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Read Orrin's interview with Brian Anderson.
Leave us start with two admissions and a warning. First, I know the author of this volume, Brian C. Anderson, in the way we now know one another in the Internet Age, and so am not an impartial source as regards his book. A couple years ago he was one of the first editors to contact us and suggest that we blog about stories from his fine publication, City Journal. This struck us then as a very smart use of a relatively new instrumentality to create buzz for a magazine that deserved it. That there are still major newspapers and other publications that haven't figured out the benefits they could reap from having folks steer readers to them for free only makes Mr. Anderson seem further ahead of the curve. In addition, his own essays are uniformly excellent and one, We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore (Brian C. Anderson, Autumn 2003, City Journal), was one of the best pieces of recent years on the rise of a conservative media counter-culture. When he decided to expand on that essay in this book it really couldn't help but be a good read and I didn't approach it with anything like an open mind, nevermind skepticism. Just so you know.
Second, despite my anticipation, I did feel some trepidation at the subtitle, with its prominent mention of "liberal media bias." Let's face it, while they served their purpose well, we don't much need another diatribe about the distortions and dominance of the liberal media. That one's been done to death. Likewise, the boxing-gloved Kapow! graphic on the cover raised some concern that Mr. Anderson might have fallen prey to the triumphalism that plagues so many on the Internet, who think they've already outdone Gutenberg in terms of the impact of their medium on society. After all, tripping up a few lightweights like Trent Lott, Dan Rather, Jayson Blair, and Jeff Gannon doesn't quite equal being a driving force behind literacy and the Reformation. Happily, Mr. Anderson seems to have been well aware of these potential pitfalls himself. After some introductory remarks, he accepts the liberal media as a given and doesn't squander space dwelling on it. Nor does he so much as suggest that the Right has managed to balance out that bias in recent years. The book is about the revolt against said, but it is very much about a revolt in progress. If new media are providing conservatism with a greater voice in the public square, we're nonetheless still closer to Bunker Hill than to Yorktown.
As to the warning, I'd not anticipated just how funny the book would be. In addition to hilarious scenes from South Park itself, Mr. Anderson draws upon the work of Dennis Miller, Scott Ott, Chris Muir, and a host of others--not all of whom would be considered classically conservative--who are using comedy to puncture the pretensions of liberalism. Thus the caution--some of these bits are so funny that your spouse will insist you let him/her read them immediately, and it can be hard to get the book back.
Mr. Anderson's thesis is straightforward enough and seemingly incontrovertible--that the Right, which had been shut out of the mainstream media for decades, has mounted a successful insurgency on talk radio, cable television, college campuses, and the Internet (especially the blogosphere) that has given it a much stronger voice in the Culture War than it had before. The warfare remains asymmetrical--the Left, after all, has all three nightly network newscasts and nearly all the major metropolitan dailies, while the Right has only FOX News, the Washington Times, and alternative news services like World Net Daily--but the trends are promising and the free market in particular is a powerful force working in favor of conservatism. Media executives may not care for conservative ideas but they can't ignore things like the popularity of the wildly anti-PC South Park, the success FOX has had largely at CNN's expense, or the fact that Mel Gibson's Passion, which most in Hollywood wouldn't touch, turned out to be a blockbuster. In a country that is divided at least 50/50 between conservatives and liberals, it makes no sense from a purely business standpoint to leave half the consumers unserved. The revolt would appear to have even better days before it.
The book offers a fascinating history of the rise of these more conservative media outlets. For instance, Mr. Anderson explains the importance of Ronald Reagan dispensing with the FCC's "Fairness Doctrine" and the ensuing ascent to prominence of Rush Limbaugh, a figure who he's not uncritical of but does give a central role in the revolt. Who better represents the emergence of a powerful conservative critique in the media than Mr. Limbaugh, who went from being heard on one radio station in Sacramento to generating over $1 billion in revenues on a nationwide network of 600 affiliates with 20 million listeners? Perhaps we can borrow a metaphor Mr. Anderson uses in particular circumstances to describe the entire process he depicts: from rather small beginnings, conservative media has become like "samizdat multiplied by orders of magnitude."
I do have two quarrels with the book, though neither fatal. As good a job as he does laying out the history of the revolt thus far, Mr. Anderson concludes a bit brusquely. I'd have liked to have him talk a bit more about where he thinks it's all headed and what the import will be. He touches on such questions as he goes along, but a summing up would have been helpful. More than that though, the book could use a more extensive discussion of just why it is that humor is proving such a fertile field for the Right and why liberalism seems unable to contest that ground. He offers a tantalizing clue in passing, but never returns to it:
[T]here's no doubting South Park, joining a long tradition that runs from Aristophanes to Tom Wolfe, exemplifies the essence of satire--"the comic as weapon," as social thinker Peter Berger describes it in his book on the comic imagination. Satire, Berger writes, has four criteria: fantasy (often grotesque), a firm moral standpoint, an object of attack, and an educational purpose. South Park meets all four.Merely the idea that satire must proceed from a "firm moral standpoint" suggests something of why the Right is able to make such good use of it and the tolerant/moral relativist Left isn't. Consider too the old aphorism that: to a liberal the world is a tragedy, to a conservative a comedy. The grotesque nature of satire will then be humorous to the Right while it will offend the Left to be asked to laugh at the travails of others, a violation of the political-correctness that holds we can find nothing funny in the human condition. There's rich territory here. Indeed, even liberals have noted the Left/Right humor gap--Bubble Wrap: The Nation vs. The Weekly Standard (John Powers, 8/30/02, LA Weekly)--and we've argued that All Humor is Conservative. Mr. Anderson needn't have gone to that extreme, but the role of comedy is so central to the revolution he writes about that it would have been well worth his while to address it in some greater depth.
Such quibbles are picayune though when set against the book he did write, which manages to be both informative and funny. Not only should you get one for yourself but get one for your significant other too--so you can read and laugh together.
See also:Conservative Thought
-Manhattan Institute Scholar | Brian C. Anderson
-ESSAY: We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore (Brian C. Anderson, Autumn 2003, City Journal)
-ESSAY: A Remarkable Transformation (Brian C. Anderson, 11/06/03, NY Sun)
-ESSAY: Who's Right? (Brian C. Anderson, 11/25/03, Tech Central Station)
-ESSAY: The Left Loses College Kids (Brian C. Anderson, February 2, 2005, L.A. Times)
-ESSAY: Why Air America doesn't fly (Brian C. Anderson, 4/21/05, CS Monitor)
-ESSAY: On Campus, Conservatives Talk Back (Brian C. Anderson, Winter 2005, City Journal)
-ESSAY: Right on Campus: Conservatives begin to infiltrate the left's last redoubt. (BRIAN C. ANDERSON, January 14, 2005, Opinion Journal)
-ESSAY: Another Victory for the New Conservative Media: Brian C. Anderson, Fall 2003, City Journal)
-ESSAY: The Ineducable Left (Brian C. Anderson, February 2002, First Things)
-ESSAY: Capitalism and the Suicide of Culture (Brian C. Anderson, February 2000, First Things)
-ESSAY: Bertrand de Jouvenel's melancholy liberalism (Brian C. Anderson, 3/22/01, Public Interest)
-ESSAY: The antipolitical philosophy of John Rawls (Brian C. Anderson, Spring 2003, Public Interest)
-ESSAY: Secular Europe, religious America (Brian C. Anderson, Spring 2004, Public Interest)
-REVIEW: of The Dawn of Universal History: Selected Essays from a Witness to the Twentieth Century, by Raymond Aron (Brian C. Anderson, National Review)
-REVIEW : of Sartre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century by Bernard-Henri Lévy (Brian C. Anderson, Policy Review)
-REVIEW: of The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families by James Q. Wilson (Brian C. Anderson, Religion & Liberty)
-REVIEW: of Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work by Jennifer Roback Morse (Brian C. Anderson, Religion & Liberty)
-REVIEW: of Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy. By Pierre Manent (Brian C. Anderson, First Things)
-REVIEW: of Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, by Francis Fukuyama (Brian C. Anderson, National Review)
-REVIEW: of Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, by Robert D. Kaplan (Brian C. Anderson, National Review)
-REVIEW: of Madness and Democracy: The Modern Psychiatric Universe by Marcel Gauchet and Gladys Swain (Brian C. Anderson, Public Interest)
-REVIEW: of Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott (Brian C. Anderson, Public Interest)
-ESSAY: The Kindness of Total Strangers: How Catholic Charities USA turned from a revered institution into an arm of the welfare state (Brian C. Anderson, BeliefNet)
-ARCHIVES:Anderson, Brian C. (City Journal)
-ARCHIVES: Brian C. Anderson (FrontPage)
-ARCHIVES: Brian C. Anderson (Policy Review)
-ARCHIVES: Brian C. Anderson (Religion & Liberty)
-ARCHIVES: "Brian C. Anderson" (Find Articles)
-INTERVIEW: South Park Conservatives: Snapshot of the Culture Wars (Edward B. Driscoll, Jr., 4/15/05, Tech Central Station)
-INTERVIEW: Q & A with Brian Anderson, Author of South Park Conservatives (Human Events Apr 18, 2005)
Book-related and General Links:
-OFFICIAL SITE: South Park (Comedy Central)
-FILMOGRAPHY: Trey Parker (IMDB.com)
-INFO: South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999) (IMDB.com)
-INFO: Team America: World Police (2004) (IMDB.com)
-WIKIPEDIA: South Park
SOUTH PARK REPUBLICANS:
-ESSAY: The Right Declares Victory: It finally admits it won the culture wars. (Timothy Noah, Nov. 10, 2003, Slate)
-ESSAY: Building Up the Right: Don't lay down your ideological arms yet. (Jonah Goldberg, November 24, 2003, National Review)
-ESSAY: South Park Republicans (Stephen W. Stanton, 10/07/02, Tech Central Station)
-ESSAY: Do South Park Republicans Exist? (Stephen Stanton, 12/05/03, Tech Central Station)
-ESSAY: South Park Republicans (Ryan Woodhams, About.com)
-ESSAY: The Best Quotes From South Park (John Hawkins, Right Wing News)
-ESSAY: South Park family values (Craig Albrecht, January 9, 2003, Stanford Daily)
-ESSAY: Why Gore Would Censor South Park (David Horowitz, July 19, 1999, FrontPageMagazine.com)
-ESSAY: From Homer to Scooby Doo: our love affair with the cartoon (Jonathan Brown, February 2005, The Independent)
-ESSAY: The angels cheer: "They killed Kenny!": In a brilliant episode, "South Park" mocks the surreal Schiavo train wreck -- and takes its first explicit shot at Republicans. (Andrew Leonard, March 31, 2005, Salon)
-ESSAY: Bubble Wrap: The Nation vs. The Weekly Standard (John Powers, 8/30/02, LA Weekly)
-ESSAY: Right-Wing Envy: Do you have it? (Jack Shafer, Aug. 29, 2002, Slate)
-ESSAY: Screen Righters: Tired of Michael Moore's film-flam? There are alternatives. (BRIDGET JOHNSON, September 1, 2004, Opinion Journal)
-ARTICLE:Murdoch: Newspapers Must Stop Fearing Web (Joe Strupp, April 13, 2005, Editor & Publisher)
Look, it doesn't matter if "Matt and Trey" are laughing at conservatives, libertarians, or anyone else.
It is YOU who are completely missing the point.
When a certain group of people recognize that a certain word combination conveys a particular meaning, that word group combination becomes a powerful signal. Certainly if you have studied any amount of linguistics - anthropology - psychology - or sociology - you recognize that fact.
Now, a whole lot of people UNDERSTAND what the expression "South Park Republicans" or "South Park Conservatives" represents. In fact, it appears that we have "high-jacked" the words "South Park" and given it a whole new particular meaning that old "Matt and Trey" probably aren't real happy about.
Fudge to them. It's ours and we're keeping it.
- Jun-01-2005, 23:01
Yes, it's hilarious to see such an impassioned defence of the satire of South Park.
"[T]here's no doubting South Park, joining a long tradition that runs from Aristophanes to Tom Wolfe, exemplifies the essence of satire... merely the idea that satire must proceed from a 'firm moral standpoint' suggests something of why the Right is able to make such good use of it and the tolerant/moral relativist Left isn't."
Why do I suspect Orrin hasn't actually watched a lot of South Park?
- Casey B
- May-25-2005, 06:33
Everyone is always laughing at libertarians, never with.
- Apr-27-2005, 11:13
The book should be titled "South Park Libertarians." Both liberals and conservatives - in equally clueless ways - have tried to claim SP as their own without realizing that Matt and Trey are laughing at them.
- Apr-27-2005, 09:57