December 06, 2006

Why is Culture almost never Right?


18 Doughty Street asked last night why cultural artifacts always seem to come out leftwing. Some of the commentary is good, some of it noticably that from Douglas Murray, who I've rebuked before, is infantile. Particularly infantile is an uncritical version of anti-establishment conservatism, to whose flaws Matthew Sinclair recently pointed on his blog, the idea of a massive leftwing conspiracy originating in the Universities and spreading across theatreland, films and television is as ridiculous as it is untrue. There is rightwing culture out there: films for instance like the upcoming release involving Will Smith that enjoin people that anyone can be a stockbroker should they wish to be or tv serieses like ones which invite kids to be reeducated 1950s style are hardly in the vanguard of the revolutionary movement. Its worth noting that much more of the cultural landscape is dominated by the right than many of them would choose to remember, its also worth remembering that plays and books don't neccessarily or indeed often fit simply into a left-right dichotomy.

But what accounts for this sense of leftwing culture. Partly its because of a more general fact about intellectuals- they tend left. In the United States for example, in 2004, PhD and degree holders voted more leftwing than people who had left university before they obtained a degree or only obtained a high school diploma (source CNN). As intellectuals constitute the core and most loyal audience for plays and books, if not for films- it makes sense for books to be marketted to them. We need to distinguish here obviously between the mass market and the art market. The mass market contains all consumers within society- and ferociously rightwing books like Anne Coulter's make lots of money- but for a less mass market publication it often pays to trend left, afterall the most loyal audience trends left.

The real problem with 18 Doughty Street's look at these subjects was that it didn't reflect the fact that culture really doesn't have a political side to it. Culture, whenever it reflects upon human beings, attempts to take us into their minds, to make us reconceive their conceptions. In that sense, rather than being particularly rightwing or leftwing, culture makes relativists of us all in that it introduces us to new ideas and new concepts through the media of our imaginations. It enhances what Adam Smith would have called our sympathetic faculties. Often that bends and warps the cultural artifact in a way its maker could not have predicted- I have a friend who read into Malena, a profoundly feminist film, an anti-feminist message. Unlike political manifestos culture doesn't neatly fit, partly because it can't neatly fit into the caricatures of snarling politicos.

This is a subject that needs more than one blog entry. I want though to end on one last point which I think Doughty Street didn't capture and that is part of the problem for the right within culture is that one of the things that our culture is very good at doing is showing things, one of the things it isn't so good at doing is arguing things. I myself have been involved in television, and in an apolitical production was told off for trying to introduce ideas- its much easier to film situations. So whereas along the same logic, its easy to film a beggar and at the same time film the computer parts being unloaded at Heathrow from China that take him out of a job, its very hard to film the free trade argument. The camera and the stage are media in which the situation is all important, and its very easy to make an argument for collective action based on pity for a situation- its very hard to argue using a camera for free trade or against pity.

This is a very incomplete answer and I will return to this subject in days to come- there is something interesting here- I don't think 18 Doughty Street captured at all what is going on and I don't think they presented the issues in all their subtlety, I hope this post contains some worthy thoughts on the subject, though even I in taking it up am unsure as I hope you can tell about the purview of these terms right and left and their relevancy to culture.

What ultimately the politics of culture are I'm not sure.

5 comments:

james higham said...

...Partly its because of a more general fact about intellectuals- they tend left...

Which seems to suggest that the less realistic, the harder to the left.

dreadnought said...

Because left is right and right is wrong, right?

Gracchi said...

Ok James- that depends doesn't it on intellectuals being less realistic- they might be more informed.

Dreadnought, I'm not sure that's true either- often what we are talking about in the distinction between left and right is not between right and wrong but between configurations of shared moral values- I configure them one way and you another, and the issue then is how best to configure them. There might not be a right answer to that question.

I feared getting into this territory when I wrote the post.

james higham said...

...one of the things it isn't so good at doing is arguing things...

Surely though that was one of the prime directives for Doughty - to posit and argue things?

Gracchi said...

Yes it was- I haven't watched enough of it to see how good it is- I like Iain Dale's interviews because he tends not to interrupt which I value.

Doughty's argument in this program wasn't particularly well thought out- they didn't really get to why- they just kept repeating and I kept on thinking about counter examples- it didn't work possibly the issue wasn't right. I thought they were kinda being outrageous but not getting new thinking in which I think is a danger for them- a sort of talk radio on tv if you like- I hope that isn't the way they evolve but it could be and that wouldn't work. Having said that we all have off days (some of the posts on this blog and the comments I make don't fulfill my idea of what I'd like a comment or post to do) so maybe this was an off day.