Visiting Colorado this week, I was chatting with a couple, family friends, who remarked that I was the first person they’d met who admitted to having voted for Obama. Of course, where I live, in a New York City suburb full of elite media folk, no one will admit to not having voted for Obama. Except for the politics, we had a pleasant conversation, but it dismayed me that we continue to live in two countries with seemingly irreconcilable views, not only on which policies and politicians should govern, but on how to interpret real events we all experienced.
There’s Fox Nation, where Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are distinguished sages, where Juan Williams is rewarded for the thoughtless bigotry for which NPR punished him, where Obama is an alien bent on destroying capitalism, where Andrew Breitbart is the wronged party after he’s condemned for making Shirley Sherrod notorious and costing her her job, where a proposed YM
CMA a few blocks from Ground Zero is a shrine to a terrorist victory, where the midterm elections are a sign of genuine populist rejection of the Democrats’ big-government agenda, and where white Christian male privilege is a sign of embattled martyrdom and not still at the centers of power in most places.
And then there’s the place where the rest of us live, a place that doesn’t even have a name because we’re too disorganized, disputatious, and dispirited to give it one (per Yeats: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity); call it Colbert Nation — a place where jesters Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are taken seriously because they’re the only media/political watchdogs still actually doing their jobs, where Obama is a Wall Street sellout who’s been too deferential to implacable obstructionists, where the midterm elections are a sign that a well-funded right-wing astroturf campaign beats an ineffectual Democratic party any time, and where the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the only sign that we’re not on the verge of a wholesale repeal of every positive social advance of the last century.
During my brief visit to Fox Nation, I found only a couple of signs of hope that an America riven into two seemingly irreconcilable camps can find something to agree upon. One was during a recent morning broadcast on Fox News, when I was challenging myself to find something positive to say about the channel. Via satellite, the Fox newscasters had briefly reunited three servicemen in Afghanistan with their wives back home, and their bittersweet, tearful exchange of holiday greetings and longings to be safely reunited in person was poignant and touching enough for me to ignore the politics of the war or of Fox’s effort to corner the market on patriotism. There was nothing here but loved ones separated by distance and danger given a brief moment of solace by the grace of television. Who could find fault with that?
The other came during my conversation with the couple who found my vote for Obama so exotic. They’d been to the movies the night before and had seen Little Fockers, and they had agreed with the snobby, elite, probably socialist movie-critic consensus that the movie was an unfunny waste of their ticket money. Now, 2010 was, despite some great television, as awful a year for pop culture as it was for politics, with the movies especially painful. It was often dispiriting for me to write about movies this year, with so little to recommend to readers. But hearing about my Republican friends’ similar disappointment over one particular movie reminded me of my naive hope, when I started this blog two years ago, that pop culture might be the one thing we could all talk about that would transcend the ideological chasm between us. We may not agree on Obama or the Tea Party, but we can all agree that Little Fockers stinks. And maybe we can all agree that we ought to demand something better — from our movies, from our culture, from our media, and from our leaders.