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Conservative 'Sleeper Agents' in Hollywood? The Right Wing's New War for Culture

The new conservative mediamakers are shedding the baggage of culture war hangups, freeing up energy to infiltrate culture industries and attack the left.

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The panels continually returned to a deep anxiety on the right: conservatives still don’t know what to make of the modern world. They embrace the internal combustion engine and nuclear power while rejecting the theory of evolution and the science of global warming; puzzling over the depravity of "Jersey Shore," they daydream about small-town geniality from the confines of the sprawling rec room of an exurban McMansion.

“It might seem ridiculous,” wrote pop culture scholar Mike Spencer, “for conservative forces to indoctrinate rock music, a popular culture form which they have historically derided and which they recognized as a cause of a variety of social problems (juvenile delinquency, race mixing, Communist subversion, etc.).”

But as cultural theorist Frederick Jameson notes, the passage of time has always allowed for the cooptation of music and art that is “ugly, dissonant, obscure, scandalous, immoral, subversive and generally ‘anti-social,'" making it into something safe for civilization.

Often, the appeals fall flat, like Michael Steele’s infamous promise to bring an “off the hook” GOP to “urban, suburban hip-hop settings.” And rock stars have protested the appropriation of their music for conservative political campaigns. In 2008, members of Heart told Sarah Palin to stop playing their hit song "Barracuda":

“Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song ‘Barracuda’ no longer be used to promote her image. The song ‘Barracuda’ was written in the late '70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The ‘barracuda’ represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it there.”

That working-class bard Bruce Springsteen is a liberal clearly bothers conservatives. In 2009, the Boss turned down New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s request that he play at his inauguration. Glenn Beck attacked Born in the USA as “anti-American” during a show where he also put forth his dumbfounded realization that "This Land is Your Land" was critical of capitalism. Yet Springsteen still commands the image of salt-of-the-earth Americana. (I’m not aware of a situation in which a group or candidate on the left has been criticized for appropriating a conservative musician.)

The Decline of Frumpy Censors

“People are always trying to play Shakira before I speak,” complained one of a handful of Latinos at CPAC, rushing up to speak to members of a panel called "Pop Culture: An Influence or a Mirror?" as they left the stage. She was desperately seeking a family values Latin pop star. “Shakira is a liberal!”

There are still old-line conservatives who pass their days worrying about Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. But as the New York Times noted in an October article on the Parents Television Council, “These are difficult days for the decency police."

The (bi-partisan) Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), formed in response to Prince’s Purple Rain’s lyrics about sex and masturbation no longer exists. Failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s writing in 1996 that “difficult to convey just how debased rap is,” now seems, well, quaint.

During the Hollywood panel, O’Connor of Breitbart.tv made fun of the Family Research Council, apologizing only when an evangelical in the back of the room meekly protested. The most provocative new conservative mediamakers are shedding the baggage of culture war hangups, freeing up time and energy to attack the left and President Obama. That night, Breitbart threw a party for GOProud and passed out stickers that read, “Our gays are more macho than their straights!”