Hey, Stupid, It’s the Culture!

Written by Douglas Davis on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

Young George W. Bush and
his allies have figured this out far ahead of the hip liberals, the Greens,
the anarchists, maybe you and (almost) me. Have you noticed how we’re being
deluged with feature stories building the case–again–for W’s
coronation? All this summer you’ll probably see a variant of the king-in-waiting
story at least once a week in the big media, from the Los Angeles Times to
Tom Brokaw to Newsday. This spring you’ve heard about his "charm
offensive" rather than his overflowing war chest, originally designed to
scare Pat Buchanan off (it succeeded). These days you’re hearing how pleasant
and relaxed he is, in private. How he pals around with liberal Democrats. How
he agonizes over his all-time execution record. How he reads books, listens
to music, chats in Spanish to Hispanic kids while they dance. How his media
directors are real sweet, nonnegative guys.

Brilliant stuff, superbly
fed to us through the media CEOs dying to get their taxes reduced and the Democrats
off their antitrust drive against Bill Gates. I don’t deny the presence
of sincere W Lovers/ Clinton Haters among the producer-editor ranks. In The
New York Times several months ago we saw the penultimate move to co-opt
what I will shortly call Culture 3: W is the first GOP presidential candidate,
said the dazzled reporter, who tolerates tongue rings.

Tolerates them? You
see my point? Whose "culture" is W–followed, shortly, by Al and
the big media–about to define? On the lowest level, the neoconservative
sharpies feeding ideas to the media bosses stole Culture 3–the Virtual
Real culture–from us long ago. The neocon premise, beloved up in the tower
suites if not downtown, goes like this: the real, true culture is a closed,
coherent body of knowledge, wired into certain classics we all must read, if
we love the late Allan Bloom and Daniel Bell, not to say the now totally discredited
views of Milton Friedman.

The point of this culture–let’s
call it Culture 1, still lurking behind most newspaper editorials–is that
it follows rules. Known rules. You see it saluted constantly in the columns
of William F. Buckley Jr., who is celebrated, publicized and guested on tv endlessly,
most recently by Yale. Not far away from this elitist position is Culture 2,
which is also likely to blind us, and our pols, to the truth of the present
situation. Culture 2 is in fact a kind of populist guerrilla front for neoconservatism.
You won’t see its leaders getting honorary degrees from Yale. The tabloids
are handing "cultural politics" over to politicians like John McCain,
Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes and Rick Lazio–that is, to monogamy,
feudal decency and "life" for the unborn. For Culture 2 fanatics,
Gore and even W are vulgar utilitarians, and Hillary is Satan in drag. Worse,
anything remotely vanguard, provocative or hip is not "culture," period.
McCain summed it up when he called contemporary art "pornography."

Culture 2, while linked
to Culture 1 because it shouts about rigid rules and unyielding beliefs, appeals
to a different market. It’s the voice of small-town entrepreneurs and blue-collar
workers. Culture 2 defies elitist intellectuals and global CEOs. Culture-2 types
not only have no specific right-wing cast, some of them even took to the streets
lately in Seattle and DC to badger Motorola, Microsoft and Sony. They include
relatively decent libertarians, blue-nosed greens like Ralph Nader, blue-nosed
antisex feminists, antigay nuts like Dr. Laura Schlessinger, inventive millionaires
like Donald Trump, even Jesse Ventura, who hates intellectuals and religion
yet loves sex, as does Trump.

Now, Culture 3 is where
the most of us really live, over here with Lars Von Trier, American Beauty,
the Web, Copenhagen, Backroom Seats and Bathroom Stalls, gigabyte
chips about to turn your microwave into a think tank, quantum theory, our manic,
uncontrollable, unstoppable info-based economy, Ventura when he is mischievous,
and the progressive, self-driven, often self-employed middle class. The essential
insight of Culture 3, which many of us share, both consciously and subliminally,
is this: Get Ready for Anything. No way that W, given his advisers, can make
himself over into a 3 in any substantial way, beyond declaring tolerance for
tongue rings. By rights, Gore ought to get it, though there is not yet
a scintilla of evidence in his campaign, beyond the dialogue he had earlier
this spring with Chuck Close and a band of contemporary artists. For some reason
he seems even to be declaring himself against medical marijuana, which is a
pariah only to Culture-1 types (libertarian Culture 2 voters actually endorsed
it in Arizona and a clutch of Western counties). No signs yet that Culture 3
is on Hillary’s radar, but we know she has a high IQ tempered by the madness
of the impeachment/affair–she is surely ready for anything.

The candidate who touches
the steadily building consensus Culture 3 represents will make a political fortune.
The only barriers are the obvious barriers: Culture-1 types control our media,
and Culture-2 types scream the loudest. If you take them seriously you’d
guess that our society is about to deconstruct, spiral into a depression and
revive official Victorian morality. Yet you and I know the situation is open,
not closed, that a society earning its living on Palm Pilots and self-driven
URLs, in which health, professional and gender independence, sexual diversity,
innovative forms of family and lifespans are all expanding, is a distinctly
new kind of society. Nobody knows where this profound and fundamental change
is heading us, but surely it won’t be the fragile society that greeted
Carville in 1992.

At the end of Copenhagen,
the clone of Werner Heisenberg, who spends an intensely fateful and theatrical
night on Broadway debating the morality of atomic weapons with his old friend
Niels Bohr in 1941, sums up Culture 3 when he says: Beneath all these events,
these exchanges, these passions we will find in the end a powerful–and

Douglas Davis is an artist
and author. His latest book is
The Five Myths of Television. Debate him
at dd2001@sfd.com.