Modern conservatives: ‘Straight by day and swingers by night’?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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A big discussion swirling around conservative circles recently has been why conservative “art” doesn’t work. The general consensus is that attempts to be overtly political are almost always doomed to failure — a point which rings true.

The good news is that Hollywood often — inadvertently? — advances conservative messages.

The other day on Bloggingheads, Bill Scher and I were discussing my contention that mainstream media shows like Parks and Recreation and Portlandia do a better job of satirizing liberalism than conservatives ever could.

And then Scher brought up something I hadn’t considered: His belief that the movie Wedding Crashers has a conservative slant.

This seemed a stretch to me. It was a subtle plot twist that I didn’t recall, which probably means I wasn’t as sensitive to the perceived slight (or that I was too focused on Isla Fisher to notice.) But Bill contends the Bradley Cooper character portrayed environmentalists as hypocrites, and that this sort of subtle portrayal is more insidious than overt political bias.

In any event, Bill’s notion that a movie about crashing weddings in order to seduce (and bed ) unsuspecting women was somehow conservative, struck me as interesting, and perhaps, telling.

To be sure, the protagonists (played by Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson) could have passed for conservative businessmen (I believe they were divorce mediators.) And certainly, they seemed highly competent at their profession, even if they displayed less personal discipline off the clock (though one could argue their techniques for picking up women were highly honed.)

And then it struck me. This is a cultural trend.

Consider this quote from Daniel Bell’s classic, “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.” In the work world, Bell wrote, “delayed gratification, career orientation, career orientation,” are still valued attributes,

“Yet, on the marketing side, the sale of goods, packaged in the glossy images of glamour and sex, promotes a hedonistic way of life whose premise is the voluptuous gratification of the lineaments of desire. The consequence of this contradiction…is that a corporation finds its people straight by day and swingers by night.”

Bell’s book was written decades ago,  and the line was not specifically about conservatism. But it occurs to me that American conservatism eventually mirrors the larger mainstream American culture.

Bell’s line about us being, “straight by day and swingers by night,” could have been the subtitle of “Wedding Crashers” (in fact, Vince Vaughan, of course, was also in the movie, “Swingers.”)

But it’s also true of many modern conservatives. While attributes like “delayed gratification” may reflect the fiscally conservative ideology of conservative politicians like former Gov. Mark Sanford, they certainly don’t always reflect our personal behavior. And when Bell talks about button-downed businessmen selling “glossy images of glamour and sex,” he could just as easily be describing modern conservative media (make sure to click the ads, folks!)

In all fairness, Wedding Crashers probably isn’t the best example of a conservative film that one could come up with. But the larger point is that even on the rare occasion that mainstream films and programs advance a sort of libertarian-conservative political bent, they rarely demonstrate a conservative temperament.

South Park and The Simpsons may be hilarious satire, but they’re also often vulgar and irreverent. And what about that steamy Katie Holmes scene that somehow got pulled from Thank You for Smoking?  My point is that even when Hollywood pokes fun at liberal excesses, they rarely portray happy and functional conservative family life as the alternative.

There are, of course, exceptions. We can quibble about King of the Hill, but that was a largely positive influence. The Incredibles is another example. And certainly Walden Media deserves much praise for creating films like Amazing Grace that combine good art and a wholesome, inspirational message.

They are the exceptions that prove the rule.