Monday, 11 February 2013

Portrait of the Artist As a Young Reactionary


James Dobson, rightwing founder of the rightwing ministry Focus On The Family, is writing fiction. He’s writing a trilogy about a dystopian America torn by culture wars, parents criticized for having too many children, wars on parenthood and marriage and families and religion, old people encouraged to commit suicide, too many women rejecting marriage, a rejection against raising children, etc etc. The books are “Fatherless”, “Childless”, and “Godless”.

And he is positive that his nightmare vision is on its way to becoming true. He thinks that the real America is already “enemy-occupied territory”, and he insists that his vision is destined to happen in the real world because of unavoidable demographics. He claims he is researching his vision to make sure it’s all perfectly accurate.

And of course he has pinpointed the villains in his tale of horror. He has been screeching that electing Obama and the liberals would lead to losing our freedoms, the destruction of marriage, banning all guns, mandatory homosexual indoctrination, porn on prime-time TV, bonuses for gay soldiers, terror attacks in the U.S. and Israel, Russia’s reconquest of Eastern Europe, stopping health care for everyone over 80, economic depression, and infanticide. He predicted that the Democrats would shut down the Boy Scouts and home schooling and Christian schools and Rush Limbaugh. Amazingly, his predictions were off-target.

Essentially his theme is that if people don’t live the way he approves, America will turn into some sort of apocalyptic nightmare.

But the obvious punch line is that if America were to live Dobson’s way, we would descend into a deeper nightmare than Big Bad Obama could ever inflict upon us.

Dobson thinks America reached its peak during the era of Bush – rightwing extremists in charge of every part of government, messianic insanity in foreign policy, the systemic economic destruction of the middle class, illegal wiretaps and detention and torture, an endless series of crimes and follies – but he wants to go even further.

In Dobson’ utopia, women would stay home with the kids because the Bible says so; there would be no abortion or divorce.

In Dobson’s world, homosexuality is a dangerous form of predatory insanity that threatens our health and our children, a greater threat than terrorism. Dobson sees code words for evil when he hears “tolerance” and “diversity” and even “Spongebob”. In his utopia gays would never have full rights, never marry, never raise children.

In Dobson’s world, children would be forced to submit to authority at all times and be submitted to corporal punishment when they don’t, and to be “required” to stop crying. Our schools would be religious with prayer groups but no sex ed or scary ideas like evolution (or, God forbid, global warming).

In Dobson’s world, policy would be driven by the Bible, on everything from abortion to gays to stem-cell research to education to science to evolution to book banning to contraception. In Dobson’s world, the current GOP isn’t extreme enough, and judges who oppose his views are committing “tyranny”. In his world there would be no porn, no gambling, no sex before marriage. And he is adept at getting what he wants: Dobson helped Bush to cheat his way into winning Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.

Dobson’s world would embrace everything that was wrong with America a century ago: blacks could be killed for fun, women were property, Mexicans were invisible, gays were criminals, the air and water and food were unsafe, workers were half-slaves in dangerous workplaces, and the rich could turn the world upside down with an economic panic with no warning.

Dobson is, of course, not the only rightwing loon to try to enrich our lives with their nightmarish fictional views of the world. Ayn Rand wrote novels proclaiming the evils of charity and the glories of capitalism so unrestrained that it bordered on anarchy, worshipping rich industrialists above all.

The editorial brains of the Washington Times wrote fiction in which America’s liberals were working hand in glove with America’s enemies. The Turner Diaries describe a utopia in which the white folks rise up, take over the government (as though they weren’t running it already) and kill all the undesirables, with an emphasis on Jews, gays, and anyone with brown skin (Timothy McVeigh was a fan of the Diaries). Glenn Beck wrote a laughably bad novel about evil liberal conspirators who leave America vulnerable to attack. Of course the wingnuts also write vast amount of “non-fiction” diatribes, Beck and Anne Coulter publishing 22 books between them. Occasionally conservative “art” is realized onscreen: in addition to the faux documentaries like “2016: Obama’s America”, your cineplexes will sometimes see “OMG they’re coming to take your guns!” in “Red Dawn” and “OMG abortions everywhere!” in “Listen To Me”.

But there are sound reasons why conservatives can’t cut it in the world of art. They are resistant to many of the foundations of creativity: imagination, contemplation, original thought, the facts that underlie real-world problems, and the logic that must underpin plot construction. And empathy for the human spirit, and sympathy for the outsiders and anti-heroes who drive most stories, and sheer brainpower. It’s no accident that conservatives are few and far between in the world of art. The conservative movement mostly consists of people are (a) profoundly ignorant, or (b) frighten the profoundly ignorant with lies for profit or political gain, or (c) just make art for the paycheck. This is not the stuff of which great art is made. Historically the only time conservatives have helped art is by (a) writing checks to artists and then getting out of their way, which in itself can be limiting to artists (there is a good reason why a lot of the paintings by the Dutch masters depict bankers and businessmen), or (b) doing things so appalling and evil that they inspire artists to incite rebellion and tell tales of hope, or (c) telling tales of hate and fear, which ceases to be effective when their warnings of the terror to come…never come true.

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