This entry was sparked about a week ago when I was in Borders and saw Bernard "O NOES TEH MEDIA IZ LIBRUL" Goldberg's latest book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America: (And Al Franken Is Number 37). First off, that subtitle just destroys any serious intellectual respect that his points may deserve, because it is just so juvenile. Second off, the cover illustrations are photographs of the Usual Suspects Of The Right-Wing Two-Minute-Hate List-- Michael Moore, Eminem, Barbra Streisand... in short, celebrities who criticize right-wing sociopolitical views.
There's two things that the people pictured on Goldberg's cover have in common: 1) As stated above, they're celebrities who criticize the Right. 2) They don't have a lot of real political power.
Think about this for a minute-- Bernard Goldberg is pointing the finger of blame for why the United States isn't the most peachy-keen awesome country ever at people whose only real deeds are saying "The current system of power isn't doing a good job." And this lead me to ruminate on why the culture war in the United States nowadays is so inherently fucked up.
Basically, the culture war is where most of the energy of the political struggle between Left and Right is expended these days. And to be blunt, it's wasted energy, particularly on the side of the Left. Cultural issues as political forums-- that strikes me as a battleground chosen by the Right because the Right has a lot of advantages in it. Because it's easy for them to point at, say, homosexual activists or radical feminists or sex/violence in the media or gangsta rap and shout "See?! See?! America is going to hell and Something Must Be Done!!11one" And of course, the Left seems to think that it has to turn and respond to these attacks.
The problem is, cultural issues are not the real important issues.
Jane Fonda didn't send troops to Iraq in the first place. Michael Moore didn't set off the car bombs that blew up those Marines last week. Eminem isn't laying long-term plans to impose American military power across the Middle East. Celebrities aren't responsible for the real geopolitical acts that are even now driving our allies, existing and potential, away from us.
Right around the time of the election last year, kallah made a comment in response to an Eve Ensler-esque political stunt: "I don't care about my cunt." Granted, I wouldn't have said it in this way (because I must never use one blunt sentence if I can use at least two vague paragraphs instead-- otherwise, the English Police will revoke my degree), but there's a very large grain of truth to it. Her point was that there are real issues--issues like income gaps, access to health care, publically-funded services, and so on--issues that have a real, everyday impact on her and everyone else; much more of a direct impact than, say, reproductive rights. And these issues are not even touched in the culture war. Because they're "boring" issues--it's more difficult to come up with an immediate emotional response to them, as opposed to things like abortion or violence in the media. And as a result, nobody pays much attention to them--certainly not nearly as much attention as these hot-button "controversial" issues get in the mainstream mass culture.
Let me put it like this. Why should I care if the government won't let me own anything more harmful than a plastic spork, or if I'm allowed to keep a howitzer in my back yard? It doesn't change the fact that I can't afford to go to the doctor because my employer cannot or will not pay to give me health insurance. Why should I care if the only albums I can buy are inoffensive snoozefests, or if I'm allowed to buy a recording of Eminem giving his girlfriend a Dirty Sanchez? It doesn't change the fact that some young eager kid from Anytown, U.S.A. just got his guts blown out in Mosul for little more than vague feel-good rhetoric about "freedom" and "security." Why should I care if women aren't allowed to leave the house unless covered in fifteen layers of fabric from chin to ankle, or if we're allowed to have orgies in the street every day? It doesn't change the fact that the people in power, the people who make the policies that directly affect my life and livelihood, are working against my own interests.
And I think that's what it comes down to, really.