Everyone Gravitates Toward Excellence: But Do Note One Thing
Still, the value of that tenet is its application across the board to just about any endeavor, IMO, including the arts. Writing at Doublethink, Conor Friedersdorf has penned a long reflection on why the most important element of being successful in the culture game, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, is excellence. By doing what you do extremely well, he argues, you'll find a place at the table even if your politics are frowned upon by those who surround you. He focuses on the movie industry in his piece, but his advice transcends any cultural realm in my opinion.
Beginning with what had been apparently a wide-spread opinion in the 1980s (i.e., that a conservative who wanted to make it in the culture industry had to remain in the closet politically to do so), Friedersdorf interviewed a number of young conservatives actively employed today:
There are two themes running throughout this article that made me pause to think. The first one is best summarized by this bit of advice offered as a counter to the frequently recommended "don’t tell anybody you’re a conservative":
[Novelist and screenwriter Andrew] Klavan disagrees that conservatives in Hollywood should keep their heads down until they’ve accrued sufficient power, per [web impresario Andrew] Breitbart’s counsels. Still, he doesn’t believe his fellow conservative means to scare young people away from the industry. “What he is trying to do is make certain thoughts that are unacceptable in Hollywood acceptable and speakable,” Klavan says. “We are the radicals today. And we can’t take over except through revolution, which can’t come quietly.”
Another “out” conservative, Lionel Chetwynd, claims a lengthy list of credits, including films on the Hanoi Hilton, the building of the Vietnam Memorial, and 9/11. “There isn’t one thing on my IMBD page that a conservative wouldn’t be proud to show his grandkids,” he says, although he insists that movies aren’t primarily about politics. “I am against confronting the liberals in an all-out war to the death. All I’m seeking is an equal share at the table,” he says. “I want this to be a two-party town where it’s as legitimate for me to have our point of view as [it is] for them to have theirs. And to the extent that’s denied, it’s amazing how many people will stand up for you, including some liberals.”
Chetwynd says he endured “outright blacklisting” in the 1980s, but this kind of blatant discrimination is a thing of the past: “It’s much better for us today. People with a conservative view in Hollywood aren’t quite the oddity they were.” Nowadays, it isn’t a matter of losing work so much as getting berated about political matters in a card game, or having people muse on how such a nice guy can have such political views. “They treat you as some sort of idiot savant, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to employ you,” he says. “They’re not all totalitarians.”
And what advice would he offer a young conservative hoping to break into the industry? “You will go as far as your tenacity and your courage will take you. But if the first thing you want to tell me about yourself is that you’re a conservative, perhaps you’re in the wrong town—you should be in Sacramento or Washington. You’ve got to go out and make good movies.”
Better advice is offered by Dr. Stephen Bird, academic director for the National Journalism Center, a nonprofit that places mostly conservative journalists in numerous mainstream media internships every year, hoping to bring more depth and balance to American reporting. “Here’s what I tell interns going into the media,” he says. “Pursue excellence in everything. Everyone admires excellence and gravitates toward it.”I would wholeheartedly agree with that. There are plenty of conservative writers, for example, who I love to read because of the excellence of their reasoning, even when I still choose to disagree with them. It's harder to point to conservative fine artists whose work I like, but as I don't ask artists about their political leanings in studio visits, perhaps I simply don't know. Either way, Friedersdorf's refrain about how you'll get further if you don't play the victim is solid advice. I only wish he entirely believed it himself.
The second theme I noted in the article was a baseline assumption of not only victimhood, even by the author of the piece, but of the need to control the cultural fields in order to propagate conservative ideology, and to right a widely assumed long-standing wrong. Of course, this must be read understanding the context of Doublethink, where this work appears:
Still, there's an assertion of victimization among conservative writers, how they're fighting an uphill battle, so subtle to even this author that he offers it paradoxically in the same cheerleading paragraph about focusing on excellence: "a nonprofit that places mostly conservative journalists in numerous mainstream media internships every year, hoping to bring more depth and balance to American reporting" [emphasis mine]. Mind you, that's not a quote but, Friedersdorf's own words.
Doublethink’s mission is to identify and develop young conservative and libertarian writers while delivering an excellent magazine of politics, culture, economics, and the arts, with original photography and artwork. Doublethink is the official magazine of America’s Future Foundation.
Doublethink’s editorial philosophy emphasizes three principles: original reporting, informed commentary, and a youthful spirit of irreverent inquiry. We put our young and relatively inexperienced writers to work investigating stories other magazines overlook. We then inject healthy doses of scrutiny and informed opinion into our exclusive finds. The result is a type of intelligent opinion journalism that is rare in American letters today and even rarer from writers in their twenties.
It does make one wonder how long Fox News needs to be the number one news channel in the country before this posturing strikes conservatives as outdated, but let's back up a bit to really understand why this baseline is something to be a bit weary of. Many conservatives are not seeking simply a place at the table, Friedersdorf and a few others being notable exceptions, but rather they want control of the cultural machines in America.
Friedersdorf describes Andrew Breitbart's position on the matter:
He believes that control over the arts and media are bigger prizes than Congress, the White House, or the Supreme Court, that they shape the nation’s future irrespective of what happens in Washington. Hence his ambition to wrest control of these institutions from the left—a project whose success requires that many more ambitious young conservatives enter creative fields.Indeed, even some who feel that conservatives should proudly declare their ideology, such as Andrew Klavan, still feel it's the path toward "taking over."
Klavan says. “We are the radicals today. And we can’t take over except through revolution, which can’t come quietly."None of which changes my opinion that everyone offering excellence deserves a seat at the table, regardless of their political leanings, but it does bear keeping in mind that control, more so than truth, is the ultimate objective of more than a few conservatives with chips on their shoulders.