What happened to the culture war? The uncomfortable reality, Jonathan Chait notes, is that the culture war is an ongoing liberal rout:
Hollywood is as liberal as ever, and conservatives have simply despaired of changing it.
You don’t have to be an especially devoted consumer of film or television (I’m not) to detect a pervasive, if not total, liberalism. Americans for Responsible Television and Christian Leaders for Responsible Television would be flipping out over the modern family in Modern Family, not to mention the girls of Girls and the gays of Glee, except that those groups went defunct long ago. The liberal analysis of the economic crisis — that unregulated finance took wild gambles — has been widely reflected, even blatantly so, in movies like Margin Call, Too Big to Fail, and the Wall Street sequel. The conservative view that all blame lies with regulations forcing banks to lend to poor people has not, except perhaps in the amateur-hour production of Atlas Shrugged. The muscular Rambo patriotism that briefly surged in the eighties, and seemed poised to return after 9/11, has disappeared. In its place we have series like Homeland, which probes the moral complexities of a terrorist’s worldview, and action stars like Jason Bourne, whose enemies are not just foreign baddies but also paranoid Dick Cheney figures. The conservative denial of climate change, and the low opinion of environmentalism that accompanies it, stands in contrast to cautionary end-times tales like Ice Age 2: The Meltdown and the tree-hugging mysticism of Avatar. The decade has also seen a revival of political films and shows, from the Aaron Sorkin oeuvre through Veep and The Campaign, both of which cast oilmen as the heavies. Even The Muppets features an evil oil driller stereotypically named “Tex Richman.”
In short, the world of popular culture increasingly reflects a shared reality in which the Republican Party is either absent or anathema. That shared reality is the cultural assumptions, in particular, of the younger voters whose support has become the bedrock of the Democratic Party.
A member of President Obama’s reelection team recently told New York’s John Heilemann that it plans on painting its opponent as a man out of time — Mitt Romney is “the fifties, he is retro, he is backward.” This may sound at first blush like a particular reference to Romney’s uptight persona, but the line of attack would have been available against any Republican nominee — Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, or any other of the dour reactionaries who might have snatched the nomination. The message is transmitted in a thousand ways, both obvious and obscure: Tina Fey’s devastating portrayal of Sarah Palin. Obama appearing on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to “slow jam the news,” which meant to recite his campaign message of the week. The severed head of George W. Bush appearing on Game of Thrones. An episode of Mad Men that included the odd throwaway line “Romney’s a clown,” putatively to describe George Romney, who was anything but.
When Joe Biden endorsed gay marriage in May, he cited Will & Grace as the single-most important driving force in transforming public opinion on the subject. In so doing he actually confirmed the long-standing fear of conservatives — that a coterie of Hollywood elites had undertaken an invidious and utterly successfully propaganda campaign, and had transmuted the cultural majority into a minority. Set aside the substance of the matter and consider the process of it — that is, think of it from the conservative point of view, if you don’t happen to be one. Imagine that large chunks of your entertainment mocked your values and even transformed once-uncontroversial beliefs of yours into a kind of bigotry that might be greeted with revulsion.
You’d probably be angry, too.