There was a time when the arts and entertainment industry was known for freedom of thought and expression. Defying the mores of polite society, artists flouted convention and challenged authority.
Those days are long gone now and for many creative types the dogmatic progressive hegemonies of the arts world has left them exiled from the scene. But some have found a curious and unexpected new home: conservative media.
Let’s make no mistake, the arts and entertainment have always been left leaning. It was back in 2008 when playwright David Mamet penned his controversial essay, “Why I’m No Longer A Brain Dead Liberal,” in the Village Voice. This was also the heyday of Friends of Abe, a secretive and anonymous club, with branches in New York and Los Angeles, for closeted conservatives in the entertainment industry. Obviously, I can neither confirm nor deny if I was a member.
But while things were uncomfortable for right-leaning artists, the situation was a tenable one. In my 15 years of hopping about the New York theater scene I managed it fairly easily. You knew who in a dressing room or tech rehearsal was open to such ideas and who wasn’t. It was something of a minefield, but there was a map. That changed with the election of Donald Trump as president.
No longer were political differences playful, no longer could an artist’s ideology be separated from their art. For many that meant new ways to tell their stories and create their content. And the homes they found for such endeavors were squarely on the right side of the aisle.
Comedian and sketch comedy artist Lou Perez’s new book “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” explores his own experiences in the changed and challenging landscape of entertainment after Trump’s election. Once something of a downtown darling, Perez — a libertarian — is now frequently featured in right wing media.
“After Trump won in 2016,” said Perez, “I noticed concerned citizens — at least in the “press” over at Paste and Vulture magazines — asking the question: What would the role of comedy be under a President Trump? I thought, well, shouldn’t it be the same as it was under Obama? But what their question implied was that comedy needed to be different under Trump.”
“Trump was an existential threat that needed to be confronted with whatever weapons you had. If you were a comedian that meant aiming your punch lines at the Orange Man Bad. Even if they weren’t funny.”
And the new rules and restrictions on what could and could not be expressed in art were not limited to The Donald himself. The trans issue became another dividing line, as JK Rowling discovered. Editor-in-Chief of the Post Millennial, Libby Emmons also found this out. A playwright who collaborated often with this author in Gotham, Emmons was kicked out of the women-only feminist theater collective she co-founded for refusing to apologize for articles she had written denying that men can become women.
Emmons told me, “When the arts moved away from beauty and honesty into the realm of activism and indoctrination it stopped being art and became propaganda. The only way I could still write what I wanted to write was in conservative culture outlets. Conservatives hold up free speech and free expression while the progressive left squashes it.”
Larry O’Connor, who spent years in the theater industry and is now a popular conservative radio and TV host, had similar sentiments, “I knew conservative actors who would have to sit in the hair and makeup room as the people who were preparing them to go on stage would pontificate about politics and proclaim that all Republicans were racist bigots,” he said. “And of course they couldn’t say anything about it. I knew stage hands who had sons serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan who had to endure actors saying that the people in the military were fascists and murderers. And those stage hands couldn’t say a word to defend their own sons.”
The bottom line is that for many right leaning people in the arts, myself included, things became so unwelcoming, so incredibly biased, that we wound up finding refuge in conservative media. And though it has been a benefit, it’s not enough. Fighting the culture war will require more than a few renegade resistance fighters, it will require an army.
Over the past decade conservatives have taken Andrew Breitbart’s motto, that ‘politics is downstream from culture,’ to heart. When it launched in 2013, The Federalist established and maintained a laser focus on popular culture that other outlets have emulated. Here at The Daily Wire things went a bit further with the establishment of entertainment divisions creating movies, documentaries, children’s content, sports content, and more. Gina Carano, canceled by Disney, found opportunity in these productions with the lead role in the gritty western Terror on the Prairie.
The biggest blindspot in conservative efforts to compete in the culture space, especially in entertainment, is a lack of development of new talent. While a trickle of trained and experienced actors, directors, writers, and the rest continues to drift to right wing media, progressives still entirely control the education and development of artists in our universities, theater companies, and studios.
There is no parallel track as yet for artistic training that does not bend wildly to the left. If that doesn’t change, conservatives and their values will remain at a stark disadvantage in using culture to craft our country’s vision of its society.
The biggest advantage that conservatives have in this battle for screens and stages is exactly what the artists I spoke with told me — freedom, license, the ability to explore ideas outside the confines of woke ideology. And this is priceless, not only because it is what artists actually want, but because it is the only condition under which their abilities can truly flower.
As the conservative movement welcomes more creative refugees from the arts world it must also be met with a commitment to train the next generation, something these very artists are in a position to assist with. If it can be seized, there is a conservative counterculture in the offing. The movement should grab it with both hands.
David Marcus is a Brooklyn based columnist and author of “Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation”
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.