A Fox News for Pop Culture

Morgan Freeman, America's first black president (eurweb.com).

Morgan Freeman, America’s first black president (eurweb.com).

Washingtonians don’t mind if you say that D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people. But tell them their city is not the epicenter of power they think it is, and they’ll be troubled.

Hollywood’s society of conservatives, the Friends of Abe, believes that the war of ideas is happening in our culture, not our think tanks. The group’s executive director, independent filmmaker Jeremy Boreing, recently spoke with me by phone about the crucial fight conservatives have too long conceded.

If everyone in Hollywood is liberal, is it cool to be conservative? 

It’s never cool to be conservative, because cool is specifically defined by culture, and the culture is defined by the left. I hear a lot of people talking about making conservatism cool, and I don’t think that’s possible. You’re trying to win the approval of a system set up to oppose you. “Authentic” is a better goal. When conservatives are at their best, they’re being authentic and true.

The ACLU is suing Hollywood for discriminating against women. Is that ironic?

Women are discriminated against in Hollywood. I’ve been in pitch meetings where the most vile things were said about women, with women in attendance — like what sort of women the CEO would want to have sex with to determine who should be cast. Many of these women are far to the left, and they see where the bias harms them, but they’re blind to where it harms others who may have different, mainstream beliefs. Half the country is female, but half is conservative too.

Does President Obama “get” pop culture?

President Obama is a product of pop culture. Morgan Freeman objected at one time to people calling Barack Obama the first black president. He said that he was [in “Deep Impact”], and in many ways it’s true. Even if Democrats don’t understand culture, they at least understand the value of it. Obama gets that it’s the most effective tool there is to bring about change.

Is there any 2016 GOP hopeful who understands pop culture?

There are several who are trying to get it, but we have a ways to go. We have to learn stagecraft. One example: Marco Rubio having a drink of water in the middle of the most important speech of his life. He left the podium during a televised speech, which means you leave dead air, and people tune out dead air. It was a very small infraction, but it was a huge failure of stagecraft. Our politicians on the right need to learn stagecraft and how to speak.

People complain that Obama doesn’t sound American, but it was Romney who didn’t sound American, because he didn’t sound like someone who’d engaged with pop culture. People don’t go around quoting the Founders, but they do talk about “Modern Family” and “The Simpsons.” How can you be a culture shaper and tone deaf about culture?

Are politicians generally helped or hurt by associating with pop culture icons?

Pop culture icons are a dangerous business, especially on the right, because we have so few. If a celebrity on the right does anything wrong, pop culture will turn on them, eroding their popularity, which harms the politician. Take the Duggar family. Any politician on the right is now being asked to defend their association with the Duggars. On the right, every time you use celebrity, you lose celebrity. Learning from conservatives in entertainment the power of stagecraft and speaking the language of the culture is a better use of time.

Is Caitlyn Jenner “the new normal”?

It’s the new normal because conservatives have allowed it to become that way; we haven’t told the truth in pop culture. Conservatives aren’t in the war of ideas. They think that’s happening in D.C., but D.C. can only move within the narrow confines of what the culture allows.

Consider: President Obama couldn’t be elected in 2008 without opposing gay marriage, and he couldn’t be reelected without supporting it. Whatever he believed didn’t matter. It was what he had to say; that was the power of pop culture.

I personally think it’s tragic that so much of the country is celebrating. If you disagree with me, it’s good for you that the culture agrees with you. The biology of Caitlyn Jenner is less important than what people perceive and what pop culture says about the situation. People have had these surgeries for a generation and a half, and they haven’t been on the cover of Vanity Fair and celebrated until now, so obviously something changed, led by the values of pop culture.

Why did “American Sniper” do so well at the box office?

It wasn’t propaganda. You see the nobility of the American soldier on display. Eastwood’s movie didn’t show a rah-rah, two-dimensional view. It opened with a scene about a decision with no clear moral answer. It’s a clear telling of the horrors of war, but people know that we’re the good guys. It was authentic and truthful, and it represented the values of a hugely underserved market. This is a market opportunity, if you have the risk tolerance and the heart to be in the fight.

How should conservatives engage?

We need to create our own structures. A great example is Fox News. Murdoch and Ailes challenged existing media by building their own network, and in doing so, they changed things forever. I don’t know Fox News’ budget, but it’s not a Kickstarter campaign; it’s a billion-dollar operation. We need a parallel play in pop culture.

Nobody cares if Obama can quote “Deep Impact,” but Deep Impact made it possible for him to be president. Without “Will and Grace,” there’s no national conversation about gay marriage or the huge turnaround that happened in such a short time. Hollywood gave up on conservatives, but conservatives also gave up on Hollywood. That was a huge mistake.

Final thoughts? 

You can’t lose pop culture and win the war for the greater culture.

This article appeared in RealClearPolitics.


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