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A recent piece by Rod Dreher is the latest example I’ve seen on the Dissident Right of references to “Theater-Kid-run America” and to the dangers of giving power to “Former Theater Kids” and, well, it’s got me feeling called-out in a very uncomfortable way. Certainly this far from the first time I’ve felt conspicuously out-of-place and unwelcome on the Right; my sparring with @HlynkaCG and @FCfromSSC in this space, and with a number of users when I was an active poster in /r/CultureWarRoundup, have reinforced my acute awareness of how my upbringing and personality profile make me somewhat of an uncomfortable fit in the right-wing ecosystem. But the “Theater Kids” discourse hits me particularly hard because it touches on something over which I’ve agonized for a long time.
The question of “why are artistically-inclined people nearly universally left-wing” has occupied my thoughts extensively ever since I began my journey to the Right. As I’ve mentioned here before - probably extremely ill-advisedly, from an OpSec perspective - I have a theatre arts degree and spent over a decade heavily involved in the local theatre scene (both musicals and “straight plays”) in my city. At one point I was incredibly enthusiastic about pursuing a professional career in that field, and made my participation in it a central part of my identity. My political conversion isn’t the only reason I’ve drifted away from theatre (even my use of the British spelling gives me away as a Theater Kid), but it was by far the biggest accelerant of that decision. Another reason, though, is that even aside from their politics, theatre people can be… difficult to be around in certain ways that made me stick out like a sore thumb sometimes even without politics entering the equation.
So, when I see right-wing commentators taking potshots at “Theater Kids”, part of me wants to not only applaud, but to amplify their criticism: “Oh, you don’t even know the half of it!” I’m far more intimately aware of the particular failure modes of artists, because I saw them up-close and personal for a huge part of my life, and can recognize some of those failure modes in myself. Another part of me, though, becomes very defensive and wants to leap to the defense of the creative class; not only because, despite my current politics and estrangement from that scene, I’m still one of those people at heart, but also because I think right-wing people tread on dangerous ground when they too-eagerly dismiss and alienate artistically-/creatively-oriented people.
It is undeniably true that people involved in the arts are overwhelmingly and ostentatiously left-wing. Look at surveys of political orientation among any even remotely creative-adjacent field and you will find support for progressive parties/ideas well above 80-90%. The question of why this is the case is complicated and fascinating. Has it always been that way? It is dangerous to apply modern political categories to pre-modern societies, but if the “theater kid” personality profile existed in ancient/classical societies, would it be possible to say that those types of people would have been more “proto-woke” than the average citizen?
Remember that the great literary classics of Ancient Greece - the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Theogony - were epic poems delivered orally and accompanied by music long before they were written down and codified in literary form. The bards who would have invented, transmitted and augmented these epic poems were real people with real personalities, and I think there’s a significant likelihood that they were not too different from the actors and rockstars of today. Besides implying a degree of narcissism and superciliousness that we associate with artsy people today, does it also suggest that they would have been the “shitlibs” of their day?
There’s an interesting discourse about how the character of Odysseus is a sort of prototype for the theater kid’s idea of a hero - the idealized self-image of an artist imagining how he would be as a hero. Odysseus is a trickster and fabulist; he achieves his heroic deeds largely through craftiness, subterfuge, deception, and pretending to be anybody other than who he actually is. He can conjure whole worlds and identities at a whim through the magic of wordplay and storytelling. He is labile and mercurial, indirect and full of what we might call chutzpah. He prefigures more modern examples of the “trickster/bullshitter with a heart of gold” archetype epitomized by musical theatre characters like Harold Hill in The Music Man, J. Pierrepont Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and the funhouse-mirror version of P.T. Barnum presented in the movie musical The Greatest Showman. The guys writing these musicals can’t imagine themselves as Herculean heroes of might and action, but they can imagine themselves saving the world by being so good at spinning a compelling story that they make it come true.
So, what does this imply about the self-image of artists, and what can it teach us about the likely consequences of giving the reins of power (cultural, political, or otherwise) to people who come from this milieu and/or have this personality type? Many on the Right - I’m thinking especially of the blogger The Z-Man - have noted that modern American politics are dominated by a sort of Carny (meaning a carnival performer or huckster) type of personality. There’s a persuasive case to be made that democracy inherently rewards and gives power to that exact type of person. I think we can see all around us many of the failure modes of trusting these people with the governance of our country and the production of our cultural narratives. They are fundamentally unserious people, addicted to attention and applause, attracted to head-in-the-clouds utopian nonsense because they never fully grew out of a sort of perpetual narcissistic adolescence, convinced that the key to solving hard problems is just telling a really good lie and crafting a feel-good narrative so aesthetically-pleasing that it can’t help but manifest into reality. This is a spot-on description of the personalities of many of the theatre people I know, and I wouldn’t trust them to organize a bake sale, let alone run a country.
And yet. By telegraphing its open hostility to artists and creatives - by throwing up a big sign that says, “people with liberal arts degrees, go away!” - I believe that the Right severely cripples itself. Firstly, on a practical level, it deprives the Right of its ability to mobilize individuals who can craft aesthetically-compelling narratives that will inspire and convert normal people. Right now, the only interesting art that most people in first-world countries will ever be exposed to is made by leftists. We can talk about the reasons for this; certainly some of them are structural, and are downstream of the fact that Hollywood and creative industries more generally are dominated by powerful leftists who limit the ability of right-wing content creators to access the kind of resources and backing required to produce and distribute media. But even when right-wingers get a chance to make art, it… generally doesn’t measure up.
Why is that? Is part of the reason why right-wingers (myself included) are so interested in pre-modern art is that they can keep Retvrning to it and are relieved of the burden of having to create something new? Why is it that the only people who go to classical music concerts and operas are PMC shitlibs? If the Right achieves its glorious counter-revolution, will the end product look like the town from Footloose? Distrustful of art and self-expression for fear that it breeds degeneracy? Forever fighting a battle to suppress artsy types who will corrupt the youth and bring the poison of leftism back from the dead? Should creative types who are otherwise on board with the Rightist project be concerned that we are helping to build a future that will have no place for us?
Maybe the fact that I’m asking these questions is proof that Red Tribers are right to be suspicious of people like me. If a conservative and traditional life is ideal for the vast majority of people, who cares what a tiny minority of whiny self-obsessed “artists” want? Aren’t people like me the reason we got to this point in the first place? It’s a tough subject for me to think about. To what extent can I whole-heartedly commit to a political project that will marginalize the people most similar to myself, in order to secure the greater good for the great mass of other people on earth? Am I just overthinking this entirely and letting a flippant shitposty meme trigger me into neurotic despair?
This is my first encounter of this term in the wild, and I have no clear idea of its boundaries. The obvious features of this specific example seem to be a photo-negative of the ubiquitous "church lady" slur: ignorance, irrationality, and superstition, combined with a supreme self-confidence and self-satisfaction and an aggressively judgmental moralizing attitude toward others. This archetype, it seems to me, deserves criticism; I have no idea how "theater kids" label got attached, but just from Glee alone it seems reasonably appropriate. Is there a better one available?
Is the hostility aimed at artistically/creatively-oriented people as such, or is it aimed at the existing artistic/creative establishment? I would argue the latter. Is there a way to be less hostile, given that this establishment loathes Reds and has dedicated itself to their destruction? I would argue no. Past a certain level of hostility, it's you or them. We're well-past that level with the given establishment. I guess my question is, what do you expect a counter-cultural revolution to look like? Did the Beats and the Hippies and the Dadaists and the Postmodernists and so on politely ask for permission before they burned down what came before?
I don't think so, no. We can readily observe that art overwhelmingly served right-wing goals of values-homogenization, individual edification and social cohesion in previous eras. We can observe that the modern left-wing focus on revolution and hostility to tradition, structure and stability is in fact modern, that it has specific, easily-identifiable beginnings, and like most social transformations of the modern era, matches well to a theory of cause and effect flowing downward from the Enlightenment.
...Your thesis seems to be that creativity, intelligence, and cunning are innate markers of Blue identity, that people blessed with these traits always have been and always will tend toward Blueness. I don't see things this way at all. Blues aren't blue because of their immutable characteristics, but because they're captured by a dominant ideology, in the same way that relatively smart, creative people were overwhelmingly doctrinaire Jaguar-Cultists in 1000s Central America, doctrinaire Catholics in 1400s Spain and doctrinaire Marxist-Leninists in 1930s Russia. Given sufficient enforcement, social conformity is the smart, cunning, creative thing to do, so smart, cunning, creative people conform. The question is simply who is in a position to enforce their standard.
Homer was in no meaningful sense a "shitlib"; the Iliad and the Odyssey are not revolutionary texts aiming to undermine the structure, norms and values of Homer's contemporary society in pursuit of a questionably-achievable utopian ideal. Neither are the great Cathedrals, Dante's Inferno, or Beethoven's 9th, nor the works of Shakespeare or Dahl or Rostand. You're mistaking the results of an obvious, pervasive, overwhelming social enforcement mechanism for the product of bedrock human nature, in the face, it seems to me, of overwhelming contrary evidence of both the past and present. Cunning, creativity and intelligence are not the distinguishing markers of Blueness, but rather a specific form of humanistic utopianism and a fundamentalist faith in "progress" based on a highly specific and idiosyncratic set of values and philosophical axioms.
I am quite confident that Blueness is not an innate, immutable feature of human nature, but rather the product of a very specific set of historical circumstances that have now largely concluded. One way or another, I think Blueness is going to go away, likely relatively soon, and once it is gone it will not be coming back for the foreseeable future. Creative, intelligent, cunning people will go back to using their gifts to the benefit of themselves and/or their society, as they always have, not in service to the peculiar aims and goals of Blue ideology.
Odysseus is certainly a trickster, but what of Achilles and Hector? Where do they fit into this model? The Norse have Loki, but they also have Thor... and with both Loki and Odysseus, it seems to me that their trickery is not portrayed as an unalloyed advantage. Do you find other examples of the pattern you perceive?
Just politics? Take Freud or Jung or BF Skinner, Ford, Dewey, Sanger, Duranty, Mead, heck, Rousseau... The list of luminaries and fields dominated are comprehensive. The Enlightenment was a scam from the very start, and it has remained a scam in every iteration since: a mask of science and rationality worn by the unscientific and irrational to bypass the defenses of the unwary. It was a novel exploit, and a highly successful one, but it works less and less well each year, as the woke themselves demonstrate. Soon it will not work at all, and the structures we've built upon it will inevitably fall.
Point being, this isn't new, and it isn't escapable.
Do you think future outcomes can continue to be determined by who can craft the most aesthetically-compelling narrative indefinitely, or will Reality, at some point, intrude? If you believe that, for entirely contingent reasons, Evil currently has a commanding advantage in crafting aesthetically-compelling narratives, should you try to beat that advantage, or invest your hopes in a reality-check? Sure, the former would be cleaner and more elegant, but is it actually possible? ...Is it, and its objections to alternate strategies, Red, or just more Blue Carny bluster?
Leaving aside all the questions of if and why this should be so and taking this statement as a given, why should we care?
You could argue that art is useful because it is persuasive, but it does not seem to me that Blue dominance is derived from the quality or persuasiveness of their art. It seems to me that the dominance of central institutions came first, on the strength of pure ideology, and the bright colors and whiz-bang presentation came later. Elite consensus, force of law, then media propaganda to the masses. And note that such propaganda, while effective in many ways, clearly has limits. Abortion, guns, and racial segregation are three areas where the propaganda has pretty clearly failed on its own terms. Trans issues seems to be following that pattern, and gives me some hope that the Pride movement itself ought to be reversible. All this is to say that while art is useful, it is not infinitely useful, nor infinitely valuable. It would be nice to have Red art. It would be nicer to have Red social dominance of existing institutions, not least because right-wing art would then follow.
To the exact degree that Reds actually resemble the mocking caricatures Blues make of them. That is to say, considerably less than the degree to which even the imperfect victories of Blue culture already resemble this cartoon. We already have the humorless scolds, the censorship, the fanatical puritanism, the callouts, the gossip, the unreflective, narrow-minded bigotry, the fear of anything unusual or out of the ordinary, the purging of image and language, the constant, industrial-scale injection of moralizing sermons into every medium of communication, the purity spirals, the policing of one's neighbors, the constriction of speech and thought within the coils of smothering, irrational dogma. Why worry about the potential arrival of an evil already present?
...All the above amounts to an argument over definitions, unfortunately. What makes a Blue, a Progressive, a Leftist, whatever we want to call the type? Is it an innate expression of human nature? Or is it something more limited than that, an artifact of our present time rather than something core to human nature? What defines its nature, its boundaries? That's the question that underpins a lot of these questions, isn't it?
I suppose it needn't take that form, but I imagine many revolutions and counter-revolutions can be headed off at the pass by granting lesser concessions until the heat dies down--that is, any movement will first demand changes that the Establishment could possibly implement, before thoughts turn to revolution. Sure, you can't pacify every revolutionary this way, but you'll take enough momentum out of movements to make it no longer a problem.
Just to pick on an issue I care about, I feel like copyright in the First World is slowly becoming a target for burn-it-all-down thinking. If copyright law was rolled back to a 50-70-year maximum, then the idea that it's all bullshit might be inconceivable to begin with.
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