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A waiter comes over to a table of Jewish women. He asks, “Is anything all right?”
It’s okay; I can tell that joke! My wife is Jewish, and she thinks it’s funny. Remember when we could tell harmless jokes to each other? How about you, Ricochet reader? When you look at today’s culture, today’s mass media, see the movies, the TV shows, look at major media in general, ‘Is anything all right?’ This is aimed, but not exclusively, at social conservatives. I often spar with you but you deserve the cultural tools to defend yourselves. When it comes to subject matter, we’ll keep slugging that out the Ricochet way, on the Member Feed. This is about dealing with the media world outside Ricochet.
GMcV alleged “expert advice” has to be taken with this caveat: I made my living in the ways it’s been done before. I don’t, and can’t, know for sure what’s going to work in the future. I’m usually pretty good about why something hasn’t worked in the past. Previous posts on Hollywood Communists and Hollywood Conservatives can always be elaborated on later, but they basically bring the story up to the present. I’ve participated in how long-term change is done in the media and the details of what it costs to actually do it. My one rule: Human nature hasn’t changed over the years. My hunches, and I strongly suspect yours, are largely based on it.
Yes, of course, there are multiple ways that the culture of 60 years from now could be as unimaginably different from today’s as that of 60 years ago. A change of that magnitude takes the moral authority of the decades-long struggle to untangle the effects of legal racial segregation, the institutional tactical cleverness that it once took to divide the cultural “turf” and smartly hand off its sections, 1968-2018 to the very segments of the Left most motivated to explore its boundaries. Doing its equivalent in cultural heft and lasting deep influence would be a big deal that would have to last a long time, decades. It didn’t happen spontaneously for the Left, and it wouldn’t for the Right. Still, there comes a tipping point where that kind of change is so popular it more than pays for itself, more than pays for everything that went into creating it, plus interest, plus opportunity costs, plus the hard to price but genuine satisfaction of making things popular that ought to be popular.
Step back. Much of the daily social change thought of as “liberal” has happened since WWII, and is widely accepted, sometimes led by today’s conservatives. Let’s get this out of the way fast. There are no 1940s-style racists among us; at Ricochet, anyway. Anti-Semitism on the right isn’t a fiftieth of what it was as late as the ’50s, when I was a kid. Even the least feminist of our readers—which is really saying something—doesn’t yearn for a “Handmaid’s Tale” world. This post is largely neutral about the issues. It’s about tactics of expression that some of you might find useful when thinking about remolding public opinion. The point is for the overall, all-enveloping culture outside our website, there is no permissible debate anymore. Apparently too many outsiders react to all of us like they were the line of vengeful, torch-bearing villagers coming up the hill in a Frankenstein movie.
Despite the caricatures of pop culture, most of us—not all of us, of course—made our peace quite some time ago with truck stops stocking copies of Playboy magazine, Raquel Welch going topless for the big kiss scene, and the chances that people may arrive at the altar with at least some sexual experience. By the ’70s, those were no longer the hottest of cultural arguments, not because San Francisco and Greenwich Villlage said so, but because Nashville and Jacksonville came to agree. If an unmarried couple wanted to live together, that was between them and a consenting landlord. That compromise held up pretty well in the Reagan ’80s: if you’re an adult, read what you want, buy any videotape you want. Almost no limits. But keep it out of the broad public arena.
That truce had its friction for both sides in the ’90s. Gays didn’t get anything better than “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.”Forget about marriage; back then, nobody would even give them civil unions. Radical Blacks got Bill Clinton’s Sister Souljah moment and the back of his hand once in office. Feminists were angry and unhappy with the man-obsessed, “do-me” feminism of HBO’s “Sex in the City.” On the other hand, SoCons never got ABC to drop “Ellen” or the occasional bare backside on “NYPD Blue.” SoCons never got Disney to condemn the informal “gay days” at the theme parks, or to sell Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. Believe it or not, nobody got everything they wanted.
When in the 21st century and how did this unofficial, un-agreed-to national cultural truce unravel? It wasn’t an equal fight; the Left invaded. Taking over the staff of, say, New York’s Whitney Museum was one thing; muscling the NCAA, the NFL, and NASCAR into compliance was another. The right lost specific fights because they’d basically already lost the war a long time ago. Sure, government put a heavy thumb on the scale, but public opinion on a lot of social matters really has shifted, though not nearly as much as pollsters and Hollywood suggest.
There are always valid reasons to be doubtful about the prospects for long-term change and outright cynical about the short term. Let’s not kid ourselves. You and I and other Ricochet readers are a varied bunch who won’t agree on everything. We are cultural allies only up to a point. That expression of the old Left’s, “Fellow Traveler,” says it well. Be realistic. Conservatives ought to know that some policies are not going to be popular without a profound public shift that would have to take decades. In 2019’s world, LGBT-themed marketing by Disney is not going to discourage many grandmas from buying merchandise, from “Frozen” or Kylo Ren masks. To me, that’s okay. I like it. If you don’t agree, you should think about your options. They include transformation.
OK, an analogy. Please bear with me if you will. In 1939, all of the biggest world powers knew that atomic fission could be weaponized. Germany, the UK, Japan, the US and the USSR all had research programs that suggested that an atomic bomb was possible, but the scale of industrial production it would need was so gigantic, so expensive, that not only couldn’t they do it, but each grimly reassured themselves that nobody else was going to be able to either. Scientists and chemical engineers estimated that America would have to spend a breathtaking fortune to isolate even a few grams of fissionable Uranium 235, and at that stage, nobody knew what a bomb’s critical mass was—a kilogram? Ten? A hundred thousand grams? The cost of an entire war to produce just one single bomb? By 1940, that seemed to settle the question for FDR’s advisers.
Then in 1941, the British changed everything. They’d been in the war for a year and a half. America was still standing on the sidelines when UK scientists and military men sent a report to their counterparts in the US. It said, fairly bluntly, that a practical bomb was possible after all, and we’d better start working on it fast, because if we know it, the Nazis know it too. The report said how it could be done, technically and organizationally, with practical, if ultimately optimistic estimates of time and cost. They estimated $100 million but said frankly that it could be ten times that cost.
In the end, it was closer to 20 times that, but the bomb ended the Pacific War and transformed America’s role in the world. The 1941 UK report was what engineers and marketers might call a detailed product definition and packaging specification. It couldn’t anticipate every detail and breakthrough. It was a crucial preliminary blueprint for action. That’s what we’re suggesting that we all take a shot at here; designing a future cultural architecture and guessing at the outside dimensions of a large, generations-long movement with the focus of a Manhattan Project or a Moonshot that could actually make a difference. I’ll suggest ways it could be done. In the comments, you’ll most likely suggest many other ones, almost certainly better ones. After all, if nobody can even so much as imagine it could happen, let alone playing a part in making it happen, then we can all confidently guarantee it won’t.