Endless Talk About The Culture War

Image source: Philipp Potocnik on Unsplash

Alex Nowrasteh writes for Arc Digital on why there is so much culture war commentary ("from encoded presidential insults to drag queen story hour, Netflix comedy specials to baby books"). In short, because it's easy and cheap and pays big dividends. People love to read it for that confirmation bias rush and you don't have to be an expert in anything, such as science or politics. You don't even have to do research or risk getting called out for being wrong.

This makes cultural commentary especially tempting for politicians. It saves them from actually having to talk about the details of their jobs or what they are doing for their constituents.

Complaining about culture wars is easy for politicians because there’s little for them to do so they can’t be blamed for inaction. When Congress was debating the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion spending bill, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were busy reading Dr. Seuss because of a controversy over some of his books being racist and the publisher deciding not to publish them anymore. Writing mean tweets or hosting podcasts filled with culture war commentary counts as a substitute for “doing something,” whereas legislators used to be judged based on their lawmaking.

Politicians aren't the only ones engaged in the cultural hot take trend, though. Journalists of all stripes, writing for a full spectrum of different audiences, have really taken up the format. Nowrasteh describes one particularly popular style of article that has been around for the last few years.

Journalism and commentary also thrive on unconventional narratives that cultural commentary is well suited to produce. “This culturally innocuous thing is actually evil” is so ubiquitous that it should be its own genre with a specialized name.

This genre (whatever you want to call it) has me wondering what this Christmas season's version of Don't Subject Your Kids to Rudolph is going to be. These stories are another version of the man bites dog aphorism in journalism.

The phrase man bites dog is a shortened version of an aphorism in journalism that describes how an unusual, infrequent event (such as a man biting a dog) is more likely to be reported as news than an ordinary, everyday occurrence with similar consequences, such as a dog biting a man.

It's not hard to write and back these pieces, because all they require is a knowledge of the cultural artifact, the shared accepted meaning behind that artifact and a different opinion. Some may roll their eyes, but it's hard to really contest such a piece in any real sense.

Given the low-cost at which these articles can be tossed out, and the high rewards of readership, don't expect them to disappear anytime soon.

Canned Dragons by Robert Rackley
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