I’ll preface this by saying I’m referring to a specific vein of American religious/economic conservatism and am speaking generally rather than universally. When it comes to people there are always exceptions to the rules.
I was tempted to write this after I heard that vice president-elect Mike Pence showed up to a showing of the stage hit Hamilton and was booed by the audience. While he was leaving a member of the cast made a statement about the goals of the show that was, in essence, critical of the upcoming administration. He was far more polite and loving in his statement than I think I could ever manage.
The thing that interests me is the set of mental acrobatics, or rather careful averted eyes and angled footsteps, that conservatives like Pence must do in order to think they belong in a certain audience. Mike Pence is an evil man. Among his many evils he is specifically anti-gay; his running mate, platform, and supporters are quite racist. The actor who called out his views from the stage, if I remember correctly, is a gay black man.
Art/entertainment is for everyone, but I expect a reasonable person to sense serious disconnect when the work espouses values that are entirely counter to their own. Hamilton is a production that celebrates immigrants. You’d have to be an idiot to not see this. If you’re a particular idiot working with a man planning to deport millions of immigrants I wonder why you would choose to spend your time at such a show.
It’s quite similar to how conservative politicians have been called out in the past for using music in their campaigns even though the bands have gone on the record to say that the point of the music was to fight the will of those same politicians. I’ve heard them make the excuse that they just like the beats, or the music, and don’t consider the lyrics.
Someone is of course free to do that, but it’s a conceited choice for someone who is targeted by the work specifically as an evil/immoral/confused/ignorant person. It always seems like there is a subculture of conservatives who have to work quite hard to find fun in the arts because they have to sanitize it and strip it of its teeth before even considering it. A similar example would be the small industry, which flourished in the early ’00s, of editing ‘objectionable’ sexual and violent content out of DVDs for religious audiences like Mormons and evangelicals.
There are plenty of other examples of conservatives not meshing well with the artistic landscape. Consider the case of the ‘sad puppies’ and the ‘rabid puppies’. They were groups of what I would describe as alt-right science fiction fans. Their favorite works were, as you would expect, ones that celebrated male heroes and fetishized military hardware to a degree approaching self-parody.
In normal situations, a person would say ‘to each his own’ and move on to something they liked more in fiction. The puppies on the other hand were extremely upset by the increasing influence of non-white, non-male, non-straight voices. Instead of simply discussing what they liked, they gamed the rule set of the Hugo awards (a yearly series of prizes for speculative fiction) to make sure that nobody could have any fun. It even saw authors withdrawing their own works from consideration. They treated a playground like a war zone.
I would add to this the broader example of copyright in the modern age. It’s no secret that American conservatism is as cozy with big business as possible. So it’s safe to say conservatism has had a hand in, somehow, twisting and bloating the concept of copyright at the same time. What was originally intended as an aid to the artist has become a hammer wielded by giants like the Disney corporation. Its primary purpose now is to suppress internet creativity, protect corporate licenses, and just generally sour the creative atmosphere.
All of this adds up to reveal why conservatives can’t handle art/entertainment. Their worldview is built primarily on a combination of repression and oppression, though I think the first is actually the more relevant here. Art is about the freedom of expression, the ability to tell the world who you are, and that is something conservatives fight against internally and externally.
How can you participate in a love story when one of your main talking points is telling people who they can or cannot love, and in what way they can express it? How can you participate when your religion tells you most expressions of love and sex are sinful?
How can you enjoy science fiction when, in your daily life, you plug your ears and cover your eyes whenever a scientist takes the stage and talks about evolution or climate change? How can you imagine newer and greater heights when you can’t even handle reality?
How can you become the character in a fairy tale when magic is synonymous with a literal Satan? When you think your children’s souls are threatened by Harry Potter? These opinions seem ridiculous, which they are, but they all characterize American conservatives.
When they try their own hand at production rather than sabotage they don’t fare much better. The result is essentially propaganda: religious films like God’s not Dead that demonize others rather than elevate Christians.
For now they will be relegated, as they should, to the outskirts. Their domain when it comes to fun is what I would call ‘direct’ fun, but which some might call ‘aggressive’ fun. It boils down to the things that mostly lack creativity, insight, or subtlety: sports, intoxication, hunting, collecting, etc. These are things that do not require imagination, since they are not willing to even let their own imaginations run free.
In short, when conservatives tackle art/entertainment with their usual tools of marginalization, disregarding, and bullying, they have nothing to show for it but a Ted Nugent CD case being used as a coaster and a worn-out copy of The Passion of the Christ.
They cut themselves out of the conversation and since they can’t be reasoned with they are demonized as the villains of our stories across fiction, movies, video games, music, and everything else. They shouldn’t act surprised when they walk into a theater and are booed like one.