protagonists’ moral standards.) Some does slip through, of course; the military-fiction pioneered by Tom Clancy and the espionage/special-agent-oriented books Vince Flynn wrote have too large a readership for Pub World to dismiss them. However, it’s noteworthy that Clancy couldn’t get a hearing until The Hunt for Red October was picked up by the tiny Naval Institute Press, and Flynn had to sell his books out of the trunk of his car before a Pub World house picked up Term Limits. Only the prior success of those writers as independents persuaded major New York houses to offer them a slot in their catalogs.

The dominance of Pub World by left-leaning editors began in the Sixties: a part of the cultural-colonization effort Antonio Gramsci called “a long march through the institutions.” It was contemporaneous with efforts of the same sort in cinema, the performing arts, education, and journalism. They who undertook that campaign of cultural transformation weren’t merely acting on their personal preferences; they were openly, avowedly promoting the destruction of the prior American cultural norm. The removal of the traditionally masculine, morally straight hero in favor of a variety of anti-heroes and morally ambiguous figures was central to their efforts.

I’m not prepared to say that it was a conspiracy, in the traditional sense of a coordinated effort plotted in secret and orchestrated according to a defined plan...but neither am I prepared to say that it wasn’t. It was probably more of a hive effect, in which subliminal signals and indicators effect a wide-scale coordination whose participants only recognize it consciously a posteriori.

Whatever the case, its effects have included the demonization of every traditional attribute of iconic American masculinity, with patriotism, courage, and moral clarity at the head of the list. And it was terrifyingly effective; ask any American man who came to maturity in the Seventies or afterward.

I am effectively convinced that Andrew Breitbart’s most famous observation – that “culture is upstream from politics” – is the all-important truth in the battle for the soul of these United States. Yet conservatives and libertarians, as the worthy Ace of Spades has noted, talk politics almost to the exclusion of culture. Our attention turns to the cultural matrix only when something either excites us or irritates us out of our ruts.

That inversion might cost us all possibility of success at restoring freedom and justice to America. Have a little C. S. Lewis:

[W]e continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

A nation whose cultural institutions make vicious slanderers such as Michael Moore rich while they sneer at Clint Eastwood could hardly have expected any other result.

The Last Graf is exactly what you’ve expected – indeed, what I and others have been telling you all along. Reclaim the culture. If you have a creative bent, use it and push the products thereof. If you consume any of the arts, especially fiction whether in prose or in the movies and on television, aggressively support those that agree with your standards and boycott, at the very least, those that diverge from them. Refuse to back down from those standards. Be aggressive about promoting those works you find most supportive of them.

The powers of darkness have all but monopolized our journalism, our entertainment, and our educational institutions. With only those bastions, they’ve managed to “de-Americanize” at least two generations of young Americans. They’ve been at it for a long time, and they aren’t about to stop now. We have a lot of catching-up to do. You have a part to play...possibly a more important part than you imagine.

Get started now.

(PS: Yes, it’s snowing heavily. We’ve already received about ten inches and are likely to get fifteen to twenty-five more. I’ll be going out to start the snowblower in a few minutes. If you pray, please pray for everyone in the Northeastern U.S. We need it.)


Tim Turner said...

This is almost - ok, is - off-topic. One thing really jarred me in American Sniper.


In the last scene of the movie, Kyle enters the kitchen . . . ok, you know the scene I mean - I don't really have to spoil it.

Is that described in the book? It was not "set up" as a joke And if it's a metaphor for his "inner demons," it's odd that it comes *after* he's spent time helping other vets (which, we are led to believe, helped him.)

I thought the film was quite good, but that one scene - and it's really only about 20 or 30 seconds at its start - is SO tense and off-putting that I can't help but think it's in there for a very specific reason.

But that reason eludes me, unless perhaps the book fleshes it out some. . . or something.

Rick C said...

"Chris Kyle was a man. His detractors are not."

I know you mean that as an insult but most of his detractors would probably take it as a compliment.

Reg T said...


I could argue with you about whether or not Polymath deserved that first review. I believe it did, but I'd have to say, the review was partly fueled by the depth of your _body_ of work. The reviewer has read all of it he is aware of, and that body of work, especially The Chosen One and On Broken Wings, merit what was written in the review.

Jodi Picoult has written some incredible portrayals of cultural dynamics, family dynamics, that show some of the best and the worst things about us as human beings, especially in some of her earlier works.

It is my personal belief that you display similar insights into not only the human condition, but into what is right and what is wrong in our culture, especially as it is morphing today.

On a side note, while I am impressed with the depth and strength of your faith, I was equally impressed with your willingness to depict Todd's mother as being a less-than-stellar example of someone who claims faith while not living it, who wears the trappings but has missed the point. Thank you for that honesty.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during her conversations with Father Schliemann. I find it difficult to imagine that he approved of her behavior, or saw her as anything but selfish and self-centered, in spite of her claims of "sacrifice" pretending (poorly) to be a wife and a mother.

Francis W. Porretto said...

You know, Reg, I struggled over how to depict Father Schliemann's interactions with Martha Iverson. A priest is under cruel tensions in that sort of situation, and must walk a very narrow path to avoid offending both of two opposed forces the Church values equally. So I omitted a specific depiction of their exchanges -- pinning the viewpoint to a single character for the duration of the opening segment allows me a rationale for that -- and hurried on.

But what might have made an even more dramatic scene, though it was obviously not something I could incorporate into the story, is Martha's courtship with Jussi. Why did she accept his attentions, to say nothing of his proposal of marriage? Was she somehow coerced into it all, or did her dissatisfaction with secular life only come upon her with time?

Backstory can be a source of great power. In this case, it's a lure I must struggle to resist!

Anonymous said...

"...a mere thirty years. How many openly homosexual characters were featured in prime-time television shows? The number is approximately zero."

Oddly enough it looks like 30 years ago(1985) was one of the years during its run it was off the air, but Hollywood Squares fits the bill, no?

Paul Lynde, Wayland Flowers and Madame. Apart from live sex shows does it get more openly gay than that?

Joseph said...

"I believed it a mistake when the law was enacted that perversion and normalcy should be given equal space and time in literature and on stage, though at that time normalcy gained by the ruling."---R. A. Lafferty in Past Master

In 1968, that was satire.