December 3, 2010
A Cultural Think-Tank for AmericaBy Daniel P. Crandall
You just finished another long day in the office. The project is ahead of schedule and under budget. Your boss calls you into his office before you leave for the night. Your heart skips a beat as you wonder if unemployment looms behind his doors. Once you walk in, he looks you in the eye and gives you a hearty congratulations; you've received glowing accolades from customers that will lead to future projects, and you are to be honored by your peers at an upcoming convention.
This is the feedback laborers in the corporate fields crave. Nothing drives productivity like compliments and rewards for a job well done.
Every rational person recognizes the power awards and positive reviews have in reinforcing behavior and producing the products we enjoy. So why, when it comes to popular culture, do most conservatives do little but shovel burning coals on writers, artists, filmmakers, and others laboring in the cultural influence professions?
There is an old adage that you can tell what someone values when you open her checkbook. Conservative organizations, for years, told purveyors of pop culture that political activism is far more valuable a commodity than artistic endeavors. Look at the millions flowing into conservative and libertarian think-tanks and foundations in Washington, D.C. -- groups producing reviews, awards, and grants in order to effect change in that political swamp. Hollywood and New York, on the other hand, receive, at best, cold glances over the shoulder, and at worst, hateful glares from right-leaning foundations.
Huge think-tanks, like CATO, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute, with their "all politics, all the time" example, are followed by smaller organizations and grassroots movements. Sam Adams Alliance* and its "SAMMIES" are a perfect example. Beginning in 2007, this grassroots group began awarding "individuals and organizations working to promote free-market principles and policies." That year, they gave $35,000 in awards to conservative political activists. The amount slated to be handed out in 2011 is $60,000, with the top prize being $20,000. These awards pale in comparison to the millions lavished by the "Big Three" named above.
Before you jump to conclusions, I believe political activism is critical, and I'm grateful for the millions of activists who organized, donated, and spearheaded Town Hall Meetings and Tea Party protests. This nation needs those who spent precious time, talent, and treasure to check the Obama-Pelosi-Reid "transformation" of America.
Furthermore, I don't begrudge the winners their prizes, especially since my good friend Keli Carender deservedly won SAMMIES' 2010 Town Hall Award "for challenging Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) to personally take her $20 bill to pay for government health care." Lord knows America's Social Democrat Party, with Pres. Obama at its helm, must be opposed on political grounds. Otherwise, the ever-expanding, freedom-encroaching federal government would run unchecked over our liberty and sense of personal responsibility.
In order to broaden the cause of liberty and personal responsibility beyond politics, we must engage the cultural influence professions. Politics is downstream of culture. Unfortunately, when it comes to spending that supports writers, artists, and filmmakers, conservatives are AWOL. If a portion of what conservatives spend annually on political think-tanks were invested in the arts and entertainment, immense steps could be taken to move the culture rightward and check its continuous creep ever toward the left.
One way to invest in writers and filmmakers is with a robust body of reviews, awards, and grants. Cultural influence professionals -- i.e., writers, filmmakers, artists, etc. -- like all laborers in the field, feed on recognition and praise. Without it, no one reads their books, sees their movies, or visits their galleries.
In a recent Big Hollywood interview, Andrew Klavan stated, "The one place conservatives in the arts fall down is in building a body of reviews, awards and creating our own grants. Writers and filmmakers are part of the arts community and we all crave recognition. That recognition is what will help us reclaim the culture, and that's where the real battle that matters is."
In the April 2010 City Journal, Andrew wrote,
America desperately needs organizations that are part of the arts communities, providing grants, awards, and reviews that foster a culture of liberty and personal responsibility.
I greatly respect the intent behind Bill Whittle's Declaration Entertainment (DE). Bill is spot-on in his analysis of Hollywood's entertainment elites, and I wish his venture nothing but success. Even if DE can make films that match the quality of It's A Wonderful Life, The Searchers, Rocky, or Braveheart, their creators must have, as Andrew noted, "a body of reviews, awards, and ... grants [that provide the] recognition [that] will help us reclaim the culture." Currently, that body does not exist.
In response to an e-mail on this subject, Andrew noted, "Personally, I suspect some sort of cultural think tank is needed, with well-heeled funders behind it. There's a lot that could be done but it takes real money." In my work with the Culture Alliance, I've spoken with academics and others concerning a cultural think-tank and have received positive feedback that such an organization, targeting America's centers of cultural influence (i.e., Hollywood and New York), is desperately needed and could be quite successful.
It bears repeating over and over again: Such a think-tank must not be co-opted by individuals intent on advancing a political cause. Reviewing and awarding films that push a right-wing political agenda is just as bad for the culture as reviewing and awarding films that advance a left-wing agenda. Andrew put it perfectly when he clearly called for "more art that represents the moral universe as it is," not as certain individuals want it to be.
In the City Journal article linked above, Andrew wrote, "Artists work for love more than they do for money, and unless we learn to celebrate and nurture what's good in our culture, it will not grow."
I know I'm not alone as I lend my voice to Andrew Klavan's on this subject. Numerous writers, filmmakers, and artists across America have the energy and drive to foster a culture of liberty and personal responsibility. A strongly supported think-tank targeting arts communities with reviews, awards, and grants will foster a culture in which Americans could proudly raise their children.
*Kay Lindenberg, of the Sam Adams Alliance writes:
Sam Adams Alliance - as a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to generating demand for freedom through effective marketing and communications - and The Sammies exist, in large part, to recognize these artists and communicators because we identified a need to highlight these cultural influencers that are so frequently overlooked. Keli Corindor won her Sammie because she was communicating her message so effectively that the video of her communication went viral, thereby touching thousands of people. Additionally, last year awards went to John Papola and Russ Roberts for their viral film "Boom and Bust" (http://www.econstories.tv/) which introduced literally millions of viewers to the difference between Hayek and Keynesian economics by presenting these long-dead men's ideas in a popular rap and music video. Sam has additionally awarded our "Irreverent Messenger" award to the producers of "Toy Story 3" for Barbie's irreverent defense of freedom and Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground, for standing up for what she believes in by becoming an activist.