I've been watching a six part documentary on the British comedy team Monty Python's Flying Circus on IFC. I became hooked on these guys as a teenager when Public Broadcasting replayed their BBC television show back in the 70s. The first week of our marriage I took my wife to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail and laughed myself breathless at the black knight scene as my new bride sat in silent horror. In time she grew to appreciate them, but while for her it was an acquired taste, for me the appreciation was immediate.
Perhaps some description of me at that time will help explain why. Being home-schooled and constantly in the company of adults rather than my own peer group fed my natural smugness and my disdain for the conventional; I was drawn to anything that lampooned the status quo, that ridiculed the bourgeois--and Monty Python did that to lavish excess.
Ridiculing conventional society was their raison d'etre as episode 1 chronicles. They all started performing in college and as they became professional entertainers after their graduation, admitted that a common drive among them was, through mockery, to dismantle the social order under which they grew up. This applied as well to the one American of the bunch, Terry Gilliam, who first attended college with the intention of being a Presbyterian minister but quickly abandoned that goal when he "got smart," as he put it, and after his graduation, edited the adult (and short-lived), sister publication to Mad Magazine called Help! before moving to England and joining up with Monty Python.
As a teen and a young adult this resonated with me, in part due to my inflated sense of sophistication, and otherwise to the natural rebellion of youth necessary to establish one's independence and personality.
Satire has a long tradition in literature from its pure form, such as Swift's Gulliver's Travels to the more subtle forms by Dickens and Twain. But where those examples seemed to aim their ridicule at the hypocrisy and cruelty of their time, Python's humor, as its members seem to admit, were bent on tearing the whole thing down, a sort of protoanarchism shared by many different forms of leftist activism. The most shocking realization for me as I watched and listened to their accounts of the contempt in which they held their own society and culture and their desire to demolish it, was their apparent success in doing so. Of course they weren't alone in this. In a series of video interviews on Uncommon Knowledge, Professor Harry Jaffa made the following stunning statement: "There's no question that the institutional root of all of the evil we now contend with in our society is the universities...they teach moral relativism, which is really nothing more than nihilism." I agree with him that academia was the progenitor of the ideas that wrecked Western culture, but popular media, I think had a crucial, even indispensable role in disseminating and then normalizing the abandonment of traditional values and mores.
There have always been the avant-garde and the outlandish in the arts, but the greater part--especially the popular arts--would be solidly grounded in the conventions of the age. Film makers like John Ford and Frank Capra celebrated Western culture and the Judeo/Christian morality that underpinned it and enjoyed the greatest of popular success of their day. Even in the 90's a film maker like John Hughes still enjoyed great success in honoring traditional Western values, but the tide had turned. Today one is hard-pressed to find any popular media in which those values are affirmed. The market for them still exists, as the success of the rare film like The Blind Side attests. But examples like this are increasingly rare, due, I think, not to the whole-sale movement of society, but rather to the homogeneous leftism of the Western artistic class. Except for the handful of very powerful Hollywood conservatives--Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, etc.--the ranks of actors who are conservative, in both film and television, tend to go to great lengths to preserve the secrecy of their beliefs for fear of damaging their careers. Conservative musicians tend to be ghettoized in the country and western genre, conservative fiction writers in paperback genres. Any painter who celebrates beauty and traditional values is ridiculed as a commercial hack in the fine arts community.
This is why I'm so encouraged by the work of Andrew Breitbart and his family of blogs, but especially his website, Big Hollywood. Breitbart has garnered a growing cadre of conservative voices from the arts, some who remain anonymous, but a growing number of whom have been brave enough to "out" themselves and speak up in defense of traditional values and ridicule the absurdities of the multiculti, "green", politically correct leftism that strangle-holds Western arts, and continues to debase the popular culture.
If you know any young conservative interested in acting, writing, music or painting, encourage him or her. We need conservative artists to help bring balance to the status quo. The arts and popular media have tremendous power in shaping our culture, attitude, and mores. The left has understood this from the beginning. It's long past time for the right to learn this lesson.