Friday, June 29, 2018

True Conservatism is The Political Media's Westworld


To no one's surprise, Mr. Andrew Sullivan (who gets paid to write True Conservative fan fiction for NY Magazine) name-checked Mr. David Brooks (who gets paid to write True Conservative fan fiction for The New York Times) as he joined the ranks of professional cosseted Conservative havers-of-opinions pouring one out for the death of the Glorious American Conservatism That Never Was --
Anthony Kennedy and the Death of True American Conservatism

This, to my mind, is the conservative temperament, fully understood. I can hear the howls of those who believe this definition is too esoteric and precious to mean anything in the American case right now. And, sure, the howlers have a point. I’m with David Brooks in his view that Republicanism has become conservatism’s worst enemy — worse even than the social-justice left.
-- and the Noble American Conservatism That Is Yet To Come:
But I’d argue that this variety of conservatism is still essential to the project of liberal democracy, that reviving some of it is our only way out of gridlock, and its eclipse is a sign of how great the danger now is.
This is a ritual in which any decent human being in their field of vision is declared to have really been a Hero of True Conservatism.
And that’s why I loved Barack Obama. In his heart and mind, he is and was a moderate conservative...
That every monster spawned by their myopic cult of sinecured wishful thinkers is really the Villainous Antithesis of True Conservatism
And this is why I despise Donald Trump... he is a lonely, maladjusted id, with Western civilization as a plaything in his hands. And Republicanism — in its shameful embrace of this monster, its determined rape of the environment, destruction of our fiscal standing, evisceration of our allies, callousness toward the sick, and newfound contempt for free trade — has nary a conservative bone in its putrefying body.
And, of course, no public exhibition of preening True Conservative vainglory would be complete without stopping by the Extremes on Both Sides cafe for a steaming cup of self-regard:
[Obama] desperately tried to keep this country in one piece, against foam-flecked racism and know-nothingism on one side and left-wing ideological purity and identity politics on the other. 
This is the current state of a Grand Pundit Unification Theory which we have been watching trying to form itself in the media spotlight for years, and which as sharply upticked since the election of President Stupid:  The idea that True Conservatism simply is Both Siderism and Both Siderism is True Conservatism.

Period.  Full stop. 

Of course, this attempt to continually re-brand reflexive fence-straddling as True Conservatism (so that it's paid spokesmodels will always have a reserved seat at the media table) is nothing new.  Once upon a time I took to calling this "Pineapple Ice Cream Conservatism" -- a label which definitely did not take off in a big way, but is nonetheless still true and accurate:
Mr. Sullivan's Conservatism is identical to Mr. Brooks' Moderation in that their respective ideological systems amount to little more than what is convenient and enjoyable for each man to believe at any given moment. 

If Mr. Sullivan suddenly developed a taste for pineapple ice cream, within a week he would be penning columns about how "Liking Pineapple Ice Cream" is a cardinal Conservative value because of something something Edmund Burke.  If he got sick on bad Thai food, we would suddenly see a spate of columns discussing bad Thai food and how it is something that only extreme Christianists or Left Liberal would ever put in their mouths.

He is, at best, a flighty dilettante with a wealth patron and does not have the slightest fucking clue about how his adopted country works.

Likewise the Moderate Mr. Brooks adds or subtracts from his lexicon of virtues based almost entirely on how best to hide out from whichever one of his until-recently-held principled positions has gone hideously wrong. 
So what is this to do with Westworld?

Glad you asked.

You see, both Westworld and True Conservatism are works of fiction.

They are both expensive intellectual properties that may have been fine for the 1970s but never should have been rebooted for our time.

They are both lumber ponderously on about Big Questions Like Free Will And Stuff but never actually arrive anywhere.  You'll be riding along, looking at the scenery, wondering "Holy shit, HBO must have crazy money to afford this kind of setup" when suddenly everything stops because the writer wants one of the robots to declaim a Very Important Meditation On The Nature Of Individualism.

To try to hide the fact that the stories they are telling are a disaster, both Westworld and True Conservatism skip across timelines like a record player on a flatbed driving a corduroy road.  Skip.  You're talking about the first very robots and they were so cool, and Conservatism as it existed during the Devonian Era which -- spoiler! -- was noble and awesome!  Skip.  You're hearing from your robot daughter from the future about how Conservatism in the 23rd century is also gonna be noble and fucking awesome.  Skip.  You're in the present and Conservative robots are slaughtering each other and it's all bloody and awful, but the narrator is an emotionless cipher in a suit, safely removed from it all, sitting at a keyboard far away.

Oh no!  The narrator is a robot too!  Or is he?  And is he even the real narrator?  Maybe someone else is narrating him!  Maybe this is all a flashback!

Hey look!  All the brutally butchered robots are alive again, and doing stuff and no one really suffered or died because...

It both Westworld and True Conservatism, there are no stakes.  The most basic rule of storytelling -- whether it's a short story, an op-ed, a novel or prestige teevee -- is that you must give your audience something to care about.  Someone to root for or against.  And things that happen in the story have to have consequences for the characters we care about.  This is known in the trade as a "plot".  And you know the story you are trying to tell has miscarried beyond redemption when your ideology or teevee series is reduced to populate each episode with the same, meaningless straw men that you mow down and resurrect over and over again.  Sure, hardcore fans will go on watching, but everyone else will walk away and look for a better story that speaks to them of real people they care about in a world they can recognize. 

Finally -- and this is just speculation, but boy-howdy does it fit the facts -- in both Westworld and True Conservatism, at least some people at the corporations who underwrite those enterprises have figured out that their product sucks.  And they have figured out that we have figured out that it sucks.  Of course, by sheer power they exercise over the media platforms they own they can bluff and bluster and panel-discussion a semblance of Energy and Relevance into their failed product long after it has keeled over dead.  But "baffling them with bullshit" is inevitably a short-term tactic that cannot continue indefinitely.

And this is where the analogy fails in two, important ways.

First, HBO can and will declare victory and bury their mistake in the Valley Beyond while at the same time they break out their enormous checkbook to buy/borrow/reboot/invent their next tent-pole, must-see series.  However, there is no "backup Beltway-friendly ideology" under development in the executive conference rooms of our corporate media as a hedge against the day when Both Siderism/ True Conservatism becomes so patently ludicrous that even the hardest-core David Brooks fanboys can no longer take it seriously.  

And, second, the reason there cannot be a "backup Beltway-friendly ideology" under development is that while HBO can sack their writers, order up a brand new show and move on, the Beltway media can't sack their Both Siderist pundits for the simple reason that those pundits and their shitty opinions are the show. 

And because the professional, financial and political consequences of ever admitting the simple truth that the Left has been right about the Right all along would be so dire for so many powerful interests,  this awful Both Siderist freak show is doomed to on and on and on until we force its cancellation.

Behold, a Tip Jar!


dinthebeast said...

Peter Huestis
‏ @RealSparklePony

Andrew Sullivan can, of course, fuck off.

-Doug in Oakland

Paul said...

I don't know man. I found Westworld to be a pretty interesting rumination on what it is to exist. Can we only break our habits (or loops) when we choose to remember what happened to us instead of avoiding it? How aware are we of the causes of our bad decisions? What are the reasons we stay when we should leave? What makes us "us." Do we ever truly confront our reality? And finally, do we choose love when we awaken?

The WW storytelling is admittedly overcomplicated, but it's a hell of a lot deeper than anything the right wing and both-siders are offering.

Lit3Bolt said...

Corporate drone checks on driftglass:

"Good. He's still writing about Brooks and Sullivan. Must mean they're popular."

Ed Smart said...

Brooks and Sullivan are the Cheech and Chong of the opinion set

Sullivan gets stoned a lot, and his writing feels like it. Marijuana intoxication is attractive to some people because it makes things seem unreal, and lets you play with words, and ideas without resorting to the consequences of them. The more unstable the personality, the more this playfulness seems real.

I don't know if Brooks is always stoned, but its the same lofty thing. For both of them, my first response is to ask, why do you think I would be interested in your pipe dream? I'd rather read Baudelaire or Breton by far.

I volunteer in a jail sometimes and even there, among the sane guys, there's a rule: when you start telling me about what you were thinking or doing when you were tripping, you get cut off. Nobody want to hear that crap, so keep it to yourself.