I’ll cop to being guilty of prosecuting an ancient argument here, but I’ve been provoked. Nathan Rabin, in a consideration of An American Carol, attacks Michael Moore for ” the unconscionable ugliness of Moore targeting a seemingly dementia-stricken Charlton Heston to score cheap points in Bowling For Columbine. ” Hold on a second: at the time that interview was filmed, Heston was the president of the NRA, the most powerful lobbying group in the entire world. When you hold a position as a spokesperson and leader for a political body, particularly one as successful and influential as the NRA, you make yourself the subject of political inquiry and political disagreement. That’s the gig. I’m not sure that Heston was “dementia-stricken,” but if he was, the fault lies not in Moore treating him like the political leader that he was but in the NRA for not removing him from that position if he wasn’t prepared to defend the organization.
Of course, going after the NRA is something liberals are expected to do, so there’s little percentage in it for someone like Nathan Rabin, who as a film and music reviewer essentially has to participate in the endless White People Cultural Competition (WPCC) that makes the AV Club possible. Part of the reason why we on the left lose so often is that Rabin is just one of a broad horde whose political convictions keep losing out to that cultural competition. To win at the WPCC, you’ve got to demonstrate your difference from people with essentially identical cultural leanings, upbringings, and material conditions. For that reason, you get to the kind of contrarianism where you end up more interested in placing yourself above and apart from your ostensibly liberal peers than in achieving political victory, speaking the truth, or acting morally.
That’s a dynamic that I see over and over again– there are entire publications devoted to it– and there’s no question in my mind that it hurts liberal causes. As a wise man once said, “if in order to be ‘interesting’ and ‘provocative’ your publication contains some articles in which heterodox liberals challenge liberal conventional wisdom and other articles in which conservatives challenge liberal conventional wisdom, then your publication is mostly publishing conservative content.”
That effect may be less explicit for publications like the AV Club, but the dynamic still exists, if sublty. The WPCC eats everything; at the extremes, it makes, for example, garden variety racism “ironic” or hip. When you live in New York or Chicago, and you’re surrounded by other people who are just like you– white, educated, young, anxiety-ridden, alienated from your work and your community, taught to distrust any straightforward moral or aesthetic convictions as pretentious– separating yourself from the pack isn’t easy. You can get their through the degree of your hyperbole when it comes to art. (If there was a white people’s Olympics, competitive The Wire appreciation would be the most hotly contested event.) Or you can get there through betraying the vague, toothless cultural liberalism that is an assumed part of the landscape.