Fighting the Culture War

Nothing more pointless than hoisting a flag on a sandbar so one can become a king of nothing, at least till the next tide sweeps you out to sea.

The battle is for the "commanding heights" of mainstream culture, and forming little enclaves of succor for gentle souls who just can't bear to go on without a medal, a gong, a grant or two is a waste of time... all with the same board members, most, if not all of whom, have spent their careers far above the madding crowd and outside the commercial culture, like Daniel P. Crandall's sweet little foundation in his AT article today.

The only awards that count in the battle for the mainstream culture are measured in eyeballs, audience size, and money. Get enough of those and you will get more recognition than you can stand.

The liberals own the universities, the big foundations, the government and the various dying media companies, whose very sickness has come about by ignoring the rather elemental fact that mass media must appeal to masses of people, not just to the other hot house flowers of the Ivy and Coastal leagues, largely members of a secular minority (whose name one must never dare speak) who staff their executive suites and increasingly guarantee their irrelevance to the other 98% of the American population.

There has never been an easier time to enter mainstream culture. AJ Leibling's world in which your access was measured by the truckloads of rolls of newsprint and barrels of ink you could afford is gone. Ask Arthur Sulzberger.

And any new media play that can actually give the American consumer what he is looking for can take off like a scalded cat, in a world in which the "suits" think a dispirited cow like Christine Armanpour is a fitting anchor to drive up ratings for network TV. Take a look at Roger Ailes's on-air "Foxes." As PJ O'Rourke put it "Roger found a niche market and aimed for it: 75% of the American TV audience."

So finding a refuge of honor for a "fugitive and cloistered virtue" is as stupid an idea today as it was when John Milton lampooned it in the 17th century. It is also counterproductive.

Every form of media control guaranteed by the high capital costs of entering film, book, record, or news distribution have crumbled with the simple low cost tools of digital media. The only thing left to them is their copyrights, and if they can't keep adding new ones, they will be left standing still, holding an icecream cone melting in the blast furnace of the future.

There is an immense and growing marketplace of ideas up for grabs. Go out there and get rich exploiting it. If you are successful, what you stand for will communicate itself to millions of people despite all the handicaps of having to reach them partially through the decaying media culture.

"Around and round the corrida, the critics puke and mewl.
But the only one who really knows is the man who fights the bull."

Hemingway got it right.

IF you want to set up something that might be of some use to conservatively inclined artists, at least include some people in it who have succeeded on the commercial side.

The sight of yet another group of nonprofits wonks trying to "help" some segment of our society ignoring its basis in a riproaring profit motive they supposedly admire is more than slightly ridiculous.

Thomas H. Lipscomb
Senior Fellow, Annenberg Center for the Digital Future (USC)

See also: A Cultural Think-Tank for America