Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Book Review: "South Park Conservatives" 

"Fox News chief Roger Ailes on Tuesday defended the top-rated cable news channel from an antiwar heckler while deflecting some good-natured ribbing from former Vice President Al Gore about a perceived rightward tilt at Fox.

"Ailes, during a discussion about the media's role in democracy at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, also endorsed the integrity of many bloggers, a sentiment shared by U.S. News and World Report publisher Mortimer Zuckerman, also onstage.

"CNN's Jeff Greenfield set the spirited exchange in motion by mentioning a Pew study that found that 52 percent of Fox News viewers are Republican and only 13 percent are Democrats.

" 'I don't know the relevance of a Pew study,' Ailes said. 'I do know that 100 percent of the people who work there are liberals.'

" 'What about Herb, the guy in maintenance?' Greenfield joked.

" 'He's downstairs watching Fox,' Ailes shot back."
I chanced upon this exchange as I was making my way through "South Park Conservatives", a delightful new book by Brian C. Anderson, senior editor of the Manhattan Institute's "City Journal". The title derives from a term "South Park Republicans", devised and popularized by Andrew Sullivan to describe a new generation of libertarian hawks, fiercely anti-liberal, anti-elitist and anti-bullshit, and unlike many more traditional conservatives, well at ease in the modern world and its pop culture.

Anderson's book, however, is about lot more than Gen Ys or foul-mouthed anti-PC cartoon characters; as the subtitle suggests, "South Park Conservatives" tells the riveting story of "The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias". There is a cultural counter-revolution going on, Anderson contends, and big networks, established newspapers, pampered academics and self-important talking heads are losing their grip over what the populace sees, reads and thinks. All that thanks to a new breed of entrepreneurs and intellectuals who are braking down old information and ideas monopolies with clever use of new media and commercial opportunities.

Growing out of Anderson's much-talked about 2003 article
"We're not losing the culture wars anymore" (which I remember, in my pre-blogging days, emailing all my friends), "South Park Conservatives" is a quick and quirky trip through the frontlines and trenches of the struggle against the liberal dominance of media, culture and higher education. If you're a political junky with a fast internet connection, a lot of the material gathered by Anderson will already be familiar to you, but the beauty of books is the still unparalleled impact of all the condensed information marshaled together at your fingertips.

Secondly, the events of the last few years have politicized countless millions of ordinary people, and in many cases for the first time exposed them new ideas and new media. For all those people who want to catch up, fill the gaps and get the background on what has been going on, "South Park Conservatives" will offer a perfect primer, doing for the conservative counter-attack in culture wars what William Rusher's "The Rise of the Right" did for conservative counter-attack in the political sphere some twenty years ago.

In his dispatches from the vanguard of the new revolution, Anderson discusses the rise of conservative talk radio, the impact of FOX channel, the growth of anti-liberal entertainment best exemplified by "South Park", the blogosphere explosion, the coming of age of conservative publishing, and retaking of campuses. Personally, having been in love with books since I was five, I took particular liking to the second last chapter. Anderson quotes Adam Bellow, the editor at Doubleday, explaining the rather phenomenal growth of opportunities to publish right-wing books: "Business rationality has trumped ideological aversion. And that's capitalism."

As Anderson himself write, "By no means... has the Right conquered popular culture; television entertainment, especially on the networks, remains mostly liberal in sensibility, and everyone knows where Hollywood stands politically. But it's no longer a liberal monopoly: A new post-liberal counterculture has emerged." Capitalism clearly is yet to triumph in other types of media the same way it did in publishing. It is somewhat ironic that books, being the oldest medium, in the end proved to be the easiest to conquer, while TV and print journalism are fiercely resisting calls for more intellectual diversity. Still, as Anderson shows, technology - some old, some new - can be very liberating and can be always used to circumvent media monopolies. Network TV won't give a chance? That's what cable is for. So is radio. Newspapers too biased? Internet will provide a balance.

And that, in the end, is the best message to take from "South Park Conservatives". Many on the right tend to have a pessimistic outlook on the world and - not without justification - develop a siege mentality. But what Anderson shows through his discussion of the culture wars is that doldrums - and monopolies - never last forever, that for every revolution there is eventually a counter-revolution, and that with optimism, ingenuouity, and technological progress nothing is impossible.

So join the revolt, and do yourself a favor - get a copy for
"South Park Conservatives" today.


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