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Avoidance of Works

Over at Pajamas Media, failed agriculturalist/pre-Christian reactionary Victor Davis Hanson boldly comes out of the closet as a non-consumer of modern culture. Hanson, who has long been the leading intellectual light of the ultra-conservative movement due to his tenuous grasp on the same classics that his comrades call Gore Vidal an elitist for reading, has enough grasp of history to know that he’s walking in the leaden footsteps of every old crank of the last five hundred centuries, but his claim to be “not particularly proud of this quietism” is belied by the fact that he goes on to write two thousand words about how the fault is in our stars and not ourselves.

What’s so absurd, so depressing about Hanson’s tired tirade is that we’ve seen it a million times before, and from people on every point of the political spectrum. When he asks his readership “Have you stopped reading, listening, watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for establishment public or popular culture?”, all he is really saying is “Are you, like me, an exhausted old crackpot?”, just as exhausted old crackpots once asked his father, who likely responded in the affirmative. But instead, he acts as if the culture wars are over, and culture lost.

It’s easy enough to ignore Hanson’s broad-brush dismissals of the entirety of film, television, literature, music, and sport on their face: he is, after all, waking his hand over a swath of human endeavor that incorporates everything from Michael Bay to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, from Two and a Half Men to The Wire, from Tom Clancy to B.S. Johnson, from P. Diddy to Radiohead, and declaring it all beneath his notice. It’s not even hard to single out instances where he dispenses examples of the corruption of culture that give his game away: his complaint, for example, that too many modern action movies feature politically correct gay heroes (?). His contempt for Hollywood films that make villains of big corporations, ignorant of the fact that Hollywood is run by big corporations and their decisions are invariably driven by the market factors so beloved by the right. His predictable fag-bashing of young metrosexual actors and that horrible crazy rap music. His rage at a president who dares to think his education could be used for a positive effect on the world. His bizarre belief that the greed of sports owners is a recent development, and his naked yearning for the days before athletics were ruined by the presence of Negroes. And his clockwork-predictable arrival at the conclusion that the only books worth reading are ones having to do with the field in which he happens to be an authority.

What’s so dreary about this approach is that it’s so boring. It’s so easy. Keeping up with the culture of which you are a part can be difficult; I know that more than most, because a lot of the way I make my living depends on my staying culturally au courant. And I’m older than many of my colleagues; I can certainly recognize the temptation to just give up, to throw up my hands and say it’s all too much, that I just want to be left alone with my remembrance of things past. This is a natural impulse, though not a noble one; when once ceases to care about the culture, one ceases to be part of the culture, and that can be extremely alienating. So rather than blame it on one’s own failings, however understandable, the next natural but ignoble instinct is to say that it is not you who failed, not you who left, but the culture. Hanson calls Michael Moore, Kanye West, and David Letterman “all parasitic on the very culture they mock”; but, by the same turn, Hanson and those like him are all parasitic on the very culture they ignore.

They have done, or failed to do, the same thing as reactionary nostalgists have done since Horace: they have decided that the culture is not worth their attention, and become reluctant champions of dying tradition merely because it is easier to remember the past than engage with the present. But where Hanson & Company diverge is that they have turned a vice (an unwillingness to commit themselves to an understanding of, if not an appreciation of, the culture of their countrymen) into a virtue by means of the basest aesthetic sleight-of-hand: if I don’t like it, goes this laziest of all tricks, it must not be art. This is not only sloth and disengagement dressings itself up as nobility, but it also displays an unappealing ignorance (and worse, a feigned one on the part of people like Hanson) about the very nature of art and culture. Condemning all of a national culture without bothering to learn a thing about it is like loudly denouncing an act that no one is willing to defend: it’s laziness and self-satisfaction masquerading as a superior moral position.


Oct. 20th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)
The only reason I might want to read that article is find out exactly where all these action movies with politically correct gay heroes in them are--'cause man, they sure ain't onscreen down at MY local multiplex. Mister Hanson, have you been holding out on us?

Yeah...the entirety of popular culture, hmmm? That's harder to ignore than it seems. It must pretty much take up all your free time, really.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I can't get my head around that gay action heroes thing. I can't even think of a single movie like that.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah! Where's MY naked girl martini parade?
Oct. 20th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
Oh those pajamamedia commentors!

I am a 33-year-old Army officer... I find it more worthwhile to listen to Bach than to search for the next Bobby Darin.

Note: Darin died 36 years ago.

Hanson must be so proud.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
He just prefers music by people who have been dead three centuries prior to his birth over that of some flash in the pan who died a mere three years before his birth.
Oct. 20th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
Hey you kids! Get offa my culture!

I'm vaguely tempted to leave him a pitying comment explaining that while it is easier to ignore something than to take the time to explore it, it's remarkably churlish to say "I haven't tried any of this stuff, and you shouldn't either, because it probably sucks. I mean, I wouldn't know. I'm guessing here. But doesn't it stand to reason that it would suck? And wouldn't it justify my opinion better if it did?"

But the comments are all so unnervingly toadying that I suspect he's deleting dissenters. Or that only a very, very small number of people are actually reading and commenting. Either way, it isn't worth the time it'd take to let him know that there's a world outside his blinkered little self-congratulatory system of denial and defensiveness.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
It's really no different than any other cranks (left or right, young or old) who assume that any culture they don't already know must be worthless, but it takes on an extra patina of grossness when it's so heavily politicized.

By the way, if you scan those comments, you'll find one by none other than right-wing kook/comic book artist/director Frank Miller! He does his case no good by citing that dud from "The Spirit" as a good reason to watch modern movies.
Oct. 21st, 2009 05:25 am (UTC)
I can no longer respect Frank Miller. Sin City was alright, as was 300 (the comics) but Dark Knight 2 was awful (why does Robin go evil? Why?) and the less said of All Star Batman and Robin, the better.

Someone needs to tell Frank that women can have other roles in a comic besides "thing for sex"
Oct. 20th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
Professor Hanson: I wish you had added Kate Hepburn, Joanne Woodward, Angela Landsbury (pre the detective show).

Murder, She Wrote was one of the most depraved and sexual shows on American television in the last thirty years. In my home, we often refer to it as the "rap music" of 1980s detective shows.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
I hate this attitude. There are quite a few animation and comic book fans who do this--I call it "putting a stop date on what you read/watch/listen to."

There are many animation fans who will not watch or praise anything that was made after 1962, and comic book fans who do the same thing are responsible for overly nostalgic works like "Kingdom Come."

Nostalgia is fine, but if you indulge in it too much, what you love will never move forward.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
back the truck up
Are you disagreeing with Dr. Hanson here? Are you saying that there is something new under the sun? That the race always goes to the swift, that that which is crooked can be made straight and that to some things there is just no season? Why, I've just dropped my monocle in my port! Have at thee!
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
Re: back the truck up
To the contrary! I believe, with Prof. VDH, that the handful of classical sources I have read spoke eternal truths 2500 years ago, and nothing has happened since then to supersede their perfect wisdom.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: back the truck up
Man, Qoheleth gonn' break his foot off in your ass.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
Maybe he's referring to Jason Statham with the "gay action heroes" comment, in which case he unsurprisingly can't distinguish between "being the object of gay desire" and "being gay."
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
How bizarre. Hanson and Adorno, peas in a pod.
Oct. 20th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
And just the other day I was reading that Reuben Bolling strip where scientists conclude that pop culture was best when you - yes, you! - were 12-14 years old.

Lordy, Hanson is a dreary schmuck. Joyless. It does me good to see things like this pointing out his essential schmuckitude.
Oct. 20th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
For great fun you should read the incredibly apologetic review he did of "300"
Hanson is a fine but very limited, very specialized historian. I learned a lot from reading his first two books. He loves his specialty, classical Greece and the elite of classical Greece. He hates all other periods, all other peoples, from the ancient Persians to the modern Chinese. He hates them so much that he absolutely cannot stand to discuss them in any rational way, or even consider that they might be interesting in some way.
Oct. 20th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
Re: For great fun you should read the incredibly apologetic review he did of "300"
I've always been curious how he gets around the matter of pederasty. I guess if you're predominantly a military tactical historian than you can ignore the topic if you're focusing on classical Athens (not so much if you're dealing with classical Sparta), but still it must be tricky being a hero of the modern Right and focusing on an era that at least raises the specter of steamy male-on-male action. I guess like Xenophon and Aeschines before him Hanson can just claim that pederasty was totally non-sexual and it's just dirty-minded liberals (like Aristophanes!) who claimed otherwise.
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
I've always been curious how he gets around the matter of pederasty

Edited at 2009-10-21 02:16 am (UTC)
Oct. 21st, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
Re: (dammit)
*snort* Ah, me and my gutter-bound mind...
Oct. 21st, 2009 08:55 am (UTC)
They guy admits to liking Coldplay.
Doesn't that mean he's disqualified, as opposed to he refuses to.