As a general rule I try to avoid commenting on things about which I am ignorant and have no knowledge. To do so often makes one look like a fool. There have been many shining examples lately as media types have chimed in on guns. Having gone to great lengths to completely insulate themselves from all things gun-related, they appear clueless and baffled as they puzzle over the complexities of auto-loading firearms and ammunition feeding devices.
So there is some danger in opining on a subject about which you only have tangential knowledge. That very accurately describes my familiarity with “Girls”. I’ve never watched it by accident. I don’t personally know anyone who’s watched it, or at least anyone who’s ever mentioned watching it even in passing.
Based on what I’ve gleaned from others discussing the show, it’s a gritty reboot of Sex and the City – another show I’ve never watched but which I believe was accurately described on The Simpsons as “a cable show about four single women who act like gay men.” And by gritty I mean the star and writer of the show, Lena Dunham, looks more like something you’d see in a Tallahassee trailer park than Manhattan. Well, maybe John Carpenter’s vision of Manhattan in 2013. It’s the show that conservatives, for God knows what reason, can’t stop talking about.
Over at Breitbart, Kurt Schlichter’s piece titled, “Ignore Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ at Your Own Peril, Conservatives” addresses the show from a know your enemy standpoint.
If conservatives are going to be in the popular culture – and act to change it – they can’t simply ignore shows like Girls that capture the zeitgeist, even if the zeitgeist makes their skin crawl. Season two is well under way, and conservatives need to participate in the discussion.
Merriam-Webster defines zeitgeist as “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.” Zeitgeist is easier defined when looking back at the past. Defining the current zeitgeist is exceedingly difficult, particularly considering how rapidly tastes change in America. The flavor of the month is just that, the flavor of the month. Regardless of how much praise critics may heap upon Girls or how much conservatives (and surely Ms. Dunham herself) want to make into a noteworthy cultural indicator, it’s just one show among many.
Do the fictional exploits of four wealthy white females living in a gentrified section of New York City really capture the zeitgeist? Or are they merely the critically-acclaimed self-indulgence of someone lucky enough to be born to famous parents?
Republicans are falling over each other in a to rush through some sort of immigration reform in an effort to influence and endear themselves to Hispanic voters. Does Girls resonate with that demographic and capture their general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate? What about black voters? Blue collar voters? Soccer moms?
Popular culture, by its very definition is popular. How do we define popular? Liked by arts critics published in magazines or newspapers? Liked by large numbers of average people? If it’s what’s popular and draws a big audience, what is considered a large number of people? Over a billion people around the world will tune into the Super Bowl this weekend. That’s clearly a significant media event. It may not capture the zeitgeist, but it’s undeniably our most popular “cultural” event.
Contrast that with Girls. The Girls season premier a couple of weeks ago drew 1.5 million viewers across three airing timeslots. That’s fewer than watch The Daily Show every single night. It’s on a par with Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC each day. Conservatives aren’t the only ones ignoring Girls – 99.5% of the country chooses not to tune in every week.
Walking Dead attracts ten times as many viewers. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has a weekly audience twice as large. The simple fact of the matter is unless you are in college or work for a media company the odds are you will never hear anyone discussing Girls around the water cooler. It’s merely a peep in the unending din of today’s popular culture.
Frankly, Walking Dead better captures the zeitgeist. An ever growing, mindless army driven only by their need to consume attempting to devour the dwindling productive citizens left in society. Am I right, people?
Not long ago there was a lot of talk in media circles about a demographic that would be key to Democrats wresting control of government from Republicans – NASCAR dads. NASCAR is watched by four times as many people each week as Girls. There are probably some folks out there who pony up ten bucks a month for HBO just so they can watch girls; I know for a fact there are millions of folks who spend thousands on tickets to races, driver branded apparel, souvenirs, hats, bumper stickers ever year. NASCAR and auto racing in general is big business in the U.S. and it’s natural that politicians would want to appeal to the NASCAR set.
But appeal to and embrace and immerse oneself into are two different things. Democrats viewed NASCAR dads not as people with whom they want to mingle, but as a voting bloc to be focus grouped and messaged to in order to win their votes. Lied to. The people who like NASCAR, generally speaking, aren’t natural constituents for the Democrats’ tax-and-spend, carbon-hostile, government-paid abortions for all, give-up-your-guns platform.
Schlichter’s bigger point about the culture war may be somewhat relevant, however the political impact of popular culture is vastly overstated. Minute compared to the never-ending drumbeat of media bias. I suppose a culture which seems to equate fame, popularity and/or notoriety with achievement and success is somewhat susceptible to pop culture’s influence at the margins. But do the Lena Dunhams of the world releasing Make Barack Your First videos actually move the needle? I doubt it. Do people like being patronized? I don’t.
Conservatives’ biggest problem is finding leaders who can visually and emotionally appeal to people outside their natural core constituency, who can engagingly articulate conservative principles, and can convince people to act. It’s easy to get caught up in the Woe Is Me chorus in light of seeing Obama re-elected and view his presidency as a permanent leftward tilt. If you forget that John McCain and Mitt Romney were the last two Republican nominees. Good men? Absolutely. Visually and emotionally appealing, engagingly articulating conservative principles, and able to inspire action? Not by a long shot.
Not to mention the Senate races that were pissed away by poor candidate selection in a handful of states’ primaries. Conservatives aren’t in need of some seismic strategic shift. We’re losing the game tactically. Failure to execute. Events have a nasty habit of rendering strategies obsolete. Being able to think and react quickly – and correctly – under pressure is the key to victory. For whatever reason, that’s where conservatives have failed.
As far as Girls goes, I’ll take Elvis’ over Lena’s.