25 March 2013
Republicans court popular culture; does that make them unfaithful?
According to Time magazine, Republican party chairman Reince Priebus has told his fellow partisans that "We have to stop divorcing ourselves from American culture." That sets the tone for an agenda of inclusiveness, based on the idea that "Our 80% friend is not our 20% enemy" and summarized in Time's paraphrase, "Stop attacking popular culture and start becoming a part of it." Priebus appears to recognize that his party suffers a handicap in its attempt to court popular culture: the prevalence of a stereotype of Republicans as "narrow minded ... stuffy old men ... out of touch." Worse, in Time's words, "the current GOP message of small government and low taxes is not enough to attract more than minimal interest among minorities and the young." That's likely to remain a problem no matter how much Priebus's Republicans strive to appear hip and tolerant, since the self-reliance the party preaches seems unhip if not intolerant (of human frailty, etc.) to many people. Time notes that Tea Party types are already starting to circle the wagon, perceiving both Priebus's proposed inclusiveness and his proposed primary-season rules changes as an attempt to exclude them from their rightful share of influence. In their eyes, Priebus may be pandering not just to decadent youth but to "well-funded establishment candidates" and "the GOP's wealthy elites." That's probably just the beginning of the challenges Priebus faces. Time doesn't even mention one difficulty sure to be faced by any Republican who talks about embracing popular culture. Priebus is making that appeal at a moment when one of his party's most loyal and fanatical constituents, the National Rifle Association, is trying to make popular culture a scapegoat for the latest wave of mass shootings. Since it's heresy to suggest that more guns alone means more killing, the NRA would rather rave against violent movies and video games. This is a big problem if you believe that many young people who enjoy violent media might be temperamentally inclined toward Republicanism. A judgmental attitude toward their entertainment may be as much of a turn-off for these characters as a judgmental attitude toward sexuality turns off others. For Priebus, the question is: does your embrace of popular culture include contradicting the NRA -- not even necessarily to admit that guns are the real problem, but just to deny that movies and video games make people kill? It may not be rational, but there are probably millions of Americans who happily partake of violent media yet stereotype Republicans as narrow minded, out of touch, stuffy old men ... with guns. As much as some people on the left may see gun culture and pop culture as two faces of the same enemy, Republicans may find themselves forced to choose between one culture and the other.