Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg

In an essay that more properly belongs in the newspaper’s “Duh!” section (which doesn’t exist but should) Washington Post pop culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg states her dismay that the very same sort of perpetual prickliness and accusations of bad faith that infect the nation’s politics have come to infect discussions of popular culture. Really? Ya think?

Here’s the crux of her rather lengthy cri de couer:

As we have become more comfortable discussing the politics of culture, our discussions of art have become a lot more like our discussions of politics.

We treat people whose interpretations differ from our own as if they are acting in bad faith. We focus on gaffes and supposed gaffes. And we demand that significant figures in cultural commentary have something to say about every big event so we can check their reactions against our sense of what they ought to feel to remain in good standing.

She goes on to cite some similarly obvious conclusions in an academic research paper, in an effort to explain this apparently astonishing turn of events:

As Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss and C. Lee Harrington wrote in the introduction to the 2007 essay collection “Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World,” “fandom was automatically more than the mere act of being a fan of something: it was a collective strategy, a communal effort to form interpretive communities.”

In other words, fandom is an identity category, one that can be deployed both to challenge existing cultural norms and to maintain “social and cultural systems of classification and thus existing hierarchies.” And having committed to an identity, you have to defend it, which means defending the object of your affection.

Their explanation makes some sense as a description of what is happening in some quarters today, but it utterly fails to explain why it should happen now and did not occur in the entire previous century. (Perhaps the rest of their paper does a better job of it, but I am certainly not going to bother with it based on the passage Rosenberg quotes.) Obviously the rise of social media helps enable the rapidity of such discussions, but there’s nothing inherent in that technology which should encourage people to see culture in political terms, a point which should be more than obvious. Children and teenagers, for example, chat to one another on social media about a wide variety of subjects without politics entering the discussion at all, and without any sort of politicized assumptions of bad faith. Adults are free to do likewise.

Or are we?

For all her concern and willingness to do a bit of research into the matter and write at length about it, Rosenberg fails to show any awareness that the culprit is easily identifiable: the excessive reach of politics has infected people’s minds such that it seems as if everything must be judged through that prism, especially in light of progressives’ insistence that “the personal is the political.” As a result, statists are ever on the lookout for signs of opposition to their agenda, in all quarters, and true liberals are continually angered by progressives’ cultural manipulation in light of the fact that the latter openly asserted their desire to take over the culture decades ago (cf Antonio Gramsci).

If you politicize everything, you should not be surprised when everything is seen as having political implications and is treated as scuh.

Unless and until government is reconceived as a servant of the people instead of the master of all things, the politicization of culture will remain and continue to intensify.