Howdy, Mr. Anderson. Congratulations on a fine
and funny book and thanks for taking the time to answer some
Q: The concept of South Park Conservatives/Republicans has
kicked around a bit, I wonder if you could tell us how you define them
and why you think they're an important political phenomenon?
BA: The term “South Park Republican” was
originally coined by the writer Andrew Sullivan, and written
about by Tech
Central Station contributor Stephen Stanton and then myself, in the
widely discussed late 2003 City
Journal article my book grew out of: “We’re
Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore.” As I loosely use the term, it
refers to someone who isn’t necessarily an across the board
conservative, especially when it comes to matters of censorship and
popular culture, but who recoils from today’s liberalism, with its
political correctness, its illiberalism, its elitism, and its feckless
response to the War on Terror.
In the book, I find growing evidence of this anti-liberal attitude
among college kids—the final chapter is based on more than 50
interviews with students and professors—and in a new kind of comedy
that takes aim at the Left, and not just at bourgeois conventions, as
topical comedy has often done over the last several decades, most
famously with Norman Lear’s 70s’ sitcoms All in the Family and Maude.
The wickedest, funniest example of this politically incorrect humor, of
course, is South Park itself, now in its ninth season. But I also
Miller, stand-up comedians like Nick
Di Paolo and Julia Gorin,
and Web-based humorists like Scott
Ott and the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto. One of
the most pleasurable aspects of writing South Park Conservatives was
working through the comedic material. I hope readers have similar fun
reading about it.
The anti-liberalism reflected in the attitudes of some students and in
this satire is just one aspect of a much-more widespread shift right in
our political culture that is being driven, at least in part, by the
new media of political talk radio, cable news—above all Fox—and now the Internet, which is
the overarching theme of my book.
Q: When you wrote the original essay out of which the book
Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore, some critics on the Left and
Right suggested that you were saying the Right had triumphed in the
Culture Wars. Do you think that's the case?
BA: I make it quite clear in the original article,
and again in this book, that the new media are allowing conservative
and libertarian arguments and perspectives at last to make it into the
public debate, with enormous implications for our politics and culture,
but that the Left still controls the university faculties, the network
broadcasts, NPR, law schools—it’s
far from vanquished, in other words. But it’s worth keeping a few
things in mind. The average age of a network news viewer is now 60. The
New York Times is no longer viewed as the bearer of absolute truth—only
21 percent of the respondents in a recent Pew Research survey gave it high
marks for trustworthiness, below most other news outlets (though none
of the others did very well either).
And on the new media terrain, where more and more Americans, especially
younger ones, get their information, the Right fights with equal or
greater power: conservatives and libertarians completely dominate
political talk radio; Air
America is sinking without a trace, drawing fewer listeners at its
flagship station in New York, WLIB,
than did the all-Caribbean format the liberal talk replaced, and it’s
doing even worse elsewhere. Fox News completely dominates cable,
winning a bigger audience share than all its cable news competitors
combined. And the right-of-center blogosphere is at least as
influential, probably more so, than its left counterpart. The trend
lines look good in the media, in other words—if only because there’s a
profitable audience for programming that isn’t reflexively liberal.
The universities are a very different matter, as I note in my book’s
concluding chapter. There, we’re seeing only the beginning of
change—students moving to the right in their views; campus conservative
groups (including a gun club at
Harvard!) and papers flourishing; right-of-center speakers drawing
big, interested student crowds. With tenured
radicals controlling hiring, though, intellectual change--the
deradicalization and ultimately depoliticization of the classroom—is a
long way off.
Q: If the Right is doing better what are some or the
reasons? And if there's a market for more conservative media why aren't
any of the mainstream outlets taking advantage--why doesn't a CBS News
replace Dan Rather with Brit Hume?
BA: There are numerous factors driving the success
of the right-of-center new media, chief among them the prevalence of
liberal attitudes in mainstream media! But other factors are at work,
too. For talk radio, to take one case, the successful conservative
hosts tend to be funny and superb entertainers, as well as informed.
Liberal hosts haven’t been able to replicate this mix of smart
commentary and humor. Jon Stewart shows how it might be done with the
success of Comedy
Central’s The Daily Show, but he’s a gifted comic, and more attitudinally
Left than a pundit or commentator of any kind. I’m not sure how
he’d fare over the course of a three-hour radio broadcast.
On the deepest level, the success of non-liberal new media sources
reflects the Left’s intellectual and political exhaustion. The blight
of political correctness on the Left inflicted deep harm on liberalism.
The stupid policing of language and the depressing victimology: what
healthy person could tolerate such nonsense? As I argue in my
chapter, too, younger Americans came of age in a post-Reagan era that
saw the collapse—the defeat—of Communism and full-turbo economic
expansion, powerful vindications of conservative values and policies.
They’ve seen, too, the destructive effects of liberal cultural values,
tearing up their own families or the families of friends. My City Journal colleague Kay
Hymowitz has written movingly of how younger Americans believe
strongly in marriage and fidelity—even if they don’t always live up to
their ideals in their own behavior.
The broadcast newscasts, where 90 percent or more of the producers and
journalists are on the Left, just haven’t been able to adapt. Business
sense hasn’t trumped ideology, as it has begun to in the publishing
industry. The big publishers like Penguin
and Doubleday and now Simon
& Schuster that have embraced conservative books did something
smart: they created semi-independent right-of-center imprints, with
their own editorial teams, made up of conservatives, instead of the
lefties typical of the New York publishing world. That way, you
wouldn’t have liberal editors nixing good proposals from
right-of-center authors on ideological grounds or messing up the books,
if they did happen to get commissioned, as used to be the case. This
has made for a steady stream of best sellers.
CBS hire Brit Hume? But he’s an ideologically tainted right-winger, not
an objective newsman! That’s how a lot of journalists see things, as
Bernie Goldberg’s great book Bias
showed, with lots of inside dirt. But over time, it may not matter that
CBS News fails to adapt. If fewer and fewer people are watching, there
may not be a CBS News in the near future.
Q: One of the things that connects various media that you
cite in the revolt against liberal bias is the use of humor to skewer
political correctness and the Left's dogmas, is there something about
comedy in particular that makes it a better weapon for the Right than
BA: Humor is a powerful weapon for the Right these
days in part because the cultural establishment in this country has
been liberal for so long—and it almost never pokes fun at itself. For
decades of network programming, it’s always been the priest or the
businessman or the general or the adherent of traditional values who
turns out to be the bad guy, the repressed maniac, the hypocrite, the
butt of humor. The liberal do-gooder, the social worker, the
progressive teacher, the wise, straight-talkin’ minority—they’ve all
been celebrated, held up as paragons of meaningful life.
Reality isn’t like that. Liberals in entertainment and the news media
have created a kind of ideological construct, a narcissistic bubble
just begging to be burst. The liberal do-gooder might be driven by rage
and resentment, might be a kind of micro-fascist; the minority might be
a racist thug; maybe the social worker abets self- and community
destroying behavior. Perhaps not all businessmen are evil! Maybe some
of them legitimately practice business as a moral calling, as Michael
Novak argues. Maybe the general is both moral and a hero. Maybe the
priest is holy.
That’s why South
Park is so satirically powerful—it pops that liberal bubble and
let’s some truth in: tolerance can be carried to the point of
oppressiveness; rights can be extended in ways that are morally
indefensible; anti-business protesters can be mindlessly misguided;
hippies are selfish narcissists. My book offers plenty of examples. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South
Park’s creators, go after conservatives too—I don’t mean to suggest
they’re across-the-board right-wingers. But going after the Right is
nothing new. What is new, especially in television humor, is skewering
the Left so savagely.
As I mentioned earlier, a key reason the Left hasn’t done well in talk
radio is its lack of humor. Jonah
Goldberg, a pretty funny guy, makes the point that liberals have
of the Oppressed” as their constituency, and if a liberal humorist
targeted blacks or gays or animal rights activists, he’d be bombarded
with complaints from his “base” saying: “How dare you laugh! That’s not
Conservatives have—or should have-a keen understanding of man’s
propensity for evil, of the complexity of human motivations in a fallen
world. They thus should have a proper dose of cynicism in their
worldview, which makes it easier to laugh at human foibles, their own
Q: Brian Lamb of Booknotes (C-SPAN)
always asks a question that I find interesting. How do you go about the
physical task of writing?
BA: I love learning how writers proceed, too.
Here’s what works for me. I write most my first draft on the computer,
but only after extensive note taking and preparation. I find writing
before I have a clear structure and outline in mind frustrating.
Sometimes, I’ll even write out a series of topic sentences beforehand,
just so I’m sure of where I’m heading. I think non-fiction writing
should have a relentless topic-sentence “drive”—it’s something that
distinguishes City Journal articles and I’d like to think my book, too.
Anyway, after I’ve gone as far as I can on the computer, I’ll print up
what I’ve done and revise by pen; then it’s back to the computer and
the whole process repeats itself until I’ve got something that I’m
reasonably satisfied with. I have no set hours for writing. With two
young children and a demanding editorial job—we’re a heavily edited magazine—I
write when I can!
Research for the book was exciting. I read a lot, of course—blogs,
magazine articles, and books—and watched an unhealthy amount of
television. I listened to talk radio. I interviewed lots of
fascinating, insightful people, some by phone, some in person, some by
e-mail, and learned enormously from them: Andrew Sullivan, Robert
George, Glenn Reynolds, Harvey
Mansfield, Sean Hannity, Mike
Barone, Peter Collier, Colin
Quinn, Dick Morris, many smart college students—it’s a long list.
South Park Conservatives features a lot of voices. People were
wonderful about their time, and very helpful.
Q: Finally, are there other projects you're working on,
another book you'd like to do?
BA: I’ve got ideas for City Journal articles and
several books—one on sports I’ve been kicking around. We’ll see.
Brothers Judd: Thank you very much for your time and
your consideration. Good luck with the book: South
Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias